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These are the 15 best cruise gifts for the holidays

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.


The winter holidays are almost here. Every year, I vow to start shopping early, but I’d say I’m only successful about half the time. If, like me, you have avid cruisers on your gift-giving list and appreciate ways to make shopping less stressful — especially if you’ve waited until the last minute — you’ll want to check out these recommendations.

From stocking stuffers to big-ticket items, these are the best gifts for cruise lovers.

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Stocking stuffers

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Lanyards

Lanyards are hotly debated cruise accessories. Some passengers swear by them for keeping track of their cruise cards, while others insist they’d never be caught wearing one.

Whether you include one for serious use or as a gag gift, they’re affordable and compact enough to fit in a stocking. Plus, they come in nearly limitless colors, styles and clasp variations. Now, all that’s left to do is decide whether the giftee would prefer a nautical theme or something with a bit more bling.

Magnets

If you’re new to cruising, you might not know that the walls in most ships’ cabins are metal, which means they’re magnet-friendly.

Passengers use simple pushpin-style magnets to keep everything from spa flyers to shore excursion tickets organized and easily accessible — just like hanging important reminders on the refrigerator at home. Magnetic hooks are also a solid option for anyone who might need extra space to hang bathing suits, towels, bathrobes or workout clothes. (Just be sure to choose a type that can handle the weight.)

Bathroom spray

It’s not pleasant to consider, but anyone who has shared a bathroom in close quarters knows how embarrassing it can be. If the person whose stocking you’re filling has a sense of humor, you’d be remiss not to include a bottle of scented toilet spray.

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There are several brands on the market, including Poo-Pourri and Squatty Potty’s Pootanicals, which will make sure everything comes out roses (or lavender or citrus). Bonus: The bottles are small enough to comply with the TSA’s carry-on liquid restrictions.

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Highlighters

Although many cruise lines are moving away from printed daily schedules and, instead, giving passengers access via cellphone apps, it’s still possible for passengers to request physical copies if they prefer something tangible.

Because the printouts are often jam-packed with things to do, highlighters are useful for marking off the most appealing activities. For bonus points, get the recipient a pack with several colors, which will allow different members of the travel party to indicate their preferred pastimes on the same sheet.

Gift cards

Know someone who’s got a cruise coming up? Snag them a cruise line gift card for as little or as much money as you’d like. They can put the value toward their onboard spending, which will help to offset purchases like alcohol, specialty dining, spa treatments and shore excursions.

If the person you’re buying for doesn’t yet have a sailing planned, they can use the gift card toward a new booking with whichever line the gift card is for. (Cards in various denominations are offered by several major lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America, Princess and Celebrity. Disney Cruise Line accepts general Disney gift cards for bookings and onboard spending.) Or, if you know they have to fly to their port of embarkation, consider an airline gift card.

Don’t forget: These are the best credit cards for gift card purchases.

Price-conscious presents

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Magnetic board

If the cruiser in your life is sentimental, a magnetic board is a great present that will help them to display their keycards from each sailing. Post-voyage, they can attach some magnetic tape to the back and stick it to the board.

Many of the options come framed with wood or metal, making for stylish decor. Plus the shape — generally square or rectangular — is easy to wrap.

Portable charger

Anyone with a social media account knows how tempting it is to share travel photos at every turn. Unfortunately, this leaves any mobile battery screaming for some juice, especially after a long day lazing on the beach or exploring in port. With many cruise lines leaning heavily on mobile apps for everything from daily schedules and dinner reservations to muster drills, even sea days can drain batteries quickly.

Cruisers who just can’t seem to disconnect, even on vacation, will find a portable charger invaluable. They’re available in a range of sizes, colors and price points, but decent ones will set you back anywhere from $50 to $100 and can charge multiple devices.

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Alcohol camouflage

Although I don’t recommend sneaking alcohol onto a cruise ship, many cruisers still try to save a few bucks by bringing their own booze. Apart from generally not being allowed, it’s tacky. Plus, if it’s detected and confiscated, it won’t be returned, so it will actually end up costing you more when you combine the price of the contraband alcohol with any drinks subsequently purchased onboard.

Still, if you know someone who absolutely insists on skirting the rules, they will surely welcome a set of plastic liquid bags with caps — known by many as rum runners — or faux toiletry bottles, which allow tipples to easily masquerade in checked bags as shampoo, mouthwash and more.

Travel tracker

The frequent cruisers on your list will love the chance to show off where they’ve been with a present that tracks their travels — and I’m not talking about some high-tech gizmo that will cost a fortune.

Travel maps are all the rage right now. They range from scratch-off poster versions and color-in globes to corkboard wall hangings where you can mark destinations with pins. I’ve even seen larger-scale wooden versions that take up entire walls, giving wanderers the ability to check off each location with markers, paint or chalk.

Gadget organizer

As modern cruisers know, travel these days is almost impossible without gadgets. Whether they’re using a cellphone to scan a flight boarding pass or a tablet to read a novel by the pool, it means wrangling cell phones, tablets, laptops, camera equipment and, of course, chargers.

Help them keep it all neatly organized and in one place with a number of packable pouches that offer zip pockets, elastic loops, and lots of other nooks and crannies for storing everything they’ll need to stay plugged in when they sail. Want to add an extra-special touch? Include a spare phone charging cable; they’ll be glad you stowed it in there when they inevitably forget to bring their usual one.

Seaworthy splurges

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E-reader

If you know a cruiser who’s also a bibliophile, gift them some holiday cheer with a shiny, new Kindle or Nook that they can take on their next voyage to save space. (Nobody needs to lug several pounds of heavy books on vacation.)

If you’re feeling extra generous, you can include a gift card that will cover the purchase of their first title or two.

Luggage

Know a certain seafarer who’s in need of a new set of luggage? You can find a decent selection of styles, colors and brands — including some of TPG’s favorites — at a range of price points.

Is the recipient more of a carry-on-only traveler? If so, TPG can also recommend some formidable options. (My personal favorite is Away’s standard-size carry-on bag — not the larger carry-on, which doesn’t fit in some overhead bins.) In this case, you might also want to consider accessories like packing cubes or small liquid containers to complete the present. Fun tip: Forgo a traditional “to/from” holiday tag, and attach a luggage tag instead.

Want to shop local? Check out a small luggage retailer near you.

Action cam

For the active cruiser who has just about everything, consider a GoPro or similar action camera to help them score footage of their experience on the onboard waterslide or on a crazy zipline adventure in port.

Action cams often come with a hefty price tag to start, but some of the add-ons — memory cards, head straps or gimbals — might also be worth including.

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Car service or private jet

If you’re looking to go big with your gift and you have funds to work with, consider reserving a car service or private flight for your already-booked cruise-loving friend or family member this year. To start, all you need is their name and departure date (and a pickup location for a car service), and you can make sure they arrive at their destination in pampered style.

Want a good place to start? Check out semi-private flights with Aero. Keep in mind that some cruise lines, such as Virgin Voyages and Silversea, already include car service to the embarkation port in some of their fares.

Cruise

This one is completely obvious as one of the best gifts for cruisers, but there is no more relevant present than, well, a cruise. It’s a gift that’s sure to impress — but only if you know the recipient’s preferred travel style. Certain factors — such as the line, ship and destination you pick — can make or break a cruise experience, so you’ll want to choose carefully.

A cruise itself is, of course, a large purchase, but you could book it using points and miles, or earn points by booking through a portal, such as United Cruises or the American Express Cruise Privileges Program. If you’re not familiar with how cruises work, you should learn the basics here before committing:

For even more gift ideas, check out our list of quirky but useful cruise must-haves.

How to maximize your winter holiday spending

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Do you have tons of points and miles stored away? A quick bit of research can help you use them to buy presents for everyone on your list.

If you’re looking to earn points, rather than burn them, brush up on the season’s latest credit card offers, which can help you maximize the return on your spending.

For example, through Dec. 25, you can score up to five points per dollar spent on Amazon purchases when you use an eligible American Express card, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express. (If you don’t have a qualifying Amex, there are other cards — including the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Discover it® Cash Back – that will give you the best bang for your buck when you shop at Amazon.)

The information for the Discover it Cash Back has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Or, depending on where you plan to shop and how much you’re planning to spend on presents this year, perhaps it’s time to apply for a new card. The Citi Premier® Card, which has a modest $95 annual fee and is currently offering 80,000 bonus points when you make $4,000 worth of purchases in the first three months of account opening, will reward you with a generous welcome bonus. Another good option is the Amex Platinum, which will give you 80,000 points after you spend $6,000 on purchases the first six months of card membership.

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