5 ways to upgrade your cruise for $250 or less, according to professional travelers

18 Jul 2023
Matt Hochberg

Your cruise vacation is likely a major event for your family, so making it special is important.

Labadee sign with family posing

Maybe you're celebrating a special event, milestone, or gathering.  Cruises tend to be a popular choice for family and friend gatherings.

If you're looking to upgrade your cruise on a small budget, you're in luck.

Among our team of of professional travel writers, we combed through the best budget ideas to enhance your cruise ship sailing to make the trip just a little more special.

1. An awesome shore excursion

Yacht rental

My top choice for a way to make a cruise better is spending extra on a better shore excursion.

Your cruise will take you to various ports of call, and you'll find a variety of tours to consider.

One of my favorite shore excursions are day passes to a resort because you get beach and pool access, along with food and drink quite often.

Aruba pool resort

I always check a website like ResortForADay.com to book a day pass. (This link contains an affiliate link that costs you nothing extra to use).

Royal Caribbean may also offer tours worth considering, including lower capacity tours.  Smaller groups are another great way to explore with a better experience.

2. Buy a dining package

Chops Grille

Specialty dining is a popular way to splurge on a cruise, and a specialty dining package can make it much more affordable.

With just a 3-night dining package, you can enjoy a few extra cost meals without a huge extra cost.

Dining packages will cost you much less than trying to dine at the same amount of restaurants individually.

3. Thermal Spa pass

Thermal Spa

On select ships, you can purchase a thermal suite pass that gives you unlimited access to saunas, thermal seats, rainforest rooms and more.

Only Royal Caribbean's Oasis, Quantum and Radiance Class ships offer a thermal spa.

The exact options will depend on your ship, but usually it includes:

  • hot stone chairs
  • rainforest shower room
  • infrared sauna
  • steam room

You can buy a pass onboard the ship at the Vitality Spa, and then enjoy as many visits as you like.

Access to the thermal spa is limited, so you'll need to buy your passes as soon as you get onboard.

4. Photo package

One big reason to take a family cruise is for all the memories you'll want to make, and photos are still a big way to remember them.

You'll find ship photographers around your ship, primarily in the evenings to take photos of everyone dressed up for dinner.

You could buy individual printed photos, or invest in a photo package.

Photo package

Each photo package covers any photo that has at least one person in the cabin, regardless of who else is in the photo.

If your group is going to take the time to take photos onboard, a photo package can be a great idea.

5. Sushi class

A vastly underrated experience are the cooking classes, such as the sushi making class.

The sushi class teaches you how to make a couple different hand rolls, that you get to eat after. I was never one to think cooking classes would be fun, but then I tried it and really enjoyed it.

Read more: Izumi sushi making class on Royal Caribbean

It's a very low pressure class, where you can pretty easily make a few kinds of sushi rolls.

There's also a cupcake decorating class or guacamole fiesta class. The exact classes depend on which ship you choose.

Skip: RoyalUp


It may be tempting to upgrade your cabin through Royal Caribbean's RoyalUp program, but I think it's a mistake in the sense I think there's a low chance of you winning your bid.

Read moreHow can you win that Royal Up stateroom upgrade bid? It's pure luck

While a RoyalUp bid could fall within the $250 limit and certainly enhance your cruise by moving up a nicer room, the reality is the chances of you winning the bid are pretty low.

Essentially, there aren't that many open cabins to upgrade to because Royal Caribbean usually sells its cruise ships out.  So you're mostly banking on a last-minute cancellation, especially if it's a suite.

If you're in an inside room and trying to bid to a cabin category that has a lot of availability and less demand, such as an oceanview or balcony, your chances are probably a bit higher at winning a bid since there's more inventory of those types of cabins.

Regardless, I think you should spend that $250 on a sure fire bet, rather than a gamble like RoyalUp.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost experts on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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