Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea: What You Need to Know

Updated

by Marcello

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion is one of the most popular offers in the cruise industry.

The cruise line offers cruise passengers a choice of free perks that include free drink packages, shore excursion credits, free internet, and more.

But is it too good to be true? Is it a good deal? Is it worth upgrading your cabin to get more free perks? Are the bonuses really free?

Norwegian Cruise Line Ship the Escape docked at Harvest Caye Belize

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea Promotion

Norwegian Cruise Line runs a popular Free at Sea promotion throughout the year. The Free at Sea offers passengers a choice of free perks that include drink packages, wifi, specialty dining, free shore excursions, and free extra guests.

The promotion is exceptionally popular among Norwegian cruisers. It provides a more all-inclusive experience for guests and eliminates many of the annoying upcharges.

I love that it helps me with budgeting for my vacation by providing me with most of my costs upfront.

The number of perks offered with the promotion varies by promotion and the stateroom category you book. The higher the stateroom category, the more perks you can choose.

Typically, guests who book a studio or inside cabins might only get one free perk. Oceanview and Balcony cabins get to pick more offers, and passengers booked in Suites and The Haven typically get all of the perks.

But, if you are patient, there are times when NCL runs a special promotion where guests receive all the perks, regardless of cabin categories.

That said, we don’t recommend waiting for this special offer. You’ll almost always save money when you book early in advance.

Norwegian’s Free at Sea Perks

Pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise Line Pearl

In addition to the perks listed below, Norwegian Cruise Line often adds additional limited-time-only perks, such as free airfare or free cruise credit.

Below, we’ve outlined the five core perks that Norwegian’s free at sea offers:

  • Free open bar
  • Free specialty dining
  • Free wifi
  • Free shore excursions
  • Free third/fourth guests

Free Open Bar

Norwegian Cruise Line Drink Package Frozen Drinks by the Pool

The Free Open Bar perk is perhaps the most popular choice among Norwegian cruisers. Guests who choose the Free Open Bar receive the Norwegian Cruise Line Premium Beverage Package for free.

Passengers under the age of 21, who are the first or second guests on the reservation, will instead receive the soda package. Passengers between the ages of three to eight will not get a substitution.

The Premium Beverage Package includes fountain soda, draft beer, glasses of wine, spirits, and cocktails up to $15 per drink. Further, you can use the free beverage packages at all the onboard restaurants, bars, lounges, and even Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay (but not Harvest Caye).

If you order an item over $15, you simply pay the difference between the price of the drink and $15.

Two women drinking cocktails on Carnival Cruise Line
(Photo Courtesy: Carnival Cruise Line)

It’s important to note that the Premium Beverage Package doesn’t include room service, specialty coffee, energy drinks, fresh-squeezed juices, ship-specific promotions, buckets of beer, mini bar purchases, bottles of wine, or drinks designated Super Premium brands.

The free drink package also excludes Starbucks, Wine and Spirit Experiences, tastings, Ice Bars, and wine stations. However, guests can use the drink package to purchase bottles of wine or liquore and tastings and flights at a 20% discount.

The Premium Beverage Package is regularly priced at $99 per person per day, while the Adult Soda Package has a price of $7.95 per person per day.

Free Specialty Dining

Family eating at American Diner on Norwegian Encore
(Photo Courtesy: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its casual approach to dining.

Norwegian’s freestyle approach means passengers enjoy no set dinner times or table arrangements.

Further, there is no main dining room. Instead, guests can dine at one of the many onboard restaurants.

While many of the dining options are complimentary, there are many dining venues that cost extra.

Guests who opt for the free specialty dining perk receive the Norwegian Cruise Line Specialty Dining Package (SDP).

The package allows guests to dine at the onboard specialty restaurants for one fixed price. But, when chosen as your Free at Sea perk, the first two guests on the reservation will receive the SDP for free.

The number of free meals you receive is based on the length of your cruise and the category of stateroom you book.

Guests receive one meal for 3-6 night cruises regardless of their stateroom category. Only Balcony and above will receive two complimentary meals for 7-11 night itineraries, while studio, inside, and oceanview cabins remain at one. Guests sailing on 12+ night cruises receive two free specialty dining meals with a studio, inside, oceanview bookings, while balcony cabins and above receive three meals.

Passenger eating at Norwegian Cruise Line Moderno Specialty Restaurant Brazilian Steakhouse
Rendering Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

Passengers can use the free specialty dining package at most specialty venues, including American Diner, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic, Le Bistro, La Cucina, Onda by Scarpetta, The Raw Bar, Los Lobos, Ocean Blue, Bayamo, Moderno Churrascaria, Pincho Tapas Bar, Q Texas Smokehouse, and Teppanyaki.

Guests who dine at Cagney’s Steakhouse or Le Bistro can order an unlimited number of sides and desserts but only order one entree. Subsequent entrees can be ordered at full cost.

Further, the NCL Specialty Dining Package has a limit of four menu items per person at the Food Republic, Wasabi, and, Pincho Tapas Bar.

The package doesn’t cover beverage purchases, room service, mini-bar items, The Bake Shop, Coco’s, Jazz Brunch, Dolce Gelato, Murder Mystery, or Wine Lovers.

You can, however, use the meal credit at an entertainment-based restaurant for an price (e.x. Cirque Dreams), if you book your reservation on the ship.

Free wifi

Woman on her phone using Norwegian Cruise Line Internet Packages

If you need to stay connected at sea, you can opt for NCL’s free wifi perk.

Unlike Norwegian Cruise Line’s unlimited internet package, the free wifi perk only entitles guests to a limited number of minutes for each cruise.

Guests with free wifi perk receive 75 minutes with 3-6 day itineraries, 150 minutes with 7-11 day sailings, and 300 minutes on 12+ day cruises.

The internet packages cannot be used on Norwegian’s private islands, Great Stirrup Cay, or Harvest Caye.

You should also know that while the internet on cruise ships is improving, the wifi won’t be as fast as the internet you are used to getting. The internet connection on a cruise ship relies on satellite connections, which vary depending on your geographical location.

While the internet will be fast enough for basic browsing, instant messaging, and email, the web pages will take longer to load than if you were back home.

Insider Tips: You only get a limited number of minutes with the free wifi perk. When you aren’t actively using the internet package, it’s a good idea to disconnect your device to save minutes.

Free Shore Excursions ($50 Shore Excursion Credits)

Zip Lining cruise shore excursion

If you’re planning a cruise, you’ll likely book some shore excursions at the ports of call. Shore excursions are a great way to explore the destinations you’ll be visiting and take part in new experiences.

With Norwegian’s free shore excursion credit, you’ll receive $50 credit on excursion bookings. It’s important to note that the credit is applied per stateroom, not per passenger.

Although it’s not much, it’s a great way to save money when booking a tour or excursion at the cruise port.

If you’re planning a shore excursion before your cruise, you can book online in advance or onboard the ship. Either way, the credit will be applied. That said, we recommend booking in advance as popular shore excursions fill up fast. If you have your heart set on a specific experience or tour, do yourself a favor and book it early.

Free Extra Guests

View from the pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise ship Pearl with live dj in the background

This Free at Sea perk provides you with precisely what the name suggests. With this perk, the third and fourth guests sail free, while guests one and two pay the full fare.

This promotion is often called “Kids Sail Free” because it is typically used by families.

This offer is only available on select sailings. As you can expect, popular times of year are excluded from this perk, such as Christmas, New Year, and March Break.

If more than four guests are on a reservation, guests five to eight will pay the total cruise fares.

Free at Terms Fine Print

Norwegian Cruise Line reserves the right to change the promotion terms at any time. For example, the number of choices you receive fluctuates throughout the year. We’ve even seen Studio cabins that only qualify for one perk.

Further, Norwegian’s “Sail Away” rates are often excluded from the Free at Sea promotions.

Tip: If you aren’t interested in the Free at Sea perks, booking “Sail Away” cabins is a great way to save money. Often, you can find balcony cabin rates that are $130 cheaper or more for a 7-night cruise.

All perks included in the promotion have no monetary value, are non-refundable, and are non-transferrable. If you choose to decline any perks to which you are entitled, you will not receive a refund and cannot gift it to anyone else.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea offer can be combined with other offers being run by the cruise line, except for the aforementioned “Sail Away” rates. The Free at Sea promotion can also combine with travel agent offers like extra perks, onboard credit, or free drinks. Stacking benefits is one of the easiest ways to save money when booking your cruise vacation.

As with any promotion, it is essential to read the fine print at the time of booking.

You can read a complete list of terms and conditions at: https://www.ncl.com/ca/en/termsandconditions/promotions

Which Itineraries Support Free at Sea Perks?

Side shot of the Norwegian Cruise Line vessel Pearl docked in Ketchikan Alaska

Norwegian’s Free at Sea perks are generally applicable to all sailings of 3 nights or greater.

Chartered sailings are the principal exemption from the Free at Sea promotion.

Additionally, Hawaii sailings offer a modified version of the Free at Sea perks.

The Hawaii Beverage Package applies to only Pride of America sailings and only guests one to eight on the reservation.

NCL’s Disclaimer: “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.”

Norwegian’s Hawaii Beverage Package is regularly priced at $99 per person per day. And, like the Free Open Bar, guests that opt for the free Hawaii Drink Package are responsible for the 20% gratuity.

Is Norwegian’s Free at Sea Really Free?

Norwegian Epic cruise ship funnel

Some of Norwegian’s sailing perks seem too good to be true. But, are they really free?

While many Free at Sea perks are genuinely free, others have a hidden cost.

For example, guests who opt for the Free Open Bar are required to pay the 20% gratuity on the retail value of the drink package. The daily gratuity charge is $19.80 per person per day, which amounts to $138.60 per person for a 7-day cruise. The Soda Package gratuity is $1.59 per person per day or $11.13 per person on a 7-day cruise.

While the gratuity cost is inconvenient, the Free Open Bar perk is significantly cheaper than paying for the entire drink package. It’s important to note that guests who don’t drink alcohol or soda can opt-out of the open bar perk to save on the gratuity.

Like the Free Open Bar, guests must pay the service charges when they select the specialty dining package. The 20% gratuity amounts to $10 per person for a 7-day cruise in a studio, inside, or oceanview stateroom and $17.80 per package for a 7-day cruise in a balcony or above stateroom category.

Norwegian Joy Sailing
Photo Credit (Norwegian Cruise Line)

The $50 credit per stateroom does not cover much when it comes to the free shore excursion. Although you’ll find shore excursions available under $50, many tours cost well into the hundreds of dollars per person.

If you book a shore excursion that costs more than $50 you can still use the free credit. You’ll just have to pay the difference.

Finally, the free sailing perk for the third and fourth guests does have hidden costs. Although the base fare is free when using the perk, you will be required to pay the taxes, fees, and port expenses for the third and fourth guests.

The actual amount varies depending on the itinerary, but it can cost over $200 per person on a 7-day cruise.

That said, the “3rd and 4th guest sail free” option is a great perk. And, you will save a lot of money when the base fare is free.

Which Norwegian Cruise Free at Sea Perks Should I Choose?

Norwegian Bliss Departing a Caribbean Port

If you only have a limited choice of perks to select, which perk should you choose?

Before deciding which perk you should choose, here are the retail values of the perks for a 7-night cruise:

  • Open Bar: $693 per person
  • Specialty Dining: Up to $89 per person for the 1st and 2nd guests
  • Shore Excursion Credit: $50 per port, per stateroom
  • Free Internet: $125 for 150 minutes
  • 3rd and 4th Guest Sail Free: Varies

The Free Open Bar is a no-brainer based on the retail value alone. This perk is a definite first choice for most people. It has the highest retail value and will save you the most money.

But, it may not be worth it if you’re not a big drinker.

Remember, when you select the Free Open Bar, you must pay the gratuities. So, if you don’t plan on drinking $140 (approximately two alcoholic beverages per day), this perk might not save you any money during your week-long cruise.

If you aren’t purchasing alcoholic drinks on your cruise, you probably shouldn’t choose this perk. If you get all five bonuses, you can opt-out to avoid paying gratuities.

If you are sailing as a family, or in a group, choosing the “3rd & 4th guests sail free” perk is an obvious choice. Though the retail value varies, this perk can save you hundreds of dollars on your cruise fare.

The other three perks are close in value. So, it comes down to choosing which perk is best for you. Given the three remaining choices, we usually select the free dining package for a fun night out at one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s specialty restaurants.

Finally, it’s important to remember that while you can get more Free at Sea perks by choosing a more expensive cabin, the upgraded cabin might not be worth the cost.

If you are paying more money for extra free perks, you might be spending more on the cabin than the free perk is worth. Ultimately, you need to determine if the stateroom and the additional perks are worth it for you.

NCL Free at Sea FAQs

Can I Choose Different Free at Sea Perks Than My Cabinmates?

Unfortunately, you can’t choose different Free at Sea perks from your cabinmates.

When you book your cruise, you will be choosing the perks for the reservation, not the individuals. This means that all guests sharing a reservation will receive the same selection of perks.

It’s important to note that the order matters when there are multiple people on a reservation.

Some perks are restricted to specific individuals on the reservation. For example, only the first two passengers on the reservation will receive the free dining perk, even though it is selected for the entire group on the reservation.

When Does Norwegian Cruise Line's Free at Sea Sale Start?

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion seems to run constantly.

If you book a cruise and don’t see the sale currently running, it might be worth waiting a couple of weeks to book your cruise. The promotion runs so frequently that I’d never book a cruise with Norwegian without the Free at Sea sale.

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Author

Marcello

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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