Free money to spend on your cruise on almost anything you want, just for booking a cruise you were already planning on taking? Yes, please. Shipboard credit -- also known as onboard credit or OBC -- is one of the most exciting perks a cruiser can receive. Who doesn't want to be given a few bucks to spend on extra-fee dining or drinks? But unless you're staying in a suite, most cruisers only receive around £50 on UK lines (or between $25 and $100 on American lines) in shipboard credit. That might not sound like a lot, but if you do a little research before you cruise, you can make that £50 go further than you think.
Whether you're interested in dining, drinking, the spa or something else entirely, here are some recommendations of the best ways to spend that onboard credit.
If You're a Foodie
Want to get to more than one specialty restaurant with your shipboard credit? Thomson Cruises offer discounted specialty dining on embarkation day, with typical prices ranging from £15.95 to £19.95 per person, plus a saving if you book a combined specialty package, such as the A La Carte Trio Package onboard Thomson Celebration, which offers a saving of 10 percent on dining at all three specialty restaurants. Another option is to do lunch at a specialty restaurant that typically costs more for dinner. Two restaurants at which this is an option are Jamie's Italian and Giovanni's Table, both found on select Royal Caribbean ships. Lunch at Jamie's is $20 per person (a $5 per person savings); the savings are even greater at Giovanni's where lunch is a mere $10 per person, compared to $25 pp for dinner.
Casual a la carte eateries are also a good choice for making the most of your ship credit if you want to use it for specialty dining. You can make a full meal of smaller items from places like Bonsai Sushi (on select Carnival ships) or Johnny Rockets and Sabor (on select Royal Caribbean ships). Another option is to spend the money in a bar where you get a drink and food for the price of just your drink. On select Princess ships, Vines wine bar offers sushi and tapas with any wine purchase.
If Beverages Are Critical
If you're going to use your OBC on drinks, you'll want to take advantage of money-saving offers. Cocktail lovers should look for drink of the day specials, while beer fans should take advantage of buckets, which cost less than ordering one bottle at a time. Princess doesn't have a bucket, per se, but does have a five-for-four beer package priced from $22 to $27, depending on which brand you want. If your tipple of choice is wine, you might want to invest in a cruise line wine package. P&O Cruises offer up to 15 percent off wine packages, which typically start at £74.50 for four bottles. So it'll cost you a tad more than your OBC, but it offers a discount over purchasing individual bottles.
If You Need Your Daily Coffee Fix
Around £30 will get you one specialty coffee each day (or two depending on your java of choice) on every cruise ship out there. But P&O Cruises' £21.50 Costa Coffee package, including 10 coffees/iced coffees, helps passengers save up to 25 percent on their daily caffeine hit. Princess offers a similar deal for passengers, too. Purchase the line's coffee card, and for just under $37, you get 15 espresso-based hot or cold coffee drinks with unlimited brewed coffee and premium teas for the duration of your sailing. Disney Cruise Line also offers a way to save with its frequent buyer coffee card; for every five specialty coffees you buy, the sixth is free.
If You Love the Spa
Truth be told, you can't do much at the spa beyond hair and nail salon services for £50, but if you've got your heart set on visiting the spa and want to stretch your OBC, wait for a port day to make your appointment. Just about every cruise line offers port day specials or packages that can save you money or get you three or four mini-treatments for the price of one full treatment. If you prefer the fitness side of the spa, consider using your onboard credit for yoga, Pilates, spin or boot camp classes; £50 will get you through about half a week if you go every day.
If You Crave Retail Therapy
There are lots of shopping opportunities on cruise ships, but if you want to make your £50 go further, shop in the "everything for less than £10" areas of the onboard boutiques (if available) and keep your eyes open for special sales. Common promotions are the £10 and BOGOF sales; they're best for items like scarves, clutches and costume jewellery. Another option is to look for a cruise line or cruise ship-branded item to take home as a souvenir. A printed photo of you and your travel party in your formal night finest also makes a nice souvenir; you can usually get two for about £50.
If You're With the Family
Fifty pounds can go a long way if you want to use your shipboard credit for spending time with the family, whether you use it up in the arcade playing pinball or video games, or splurge on something unusual like the 4D theatre and Formula One simulator on MSC Cruises' MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa. Alternatively, you could ditch the kids for a night (or two) and use the money to pay for cruise line babysitting so you can have some adult time.
If You're Ready to Spend Money to Win Money
If you embrace the "gotta be in it to win it" way of life, you might want to spend your OBC on a bingo package or in the casino (where permitted). There are no guarantees you'll win anything, but if you can make your £50 last at a table game in the casino you could end up getting a drink for free.
If You Want to Explore
As with the spa, £50 ship credit doesn't always get you too far when it comes to buying shore excursions, but every cruise line does typically offer at least one excursion under £50 in most ports. Examples include Thomson Cruises' Dubrovnik Game of Thrones' location tour for £44, Norwegian Cruise Line's Marseille walking tour for $49 or island beach break in the British Virgin Islands for $39. If you've got a little extra money, we do recommend putting the shipboard credit toward the excursion you want rather than settle for one you might not enjoy as much. A second option would be to use the money on a cruise line-sponsored shuttle (only available in select ports, typically in Europe) and then explore on your own.
--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor