Oosterdam Cruise Ship, Holland America Line

Half of your cruise experience is the shore excursions, and I strongly suggest that you budget for those, as you don't want your only experience of your ports to be the high-ticket trinket shops. When you're onboard and at sea, you need another plan. Sometimes it will involve spending a little extra cash, sometimes a lot. But it'll make the difference between a so-so cruise and decadent excursion worth writing home about. My top 7 picks, for your next cruise on Holland America Line's Oosterdam.

# 7. Get yourself professionally photographed. How often do most adults get a chance to have professional photographs taken while they're all gussied up for a formal evening? Your best bet here is to take advantage of the studio on board on formal nights, where a professional will pose you for portraits. The lighting and the poses here tend to come out better than the quicker shots taken by additional photographers at the entrances to the restaurants. Wherever you have your photos taken, you can view them in the photo gallery for the rest of the cruise, with no obligation to purchase them unless you look great.

#6. Java junkies, learn the location of the Windstar Café on the Promenade deck. All barista-prepared drinks here are espresso based and pack that kick that urbanites crave. If you like your drinks large and with several added pumps of flavor, consider purchasing a HAL coffee card for $44 when you board the ship, that will cover you for 10 strong, espresso-based drinks of your choice, including blended coffee beverages. For those less caffeine addicted, the dining rooms on the ship all serve complimentary medium-strength brewed coffee, espresso and cappuccino. But they don't pack the same kick as in the Windstar.

#5. Order the Chef's Special appetizers or dinner in your room at no additional charge. Many a cruiser has realized late in the game that they were missing out on some perks here. The standard room service menu that you'll find in your cabin appears to be limited in scope, and can get old fast. However, you can order off the daily changing Vista dining room menu, which features the chef's specials. The trick is that these are only available once the Vista opens for dinner at 5:30pm. Recent specials of the day included Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Basil Polenta and Warm Wild Berry Crumble with French Vanilla ice cream. If you have a late seating dinner planned, this is a fine option for early evening appetizers in your room while dressing for a show. Deluxe Suite passengers receive the daily Vista menu in their mailbox; other passengers can simply take a stroll by the Vista after breakfast to see the evening menu. Good to know: the breakfast menu in the Vista also changes daily. Soda and alcohol always involve a fee.

#4. Get Thee to the Thermal Suite! For passengers traveling without children or those taking a break from the kids, this is the civilized, decadent, adult place to relax. You need to purchase either a $40 day pass or the more economical weekly pass at $150 for one person/$250 per couple. Since the spa limits the number of passes sold, you always have peace and privacy. A pass to the Thermal Suite includes access to two areas: the thalassotherapy pool on the inside of the ship (no views) and the heated ceramic lounge chair area on the outside of the ship, with fabulous views. The thalassotherapy area includes a sea water pool heated to body temperature, with water jets at varying heights. The heated lounge chair area has a large picture window, a soothing fountain, an aromatherapy shower, a dry sauna, and a steam room. Try each of the ceramic chairs in this area, as the temperature differs from chair to chair. One may roast you, while another is just right. Have an at-sea day on an Alaskan cruise? Your ideal day should involve a work out in the fitness center, followed by a sauna and a soak in the Thermal suite, followed by reading time in the ceramic lounge chairs. When other passengers are waiting, it'd be rude to fall asleep in them, so make a pact with your travel companion to give each other a shove before you inevitably take an hour-long snooze. You can always grab a glass of water, juice, tea or a piece of fruit in the in relaxation area, which has comfy, padded, non-heated lounge chairs. Alcoholic beverages are allowed when you're using the lounge chairs in the thalassotherapy area. Simply pop out to the bar right outside the Spa area and bring them back in with you.

#3. Splurge on the Seaweed Wrap, float and massage. This is one of the priciest treatment onboard and worth every cent. It was hands down, the best Spa service I've ever experienced. You're covered in a scented seaweed paste that helps draw toxins out of your lymph system, and then scrubbed gently with a bristle brush to stimulate your immune system. After that, you're wrapped up and floated in a warm water suspension that draws every ounce of tension out of your body. After a quick rinse, you get a second wrap and float, followed by a back of body massage. I recommend spending the extra $50 for the full body massage, which brings your total to $270. On days when the ship is in port, the spa often offers discounts. If you're having an anniversary or birthday, make sure the spa knows it – a discount of $50 on any signature service may appear in your mailbox mid-way through the cruise.

#2. Have dinner in the 5 Star Pinnacle Grill. This costs $30 per person, and it's well-worth the expense to experience top steak-house level filet mignon, and the decadent chocolate volcano cake. It is rich, half molten, served with whipped cream alongside and it is not to be missed by any chocolate lover. For another way to experience the Pinnacle, keep an eye out in the Daily Event Listing, or ask at the Grill early in the cruise about specialty wine tastings in the Pinnacle Grill bar. Wine flights are also available in this restaurant, a fabulous way to sample the best that HAL has brought in from around the world.

#1. If at all possible, find a way to book yourself into a Deluxe Suite on this ship; you'll never look back. The suites are far larger than standard rooms, with copious storage areas and spacious bathrooms with a whirlpool bath, separate shower, and dual sinks. My last cruise on the Oosterdam was booked into a suite at the starboard stern corner of the ship. With its large, wrap-around deck, we had prime viewing, sans crowds for the Hubbard glacier and peaceful sunning time on several of our at-sea days. We could have easily fit a crowd of 20 people for a cocktail party this deck.