13 Top Tips to Master a Short Cruise

Suitcase packed with a few essential items required for a short cruise.
On a short cruise, you only need a few things to have a great time. | Author: Anete Lūsiņa

There comes a time when we all need to escape the usual routine for a refreshing change of scenery. Even for a short getaway you could either spend hours online poring over the possibilities for flights, hotel and entertainment options – or simply save yourself the hassle a book a weekend cruise. Cruising can be the ideal low maintenance vacation option with everything laid out for you and organized. You get free meals, a plethora of fun activities and entertainment, and never have to worry about where to go or what to do next.

Plus, you don’t have to give up too many of those hard-earned days off work. The typical 3-day cruise allows you to get your fix of fun and sun and still be back at work on Monday. Better still, add a day extra for a long weekend cruise, and come back completely refreshed. If you happen to live close to a major short cruise port gateway it’s a win-win, as a 3 day cruise is easy on both your time and money. They are often marketed as ‘teaser’ voyages to entice new cruisers, and are priced to fill capacity with per-day rates coming in at not much more than an average 3 star hotel.

Top Cruise Tips for your Short Cruise

Weekend cruises have a different feel than longer sailings but the goal remains the same - to pack in as much fun as possible, just within a shorter period of time. So... will a 3 day cruise be the perfect stress-busting short vacation or will its short length leave you wanting more? Check out our insightful cruise tips to make the most of the limited time and optimize your experience aboard.

1. Plan your cruise days carefully

Arrive with a game-plan to optimize the limited time. Narrow down your main objectives for the short cruise, and create your ideal day around them, whether it’s entertainment and socializing, dining in specialty restaurants, a spa treatment, or a specific activity you simply must do. For anything likely to be extremely popular, save it for a day when cruise ships are in port, when it will be much quieter as the crowds head ashore on excursions.

2. Peruse the cruise ship daily program each night

Cruise ships offer a virtually endless array of things to experience night and day, and while you have planned your preferences in minute detail, there will always be something you’ve missed. Spend a few minutes each night before bedtime to review the following day’s program, and make any changes as necessary.

3. Give shore excursions a wide berth

If you are a rookie cruiser looking to really immerse in the ships offerings, simply skip the shore excursions at the ports of call and get more bang for your buck. Turn a quick getaway into your very own cruise to nowhere and stay onboard. As the ship empties, you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with by the pool, then take a leisurely lunch and sip a cool cocktail or two. It becomes significantly more laidback. Make the most of this rare quietude.

4. Consider booking an inside cruise cabin

On a sailing lasting possibly no more than 72 hours, you’ll likely not spend too much time in your cabin outside of showering and sleeping. A roomy balcony suite is a nice luxury to have but why not save those hard-earned dollars to splurge elsewhere on the ship like a couple of nice meals in a specialty restaurant or a pampering spa session.

Balcony cabins on a cruise ship
If you want to save money on your short cruise, you should book an inside cabin. | Author: Anatoly Anikin

5. Set a budget for your cruise vacation

You are at sea only a short time but your planned budget can be soon blown out of the water when you are having fun. There are a ton of added extras the cruise line will try and entice you into, from specialty restaurants, a spa treatment, gym classes, Wi-Fi access and much more. Do set yourself a reasonable daily limit but don’t obsess over watching the pennies so much that it impacts your enjoyment. After all, you’re here for a fun vacation. If you are on a mission to let loose and party hard throughout the weekend cruise, consider a pre-bookable inclusive beverage package.

6. Download the cruise line mobile app

Nearly all the major cruise line have their own mobile app. Download it before arriving and get the lowdown on virtually everything you need to plan your days at sea. It could seriously save you hours of walking around in circles or waiting in line at the Guest Services desk. It gives you access to ship maps, the latest up to date activity programs, restaurant menus and port call information. A good cruise tip: you can also make reservations for premium services like a spa treatment. Perhaps best of all, you can check your onboard account balance in real time throughout the cruise so there are no nasty surprises waiting for you on disembarkation day.

7. Pre-register before arrival at the cruise port

Mandatory online pre-registration is required for each cruise line. With your booking number in hand, complete the process online via the cruise line’s website. You’ll also need to input travel document details and credit card information. If you fail to do this in advance it could result in a lengthy process at embarkation or even denied boarding.

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8. Speed up the ship embarkation process

There are two schools of thought about when really is the best time to arrive for embarkation. Get there early and beat the crowds or show up late when the long lines have disappeared. What everyone can agree on is to avoid the ‘peak’ check-in period of around 12noon – 2pm. With limited time to enjoy a weekend cruise, the sooner the cruise ship formalities are completed the sooner you can start to enjoy your short cruise vacation. Save time by checking in online and print out the boarding pass and luggage tags. If you just can’t stand to wait in line, consider splurging on priority boarding. There are a limited number of priority boarding places on each cruise and it has to be pre-booked.

9. Unplug for a stress free cruise

There are regular stories in the news of cruisers unaware they racked up huge cell phone roaming charges by not turning on airplane mode. Don’t be one of those guys. While there are (relatively expensive) Wi-Fi plans to purchase onboard, make your long weekend cruise a digital detox zone and simply enjoy the moment. Save your tweets and Instagram uploads for when you are back on dry land.

10. Set aside time for yourself while cruising

There is an obvious tendency to plan every waking hour down to the very finest detail on a short 3 night cruise. A plan of action is important to avoid the disappointment of missing out or enduring the long lines, but do also factor in some precious downtime. There are countless shipboard sanctuaries to escape to and curl up with a good book and sip a cool beverage, You are on vacation after all.

A man and a woman toasting on board a cruise ship at the pool with drinks and enjoying their short cruise
If you are looking for relaxation, then let yourself drift and enjoy the onboard offers without planning too much. | Author: rawpixel.com

11. Be flexible - anything can happen on a cruise

Your game-plan is set and it all looks fool-proof but cruising isn’t always plain sailing. Things can go a little awry, be it operational or weather related issues. Even ports of call can be skipped. Stay flexible and you’ll rise above any mishaps with good grace. A canceled activity at the last minute may be a disappointment but it’s also an opportunity to be a little more spontaneous and try something else you’d not previously considered. However well well-organized your quick getaway cruise vacation is, there is always be a surprise or two to embrace.

12. Visit Guest Services onboard the cruise ship at off-peak times

The cruise line mobile app is a godsend for answers to various queries and for pre-booking premium amenities, so make full use of it. However, there will be a time when you need real human interaction, so there is a big chance you’ll need to visit Guest Services at some point during the cruise. These guys are constantly dealing the same questions and issues throughout the day from a steady flow of passengers. You’ll notice the long lines, but few realize they are open 24-7.  If your query can wait, go visit them early morning before peak breakfast time or late at night when waiting lines will be much shorter or even non-existent.

13. Prioritize your carry-on to get your cruise vacation started faster

For most travelers the carry-on is little more than an afterthought – packed with all those items you couldn’t quite cram into your checked luggage. As time is short aboard, it’s your most essential piece of kit if you want to hit the ground running on a short 3 day cruise. Make sure your pack swimwear, shorts and flip-flops in the carry-on if you are keen to head straight for the pool before your checked luggage arrives at your stateroom.

Short cruise packing list

Dress code: Formal wear is fine but it hogs the space in the suitcase. ‘Resort casual’ style will suffice. Buttoned shirts and slacks and light summer dresses are versatile and a good compromise.

Mix and Match: With limited in-cabin storage and baggage allowance, you’ll want to make your few outfits work overtime on a short 3 night cruise. A good cruise tip is to match complementary colors that can be re-worn with a different skirt or trousers. Plus, a selection of accessories will change up the look of an outfit or dress. On a weekend cruise you are unlikely to get any sneering looks if you do happen to wear the same outfit twice.

A woman and a man who walk with their suitcases along the pier on blue water to a cruise ship
Taking a 3-day-cruise, you just need some essential things and clothes to relax in. | Author: Asad Photo Maldives

Packing list – the essential extras for a short cruise

No matter how long you spend pondering your 3 day cruise packing list, there will always be one or two items short. The cruise ship likely sells all the useful space- and time-saving gadgets you’ll need but they come at an eye-watering cost compared to your local store. Don’t forget these essential items:

  • Ear plugs: Your quick getaway cruise could well be a boisterous, party-hearty affair – arm yourself with a quality pair of earplugs for a restful sleep.
  • USB power port:  We definitely recommend unplugging but if you really must stay connected a USB power port is a must. Most travelers possess a camera, laptop and phone at least, and there are not nearly enough power points in most cabins.
  • First Aid Kit: Over the counter meds are expensive on cruise ships. Also, don’t forget to include your preferred hangover cure.
  • Essential travel documents: An obvious no-brainer but would-be cruisers do get caught out and end up being left at the dock. Make sure you have the right documentation for cruises to the Bahamas, or elsewhere, be it a passport or original birth certificate and photo ID. Never place them in checked luggage. Have them at hand (in a handy document wallet if possible) along with the cruise ship boarding pass.

Your first cruise will likely not be the last

As a budget vacation option, short cruises to the Bahamas or other nearby destinations are unbeatable but as outlined above, it takes some research and planning to fully maximize the fun and enjoyment. For new cruisers there is little to lose in terms of cost and time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. When done right, a short 3 day cruise to the Bahamas for example, could be the catalyst to a whole new life of annual cruise vacations.

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