There's a reason Cruise Critic's message boards are so popular. Not only can you while away many happy hours chatting with friendly folks, but you can also make your cruise vacation even more incredible by participating in our forums.

Need proof? Here are the top eight things you can do on the Cruise Critic Message Boards to make your next cruise even better.

1. Ask questions so you're better prepared.

Can I bring soda onboard? What's the kids club like, and does it offer meals? When is the best night to make a specialty restaurant reservation? Can I wear shorts to dinner? Post any question you have about your upcoming cruise, and someone on the message boards will have an answer. Rookies especially can learn from experienced travelers to avoid first-timer mistakes and have a better vacation. Search for answers and information on forums dedicated to each cruise line.

2. Get recommendations for onshore tours and activities.

Cruise Critic is a valuable resource for planning your next cruise (Photo: leedsn/Shutterstock)

Planning your time in port can be daunting and research-intensive. If you're trying to decide between two shore excursions in Cozumel, or want recommendations for a tour guide in St. Petersburg, ask your fellow Cruise Critic readers on forums devoted to specific cruise regions. Not only will they tell you their favorite and less preferred shoreside adventures, but they'll likely post beautiful photos and detailed instructions, too -- down to bus routes and walking maps.

3. Make friends.

The Roll Call section of the message boards is a place where cruisers post threads for people booked on the same sailing, filtered by cruise line, ship and sailing date. Search for your specific voyage date, and comment on the post to join the fun. You can get to know folks prior to your sailing and even arrange fun activities together once onboard, such as a bar meetup, slot pull or cabin crawl. Roll Calls are especially useful if you're looking to save money with a private tour but need extra people to join your group to fill a van or lower individual costs.

5. Get support around losing weight before your cruise.

No one wants to gain 10 pounds on vacation, but no one wants to say no to fruity cocktails and decadent desserts on a cruise ship. Health-conscious Cruise Critic members have joined together to support each other in losing weight before their vacations, so they can enjoy the abundant food onboard. Weekly weigh-ins and eating tips on the Lose Before You Cruise forum will better prepare you to enjoy a guilt-free vacation.

6. View photos to get the lay of the land.

Bear catching a wild salmon (Photo:GoofyontheHiSeas/Cruise Critic Forums)

Cruise Critic members love to share the photos they take of their cruise ships and the ports they visit to help their fellow cruisers with their own vacation planning. Get a feel for what your cabin will actually look like, or identify some beautiful dishes in the main dining room that you'll have to order for yourself. Head to the Gallery tab of the forums, and choose to look at photos based on subject (like cruise food or ports of call), or search cruise ship photos by line.

7. Read reviews and live reports.

If you want to learn more about your cruise or virtually experience it before you sail, look for members posting "Live From" reports onboard their cruises or posting reviews after they return. You'll be able to learn more about the highlights, and any potential lowlights, of the trip and get tips on tours, dining, activities and more. Click on the Member Reviews section, and search for reviews by cruise line, ship or cruise region. Or look for "Live From" in thread titles on your preferred cruise line's boards.

8. Register to attend a Meet & Mingle party.

Cruise Critic cake served at a Meet & Mingle hosted by MSC Seaside (Photo: MPOWE547/Cruise Critic Member)

Did you know that Cruise Critic members on select cruise lines get special exclusive perks? Cruise lines, such as Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean, partner with Cruise Critic to host Meet & Mingle parties onboard their ships, where Cruise Critic members can meet each other and enjoy some snacks and drinks on the house. Some cruise lines even send ship officers to chat with Cruise Critic members, and some groups organize their own gift swaps or raffles. Who knows: You might meet new friends to have fun with throughout the rest of your vacation!