As much as I would love to stay in the casino on my cruise vacations and push those slot buttons, I have to admit I do love exploring the ports! After all, if I just wanted to see craps tables and poker games, I could do that at my favorite land-based haunts. But cruising truly provides the best of all worlds—gaming, great shows, amazing food, and visits to some of the most spectacular places on Earth!

Whether this is your first or 30th cruise, these tips will make sure you have the best experience!

I consider myself to be a pretty avid cruiser. I took my first cruise back in 1995, a 3-day jaunt to Ensenada, Mexico. In my conversations with fellow cruisers, I found that most people wanted to “test the waters” (pun intended) by taking a short cruise and booking an inside cabin. It makes sense—after all, why commit to something that you aren’t sure is your cup of tea? This was exactly my thinking, too.

The next step, I discovered, is to book a longer cruise with an inside cabin—because all we are going to do is sleep there, right? It seems like such a waste of perfectly good casino cash to spend it on the luxury of a window cabin! In my experience, this mindset doesn’t last long. 

By the time the 3rd cruise rolls around, we are usually a bit older and a bit more willing to open ourselves up to a new experience—and boom—we book the window view. For me, the window, or “ocean view”, has always been the most difficult to have. Here’s why: once you see that big, beautiful ocean sunrise or sunset, it’s almost impossible to go back to an inside cabin (with a few exceptions), and the next step up seems so far away—the BALCONY! Of course, we finally break down and book the balcony, and forget it—that extra space and the thought of sipping coffee on your personal balcony seems too good to pass up. Congratulations, you’re hooked. The only place to go from there is a suite and/or longer days at sea. 

As a self-proclaimed cruise expert, I have a few tips to help make your first or 30th cruise a bit more enjoyable, while still sticking to a budget. (After all, we still need to feed those beautiful Babies and Buffalos!). 

Number 1: Choose a cruise that lasts at least 5 nights.  

For me, 5 nights is pretty much the bare minimum. Since I live in Tennessee and my closest cruise port is about an 8-hour drive, anything less than 5 days seems a waste of my precious vacation days. Now, if I lived closer—like say, Fort Lauderdale would be ALL ABOUT the weekend getaway. But since cruising requires some creative planning on my part (until my bosses realize that cruising is an essential part of my job description), anything less than 5 nights just doesn’t cut it. I break it down like this: anything less than a 5 night and it seems like there’s just not enough time. Not enough time in the casino to get points, not enough days in port…it just seems a bit rushed to me. With a 5-night cruise, you actually have time to get to know your boat and your casino host, and still find some time to relax.

Number 2: Once you have “splurged” on an ocean view, it’s almost impossible to go back to an interior. 

Now, to save money, my trick is to book a porthole cabin. These cabins have a small window, and are usually classified as interiors—so you get the best of both worlds—the window and the cheaper cabin price. I find these cabins to be great when I am going with friends and plan to spend most of my days and nights in the casino. 

Number 3: Get to know your casino host.  

I know that this seems like a no-brainer, but really, I never did this until about 2 years ago. Now I make it a point on my first night to go and greet the host or hostess. I want them to know that I am going to be in their casino and that I appreciate them. I have never asked my casino host for comps (nothing wrong with that, by the way). What I have found is that by introducing myself and letting them know that I have booked through URComped, that I am treated even more special than I might have been. The host can put a face to the name on their spreadsheet. 

Now, I may be crazy, but since I have been doing this, I have won raffle drawings on EVERY SINGLE CRUISE. Everyone! Is it because the host is aware of me, or because I am putting a lot of coins in the machine? While I don’t know for sure, I can honestly say that my casino budget hasn’t really changed that much. And while I like to think that the drawings are COMPLETELY random, there’s a little part of me that believes that getting to know the host has somehow increased my odds. 

Number 4: Tip!

Servers and bartenders often make your trip more memorable. Tip them for a job well done.

I know this seems a very basic thing…but since I switched cruise lines, I love going to the bar to get a cocktail—I do not have to wait for someone to come to me. I always make it a point to tip my servers and bartenders. I also tip my room stewards. Yes, I know that gratuities are placed on my sign and sail card, but I like to give my room steward a $20.00 bill on day 1, and usually another $20-$50 (depending on how amazing and how many days) at the end. I will also leave a larger tip for my bar staff on the last night. For me, this is my way of showing appreciation for those who have made my trip so special. Plus, I think it’s just a bit of good karma.

Cruising is more than just a change of casino scenery—it is a chance to get out of your comfort zone and join in on activities like the trivia contests, slot and blackjack tournaments, and see a Broadway-caliber show. And if that wasn’t enough, cruising affords us the opportunity to play all of our favorite games and still get to see some of the most beautiful ports in the world—St Maarten, Ketchikan, and even Sydney, Australia. And at the end of the day, what more could you ask for? Except that hand pay, on the Buffalos, of course!

Finally, Number 5: Use an independent agent to book your travel.

Using an independent casino agent (AKA Junket Rep) can help get you booked onboard, like a travel agent, but they work directly with the casino to make sure you’re getting the best offers. URComped is the largest independent agent allowing you to get the best comp offers and VIP service for trips to casinos and cruises around the world. Learn more by visiting their website at urcomped.com  

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When Stace is not in the casino trying to finally get her first hand pay, you will find her at work as a Housing Counselor or in class, pursing her doctorate in strategic leadership. She is a music trivia ringer, having spent 30 years as a morning radio personality, and mom to 17 and glam-ma to 28 and counting (yes, really!). Her favorite ports (so far) are St Maarten and Ketchikan.

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