Discover 19 Unveiled Cruise Ship Secrets: Tips from my Seven Cruise Experiences

Hey! I’m Spencer, and I just got back from my seventh cruise. I’ve seen and learned a lot of really cool behind-the-scenes secrets while traveling the world on these ships, so I wanted to share some of the most interesting ones with you here, including some tips that may be helpful for your own future adventures. Enjoy!

Spencer Althouse, Instagram: @spenceralthouse

For context, I’ve traveled on four different cruise lines: Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, and now Carnival. My most recent trip was a seven-day sail aboard Carnival Firenze, which traveled throughout Mexico. This was my first time on Carnival, and I somehow managed to get a private tour to areas of the ship that even the most elite VIP passengers will never, ever see. Here are some things I learned along the way.

First of all, yes, most cruise ships have both a jail and a morgue on board. These were the only areas of the ship where I wasn’t allowed to visit (trust me, I asked multiple times) because they’re strictly off limits unless you find them the old-fashioned way…by getting arrested or dying. I didn’t want to take those chances, but I did find out that shorter cruises tend to see a LOT more action in the jails (aka “the brig”). Guests typically treat shorter sailings as more of a party by taking advantage of unlimited drink packages, and more alcohol = more fights on board, so needing a jail totally makes sense.

In terms of the morgues, those are usually located on one of the ship’s lowest decks. Think of these as giant refrigerators that, depending on the ship’s size, can house anywhere from a couple to nearly a dozen bodies. The majority of these deaths are obviously of natural causes – for reference, as of 2018, fewer than 25% of global passengers were under the age of 30 – but the average age of a cruise ship passenger is getting younger and younger every year now.

The higher you are on a ship, the more movement you’ll feel, so if you’re someone who tends to get motion sickness then you should definitely book your room on the lowest floor possible (just not in the morgue). I’ve personally never had an issue with motion sickness on a cruise, but I’ll occasionally see passengers with at-sea patches behind their ears for help. Contrary to what you might think, though, you’ll probably get the best night’s sleep of your life on a cruise. Yes, there’s a ~very~ slight rocking, but it’ll feel sort of like you’re a baby again who’s being lulled to sleep in a cradle. Just trust me on this one.

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This is a description of my cabin’s appearance with the inclusion of my bathroom’s image that was surprisingly bigger than my expectation. The shower size was pretty decent providing ample room for comfort. For reference, my height is 5’11” (an authentic 5’11”, unlike exaggerated depictions on Tinder).

I occupied a balcony room on Deck 6 and didn’t experience any motion sickness issues. I’ve journeyed on higher decks up to Deck 9 earlier and didn’t face any problems then either. Concerning where you should book your cabin on each deck (for instance, midship, aft, or forward), it does not really imply a difference in feeling the motion regardless of the cabin’s location on the same deck.

3. I can assure you that there is a high chance of not having to worry about seasickness. I was privy to a private tour of the ship’s control room, where I discovered that a lot of effort is put into combating the movement caused by the waves. For instance, ships aim to hit waves at a 45-degree angle as this is considered the most efficient way to disperse them, thereby reducing extra motion. Ships are equipped with stabilizers that can extend outwardly (similar to airplane wings) which significantly contributes to maintaining stability.

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Think of these stabilizers like fins on a fish, so they help each ship glide along the water. I spoke with the captain and some of the engineers in the control room, and they explained that the stabilizers require extra fuel and also decrease the speed of the ship, so they tend to not use them unless the water is pretty rocky.

4. Before you book a cruise, you should know that they’re sort of like buying a car: you can negotiate! Basically, the price you see online should almost never be the price you pay (though they often offer great discounts that you should absolutely check out!). Instead, it’s best to call and book your trip with an actual person (i.e. someone who works for the cruise line, a travel agent, etc.). For example, travel agents are usually free, and they can get you a ton of bonus perks and huge discounts on rooms for a fraction of the original price.

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A lot of cruise lines occasionally offer “buy one, get one” discounts, as well as a ton of other sales around specific holidays. There are also a bunch of sites where you can book discounted sailings to fill the leftover rooms that haven’t sold, so just do a little research. Also, places like BJ’s and Sam’s Club offer trip discounts if you have a membership card to their stores, so take advantage! I booked a previous cruise through one of them a few years back and got a massive discount for my room, onboard credit, and free gratuities. It pays to save!

5. If you have ever dreamed of a complimentary cruise, then be sure to frequent the onboard casinos. It’s quite typical for frequent gamblers to receive additional amenities for future cruises such as free Wi-Fi, beverage packages, or even whole voyages, all at no cost. Essentially, every wager is linked to your personal cruise card (which also functions as your cabin key). Every time you engage in slot machine gameplay or place a bet at a table game, it’s recorded. Your total earnings are monitored by this card, and points are accumulated based on your expenditure. The more you wager, the better your chances of being presented with these extra benefits.

By Spencer Althouse

Onboard cruise casinos always leave me spellbound as they have effectively developed a miniaturized Las Vegas. They are equipped with pit bosses, myriad tiny surveillance cameras, and all other requirements of a standard casino. Nonetheless, the only disadvantage is their considerably smaller size than casinos in Vegas, so they might not host all the table games you are interested in. Of course, they offer roulette (my preferred game), craps, and several poker variants, but I have yet to find a Pai Gow table. Perhaps on my next journey!

6. Cruises present an intriguing advantage, particularly for individuals in the age range of 18 to 20 – they create their own laws while offshore, following Maritime Law. For instance, casino gambling is only permissible once the vessel is a minimum of 12 nautical miles from the coastline. Correspondingly, the age limit for gambling may be dropped from 21 to 18 during international voyages. Most cruise ships also adhere to the legal drinking age of 18, not 21.

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On my recent Carnival cruise, there were two separate casinos. The larger one, a smoking zone, was packed with hundreds of slot machines, numerous table games, and unique “adult” claw machines which gave huge cash packets instead of stuffed animals. However, there was a smaller non-smoking casino too which was wholly sufficient even though it paled in comparison in terms of size.

I was taken aback by the fact that smoking was permitted in the primary casino, considering there was a separate cigar room located on a different deck. But, then again, I guess, that’s Vegas for you.

7. An overwhelming number of cruises are theme-based. For instance, Royal Caribbean provides a niche Star Trek cruise, and Norwegian is all set to cater to a vast 2,300-people nude cruise next year. However, it’s essential to note that standard cruises are subject to SFW rules. Both guests and staff need to respect certain regulations, like the prohibition on personnel fraternizing with guests – violation of which would lead to immediate termination of employment contracts. Besides, the ship is under the constant watch of countless security cameras, thus making any misdemeanors nearly impossible to go unnoticed.

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A while back, I became friends with one of the on-board gym trainers during a cruise. He confided in me about a past romantic encounter with one of the passengers on the ship. Apparently, the heavy security camera presence throughout the cruise ship prevented any possibility of them visiting each other’s cabins without being spotted. As a workaround, the pair ended up using a random towel closet to meet secretly. This might explain why many cruise ship employees tend to date their coworkers instead of guests, as it’s significantly less risky and far more practical.

While on the topic of secret liaisons on cruise ships, the prevalence of “swinging” among passengers was so high that many cruise companies had to introduce new training programs for their staff. It’s common for regular cruise-goers to decorate their cabin doors, with a covert symbol for swingers being an inverted pineapple. Consequently, many couples would adorn their doors with these upside down pineapples to discreetly signal their interest in engaging in such activities to their fellow passengers. According to a senior staffer I spoke with, crew members on her previous ship were directed to report any instances of pineapple decorations they found on board.

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One of the staff informed me that this issue began when some couples left their cabin doors cracked open as a signal to other swingers. Unknowingly, the diligent housekeeping staff would walk in on these couples. The employees on these cruises hail from various corners of the globe, including over a hundred different nations on my Carnival cruise, bringing with them their unique religious beliefs. The removal of pineapple decorations was aimed at protecting these beliefs held by the staff.

Keep in mind, these cruise ships are practically cities that float, equipped with all that you could envision. I’ve been on cruises that boasted an ice-skating rink, while my recent Carnival trip featured an 18-hole mini-golf course on the topmost deck. Daily itineraries are hung outside each stateroom door specifying the host of activities available for the day. Whether you’re keen on taking a shot at bingo, attending an art auction, or testing your knowledge at trivia including topics like sports, movie, history, Harry Potter, Friends, there’s something for everyone. Rest assured, you’ll never find a dull moment on a cruise.

By Spencer Althouse

Besides common entertainment, cruises host LGBTQ+ mixers, silent disco parties, wine tastings, and cooking classes. There are also confidential meetings arranged for those who are sober or on the road to recovery. For instance, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings go by the name “Friends of Bill” on each ship’s schedule, as an homage to Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA.

Consider that the cost of items on cruise ships is typically higher than on land. For instance, on my previous cruise, a 75-minute Swedish massage at the onboard spa and salon cost $175, and a “red carpet blowout” was priced at $99. If such rates fit your budget, great, but if not, there’s a hack. Try to book these treatments on port days when the majority of passengers are off the ship. Cruise lines often offer deals these days to fill in empty slots and discourage guests from using onshore spas. Furthermore, you might be able to negotiate additional spa perks when booking.

Courtesy: Spencer Althouse, Carnival / Carnival HUB App

All the cruises I’ve taken had a shopping mall onboard offering diverse items, from designer products to all kinds of candies or snacks. Bear in mind, the prices are usually steep. For example, where possible, avoid purchasing forgotten items like sunscreen onboard and instead wait until the next port. Regardless, there are undeniably ways to save money while cruising!

Notably, loyalty pays. The more you cruise with a specific line, the more benefits you accumulate. These may include free room upgrades, priority access, unlimited internet, and onboard casino credit. The rewards are based on the number of days you sail with each line. For instance, first-time Carnival cruisers are in the Blue tier. Second-timers reach the Red status, and after 25 onboard days, they reach the Gold tier. Platinum status is achieved after 75 total days of sailing, while Diamond status is reserved for those who’ve logged 200 days or more. It’s indeed surprising to see how many Diamond members there are – cruising for them isn’t just a vacation, it’s a passionate hobby.

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During my investigation, I discovered that Royal Caribbean operates a “Pinnacle Club” for individuals who’ve spent over 700 days onboard their vessels. Can you believe that? So if you feel like living on a ship for about two years (which seems amazing to me, frankly), prepare yourself for the ultimate in perks and privileges.

Another effective method to save funds is arranging your shore excursions with third-party providers. Though arranging via the ship may cost you more, it’s also the safest option as you need not stress about the ship leaving you behind. Ships adhere to a strict dock schedule on port days, so if you’re not back on time, they would leave without you. Otherwise, you carry the responsibility of reaching the next port on your own, so best of luck. If your port day is short and you’re docked for a few hours, I’d advise booking through the ship to avoid being left behind.

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Cruise lines display all excursion reviews from past passengers on their site, so this can be such a helpful resource to prevent you from booking something that sounds good on paper but is underwhelming in reality (been there, done that). I typically book excursions through vendors who are waiting outside as soon as everyone gets off the ship, but I do a lot of research ahead of time and will often find things to do that aren’t even offered by the cruise.

You obviously don’t have to go on any excursions at all either. There have been plenty of times when I’ve simply explored on my own by walking around, grabbing a bite from a local spot, or relaxing at the beach. You also don’t even have to leave the ship if you don’t want to. In fact, port days are incredible for peak relaxation on board because it’s way more quiet, and you’ll never struggle to find an open lounger by the pool. Free is my favorite number, so remember that there will always be plenty to do no matter your budget.

You should know that there are some banned items you simply can’t bring on a cruise. Before boarding, you’ll quickly go through security, sort of like a relaxed version of TSA at the airport. The whole process typically only takes a few minutes. Depending on the cruise line, you’re usually allowed to bring up to 12 cans of non-alcoholic beverages (my friend brought a six-pack of ginger ale in case she felt seasick, and those made it through just fine. I also saw a bunch of Diet Coke-obsessed people with whole cases, and those made it through too). Candles, hot plates, and the obvious knives, guns, fireworks, etc. are all banned as well.

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Bottled water is typically not permitted through security during check-in, but passengers can certainly purchase it once on board. More importantly, many free water refill stations are available throughout the ship for your water bottle. Having a water bottle is incredibly necessary, so be sure to bring one along. They are useful not only for everyday onboard living but also on port days when you disembark the ship.

14. Attempting to smuggle alcohol on board is not recommended as the chances of getting caught are high. Every ship has different rules, but generally only one unopened bottle of wine or champagne is allowed in your carry-on luggage. If you purchase spirits while on port, it is mandatory to check them in when you return to the ship. These will be returned to you when you disembark. For most cruises, profitability comes from the cumulative alcohol sales and casino winnings. For instance, it is impressive that Carnival’s fleet of 27 ships sells over 14,000 margaritas per day. On my latest voyage, a standard cocktail cost roughly $13, and the unlimited drink packages were approximately $60 per day.

Unlimited drink packages’ costs vary across cruise lines and can range from $55 to over $100 per day. Such packages include specialty coffees, sodas, beers, wines, cocktails, and more. Some passengers, who view cruises as parties, aim to maximize their investment. On my last trip, there were FIVE different varieties of espresso martinis available at the bars, making the party atmosphere somewhat understandable. Through my calculations, I found that consuming at least five specialty drinks per day makes the unlimited package justified.

Non-alcoholic beverage bundles are available, such as a daily pass for $9.50 which provides limitless soft drinks. However, complimentary beverages can be found onboard, both at the buffet or at sit-down dining services. These include tap water, brewed coffee, various hot tea options, hot chocolate, lemonade, iced tea, fruit juices (though fresh-pressed are an additional charge), and milk.

Cruise ships are known to produce immense amounts of food for each voyage. Specifically, the average cruise ship caters to approximately 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. A Carnival staff member shared that around 30,000 burgers are served each day, with over 1.3 million pounds of French fries made annually. Onboard dining options include complimentary sit-down restaurants and buffets, however paid specialty choices are available such as hibachi grills and steakhouses. My family favors the free dining amenities. I believe newcomers will be surprised at the quality of the food. The best aspect is you can order multiple starters, mains and desserts, ensuring you never leave hungry.

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Previously, the abundance of food resulted in substantial food waste. Currently, this is not the case as many ships are investing in becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly. Instead of disposing of food waste into the ocean, I learned during my exclusive tour that Carnival utilizes a “food digester”. Essentially a large machine filled with bacteria that break down all food remnants – much like the digestion process in the human body. Admittedly, it smelled exactly as you’d envision.

Similarly, some ships are even leveraging the power of artificial intelligence to enhance their environmental friendliness. During a visit to the control room, an engineer shared about the novel AI that their ship utilises. This AI analyses each voyage to suggest ways to improve the efficiency of future journeys, such as mapping out energy-conserving routes.

If you’re apprehensive about encountering bad weather on your cruise, don’t be. Sure, there are loads of indoor activities, but many ships also feature convertible rooftops on their top decks. So, in unpleasant weather conditions – be it cold, rain, or wind – they can typically shield the entire lido deck, where most pools, jacuzzis, and sun loungers are located. This allows you to enjoy an “outdoor” setting even in less-than-ideal weather. Numerous ships also provide indoor pools and areas just for adults, ensuring you have a great time regardless of the conditions outside.

My latest cruise included a conventional pool and jacuzzi arrangement on the lido deck, plus another area at the rear of the ship featuring an additional pool and two further jacuzzis. The ship even had a “Serenity” segment at the top deck, an “adults-only refuge” where guests below 18 were not permitted. This particular area was always in high demand on sailing days, leading to my recommendation of getting there early when on a ship equipped with one.

A plethora of ships also have exclusive sections and decks reserved for bookings of specific suites. This isolated area was tranquil, extremely luxurious, and gave the feeling of being aboard a completely different ship. It is beneficial to inquire about accessing these exclusive areas during the time of booking a cruise.

It is customary for every ship to have a celebrity godmother or godfather. These chosen individuals christen the vessel before its inaugural voyage, usually rewarded with unlimited free trips aboard this specific ship. Notably, Oprah Winfrey is the godmother of a Holland America vessel, and Audrey Hepburn had been the godmother of a Princess ship. Carnival selected two godfathers, Jay Leno and Jonathan Bennett, both for their Italian-themed voyages. Traditionally, ship christening was done by crashing a champagne bottle against the ship’s hull, but a more recent method where Jonathan Bennett toasted the ship’s safe journey by pouring champagne over the ship’s bell was witnessed.

Judi Dench has also played the role of a ship godmother, a role where a clumsy incident occurred. She took three attempts to break a champagne bottle against the ship’s hull, which resulted in champagne spraying all over her. This happened in 2002, and since then, the method of christening using the ship’s bell is preferred as it is far less chaotic.

One of the most special aspects of going on a cruise is the delightful surprise of a creatively folded towel animal awaiting your return to your cabin each night. The skillful housekeeping crew always ready a new whimsical creature for you after dinner. In fact, on many cruises, there are even towel-folding workshops for guests to partake in, and guidebooks accessible in the bookshop. A fun fact I learnt was that Carnival’s housekeeping staff create approximately 15 million towel animals annually!

In one of my mornings onboard, en route to the gym, I passed the lido deck to find it populated with a menagerie of towel animals lounging on the deck chairs. From monkeys and elephants to dogs, they were all there. However, an octopus towel creation left me awestruck the most, baffled by its intricate design.

Lastly, but not the least of the major highlights of cruise life is the availability of numerous free, self-serve ice cream machines on the ship. They’re all operational, unlike some popular fast food chains, and they are free! Imagine satiating your sweet cravings after dinner, breakfast, or even before breakfast. Nothing epitomizes a holiday better than indulging in as many servings of ice cream and frozen yogurt as you wish.

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I spent several summers working at Dairy Queen during my teenage years, and I truly cherished my time there. The opportunity to help myself to a cone whenever I fancied was something that made me feel comfortable. And for those who are stronger fans of gelato, there’s no need to worry! Cruises have taken care of this preference too. The ship I was on boasted of a gelato station, estimating the service of about 750,000 scoops within the current year, although I suspect that I am responsible for half of this number.

In conclusion, if there are any other cruise travel tips that you’ve found useful, you’re more than welcome to share them in the comments. I appreciate it!

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