Everyone wants to save money when they travel. We look for the best deals, times of year to travel, and low-cost experiences. But then there are times when we don’t mind spending a little extra to have a one-of-a-kind experience or make our trip extra special.
Meet The Experts
- John Roberts has experienced more than 110 cruises and counting. He loves to share his adventures so cruisers can travel better and have more fun.
- Nancy Schretter is an award-winning journalist and editor who has sailed on more than 60 cruises on a wide range of ships in locations around the world.
1. MSC Yacht Club
Roberts’s first pick is the MSC Yacht Club. It comes with a host of amenities and perks that take your vacation to the next level.
This ship-within-a-ship concept is available on many MSC Cruise ships. The Yacht Club is an exclusive area of the ship that has a large lounge, specialty restaurant, private pool deck with an alfresco restaurant, concierge service, and included drinks and WiFfi. You also get 24-hour butler and room service, as well as access to the thermal suite at the ship’s MSC Aurea Spa.
“I have stayed in the MSC Yacht Club a couple of times, and this experience changes the game for cruisers. You might even be tempted to spend your whole cruise in the pampered embrace of the Yacht Club area of the ship. Of course, there is always some great entertainment and activities going on elsewhere on the ships, too!
“Your butler greets you at the cruise terminal and escorts you to your cabin. Butlers also make specialty dining reservations and escort you to the restaurants and to your seat in the theater for shows. You also have access to Ocean House Beach (with a bar, restaurant, and cabanas) at the line’s private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve,” Roberts remarks.
Roberts says it’s a splurge, for sure. For example, a 3-night cruise on MSC Divina from Miami starts at $239 per person for an inside cabin with drinks and WiFi included. MSC Yacht Club for the same cruise starts at $999 per person.
2. A More Spacious Cabin
Schretter says you may consider splurging for additional space on your cruise, particularly when traveling with kids. Cruise ships offer a wide variety of staterooms that will accommodate families, but Schretter suggests choosing your vacation home-away-from-home wisely.
“Packing everyone into one of the smallest cabins with bunks and a single bathroom may not be the best vacation experience for families. Opting for more spacious family cabins, family suites, or connecting staterooms is a better bet. The additional space and privacy are worth the splurge,” Schretter says.
For a special treat, Schretter says to consider splurging for a suite if your budget allows. Cruise ship suites offer the luxury of space and come in all shapes and sizes. Upgrading to suites can also have additional perks, like exclusive access to certain specialty restaurants, lounges, private pools, and sun deck areas on some ships. Other extras, such as complimentary Wi-Fi, concierge services, upgraded amenities, complimentary drinks and snacks during special lounge happy hours, and priority embarkation and disembarkation may also be included.
3. Thermal Suite Access
The newer cruise ships feature increasingly elaborate and luxurious spas that offer a range of treatments. Roberts says the best part of these facilities are the spectacular thermal suites. These large spaces offer a range of amenities to enjoy, including
- thalassotherapy pools
- hot tubs
- cold plunge tubs
- steam rooms
and other tantalizing experiences like salt rooms, salt pools, charcoal saunas, infrared saunas, and even snow grottoes on some ships.
“Cruisers can purchase day passes or pay for access to the thermal suite for the length of the voyage. I love to slip on my robe and slippers and spend a couple hours trying the treatments and settling into a comfy lounger while sipping an herbal tea and basking in the vistas of the ocean as the ship sails. Most feature large floor-to-ceiling windows and exclusive outer deck areas.”
Thermal suite passes can range from around $50 to $70 a day to about $200 for an entire 7-day cruise, depending on the cruise line.
4. Your Ideal Stateroom Location
Schretter says another thing to consider is choosing your own cabin instead of opting for the cruise line’s less expensive “guarantee” stateroom.
“This splurge is worth it if you care about controlling your room type and location. Staterooms with unobstructed balconies provide beautiful views and a more private place to relax. That’s important to me, but others might not care as much. It’s particularly worthwhile to splurge for a great balcony stateroom when sailing in places like Alaska or Norway, where the views are spectacular,” Schretter explains.
Choosing your own cruise cabin can also allow you to avoid certain locations that can be less desirable, such as staterooms above or below nightclubs and theaters or close to elevators. Study your ship’s deck plans in detail before you book.
Pro Tip: A good cruise travel agent can also provide valuable assistance.
5. Specialty Dining
If you’ve ever wondered whether the specialty dining is worth the extra cost, Schretter says do it!
“Today’s finest shipboard specialty restaurants can match those on land, and I’ve had a few of the best meals of my life on cruise ships. Guests can choose from a diverse array of eateries, including award-winning steakhouses, superb seafood restaurants, and top-notch dining venues featuring Italian, Asian, and French cuisines. Some cruise lines have partnered with renowned chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrity culinary geniuses to create world-class restaurants at sea. A number of ships offer intimate multi-course Chef’s Table dining experiences as well,” Schretter says.
Pro Tip: Schretter recommends making specialty dining reservations as far in advance as possible for the best restaurant availability and reservation times, as the most sought-after venues and dining times can fill up quickly. In addition, notify your cruise line in advance if you have food allergies or special dietary restrictions.
6. Shore Excursions
Shore excursions offer cruisers once-in-a-lifetime moments. Schretter says these experiences have been some of the best parts of her cruises.
“They’ve given me unforgettable memories that I’ll treasure forever. Some of these include dogsledding on a glacier and watching bears catching salmon in Alaska, mind-blowingly scenic helicopter flights in Hawaii, customized private tours in Rome and along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, and an exceptional post-cruise tour of Angkor Wat in Cambodia,“ Schretter shares.
Consider what’s important to you and research the full range of options available. Extraordinary experiences like these are well worth the splurge, and they can easily be the highlight of your vacation. Book your shore excursions as early as possible, as popular options can sell out rapidly.