Let me preface this post by saying...we're not big cruise people. We're more of a "put me in a hotel with an infinity pool overlooking the beach and a cocktail in hand" kind of people. But just like any vacation, we decided to make the most of it and found a few hacks.
Get The Perfect Spot
Depending on how long your cruise is, you'll have a few days at sea, which means everyone will be laying out all over the ship. After the first day of walking around the ship (twice!) only to find no empty chairs, we learned our lesson. What to do? On your way to the gym or breakfast in the morning, drop your towels on a couple chairs where you prefer to lay out. We prefer the highest deck as it's quiet and you get the best ocean views. Tip: Determine where the sun is heading so you don't move throughout the day and stay away from the areas where they play "cruise games" as it's loud throughout the day.
Research Your Destinations
We (we = my husband) researches everything about our vacation spot before we get there. Everything from best area to stay, hotels, restaurants/bars, beaches, sunsets, local must-have meals, and landmarks/activities. (It's pretty nuts the amount of research he does before we go anywhere but that's besides the point!) So going on a cruise to 4 different islands was no different. You only have ~8 hours at each destination so take the time to plan exactly what you'd like to do before arriving. In Puerto Rico, we used Yelp to discover the top rated breakfast spot near the port and headed to Cafe Manolin.
Enjoy Local Hotels
This is a MUST if you're a 'hotel' vacationer. We simply researched TripAdvisor for nearby hotels and scanned through their photos looking for the best beach/pool. In St. Thomas, we headed to the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas to enjoy their fish tacos, white sand beach, and infinity pool until our cruise left at 7pm. Some hotels offer day passes, but if you have lunch there, most don't mind you enjoying their property for the day. After scarfing down some plantains for breakfast in Puerto Rico, we headed to Condado Vanderbilt to lay out and enjoy a mojito (or two).
Say "No" To Excursions
There I said it! With all your research beforehand, you'll find out some of the best things to do on each island. So instead of paying $80/person for a beach excursion with all you can eat food and drinks, just take a cab from the cruise port to the same beach and save your money! In Turks and Caicos we went straight to the beach, rented our own lawn chairs and bought some local beer and food.
Just like any vacation, a cruise is what you make of it. We had a super relaxing time with naps every day, reading a book overlooking the ocean, infinite amounts of soft serve ice cream, watching the sunset while in the hot tub and a few fun stops in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Turks & Caicos.