Who knew that luxury cruise lines keep secrets? It turns out those big brochures don't spell out every trick in their posh books, and first-timers might miss out on special treats, experiences or freebies because they're not in the know. We scoured Cruise Critic's Message Boards, compiled notes from our own sailings and then dug even deeper for more inside information on the lesser-known perks of luxury sailings. Use the knowledge to enhance your cruise, and don't hesitate to spill the beans to other new cruisers.
On luxury lines, you can eat whatever you want whenever you want – especially if you give the line a heads up. Just place the request in advance, usually 90 days prior to the sail for complicated requests and 24 to 48 hours for simple ones. Say you want truffle oil-scented popcorn at 4 p.m. each afternoon – even if you're cruising remote regions like Australia's Kimberley Coast or Iceland. Or perhaps your fantasy cruise ship dinner is roast duckling with Grand Marnier sauce – every night. Maybe it's as simple as a craving for pot roast. Special request meals are generally complimentary unless you're requesting something extravagant.
On most luxury ships and some upper-premium lines, you can order off the main dining room dinner menu via room service nightly – and it's served complimentary. On luxury ships, butlers or stewards will serve your meal in courses, if you like, just like in the restaurant.
Although main dining room dinner menus are traditionally written in the appetizer, salad, intermezzo (such as sorbet), entree and dessert sequence, feel free to order untraditionally. Request an entree as a first course, two appetizers as the main event or just make a meal of sweets. No one will bat an eye.
You don't like the thickness of the steak or the tenderness of the pork chop? Do not hesitate to send it back and request another better cut. Servers' goals are to make you happy. And unlike at some land-based chain restaurants, the onboard chefs are not afraid to present your meat rare or medium-rare if you request it.
On formal nights, some luxury lines serve complimentary caviar as a starter, usually with blinis or potatoes. It's acceptable to ask for a second serving; after that, it's deemed, well, overboard.
Can't score a reservation for a specialty restaurant? Try asking in person. Maitre d's are reluctant to say no to any luxury passenger's request and will do their best to accommodate you. If they can't, they might bend a rule and let you order from their menu via room service, usually a no-no unless you're booked in one of the ship's priciest suites.
If you're counting stars poolside or sipping cocktails at a bar and suddenly crave a burger, know that you can order one – or anything else – from the room service menu. On many luxury lines, anytime you're outside your suite – and anywhere on the ship – any goodie on the room service menu is yours. Ask any passing crew or pick up a house phone to place your order.
Some lines deliver their choice of complimentary canapes to your cabin or suite every afternoon or evening, with daily rotating selections. If you want the same canape every day or want to make requests given your dietary restrictions or preferences, say so and your butler or steward will accommodate. If you rarely eat the canapes and prefer not to have them at all, you can make that request as well.
Since food and beverages are complimentary on luxury ships, go ahead, throw a cocktail or dinner party in your cabin or suite for your travel party or newly made friends. It won't cost a penny if you're ordering off the complimentary food and beverage menu. (Though you might want to tip your butler extra for helping with setup and bartending. This is tricky as all gratuities are included and this service should be part of that. If you are planning to tip your butler at the end of the cruise – even if gratuities are included – consider upping the amount for the additional service.
Although sommeliers present just one complimentary white and one complimentary red wine for dinner, they have a stash of other such wines they're happy to open for you. If you don't like what the sommelier is pouring, ask him to open another bottle.
While wine is always included on luxury ships, and for many upper-premium lines at lunch and dinner, sometimes you want to splurge on a varietal from the fancy list with price tags. No worries if you can't finish it at once; your server can mark the bottle and save it for another night – they'll even whisk it to a different dining venue.
Cocktails are complimentary on luxury cruises, but servers and bartenders often typically reach for the most basic liquors, without giving you a choice of brands. If you have a preference, ask if your favorite vodka, gin, rum or other alcohol is available when you place your order. You might be surprised at the selection of labels included.
Mini-bars are usually pre-stocked with the ship's choice of brands and beverages. Ask your butler or stewardess to replace any you don't like with those that you do.
On upper-premium lines where wines are only complimentary at lunch and dinner, you can score a free glass in many a cooking class between meals.
What to expect on a luxury cruise: What's included in my cruise fare?
If you don't like the bathroom toiletries, ask the stewardess or butler if they have a backup brand; luxury ships usually stock hyper-allergenic choices, too.
The bigger and more expensive the cabin or suite, the better the perks. Before making a final choice, read the fine print and see if the perks add up to enough value to make booking a higher-level accommodation the real bargain.
Let your stewardess or butler know if you're celebrating a birthday or anniversary (if it isn't already noted in your cruise documents) on a luxury line such as Silversea or Regent Seven Seas Cruises. They tiptoe in and decorate your suite while you're away. Hearts, flowers, balloons, a cake – it's always a lovely surprise.
If your cabin is feeling crowded or you can't squeeze your luggage under the bed or another tucked-away space, ask your stewardess if a piece or two can be stored elsewhere on the ship.
What to expect on a luxury cruise: All about cabins
Spa fees are exorbitant on luxury cruises. Most ships offer port-day specials and discounts if you purchase multiple treatments at once. Some even offer sample mini-treatments and discounts on embarkation day.
Feel free to engage with enrichment lecturers when they are not working. They know that on luxury ships it's a passenger perk. You can stop to chat by the pool or in a coffee shop – even invite them to dinner. Just be conscious to share their free time with other passengers.
Didn't have time to download books on your tablet or buy paperbacks before you left on your cruise? Visit the onboard library. Upscale cruise ships stock hundreds of hardcovers to borrow; Seabourn has a whopping 1,000 tomes. With novels, travel guidebooks and biographies – these book nooks are a treasure trove for avid readers. And if you brought a paperback you don't want to take home, there's usually a shelf to leave it for the next passenger.
Luxury cruise lines offer numerous complimentary enrichment extras every day, like language and dance lessons, and wellness seminars. Read the daily chronicle to see what's free and note which activities need advance sign-up.
Show up at a complimentary exercise class and you might be the only one, or one of a few, who do. Guess what? You score a private or semi-private class with a fitness instructor without paying extra.
Complimentary shuttle service in most ports is standard for luxury and most upper-premium cruise lines. If the ship doesn't dock directly in town, the shuttles will take you to a central location, eliminating the need to haggle with a taxi driver in a foreign language.
What to expect on a luxury cruise: Nightlife and evening entertainment