5 upgrades that are always worth the money, according to someone who's been on 50 cruises

Over the past 15 years, I've taken 50 cruises with family and friends, trying out different ships, routes, and cabins.

Here are five cruise upgrades I think are actually worth the money.

The number one upgrade I pay for on any cruise is a balcony cabin.

balcony attached to a room on a disney cruise ship
I like being about to hang out on my private balcony when I want some quiet time. Megan duBois

Whether I'm headed to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or the Bahamas, I always pay extra for a balcony cabin on a cruise. I love that I can walk outside and see the ocean at any time.

Another perk is that it can be a quiet place to rest or read a book when the pool decks get too busy but I still want to be outside.

It's different on every cruise, but balcony cabins typically cost at least $100 to $200 more than interior staterooms.

I try to book specialty dining as soon as I can.

fancy dining room on a disney cruise ship
Splurging on specialty dining is a treat on a cruise.Megan duBois

One of my favorite ways to treat myself on a cruise is by booking specialty dining.

Oftentimes, the options can range anywhere from $50 to over $100 a person, depending on the type of restaurant and meal.

A few of my must-do specialty restaurants include Palo for brunch on all five Disney Cruise Line ships, Raw on 5 on the Celebrity Edge ships, and Jamie's Italian by Jamie Oliver on some of the Royal Caribbean ships.

Specialty coffee drinks are a must for me.

specialty coffee drink on a bar on a cruise ship
I can't settle for mediocre drip coffee. Megan duBois

Just like hotel coffee, standard cruise coffee generally isn't all that great.

After sipping on a cup in the main dining room or buffet to get me going in the morning, I usually head to the onboard coffee shop for something more to my taste.

It's usually always better than the complimentary coffee. Plus, it's whipped up by baristas who can make everything from lattes to coffee-based cocktails.

On a recent Disney Cruise, I went to Cove Café, an adults-only coffee shop, and found my new favorite coffee drink at sea: an iced salted-caramel coconut latte ($5.50).

Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have a Starbucks on some ships too, which is great for those who want their normal morning brew.

Thermal-suite passes are a little luxury I try to book as often as I can.

thermal suite lounge on a Norwegian viva cruise ship
I love spending an afternoon in the thermal suites at the spa. Megan duBois

Thermal suites on cruise lines just getting better with newer ships. These serene spaces within the spa are filled with plunge pools, hot tubs, heated loungers, experience showers, and more.

On cruises longer than three nights, I try to book a length-of-cruise pass where I can come and go from the thermal suite as often as I want.

Prices vary depending on cruise lines and the length of the trip, but week-long passes typically cost between $120 and $300 a person.

It can be challenging to land the pass since there's only a limited number available, so I always head straight for the spa at embarkation.

Some unique activities are worth the extra cost.

megan and her dad in the test seat for the bolt roller coaster on a carnival cruise ship
It was fun to ride the roller coaster on a Carnival Cruise. Megan duBois

As cruise ships get bigger, more "How did they get that on a cruise ship?" activities appear on decks.

For example, the newest Carnival Cruise Line ships have a roller coaster that goes around the top deck. It costs $15 to ride, and you get two laps around the deck.

Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line's go-karts allow cruisers to race their family and friends around the track. It costs $15 a person for 10 laps, or you can pay $200 a person for an unlimited pass.

I'm more than willing to shell out a little extra cash to try these activities — even if it's just to say I've done it — especially since most of them are one-and-done splurges.

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