If you really want to live large on your next cruise vacation, cruise lines offer plenty of ways for you to pamper yourself. (After all, the more you splurge, the more money they make.) From something as simple as a massage after a long day of sightseeing to something as extravagant as taking a shore tour by private plane, it's easy to throw fiscal responsibility to those ocean winds and treat yourself to a decadent day.
Want some ideas? We've divided cruise ship splurges into three categories: affordable (pricy but doable on an average cruise), once in a lifetime (something to save for a special occasion) and millionaire (most people will never go this far, but it's fun to dream). Go ahead -- live a little … or a lot!
Book a suite and throw a cocktail party in your cabin and balcony. Most suites have more space than two people know what to do with in one week. While you can spend most of your cruise luxuriating on your huge balcony, soaking in your whirlpool tub or watching movies on your private entertainment system, you'll be truly living large if you can host an in-cabin soiree. Your butler can help you with logistics. If you're not traveling in a group, just invite a few newfound friends from the ship.
Rent a cabana. Nothing says VIP like having a luxury cabana all to yourself. You can rent one for the cruise on lines like Princess Cruises or Holland America, or book one for the day on a cruise line private island, such as Norwegian's Great Stirrup Cay or Disney's Castaway Cay.
Plan a spa day. Whether it's something as simple as getting your hair done for formal night, as unusual as a 24K gold spa treatment, as ritzy as a Botox injection or as elaborate as a whole day at the spa, complete with thermal suite pass and multiple pampering treatments, you can't go wrong with a splurge at the spa. To make it more special, drag hubby along for a couples massage or rasul mud room experience, or do family bonding with mother-daughter or father-son treatments.
Book a romance package. If you're traveling with your sweetheart, surprise him or her with a romance package. Offerings include Champagne and rose petals on the bed at turndown, or such luxuries as breakfast in bed, a silver-framed keepsake portrait, spa treatments, specialty restaurant dinners and even matching bathrobes.
Take dinner to new heights. Skip the Plebian buffet and eat dinner in a different specialty restaurant every night (or at least try them all out). For an even bigger splurge, book a private dinner in a private dining room (for example, some of Celebrity's specialty restaurants have separate areas for an exclusive small group dinner) or -- if you've gone all out with a luxury ship or high-end suite -- spring for dinner served course by course in your stateroom.
Splurge on a shore excursion. Maybe it's a helicopter ride in Hawaii or sport-fishing in Alaska or flying a fighter jet in Europe. Maybe it's just ditching the bus for the private car. Whatever it is, you'll get bang for your buck when you put down the hundreds (or thousands?) of dollars on an exceptional shore tour and live your dreams.
Hire a personal trainer. If you've always wanted the full-on body composition analysis, complete with a personalized training plan and a buff Australian shouting encouragement -- a cruise is the perfect opportunity. Fitness centers onboard offer state-of-the-art equipment (think Pilates reformers, Kinesis walls and boxing rings) and popular group classes like TRX and Zumba, not to mention gorgeous sea views. Plus, if you splurge on getting fit onboard, you can also splurge on dessert in the dining room guilt-free.
Once in a Lifetime Splurges
Buy an expensive souvenir. A diamond might be forever, but a diamond in a bracelet bought on a special cruise vacation will bring back fabulous memories forever. So go ahead and splurge on a pricy keepsake, bought onboard or in port -- an expensive piece of jewelry, art to hang in your home or a foreign-label piece of designer clothing.
Use the travel concierge to book a private event. Did you know that many lines, especially the luxury ones, have travel concierges who can help you plan shoreside activities? Maybe your whole family group wants to have a fancy lunch to celebrate a big birthday or anniversary, or you want to arrange a private tour to a nearby attraction or a group outing to go hiking, fishing or diving. Get someone else to do the planning and make the arrangements while you spend more time lounging on deck.
Do the overnight, overland tour. Many exotic itineraries offer the chance to debark the ship for an extended land tour, complete with hotel stay, then reboard in a subsequent port. These overnight tours usually take you to key attractions that can't be reached during a daylong port call. Think an overnight in Cairo to see the Pyramids and Sphinx, a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, an adventure to Machu Picchu or a multiple-day excursion to Kakadu National Park in Australia.
Order the most expensive bottle of wine onboard. Cruise ships pride themselves on their wine lists, and usually have one super-expensive label onboard, usually just for show. For example, on select ships Celebrity carries a 2005 Screaming Eagle wine that it sells for $4,000 a bottle, and Disney Cruise Line offers a 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc for a whopping $25,000 (apparently because it's the wine a food critic orders in the Disney movie "Ratatouille," whose main character inspired the name of Disney's specialty restaurant Remy). Ordering something that expensive and then consuming it in a mere half hour is definitely a splurge reserved for the very wealthy.
Book up an exclusive section of the ship. Many ships have what we call ship-within-a-ship areas -- suites and staterooms that are gated off from the rest of the ship, often with private amenities such as sun decks and lounges. Think Norwegian's Haven, MSC's Yacht Club or even the Reflection suite area on Celebrity Reflection. While it's a splurge to just book one suite in these areas, you know you're a VIP when you can take over the entire area with your large group of guests (or simply book up cabins to sail empty so you have more space for your friends without any unwanted riff-raff). Because, heck, Oprah did it!
Do shore tours by helicopter, limo or private plane. One of the Cruise Critic editors was on a cruise in Israel where a shipmate chartered a helicopter to take him from Haifa to the Golan Heights, while everyone else traveled by bus. If you want to splurge big time, hire a helicopter, private plane or even a limousine to take you touring. Millionaires just don't do coach tours.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor