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5 things I did differently on my cruise that made a huge difference

Five things I tried different on my cruise

If you cruise often, you might find yourself getting into a routine of doing the same things over and over again. After sailing on over 40 cruises - mostly with the same cruise line - I have my go-to activities, restaurants, and routines onboard. Having a routine on vacation is not a bad thing, but variety is the spice of life!

With so many add-ons and extras available on a cruise, the possibilities are endless for spicing up your cruise vacation. Everything from suite upgrades to drink packages and spa treatments can elevate your experience. Of course, your budget will play the biggest role in deciding how much you want to splurge on your cruise.

For my recent 12-night cruise from South Africa, I decided to branch out from my typical cruise routine. I had always wanted to visit South Africa, and I found the perfect cruise that would take me to new ports almost every day. This was a bucket-list cruise for me, so I was willing to make a few splurges.

Norwegian Dawn at sunset

Typically, I am a very budget-savvy traveler. I like to save money whenever possible so that I can cruise more often. I’ll forgo most of the cruise add-ons, instead opting to book the cheapest interior cabin. There is so much already included in your cruise fare that I do not feel the need to spend more money onboard.

Since this wasn’t my typical run-of-the-mill cruise, I did five different things on my sailing to jazz up my experience. I didn’t have the budget-savvy mindset for this cruise, which opened the door to new possibilities. These five things were absolutely worthwhile and made all the difference. Although we had a busy itinerary ashore, there were also quite a few sea days while we sailed from Mauritius to South Africa. With 12 nights onboard, there was plenty of time for me to indulge.

Here are the five things I did differently on my cruise that made a huge difference.

1. Booked shore excursions for every port

Excursion Tickets

When your cruise ship docks in a port, you have the option to book excursions through the cruise line. You can also book a third-party excursion through an independent company. Normally, booking tours with an independent operator is much cheaper than deciding to book a cruise-sponsored excursion.

For this cruise, I opted to heavily splurge on my shore excursions. In fact, I decided to book excursions through the cruise line for every single port on my itinerary. The cost of booking excursions for each port was around $1,500.

I have never done this before for a few reasons. First, it’s incredibly expensive to book excursions through the cruise line because the prices are inflated. You have some guarantees with cruise line excursions, including the comfort of knowing the cruise ship will not leave without you. Cruise lines also vet companies to ensure safety standards are met. Second, I’ve never felt the need or desire to be on a strict schedule for every port.

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


However, this cruise was different. I was traveling to an unfamiliar destination, so I wasn’t entirely comfortable booking independent excursions. Also, the ports for our destinations were very far from the nearby attractions. Most of our excursions required a two-hour drive inland to reach the reserves for safaris. 

This wasn’t an itinerary where you could walk off the ship and find a tour operator within steps of the dock. There was hardly anything within short distances of these industrial ports.

Having booked excursions through the cruise line, we had priority for immigration and tendering. Rather than waiting in a tense line of angry passengers for face-to-face immigration, we breezed through the process. I also had peace of mind that I was optimizing my time in each port through a safe tour company. 

Industrial Port

Essentially, I wanted to ensure my time and money were well spent on this cruise. This was the best decision I made for my vacation! Each excursion allowed me to see everything that I had envisioned. Considering I had traveled so far in hopes of having these unique experiences, it was worthwhile to book an excursion for each port,  and I would do it again.

Read more: I went on an African safari by cruise ship. Not everything went as planned, but I would do it again

2. Splurged on a thermal spa pass

Thermal Spa

Before this cruise, I had never considered purchasing a thermal spa pass. In fact, I’ve hardly spent any money in the spa when cruising. After one bad massage experience, I swore off cruise ship spas for a while, but apparently not forever!

During my 12-night cruise, we encountered quite a few storms and rocky seas. With bad weather, the pool deck was not usable for most days. On the second day of the cruise, I went to the gym and saw the thermal spa below; it intrigued me. The tranquil area had two hot tubs, an indoor pool, and heated lounge chairs. In addition, there was a sauna, steam room, and relaxation room we could use.

The following day, our port in Madagascar was canceled due to bad weather. Since the excursion was refunded to my onboard account, the $200 cost for the thermal spa pass suddenly didn’t seem so expensive. Money already spent feels like free money, right?

Thermal Spa

I decided to make the plunge and book a thermal spa pass and, honestly, it made all the difference for my sea days! I loved spending the afternoons in the thermal spa while relaxing in a heated lounger. The views of the ocean and the warmth of the spa made it so easy to unwind. I napped every day of the cruise in the thermal spa while swaddled in a plush robe.

Although I might not book another massage on a cruise, the thermal spa pass was well worth my money. Being able to indulge every day in a quiet, peaceful, and secluded space was fantastic. I would rather spend $200 on an experience that I can enjoy for the entirety of the cruise instead of a quick 60-minute massage. 

3. Booked the drink package


My 12-night cruise was onboard one of Norwegian Cruise Line's older and smaller ships, Norwegian Dawn. With this cruise, I discovered that Norwegian Cruise Line has different pricing options when making your reservation. The cruise line is known for its Free at Sea pricing, which allows you to get some cruise add-ons for a reasonable, more all-inclusive price.

Most importantly, the Free at Sea package allows you to book a reasonably priced drink package with your cruise fare. While not necessarily free, you only have to pay the gratuities based on the cost of the drink package.

So, I was able to spend $500 for the Free at Sea package, which included the unlimited drink package, two nights at a specialty dining restaurant, 300 free internet minutes, and $50 off each excursion.

Specialty Dining

Considering I was planning to book excursions for each port, the Free at Sea package would save $300 alone with this perk. For basically $200 more, I could have unlimited drinks on the 12-night itinerary and specialty dining. While I wasn’t planning to drink that much on my cruise, not having to worry about my bar tab made all the difference!

I was able to indulge without the stress of calculating how much I had spent. I also loved trying new cocktails that I normally wouldn’t order.

Throughout the 12-night cruise, I definitely drank more than $200’s worth. This was not hard, as cocktails are anywhere from $13 for a mojito to $18 for an espresso martini. I loved indulging on my cruise with fun cocktails at dinner, on the pool deck, or during one of the evening shows.

Read more: 19 Tips and Tricks About Norwegian Cruise Line Drink Package (2024)

4. Ditched the guaranteed interior cabin

NCL Dawn

As mentioned above, I normally book the cheapest cabin on a cruise ship to save money. More often than not, this is a guaranteed interior cabin with no window. I do not mind sleeping in a pitch-black room on a cruise, as the space is always functional and ample.

However, when booking a guaranteed cabin, you are assigned leftover staterooms that are typically located in undesirable locations. For this cruise, it was only $200 extra to book an obstructed oceanview instead of a guaranteed interior cabin.

Since I anticipated the seas might be rough, booking an obstructed cabin allowed me to pick the cabin location. Furthermore, I would have some natural light during the cruise which was be something I am not used to.


I have never booked an obstructed oceanview cabin before, but having a window and choosing my cabin made a huge difference. Our obstructed view included a blocked view of a lifeboat.

To start, having natural light was enjoyable; however, the room did get a little warm in the morning. The curtain over the window was far from blackout, so the sunrise illuminated the room each morning. However, we felt very little motion in our cabin while sailing through rough seas and storms because we paid extra to select a midship room. Additionally, our cabin was extremely quiet, as we were above and below staterooms.

Overall, choosing to splurge a little on our cabin’s location was definitely worthwhile. I also appreciated having natural light throughout the 12 nights onboard, although I wish I had packed an eye mask to block out the sunrise in the mornings.

Read more: I paid $4,300 for an obstructed view cabin on Norwegian Cruise Line - take a look inside

5. Special effort to stay healthy


No one wants to get sick on their cruise. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. With so many people staying in a confined space, illnesses spread quickly on a cruise. Not to mention, I flew for over 24 hours to the embarkation port of Mauritius.

With so much travel last year, I was constantly getting colds, so I was absolutely determined to not get sick on this bucket-list cruise. Luckily, I was successful! Even with seemingly everyone onboard coughing and sneezing, I was able to avoid getting sick during my cruise.


Here are a few of the things I did on my cruise in an effort to stay healthy:

  • After getting food at the buffet, I would go back and wash my hands at the handwashing station
  • I always had hand sanitizer with me, so I could disinfect my hands
  • Each day, I would take a multivitamin, including zinc and vitamin C supplements
  • Instead of staying up late for evening entertainment, I prioritized sleeping. This also included naps in the thermal spa!
  • I made sure to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, which was especially important in the heat
  • During sea days, I visited the gym for a quick workout a few times
  • Finally, I made an effort not to touch my face, particularly with dirty or unclean hands

While these are obvious tactics to stay healthy, I made an extra special effort on this cruise. I am proud of my efforts to stay healthy, especially considering my cruise buddy was sick multiple times during our cruise!

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