NCL’s Free at Sea promotion: What to know before you book


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Want a more inclusive experience on a large cruise ship filled with dining choices and activities? If so, Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Free at Sea promotion might be just the ticket. This promo provides a number of “free” perks to guests based on the length of their cruise and the stateroom category booked … but what does the fine print say? Are the perks really free?

In this piece, we’re diving into everything you need to know about Norwegian’s Free at Sea promotion so there are no surprises when it comes time to book your cruise.

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Overview of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion

Norwegian Breakaway in Canada. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Norwegian’s Free at Sea promotion offers guests several perks covered by the cruise fare, with the number often dependent upon the length of the cruise and the stateroom category chosen.

The choice of perks occasionally changes, but Norwegian typically offers the following five: a free drinks package, free specialty dining, free shore excursions, free Wi-Fi and free third and fourth guests in a cabin. Occasionally, free airfare or a 50% air credit for the second person in a cabin is also a Free at Sea option.

The Free at Sea promotion runs almost constantly, with the exact inclusions varying depending on which version of the promotion NCL is running at the time. Currently, you can book and receive all of the Free at Sea perks, though you can decline any you do not wish to receive.

Previously, you could choose the number of Free at Sea perks based on your cabin category. For example, if you booked a studio or interior cabin, you could only choose one perk. Oceanviews, balconies and minisuites could pick a few, while suites and The Haven staterooms received all perks. This version of the deal could come back, but we’ve been seeing it less frequently than we used to.

Note that this promotion only applies to voyages three nights or longer, and all passengers sharing a cabin must choose the same offers (if there is a choice). Those booking a “Sail Away” (guarantee) cabin are ineligible for Free at Sea. Charter sailings are ineligible as well.

What’s included in NCL’s Free at Sea promotion?

Sugarcane Bar on Norwegian Encore. JIM HUGHES/NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Let’s take a look at what each Free at Sea perk entails and dive into the fine print, so you know exactly what you are (and aren’t) getting.

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Free Unlimited Open Bar package

The Unlimited Open Bar Package is Norwegian Cruise Line’s base drinks package. The drinks package typically costs $109 per person, per day, plus a 20% gratuity, so it is by far the most popular perk chosen with the Free at Sea promotion (when a choice is offered).

The package includes unlimited soda and juice, beer and wine by the glass worth under $15, and select premium cocktails and spirits worth under $15. A 20% discount applies to bottles of wine and Champagne, wine and spirit experiences, tastings and flights purchased on board.

Related: Are cruise line drinks packages worth it?

The package does not include Starbucks, ice bars, room service, bottled water, beer buckets, designated “super” premium brands, minibar purchases, freshly squeezed juices, wine dispensers or energy drinks.

Here’s what you need to know before you choose a beverage package as one of your Free at Sea offers: It’s not really “free.” You still have to pay the 20% gratuity on the full value of the package. This means that if you’re 21 or older, you’ll have to pay $21.80 per person, per day for “free” drinks. (That’s $152.60 for a seven-night sailing.) If you’re the first or second guest in a cabin and under 21 (meaning you have the soda package), you must pay $1.59 per person, per day.

If you drink alcohol and plan to enjoy it during your cruise, chances are good that choosing this perk will be well worth the daily gratuity you’re charged. If you don’t think you’ll drink $22 worth of extra-fee beverages, alcoholic or not, per day, choose another perk or flat-out decline this Free at Sea offer. You’ll end up saving money in the long run.

Fine print

The drink packages extend to Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. They do not extend to the line’s private destination in Belize, Harvest Caye.

This Free at Sea perk is available to the first through eighth guests on a reservation who are ages 21 and older. If the first and/or second guest in a cabin is under 21, they will receive Norwegian Cruise Line’s Unlimited Soda Package (valued at $9.95 per person, per day) as a substitution. If additional guests and beyond are under 21, they will not receive a substitution for this perk. If you’re 21 or older but do not drink, you cannot opt for the soda package instead.

Free specialty dining

With the free specialty dining Free at Sea perk, you’ll get an included dining package, which lets you dine in one or more specialty restaurants without having to pay the per-person cost and without having to buy the package separately.

Through Free at Sea, the dining package applies to the first and second guests on a reservation who must be at least 2 years old. Here’s a breakdown of how many specialty restaurant meals you get if you choose this perk, based on the length of the cruise and the cabin category you have.

You are subject to a 20% gratuity (based on NCL’s assessment of the package’s value), so as with the beverage package, the package isn’t technically “free.”

  • Three- to six-night cruise, any cabin: one meal ($59 value, $11.80 gratuity/package)
  • Seven- to 11-night cruise, studio, inside or oceanview cabin: one meal ($59 value, $11.80 gratuity/package)
  • Seven- to 11-night cruise, balcony cabin or above: two meals ($99 value, $19.80 gratuity/package)
  • Twelve-night cruise or longer, studio, inside or oceanview cabin: two meals ($99 value, $19.80 gratuity/package)
  • Twelve-night cruise or longer, balcony cabin or above: three meals ($139 value, $27.80 gratuity/package)

Restaurants that you can use your specialty dining perk toward include Cagney’s Steakhouse, La Cucina, Food Republic, Le Bistro, Moderno Churrascaria, Q Texas Smokehouse, Teppanyaki, Los Lobos, Ocean Blue, Bayamo and Onda by Scarpetta.

Fine print

At a la carte restaurants, the dining package limits you to one appetizer, one soup or salad, one main course and one dessert. At Cagney’s and Le Bistro, you are also limited to one main course per person (in addition to starters and desserts). Additional main courses are charged at the a la carte menu price.

Related: 5 reasons you should splurge on a cruise ship specialty restaurant

Harvest Caye restaurants, The Bake Shop, the Ice Cream Bar, gelato, specialty items in the Asian restaurant, Jazz Brunch, and Wine Lovers and Murder Mystery lunches are not included as part of the specialty dining packages.

Free shore excursions


If you plan to book shore excursions through the cruise line, this perk will likely be well worth it.

You don’t necessarily get free excursions, though. Instead, you get a $50 shore excursion credit for the first guest on the cruise reservation in each port. Unlike some Free at Sea offers, this perk does not apply to the second guest. If the tour costs less than $50, no refund is issued. If it costs more than $50, you must pay the difference.

Fine print

The credit does not apply to Great Stirrup Cay and Harvest Caye equipment rentals. Pre-cruise and post-cruise land tours, private tours and custom shore excursions are not eligible for this promotion; however, group debarkation-day tours are eligible. The first guest may redeem the $50 credit on more than one shore excursion per port but not tickets for them and a travel companion on the same tour.

If a port call or shore excursion is canceled, you’ll be refunded the amount you paid. This means that if your shore excursion costs more than $50, you’ll only be refunded the amount you paid above $50; you won’t be refunded for the credit.

Related: Avoid these 10 mistakes when booking cruise shore excursions

Free Wi-Fi

The free Wi-Fi perk does not give you unlimited internet access for the entire cruise. Instead, you get a number of free minutes, depending on the length of your sailing.

For a voyage that’s three to six nights long, you get 75 minutes of internet per person. Seven- to 11-night cruises include 150 minutes of internet per person, while 12-night or longer sailings include 300 minutes of internet per person. Choosing Wi-Fi as one of your Free at Sea offers is actually free, as it includes the activation fee.

This offer applies to the first and second guests in a stateroom. Two logins are provided per stateroom, with each package able to be used on one device at a time. It does not allow for streaming.

Related: Wi-Fi on cruise ships: 5 things to know about internet use on board

If you think you’ll need more internet, you can upgrade to Unlimited Wi-Fi or Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi (with streaming) for a discounted price as compared to the outright cost of those internet packages. This discount is thanks to a “credit” of the value of the minutes that are included in Free at Sea.

Free 3rd and 4th passengers in a cabin

This perk is not available on every sailing, so check before you book if you wish to take advantage of this freebie. Voyages during popular family cruise times (such as school breaks and summer) will not usually have this perk as an option.

The third and fourth guests staying in a cabin will either be free or pay $99 each with the first two guests paying full fare. No deposit is required for the third and fourth guests, but they do have to pay taxes and port fees. The exact charge for these taxes and fees varies based on the cruise length and itinerary but can be over $200 per person on some seven-day voyages.

Related: Kids cruise free: 7 cruise lines offering family deals

If there are five to eight passengers on a reservation, those additional guests are required to pay the prevailing fares.

Can I opt out of Free at Sea?

Outdoor restaurant and bar seating on The Waterfront. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

If your cruise booking comes with more Free at Sea perks than you want, you do not have to choose the amount you are allotted; you can decline any or all Free at Sea perks. For example, if your booking includes all current Free at Sea offers, but you know you won’t drink enough soda, specialty beverages or alcohol to warrant the daily gratuity on the Free Open Bar package, you can decline that perk altogether.

If you choose to decline perks, remember that you can’t transfer them to anyone else and won’t receive any monetary value for giving them up.

Travelers on a tight budget who don’t feel the need to take advantage of the Free at Sea perks can also consider booking a “Sail Away” (guarantee) cabin. Booking a guarantee cabin means choosing a cabin category but not a specific cabin on the ship. Closer to the sail date, the cruise line will assign you a cabin within the chosen category. Guarantee cabins are cheaper than booking a specific stateroom and are excluded from the Free at Sea promotion.

What is Free at Sea Plus?

If you want even more perks, you can upgrade to Free at Sea Plus for $49 per person, per day. If the second guest is a child, their upgrade is $29 per day.

Here’s what you get with Free at Sea Plus:

  • The Unlimited Open Bar Package is upgraded to the Premium Plus Beverage Package. It includes all top-shelf cocktails and spirits; all beer, Champagne and wine by the glass; unlimited soda and juice; unlimited still and sparkling bottled water; all Starbucks coffee and specialty drinks; and energy drinks. It also includes select premium bottles of wine and Champagne with dinner, as well as 40% off all other bottles.
  • Two additional specialty dining meals for the first and second guests
  • A shore excursion credit of $50 for the second guest
  • Unlimited Wi-Fi (no streaming) for the first and second guests

The third guest on a reservation and beyond must purchase the Premium Plus Beverage Package if the first and second guests purchase Free at Sea Plus. They receive it at a reduced rate of $34.80 per person, per day, including gratuity.

If the second guest is a child, they get the same perks except for the Premium Plus Beverage Package; they would still receive the soda package.

Guests who upgrade to Free at Sea Plus can upgrade their unlimited Wi-Fi package to include streaming for an additional $10 per person, per day (applicable to the first and second guests only).

Frequently asked questions about NCL’s Free at Sea

One of the bedrooms in a three-bedroom Garden Villa on Norwegian Pearl. NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE

Still have a question about Free at Sea that hasn’t been covered yet? We address additional concerns below.

Does Free at Sea include daily gratuities?

Sometimes, free daily gratuities pop up as a Free at Sea perk option, but not often. Most of the time, you’ll have to pay the daily service charge as normal. It’s $20 per person, per day for Club Balcony Suite staterooms and below, and $25 per person, per day for those staying in suites or The Haven. Babies and toddlers ages 2 and under are not subject to the daily service charge.

Does Free at Sea include airfare?

Occasionally, one of the Free at Sea perks is free airfare for the second guest on a reservation when the first guest also books airfare through Norwegian Cruise Line. This offer applies to seven-night or longer voyages and provides economy, round-trip flights from select departure gateways.

Solo travelers paying 200% of the voyage fare qualify for free airfare when offered. You are not eligible for the free air promotion if you book at the last minute (reservations must be made more than 110 days prior to sailing to qualify) or if you choose a Sail Away (guarantee) cabin.

If considering this perk, keep in mind that choosing it puts your air travel arrangements in the hands of Norwegian Cruise Line. While the flights they choose may be convenient and what you would choose yourself, they could also involve less-than-ideal timing, routing and layovers that you could avoid by booking your own air travel.

While this is a perk to consider if you want the cruise line to handle as much of your vacation as possible or you’re looking to save on flights, it isn’t one we’d recommend you choose.

Do Pride of America cruises offer the same perks?

Hawaii voyages aboard NCL’s Honolulu-based ship, Pride of America, offer the same Free at Sea inclusions but have a beverage package perk that’s a bit different from the traditional Free at Sea Open Bar package.

The Hawaii Beverage Package perk applies to the first through eighth guests on the reservation and includes a variety of drinks worth up to $15. Those who choose this perk must pay the gratuities, which are $19.80 per person, per day. The retail value of the Hawaii Beverage Package is $99 per person, per day.

The terms and conditions say, “The purchase of any alcoholic drinks within the Hawaii Beverage Package may, in certain individual circumstances, be restricted in accordance with Hawaii’s Intoxicating Liquor Law and applicable local rules and regulations.”

In addition to alcoholic beverages, the Hawaii package includes fountain soda, fresh juice, bottled water, nonalcoholic beer and specialty coffee ordered in the dining rooms only. It doesn’t include specialty coffee outside the restaurants, room service, minibar purchases or vending machine purchases.

The main difference between the Hawaii Beverage Package and NCL’s normal beverage package is that the Hawaii package includes specialty coffee in the main dining rooms while the normal one does not.

What else must I know about the NCL’s Free at Sea promotion?

Here are some terms and conditions of the Free at Sea promotion:

  • Free at Sea selections must be chosen at least 24 hours prior to sailing and cannot be changed once on board.
  • For bookings made within 24 hours of departure, Free at Sea perks are chosen at the time of booking.
  • Solo travelers paying 200% of the per-person voyage fare qualify for Free at Sea.
  • Free at Sea is a cruise-only offer — it does not apply to the land portion of Cruisetours.

Bottom line

If you book a specific cabin with Norwegian Cruise Line, some form of the Free at Sea promotion is almost guaranteed to be included in your reservation. Free at Sea is a great value if you plan to fully take advantage of each perk. If some inclusions work for you but others do not, carefully consider whether the value is worth the cost (i.e., gratuities). Don’t be afraid to decline any perks you don’t want.

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