Cruise Tips: Five Things to Splurge on During Your Next Voyage

cruise tips, 150 Central Park on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas

Sometimes spending a little more during a cruise can buy you a lot in comfort and convenience. Consider these cruise tips.

Splurge one night for a meal in one of the ship's specialty restaurants. Onboard steak houses typically offer the best value: For a $20 to $35 surcharge, you can enjoy a meal that would easily cost twice that ashore, and the quality can be exceptional.

The most popular restaurants often sell out early during cruises, so book your reservations as soon as you can. Also: Some specialty restaurants charge for dinner but offer complimentary dining at lunch. It's something to check out when you board.

Rather than spending a couple of hours hanging out on folding chairs in the cruise terminal, you can avoid long lines and start enjoying your cruise in the comfort of the ship. You might not have access to your cabin right away -- it takes time to clean them all -- but you'll have access to food and a bar or two. Or, you can snag your place in the sun early.

Cruise lines offer priority boarding to those with special needs, suite passengers and members of the line's VIP club. Travel agents can also often arrange for priority boarding. Carnival offers an early boarding option for a fee of approximately $50, which covers all cabin occupants.

Group photos and portraits are often a good deal. Most ships now have several stations around the vessel offering different backgrounds where you can have photographs taken. The quality is often as good or better than you might find in your hometown studio. A color 8x10 print might cost about $20, a great value if you're traveling with your family. And remember, there's no obligation to buy the photos if you don't like them.

Several cruise lines offer prepaid packages for soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. Passengers pay upfront for unlimited sodas or alcoholic drinks, instead of paying for each drink in a lounge. Depending on your personal consumption, a package might make sense.

Do the math before you buy. Packages vary widely on cost and on what they include: alcoholic beverage packages cost about $50 per person per day; soft drink packages about $5 per person per day. Some luxury lines include all beverages, including alcoholic drinks, in the cruise fare.

Some ships have free laundry machines on board, some do not. All have valet laundry services for guests. The system works pretty much like valet service in hotels, but on a ship it's usually much cheaper. However some lines offer laundry service by the bag. Fill a bag and they will do it for one flat fee. This is a great deal for families who don't want to spend valuable vacation time doing laundry.

[Photo of 150 Central Park restaurant on Allure of the Seas/Royal Caribbean]
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