Cruising will be back before you know it, and while there may be a few changes, most things will remain the same. If Princess is your choice, and it’s usually ours, we offer below 25 Princess cruise tips and tricks that can make your sailing even better.
Whether you have already booked or are still thinking about it, these tips for cruising apply to nearly every line, although written specifically for Princess. They will save you time and money, as well as enhance your cruising experience.
We realized that this list of Princess cruise tips and tricks needed to be written when, after two consecutive weeks onboard the Island Princess, we were still discovering new things. With over 160 days at sea, we didn’t expect it. From that point, we set out on a mission, asking officers, crew, and other passengers for their best Princess cruise hacks. While many of these cruise ship tips feel like Princess cruise secrets, in fact, all of this information is readily available on board and much of it applies to any cruise line.
Our best Princess cruise tips
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Princess cruise tips: things to do before you sail
1. Fly to your embarkation port at least one day in advance
If your plane is late, the ship won’t wait for you. It’s not worth the risk. While the cruise lines offer packages that include airfare, we always check Skyscanner for a cheaper flight. We use Booking.com to compare and find the best hotel prices for the night before we embark.
2. Learn something about the cruise ports
Reading up on your destinations not only adds to the excitement, but it also helps ensure you won’t miss anything. We carry a guidebook for those times when we don’t have internet access. Our current favourite series is the Rick Steves cruise ports books. Steves spotlights things you can do in limited time, offers suggestions as to what can be booked ahead, and targets the needs of cruise passengers.
3. Book services in advance of embarkation
Don’t miss out on the things you really want. Princess allows you to book Spa treatments, shore excursions, and specialty dinner reservations in advance of sailing. Many popular activities “sell-out” prior to embarkation. Booking in advance, you can guarantee your spot.
In most cases, there is no penalty for cancellation within 48 hours of the event. Therefore, you can make necessary changes or adjustments if you change your mind. Read the fine print before finalizing your booking as this policy could change. Also, note that some pre-boarding options are not available after you board. Look for words like “special” or “pre-boarding only.”
4. Explore independent shore excursions
While many of the excursions offered by the cruise line are great, you can normally save money and tour with a smaller group by booking independently. The ship will discourage you from doing this, as excursions are a big moneymaker for the cruise line.
Often, their primary argument is that the ship will wait for their own tours if they return late, but not for independent ones. As a result, Viator and many of the other tour companies now offer a similar guarantee on many (not all) of their shore excursions.
Viator offers a huge range of tour options at good prices. We encourage you to compare Viator’s options with those offered by the ship. Finally, read the reviews.
5. Bring an emergency kit
Our kit includes first aid supplies and over-the-counter medication for a headache, sore throat, fever, and diarrhoea. While you can get most items at the shop onboard or from the ship’s doctor, they will be overpriced. And if they run out of what you need, it could be days before you get to another port.
If you take prescription medication, carry a paper copy of the prescriptions, and bring enough for extra days, should you decide to extend your travels.
We make our own kit, but if you prefer a premade one, this small first aid kit from Amazon.com looks complete for injuries.
6. Verify that your medical insurance covers travel outside of your home country
If not, consider getting travel insurance before you leave home. We have used our travel medical insurance in the past for a missed flight and for hospitals visits in several countries, most recently when I got dengue fever in South America.
To date, we have been on two cruises where a passenger required medical evacuation. One went by helicopter, the other required the ship to divert its course and make an unscheduled stop, leaving the passenger with a waiting ambulance.
One of our best cruises tips is to be sure you have coverage. We have always been happy with World Nomads Travel insurance. They are the only company we know of that even allows the purchase of insurance after travel has begun.
7. Pack light with our Princess cruise packing list
You won’t regret packing light. It’s so important to us, we wrote another article just on our best cruise packing hacks. Sign up for our newsletter and we will send you a FREE copy of our Ultimate Cruise Packing Light Checklist:
Packing cubes are one of the most helpful tools for packing light. If you haven’t tried packing cubes before, the time is now. Despite being sceptical, I gave them a try. Now, I am hooked. Not only do packing cubes keep my belongings organized, but they also compact them, allowing more to fit into a smaller space. Plus, once onboard or at any land destination, unpacking and keeping organized is easy. Similarly, hanging shoe holders can be hung on the back of the door to give you extra storage compartments.
8. Bring a power strip
One common complaint of cruise ship cabins are the limited number of electrical outlets, often only one. Carrying a small power strip, we have resolved that problem for ourselves, and can now charge all our devices or dry my hair whilst hubby uses a different electronic device.
Princess cruise tips and tricks: dining
If you are gluten-free or have food allergies we have great news. Princess cruise lines takes this very seriously. We personally have never had a food allergy problem onboard a Princess ship. However, all cruise lines are not the same.
Check out this article for an epic failure by a competitor: Cruising with Food Allergies.
9. Understand the difference between “traditional” or “anytime” dining
Traditional dining means an assigned a table and dining time. The advantage: a waiter and dining companions that you come to know. We chose traditional dining on a 21-day cruise from Los Angeles to Auckland, and it was great. Our dining companions became our friends and made our cruise days more fun. In contrast, Princess Cruises Anytime Dining allows you to head to the dining room at your leisure. The advantage is flexibility.
Regardless of your selected dining plan, there are plenty of alternative dining options onboard. Included in your cruise fare is a casual buffet; pizza, burger, pastry, or ice cream bars (usually near the pools); afternoon tea service; room service; or, snacks at one of the bars. For an extra fee, you can enjoy a speciality restaurant, coffee shops, or even balcony dining.
10. At meals, order everything you want
You can even order extra vegetables, a second lobster tail, or one of each dessert. Although, you might want to check out these tips for eating onboard without gaining weight.
11. ‘Anytime diners’ can make dinner reservations
One advantage of ‘anytime dining’ is the flexibility to show up when you want to eat. There are times that are more popular than others, like right after the first show. If you know in advance that this will be your choice, you can make a reservation and effectively cut the queue.
12. Speciality restaurants frequently serve lunch at no extra charge
The option to dine at a speciality restaurant comes with a price tag for the added value. However, they frequently offer a special lunch at no additional fee. On the Island Princess, this included Italian Pizza or a British Pub lunch. It will be listed in the daily Princess Platter.
Princess cruise hacks and tips: drinks
13. Get free or cheaper drinks with these cruise ship hacks
Discount beverage packages are available onboard (see tips for cruising #14). However, there are plenty of opportunities for free drinks. Coffee and tea are complimentary with meals and afternoon tea (not fancy espresso drinks).
Most art auctions, some spa tours, welcome events, the captain’s party, and a few special events onboard include a glass of champagne or even a drink. Also, there are often happy hour specials at different bars, wine or whiskey tastings, and other events that offer drink deals.
You can also save money by bringing certain beverages with you at embarkation. Ask your room steward to empty the minibar, and then restock it with your own beverages. We brought a case of water on our last cruise, and friends brought their own soda. Wine has more rules, but in brief, you can bring one bottle. See the detailed rules here.
14. Choose the Princess drink package that is right for you
- Coffee Card: 15 speciality coffees, plus unlimited filter coffee and hot chocolate. Couples can purchase one card as it provides a finite number of drinks.
- Soda and More Card: Unlimited soft drinks, mocktails, juices, and hot chocolate.
- Wine Card: Saves money on bottled wines.
- All-Inclusive Beverage Package: Any soda, bottled water, cocktails, spirits, wines, beers, speciality coffee, and tea up to $10 value each. Although it is expressly against the rules, we saw families purchase one card to share.
- Bottled Water Card: Available only before embarkation.
15. Never order a glass of wine, order a bottle instead
If you enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner, order the bottle. Your waiter will carefully label and store your unfinished bottle at the restaurant under your name. Or, you can bring it back to your cabin for any time drinking. If you ask your cabin steward, he will provide wine glasses and a bucket of ice.
More Princess cruise tips and tricks
16. Prepare for the sun
The sun may be much stronger than you are used to at home. On sea days you may find yourself lounging at the pool or doing other outdoor activities. Nothing spoils the fun quite like a sunburn. Therefore, we recommend bringing plenty of sunscreen, a sun hat, and a lightweight cover-up that can serve as sun protection if needed.
What you don’t need to bring is a beach towel, as they are available at the pools and can be taken ashore at ports.
17. The dry sauna and large showers at the spa are available to all passengers
Yes, it’s true. Even if you don’t purchase spa services, you enjoy some of their amenities like the dry sauna and huge showers at no extra charge.
18. Some Princess ships offer Movies Under the Stars
A wonderful selection of movies showed nearly every night on a huge screen over the pool. Padding, removable pillows, and blankets convert the lounge chairs to a comfortable nighttime movie watching option. Princess even provides popcorn.
19. Each ship has at least one deck offering outdoor access to the bow and stern
On the Island Princess, decks 10 and 11 forward are optimal for watching the ship enter the Panama Canal, while deck 8 at the stern was the perfect spot as we left Cabo San Lucas. To access these outdoor decks, we passed through an unlabelled door at the end of the hallway.
20. Onboard laundry uses tokens obtained with your passenger card
There is no need to bring loose change for the laundry. Simply swipe your passenger card to purchase laundry tokens. In fact, the washer and dryers onboard no longer take coins, just tokens. However, if you have a favourite laundry soap, you can save a bit of money bringing it along.
Princess cruises wifi hacks
21. Maximize your internet usage
Internet is crazy expensive on cruise ships. On Princess, the charges are on a per-minute basis. There are a number of Princess cruise wifi hacks to help keep the bill down. The obvious one is to log off and enjoy your time at sea. However, that’s neither possible nor desirable for some people.
So, here are our best onboard wifi tips:
- The number of users at any given time affects Princess cruises’ wifi speed. Therefore, very early in the morning or very late at night will give the fastest speeds.
- If you purchase wifi on board, put your phone or device in airplane mode when not using it. This will protect you from accidental usage or unexpected (and very expensive) updates.
- Log in, bring in your email, open each webpage you want to read in a separate tab, and log out. Read webpages and reply to emails while offline, and only log back in to send all messages at once. Or, if they are not time-sensitive, leave them in the out basket. They will send the next time you bring in your mail.
- If you can log in and out in less than 30 seconds it often won’t track as time online; therefore, it is free.
- To save even more, only check email onshore. In much of the world, McDonalds and Starbucks offer free Wifi.
22. Texts to other passengers are free using Princess Onboard at Sea
Bring your mobile device and you can also access daily schedules, your account, and the ship’s itinerary at no charge. You can even send messages to other passengers while onboard the ship.
More Princess cruise hacks
23. The ship bartenders are like hidden concierges
They are an excellent source of additional cruise excursion tips or advice on ports. They learn the best and the worst while talking to passengers every day. Also, many crew members have been to various ports multiple times.
24. Although Princess cruises gratuities are automatically added to your daily invoice, they can be altered
Or, they can be completely removed. Simply ask at the main desk. While more complicated, altering prepaid gratuities is possible.
25. The future cruise deposit is the best deal onboard
There is no risk as Princess will refund unused deposits after two years. Importantly, the deposit must be in the currency of the country of your residence, and you must enrol while onboard.
Our recent cruise destinations
- Southeast Asia from Hong Kong to Singapore on the Azamara Quest with ports in Vietnam and Thailand.
- New Year’s Cruise in Rio de Janeiro on the Azamara Pursuit from Buenos Aires, Argentina (return) with ports in Uruguay and Brazil.
- Pacific Crossing on the Golden Princess sailing from Los Angeles, USA to Auckland, New Zealand with ports in Hawaii, French Polynesia, and American Samoa. This is a repositioning cruise.
- Panama Canal Crossing on the Island Princess sailing from Fort Lauderdale, USA to Vancouver, Canada with ports in Aruba, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
- Australia over the top from Sydney to Perth on the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas with ports in Australia and Indonesia.
- Alaska’s interior passage on the NCL Sun sailing from Anchorage to Vancouver Canada.
- The Mediterranean including both the Adriatic and Aegean Seas on the NCL Spirit sailing from Barcelona, Spain to Venice, Italy, with ports in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
- Norway on the MSC Opera sailing to and from South Hampton, England, with ports in the Netherlands and Norway.
- In the past, we also cruised to the Mexican Riviera and multiple Caribbean cruises; plus, we have been invited guest onboard the HAL Oosterdam and the Celebrity Solstice.
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Disclaimer: In addition to VIP treatment onboard the Island Princess, the ship provided us with many complimentary extras. The opinions and observations expressed here are strictly my own. The tips and benefits listed above are all subject to change. Be sure to read the current rules before you sail.