Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Free at Sea” deal is one of the most appealing cruise line offers out there.
While cruise passengers have gotten used to shelling out plenty of cash for extras on the ship after they board, this offer aims to provide many of the extras 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 cruise.
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.
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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.
The “Free at Sea” Offer Runs Consistently
With the ability to get all the “Free at Sea” perks included with your cruise, it can be tempting to want to jump at the deal so that you don’t miss out.
In this case, you don’t seem to have anything 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.
In other words, it’s an interesting deal, but don’t think you have to rush to buy or risk missing out.
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? We’ve found these cabins are 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 $1,420 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 $1,224 per person.
So the “Free at Sea” deal was actually $196 more per person — or about $400 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 bigger price to pay for the same type of room.
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 $10-12 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 hundred and 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. 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
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, you will still need to pay gratuities 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, for example) and gratuities are also charged on the value of the package. The free wi-fi offer is for only 100 minutes on cruises less than seven days or 250 minutes for trips of seven days or more. It is not unlimited.
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, but the flight from Charlotte 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 perk 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.
Do the math before you blindly go with cabin offering the free perks.