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7 ways to upgrade your cruise for $125 or less

Mariner of the Seas docked in CocoCay

Whether you are taking your fifth cruise or first, you want to make sure that you do everything to make your vacation as memorable as possible. 

While there's no denying that cruises are a great bang for your buck with everything that is included in the base fare, there are some add-ons that can make your cruise even more special! 

While there are some high-end experiences, such as booking a suite or chartering a yacht for the day while in port, there are ways to upgrade your cruise for $125 or less! 

The best part about a cruise vacation is that it is completely customizable. You can have a great time enjoying what's included or opt to splurge on an add-on or two, all while staying within your budget! 

Read more: I've been on 10 cruises. Here are 9 things I always pay extra for on my vacation

Surprise your cabin mates with stateroom decor on embarkation day


Maybe you are cruising to celebrate a graduation, birthday, or anniversary. 

Purchasing stateroom decorations is one way to kickstart your vacation with a little something extra! When you arrive on embarkation day, you'll find that your cabin has been decorated according to whatever packaged your purchased. 

Plus, you do not even need to be celebrating anything specific. Cruise lines offer miscellaneous nautical themed decor for those who just want to celebrate being at sea!  

While the price varies based on cruise line and what specific package you choose (some come with tasty treats like cookies!), you can find them for less than $75 on most mainstream cruise line, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. 

If you are willing to plan in advance, consider bringing magnets to decorate your cabin door, too. This is a fun cruising tradition that helps your stateroom door stand out amongst the sea of identical ones.

Splurge on a specialty dining meal 

Celebrity Cruises Raw on 5 Sushi

From breakfast and lunch buffets to decedent three-course dinners in the main dining rooms and endless snacks throughout the day, you will have to try pretty hard to go hungry while on a cruise. 

One way to elevate the dining experience, though, is to splurge on specialty dining. On cruise lines like MSC and Carnival, you can find restaurants that charge less than $25 per person. 

On others, such as Royal Caribbean, you can expect the cover charge to be a little bit higher. Their steakhouse, Chops Grille, is usually priced anywhere from $55 to $65 per person. On the other hand, Carnival's steakhouse is $48 per adult. 

Some venues, like Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade onboard select Royal Caribbean ships, are price a la carte, meaning that it's easy to spend less than $15 per person here! You can even just hop in for dessert if you'd like. 

Even with all the complimentary dining options onboard, with a specialty restaurant, you are not only paying for higher quality meals. You are also paying for a more intimate dining experience that feels more like an upscale restaurant you'd visit at home. 

Treat yourself to a spa or salon treatment 

Cloud 9 spa

While a more expensive option, there are spa and salon treatments available that cost less than $125 per person! While you will have to skip things like massages and facials, you can pamper yourself with a blowout on formal night or manicure!

Carnival's website advertises a traditional pedicure for only $47. If you're sailing on a Royal Caribbean ship, you can get a traditional manicure and pedicure combo for around $75. 

When you get onboard, head to the spa and see if they are offering any deals on treatments. Sometimes, they will discount packages on port days to keep people onboard. 

This is also a fun way to treat yourself on a sea day if you do not want to hangout on the pool deck all day long. 

Read more: The 13 best cruise tips the pros use all the time

A one-day thermal spa pass

NCL thermal spa

To get the most out of your time in the spa, consider purchasing a day pass to the thermal suite. 

Here, you can enjoy hot tubs, saunas, pools, and more. It's a great way to relax without paying for an actual treatment. 

I actually went to a thermal spa for the first time while onboard MSC Seashore thanks to their status match, which allowed me to match my Crown & Anchor status to their Voyagers Club. I got a free hour pass, and now I know this is something I want to splurge on in the future to utilize the benefits for longer. 

Read more: 13 things I loved and hated onboard MSC Seashore

A day pass to the thermal suite on Carnival Celebration costs $30, while a weeklong pass is slightly more $125, or just $129. For only $20 more than the day pass, I can get a three-day pass for $50. 

Take the time to learn something new in a class or workshop 


Want to return home and tell your friends that you found a new hobby while at sea?Depending on what cruise line and ship you sail on, you can find some pretty neat classes to take! 

On my upcoming cruise onboard Carnival Celebration, for instance, there's a pit grill and smoke master class: "Grab some tongs and sharpen your BBQ skills. You bring the will… and our experts got the rest! We’re covering core techniques for both gas grilling and smoking, plus we’ll also be sending you home with tips and tricks to help take your BBQ to the next level.

There's also a pasta making class, sushi making class, cake workshop, and ice cream making class that teaches a simple three-ingredient recipe. The best part? Each class is about $40 per person! 

Other cruise lines offer for-free classes and workshops, too. Onboard Royal Caribbean ships, you may find offerings such as sushi making class or cupcake decorating workshop, and they're also less than $40!

Purchase a shore excursion in port


Your cruise will take you to at least one port of call, and you will find numerous different tours available to book.

Rather than hanging out onboard the ship, walking around the immediate port area, or taking a taxi to the beach, book a fun shore excursion while in port! 

Many can be bought for less than $125 per person. Even if you don't find one through the cruise line within your budget, search through third party providers. 

When looking at shore excursions for my cruise on Carnival Celebration in October, I can take a $55 tour of the fortresses of Old San Juan, get a day pass to Ocean World in Amber Cover for $60, and go on a scenic coastal hike in St. Maarten for $50. 


If I wanted to stick to $125 total for the entire cruise, I could simply cut out one and still have two tours while in port. 

Sometimes, you can even book a private tour for less than $50 per person, like the one I did through Bodden Tours in Roatán, Honduras! We hired a private driver to take us to the island's East End, and this only cost my party of three $35 each. 

It pays to do your research before booking anything in order to ensure that you are getting the best value for your tour

Read more: 11 common cruise shore excursion mistakes to avoid

Buy some photographs to remember your vacation 

Professional picture

Nobody wants to think about their vacation coming to an end. Why not purchase some photographs to take home to remember the great time you had onboard? 

It's no surprise that cruise photographs are not the cheapest; however, you can purchase just one or two! Plus, if you get your entire family dressed up, you can knock your Christmas card out in advance. 

On Royal Caribbean, you can pre-purchase photo packages for less than what you will pay once you get onboard. Right now, I can buy a 10 photo package for only $120, which comes out to $12 per picture. That's a fantastic deal considering single photographs cost close to $20! 

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