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9 things you have to book in advance for cruise vacations


Choosing your cruise line, ship, and itinerary is the primary component of planning the ultimate vacation; however, once that has been decided, there are some other things you'll have to book in advance to ensure you have the most memorable trip possible. 

You don't, for instance, want to board your ship and realize that the shore excursion your kids were excited for has sold out. Similarly, specialty restaurant reservations, particularly at preferred dining times, can go quickly. 

To make the most out of your time onboard, here are 9 things you have to book in advance for cruise vacations.

Shore excursions

Family on Celebrity Cruises shore excursion

While you're sure to have fun onboard the ship, it's important to research each port of call, so you don't miss out on any once-in-a-lifetime adventures. 

Whether you want to visit ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico, embark on a day tour of Rome while docked in Civitavecchia, or go dog sledding in Alaska, you'll want to ensure that you book your must-do excursions in advance, as the best tours tend to sell out pretty quickly. If you wait until you're onboard, you will likely end up disappointed with only a few options to choose from. 

While planning for my last-minute cruise on Celebrity Ascent, I was unhappy when I discovered that all excursions to the Virgin Gorda Baths had sold out. Thankfully, two spots opened up the week prior to sailing. Normally, however, I would've booked this tour as soon as I placed my deposit, as the Baths have been on my bucket list for some time! 

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

Drink packages

alchemy bar onboard carnival celebration

Why wait in line to purchase a drink package when you could head straight to the bar after stepping foot on the ship? In addition to the convenience of pre-purchasing a drink package, you'll usually save money, too, as cruise lines tend to offer discounts to those who buy certain cruise add-ons ahead of time. 

Carnival, for instance, reduces the price of their CHEERS! Package by 10% if they're purchased by 11:59pm the day before embarkation and 9:00pm EST through the call center. This means that if you're going on a 7-night cruise, you will only pay $59.95 per day, rather than $69.95. 

Royal Caribbean is known for having better sales, but unlike Carnival, the cost of their Deluxe Beverage Package isn't fixed. Instead, it fluctuates based on the ship, itinerary, and sail date. Sometimes, their Cruise Planner advertises the onboard price of a drink package to be around $95 to $105; however, if you opt to purchase a package in advance, you can usually score a deal for a discounted rate of around $70 per day. 

Specialty dining

Hibachi on Harmony of the Seas

While there's nothing wrong with the included dining on your cruise, some cruisers prefer the ambiance, food quality, and cuisine options at specialty restaurants. 

From teppanyaki to prime cuts of steak, handmade pasta, fresh seafood, and more, splurging on a specialty meal (or two) is one way to make your cruise a little more memorable by having a fun meal to look forward to. 

Like with drink packages, some cruise lines will discount specialty restaurants' cover charges ahead of time. While saving money is great, booking ahead of time is the only way to ensure that you have a wide range of options when selecting preferred dining times.

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about (2024)

Flexible dining 


Speaking of dining, certain cruise lines allow you to make reservations in advance if you select their flexible dining option, as opposed to the traditional one. The difference is that with flexible dining, you won't have an assigned dining time, table, or wait staff, meaning that you will not have to worry about scheduling your daily activities around dinner each night. 

If, for instance, you have an excursion that gets back 30 minutes before your dinner time, you won't have to rush to get ready. Instead, you can reserve a time for a little bit later, to allow everyone in your party adequate time to freshen up. 

Without reservations, you may show up to the Main Dining Room and realize that there's a long wait, which is why if you have the option to reserve a dining time in advance, you do so. It's not uncommon to hear reports of previous cruisers saying they had to wait upwards of 45 minutes for a table.

Read more: Your really dumb cruise ship dining questions answered



If you know that you want Wi-Fi on your upcoming cruise, you shouldn't hesitate to book it ahead of time. Similar to drink packages, you won't have to worry about waiting in line to purchase a package on embarkation day. Additionally, you can seamlessly connect as soon as you're onboard. 

Sometimes, cellular service isn't very strong on the ship, even when you are docked; there have been times were my phone says "SOS" while in my cabin! Personally, I like to connect to the ship's Wi-Fi as soon as possible. This ensures that I don't miss any messages from fellow travelers or those back home. 

Read more: Do cruise ships have WiFi?



If you're like me, you don't live within driving distance of many cruise ports. Being based in North Carolina, I could drive to Norfolk or Charleston. The options, however, are pretty limited, which is why I choose to sail out of Florida the majority of the time. 

I try to avoid waiting until the last minute to book my airfare, as prices tend to skyrocket in the weeks leading up to departure. Thankfully, flying out of Charlotte means I'm never short of departure times, especially since my preferred airline is American due to my status. 

If you do have to fly to your embarkation city, make sure that you leave at least the night prior to your cruise date. By arriving the night before, you won't have to worry about a flight delay or cancelation ruining your vacation plans, as you'll have time to make alternate arrangements. 

Read more: The costly cruising mistake newbies make planning their first cruise

Port parking

Parking Garage

Those driving to the port should consider paying for parking in advance. Not only does this guarantee you a spot, but you might find a third party nearby for less. 

Of course, parking at the terminal is more convenient; however, if you're able to save some money on parking, that's more money that you can spend on fun add-ons! 

Port Canaveral, for example, currently charges $17 per day (plus tax), including the day of arrival and departure, meaning that you'd pay roughly $135 for a 7-night cruise. Park Port Canaveral, a third-party vendor located less than ten minutes from the port, offers parking for only $10.95 per day. 

Read more: 20 tricks for cruising cheap on less than $100 per day

Travel insurance 

insurance form

Travel insurance provides coverage in case any unforeseen events happen during your vacation, including medical emergencies, travel delays, luggage mishaps, etc. 

Although it might seem like an additional expense for something that may never even happen, purchasing traveling insurance is always a wise decision, as you'll have peace of mind in those situations. While what's covered does vary from cruise line to cruise line, you can expect, at minimum, Trip Interruption Protection, Baggage Protection, and Medical Protection. 

The peace of mind that travel insurance provides is invaluable, as you know that you have a safety net in place if anything were to go astray. If you're someone who travels frequently, it would be smart to look into an annual insurance plan, rather than purchasing insurance for each individual trip. 

Read more: Cruise travel insurance and why you need it

Special celebrations


Are you celebrating something special while onboard, such as a birthday, anniversary, or graduation? While a cruise in and of itself is special, there are some things that you can do to make that specific sailing even more memorable, such as flowers, cake, or decorations. 

You will, however, want to take care of these arrangements in advance. Let's say you want your significant other to be greeted by chocolates, a bottle of fine wine, and flowers upon entering the stateroom for the first time, or perhaps you want your graduate to feel extra special with stateroom decorations. 

Some lines will allow you to pre-purchase these kinds of things ahead of time; however, if you don't see any options that you're happy with, do not be afraid to reach out and see what else they can do! 

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