Everything to Know About Norwegian’s “Free At Sea” Sale

Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Free at Sea” deal is one of the most appealing cruise line offers out there. But is it a good deal? It is worth buying? And what details should you know when you book?

Norwegian Pearl in port
Sailing a Norwegian cruise? The line’s “Free at Sea” offer provides perks to sailing, but there is fine print to know.

While cruise passengers have gotten used to shelling out plenty of cash for extras on the ship after they board, not everyone likes being nickeled-and-dimed.

That’s why this offer aims to provide many of the extras you’d normally buy on a trip all included in your cruise price. That gives you a more all-inclusive atmosphere on the ship, instead of worrying about more spending once on the ship.

With “Free at Sea,” you book a cruise and get any number of free perks included with your cruise. While what’s offered to passengers does change slightly from time to time, the traditional deal offers a lineup of perks for you to select from:

  • Free open bar
  • Free specialty dining
  • Free shore excursions
  • Free wi-fi
  • Free third/fourth guests

So with the deal, maybe you select free drinks for the duration of your trip. Or maybe you go with free wi-fi… or having kids sail free… or take advantage of free shore excursions.

Norwegian has been offering some version of the sale for some time now. And anecdotally, it’s one of the most appealing offers out there. Who doesn’t want to get free drinks or free specialty dining tacked onto their cruise? In fact, it promises to take away so much of the nickel and diming that seems to be creeping into cruise fares these days.

But while the sale sounds mouth-watering, there are definitely some things you will want to know before you purchase your fare in order to get the best deal… and avoid any surprises.

The Number of Perks Depends On Your Cabin Type (But Some Sales Include All Perks For Every Cabin)

First things first, while you can get all the perks included with your cruise, the number of freebies you can select normally depends on the type of cabin that you purchase. The higher grade of cabin you choose, the more picks you receive.

Pick a studio or inside cabin and you might only be offered one free perk. Oceanview, balcony, and mini-suites get to pick more offers offers, while suites, and The Haven cabins normally get to select all the perks. 

But if you’re patient, you can find times when NCL offers all the perks, regardless of cabin type. For example, as of this writing all cabins — regardless of if they are inside rooms or top-of-the-line suites — are able to get all the perks included in their fare.

Just know that before you get excited about all the perks, there is a chance you’ll have to pick from among several… and it can be a tough choice.

Sometimes More Perks Are Offered

NCL logo on ship funnel
NCL tweaks the free offers regularly. Sometimes it’s the actual perks offered, other times it is the number of items included with the deal.

In addition to changing the number of perks included with the room you book, NCL also adjust the actual perks themselves. Typically this means adding a perk or two occasionally to sweeten the offer.

What you’ll find is the five base “freebies” don’t change. They include: 

  • Free open bar
  • Free specialty dining
  • Free shore excursions
  • Free wi-fi
  • Free third/fourth guests

But occasionally the cruise line adds in other deals. Most recently we’ve seen seen free airfare for second guests (for those flying to the port) and free cruise credit to put toward booking another trip while onboard the ship.

The “Free at Sea” Offer Runs Consistently

With the ability to get all the perks included with your cruise, it can be tempting to want to jump at the deal so that you don’t miss out. In fact, normally you’ll see a timer on the Norwegian website counting down until the sale ends.

In this case, you don’t seem to have much to worry about. The offer has run in some form or another (there are small tweaks here and there) for years. And while we don’t check every day, we can’t think of a time in recent history that it hasn’t been offered.

So yes, the sale may change slightly, but some form is seeming always offered. Don’t think you have to rush to buy or risk missing out. If the time isn’t quite right to book, you’ll most likely see something similar when you are ready.  

Rooms Without Perks Are Less Expensive

One of the things you might not realize is that you can purchase cabins on the ship without the perks offered. Why would you want to do that? Sailing without the perks is actually cheaper than buying the same level of cabin as part of the sale.

Take a balcony cabin we found for 7-day Alaskan cruise, for instance. The price per person for a balcony cabin that included the “Free at Sea” offer was $2,216 per person. 

Norwegian also offers a “Sail Away” balcony, which is a room that’s not part of the promotion, and the cruise line picks your room. In return, you get a cheaper rate. In this case, it was $2,086 per person.

So the “Free at Sea” deal was actually $130 more per person — or $260 extra for a couple sailing together.

Remember that for that price difference you get all the perks and get to choose your actual cabin on the ship. As well, if you plan to buy things like drink packages ($99 per person, per day), you still come out way ahead despite the higher price. Still, it is a higher price to pay for the same type of room.

If the perks aren’t something you’ll use, then it may not be worth it for you to book the offer.

You Still Have to Pay Gratuity… Even on Free Things

One of the biggest draws to the Norwegian sale is that you can get free open bar on your trip. With the price of alcohol on a cruise being high (think $10-14 for a cocktail or about $6-8 for a beer), having free bar privileges can be a huge money saver. Meanwhile, Norwegian charges $99 for an unlimited drink package. On a 7-day trip, that’s hundreds of dollars you’re saving by having it included.

But with the free drink package (as well as other things like specialty restaurants), you are still on the hook for gratuities. With Norwegian, that’s an automatic 20% on the value of the package, or $19.80 per person, per day. For two people, that’s $39.60 each day.

So on a 7-day cruise, a couple will end up paying nearly $300 in gratuities for your “free” drinks.

You can opt out of the free drink package and avoid paying the gratuities. 

You Don’t Have to Select a Perk If You Don’t Want It

Drinks on a bar
NCL’s “Free at Sea” offer the drink package for free, but gratuities are still charged on the value.

With the extra cost of some perks like free drinks, there can actually be a disadvantage to having it included on your cruise if you don’t use it. That’s ok. When you book you don’t have to take advantage of every single perk that’s offered.

You have the option to select from the list of options, up to the amount of perks that are included with your cabin type. And if you book during a time when all perks are offered, you have the choice to opt out of those that require a gratuity charge such as the drink package and specialty dining.

Understand the Terms & Conditions Before Booking

In general the perks from Norwegian are straightforward, but there are some terms you should know about.

For instance, we’ve mentioned that gratuities are still charged even on free perks. If you take advantage of the third and fourth guests in a cabin sail free perk, for instance, they will still be charged daily gratuities on the ship like any other passenger.

Other things to know include that the free specialty dining perk is only for a some meals (2 per person in total for a 7-day cruise if booking a balcony cabin, for example) and gratuities are also charged on the value of the package.

The free wi-fi offer is for only 75 minutes on cruises less than seven days or 150 minutes for trips of 7-11 days. It is not unlimited.

Free shore excursions are actually a $50 credit. If your excursion is more, then you’ll need to pay the difference. 

For the full terms and conditions of the offers, you can click here.

Airfare Is Only Free Sometimes

One of the perks that seems to come and go is free airfare (sometimes for multiple guests, sometimes only for one guest) to the cruise port. This perk isn’t regularly offered like the others, so consider it a deal if you find it.

As you might expect, there are some caveats when it comes to free flights. Most notably, airfare charges will vary if you do have to pay something, such as when one guest is free and the other pays full price.

The price changes depending on where you’re flying from. Say you live in Austin, Texas. In one case case we found the flight offered through Norwegian to a cruise departing New York was $150, with the second guest flying free. A sample flight from Charlotte to New York was just $100.

In other words, what you pay depends on where you live and where you’re flying. In many cases the prices are still attractive from what we saw.

Do the Math Before You Buy

For many people, selecting the “Free at Sea” offer is a no-brainer, and they will end up saving money. But remember that you’ll pay more for the cabin if you book the sale. Fares can be hundreds of dollars cheaper without the sale.

But if you aren’t a big drinker or plan to drive to the port, or don’t care about shore excursions, it could be that buying the cheaper cabin is worth it for you. After all, you’ll have to pay gratuities on the drink package, still have to pay for some flights, and pay gratuities on specialty restaurant dining.

So if you won’t use the perks that are offered, be sure to consider if the deal is worth paying the higher price. If not, then you might be better off sailing without them.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Please Beware, If you take the “Free” drink package you will be charged the $19.80 per day regardless of weather you drink or not, we do not drink. When I asked for a refund of the $200 gratuities Norwegian now says it is a service charge and not refundable. So the “Free” drink package cost us $200, IMO very dishonest and misleading.

    Also they advertise a Bingo with a $5000 prize. AFTER you buy the tickets then then tell you the “RULES” You have to get a full card in 47 or less numbers to get this prize. It has about the same odds as getting struck by lightning.

    At this point if you are considering a cruise with this company please investigate their claims carefully.
    This is my 4th cruise and the first with Norwegian while the entertainment and food were decent their business practices are very suspect .

  2. I bough the cheaper inside cabin and got 2 free perks and 50 dolars OBC. The gratuities are included we don’t have to pay more. https://www.ncl.com/es/en/free-at-sea
    “Offer is applicable to all categories including IX, OX, BX and MX (Sail Away Categories).”
    “20% gratuities on the retail value of the Premium Beverage Package ($19.80 USD per person per day) and/or Soda Package ($1.59 USD per person per day) are included.”

    • Looks like you’re booking a cruise in Europe. For U.S. departures, there is still the $19.80 in gratuities you have to pay:

      “Guest is responsible for 20% gratuities on the retail value of the Premium Beverage Package ($19.80 per person per day) and/or Soda Package ($1.59 per person per day) prior to cruise.”

  3. What a joke, only get the one free perk when you book inside cabin, if you do not buy the least expensive inside cabin. If you upgrade (pay more) you could get the one free perk of $50 per cabin.
    Just spoke to Norwegian on the phone, to get the correct information. I Asked about the cost to use the bowling alley on the pearl, which I saw on a review from a past guest was $5. But this rep told me there is no bowling alley, now I am confused. Any body got any more interesting tips around things we should know about before we sail. Love to hear from you.

    • Been on the Pearl 5 years ago. Yes they have a bowling alley. I believe 4 lanes only. Line to use it was crazy. Not worth it. Also this ship had very few bars and lounges. They used the space to put in many specialty (pay extra) restaurants. I’d never go back on the Pearl.

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