Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea: Ultimate Guide

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Norwegian Cruise Line Ship the Escape docked at Harvest Caye Belize

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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.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea?

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America Cruise Ship Moored at Honolulu HarborPin

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion is a flagship offer that bundles a selection of complimentary perks designed to enhance your vacation at sea. The Free at Sea program allows you to customize their cruise package with several addons at a free or reduced rate.

The promotion offers five free perks to enhance your cruise vacation:

  1. Free Open Bar: Enjoy a wide array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout your cruise, making your vacation truly all-inclusive​​.
  2. Free Specialty Dining: Experience the cruise line’s exquisite specialty restaurants with complimentary meals, adding a gourmet touch to your journey​​.
  3. Free Shore Excursions: Get credits towards exploring the ports you visit, enriching your travel experience with new adventures​​.
  4. Free WiFi: Stay connected with free internet minutes, allowing you to share your experiences or stay in touch while at sea​​.
  5. Free Guests: Benefit from special rates where the 3rd and 4th guests in your cabin might sail for free, perfect for family vacations or group travel​​.

Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Line periodically enriches this promotion with new benefits, like free airfare for the second guest and onboard credits for future cruises.

The number of perks you can select varies by promotion and your stateroom category. The higher the stateroom category, the more bonuses you can choose.

Studio and inside cabins can select one perk, while Suites and The Haven receive all five benefits.

NCL sometimes runs a promotion where you’ll receive all five perks regardless of your cabin category. It’s a great way to enhance your cruise experience without breaking the bank.

Norwegian’s Free at Sea Perks

Pool deck of the Norwegian Cruise Line PearlPin

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion offers a variety of perks that can significantly enhance your cruising experience.

The cruise line offers five core perks that are always available:

  1. Free Open Bar: Enjoy unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout your cruise​​.
  2. Free Specialty Dining: Experience the cruise line’s exquisite specialty restaurants with complimentary meals, adding a gourmet touch to your journey​​.
  3. Free Shore Excursions: Get credits to use for tours and activities, allowing you to explore the ports you visit.
  4. Free WiFi: Stay connected with free internet minutes, allowing you to share your experiences or stay in touch while at sea​​.
  5. Free Third and Fourth Guests: Benefit from special rates where the 3rd and 4th guests in your cabin sail for free, perfect for family vacations or group travel​​.

While the core perks remain a staple of the Free at Sea offer, Norwegian periodically enhances the deal with additional bonuses. Recent additions have included free airfare for the second guest, onboard credit, and discounts on future cruises.

Let’s look at the five core perks to help you choose the right one for your cruise vacation.

Free Open Bar

Norwegian Cruise Line Drink Package Frozen Drinks by the PoolPin

The Free Open Bar perk is the most popular choice among Norwegian cruisers. Guests who choose the Free Open Bar receive the Norwegian Cruise Line Unlimited Open Bar Package for free. It allows you to enjoy unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks throughout your cruise.

This perk provides the greatest cost-benefit as the drink package typically costs $109 per person per day plus a 20% automatic gratuity.

Editor’s Tip

It’s important to note that the Open Bar isn’t truly free. The Open Bar perk gives you the Premium Beverage package at no cost, but you’ll have to pay the 20% daily gratuity at checkout.

The Free Open Bar includes unlimited soda, juice, beer, wine by the glass, cocktails, and spirits up to $15 per drink. If you order an item over $15, you simply pay the difference between the price of the beverage and $15.

You’ll also receive a 20% discount on bottles of wine and champagne, wine experiences, tastings, and flights.

It’s important to note that the Unlimited Open Bar 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, Starbucks, or drinks designated Super Premium brands.

The Open Bar drink package excludes Starbucks, room service, beer buckets, mini bar purchases, energy drinks, bottled water, beer buckets, and super-premium brands. However, guests can use the drink package to purchase bottles of wine or liquor and tastings and flights at a 20% discount.

While you can enjoy unlimited drinks on the cruise ship, the package doesn’t extend to Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, or their private resort, Harvest Caye.

The Open Bar perk is by far the most popular choice among cruisers. It offers the biggest cost savings and provides you with unlimited beverage choices.

It’s also my preferred pick as I love a good espresso martini, and drink a bit more soda than I’d like to admit.

But it’s not for everyone.

I advise choosing the Open Bar perk if you have an average beverage consumption of $20 per day. Otherwise, you’re better off selecting another bonus.

Note: Passengers under the age of 21, who are the first or second guests on the reservation, will instead receive the soda package valued at $9.95 per person, per day.

Free Specialty Dining

Norwegian Bliss cruise ship, docked in San Diego, CaliforniaPin

The Free Specialty Dining perk provides the first and second guests in your reservation (aged two years and older) with a Norwegian Cruise Line Dining Package. The package includes one or more meals at the ship’s specialty restaurants, depending on the length of your cruise and your cabin category.

However, like the Open Bar perk, you must pay a 20% gratuity on the package’s value—underscoring that while the dining experience is included, it’s not entirely “free.”

The number of meals you get varies by the length of the cruise:

  • Three- to Six-Night Cruises: Any cabin category receives one meal, with a $59 value and an $11.80 gratuity per package.
  • Seven- to 11-Night Cruises: Guests in studio, inside, or oceanview cabins are granted one meal ($59 value, $11.80 gratuity), while those in balcony cabins or above enjoy two meals ($99 value, $19.80 gratuity).
  • Twelve-Night Cruises or Longer: Two meals are included for guests in studio, inside, or oceanview cabins ($99 value, $19.80 gratuity), and three meals for those in balcony cabins or above ($139 value, $27.80 gratuity).

You can use the package to dine at several of the onboard specialty restaurants, including:

  • Cagney’s Steakhouse
  • La Cucina
  • Food Republic
  • Le Bistro
  • Moderno Churrascaria
  • Q Texas Smokehouse
  • Teppanyaki
  • Los Lobos
  • Ocean Blue
  • Bayamo
  • Onda by Scarpetta

When dining à la carte, the package entitles you to one appetizer, one soup or salad, one main course, and one dessert with additional main courses available at their à la carte prices.

Also, certain venues and items like those at Harvest Caye restaurants, The Bake Shop, Ice Cream Bar, gelato, Jazz Brunch, Wine Lovers, and Murder Mystery lunches are not covered by the dining packages.

To fully enjoy the benefits of the Free Specialty Dining perk, make reservations early, especially for popular venues as they book full quickly.

Free WiFi

Woman on her phone using Norwegian Cruise Line Internet PackagesPin

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 provides you with a limited number of minutes for each cruise. With the free wifi perk, you’ll receive:

  • 75 minutes on 3-6 day itineraries
  • 150 minutes on 7-11 day sailings
  • 300 minutes on 12+ day cruises

The WiFi perk applies to the first and second guests on the reservation, with each room receiving two internet logins. You can use the internet on one device at a time.

You’ll receive the basic internet service, which provides web browsing, email support, social media, and access to chat messaging. But you can’t stream or use a VPN.

You can use the WiFi from anywhere on the cruise ship, but the package doesn’t include internet access on Norwegian’s private islands, Great Stirrup Cay or Harvest Caye.

It’s important to note that cruise ship internet is improving, but it’s much slower than you’re used to back home. While the internet will be fast enough for basic browsing, instant messaging, and email, be prepared for longer loading times.

To make the most of your Free WiFi perk, consider the following tips:

  • Log Out Properly: Ensure you log out correctly after each session to avoid using up your minutes inadvertently.
  • Manage Usage: Save data-heavy activities like video streaming or large downloads for when you’re on shore and can access free WiFi spots.
  • Prioritize Your Activities: Use your onboard internet access for important tasks like checking in for flights, making reservations, or staying in touch with loved ones.

Free Shore Excursions ($50 Shore Excursion Credits)

Kayaking Shore Excursion on Chilkoot LakePin

Exploring new destinations is a cornerstone of the cruising experience, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free Shore Excursion perk, part of their Free at Sea promotion, adds incredible value to this aspect of your journey.

The Free Shore Excursion perk provides a $50 credit per port for the first guest on the booking. You can apply the shore excursion credit towards any Norwegian-sponsored shore excursion.

However, it’s important to note that any unused portion of the credit for a particular port cannot be rolled over or refunded. If your tour costs more than $50, you only need to pay the difference.

Here are some essential details to consider:

  • Equipment rentals at Great Stirrup Cay and Harvest Caye
  • Pre/post-cruise land tours or private or custom excursions; however, group tours on debarkation day qualify
  • The first guest can use the credit across multiple excursions per port, but not for purchasing tickets for themselves and a companion on the same tour.
  • If a port visit or excursion is canceled, refunds will be issued for any amount paid beyond the $50 credit, not for the credit itself.

Free Extra Guests

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

The “Free Third and Fourth Guests” offer is designed with families and groups in mind. It makes cruising more accessible and affordable.

When two guests book a stateroom at a regular fare, they can bring along two more guests—whether they’re children, friends, or extended family members.

The first two guests pay the full cruise fare, while the third and fourth guests sail free. Sometimes, the perk is modified, where the third and fourth guests pay $99 per person.

A nominal fee considering the cost of a cruise vacation.

The third and fourth guests must pay and are responsible for paying taxes and port fees. These fees can fluctuate depending on the cruise’s duration and route, sometimes exceeding $200 per person for week-long journeys.

This deal is particularly appealing for families, allowing parents to take their children on a memorable vacation without the financial strain of additional full fares. You may find the perk renamed “Kids Sail Free” because it is typically used by families.

This offer isn’t available on all 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.

Which Norwegian Cruise Free at Sea Perks Should I Choose?

Norwegian Bliss Departing a Caribbean PortPin

If you only have a limited number of perks, which perk should you choose?

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

  • Open Bar: $763 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 the most popular choice as it has the highest retail value, saving you the most money.

But it’s not worth it if you’re not a big drinker.

In making your selection, weigh your personal preferences and potential savings of each perk. If the open bar doesn’t align with your drinking habits, its cost savings won’t translate into real savings for you, making it less appealing.

Similarly, if you’re cruising with a larger party, 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 your preferences. Given the three remaining choices, I usually select the free dinner package for a fun night at one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s specialty restaurants.

What is Free at Sea Plus?

Cruise ship Norwegian Viva docked in the port of Maimi with a small sailing boat in the foregroundPin

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea Plus offers even more perks for $49 per person or $29 per child per day.

Free at Sea Plus provides several upgraded perks, including:

  • Upgraded Open Bar: With Free at Sea Plus, your drink package is upgraded to the Premium Plus Beverage Package. The Premium drink package includes top-shelf cocktails, beer, Champagne, glasses of wine, bottled water, Starbucks coffee, specialty coffee and tea, and energy drinks. You also receive a 40% discount on premium bottles of wine and Champagne.
  • More Specialty Dining: The first two guests on the reservation receive an additional two specialty dining meals.
  • More Shore Excursion Credits: The second guest on the reservation also receives a $50 shore excursion credit at every port of call.
  • Unlimited WiFi: The first and second guests receive the Norwegian Cruise Lines Unlimited WiFi Package. The internet plan provides unlimited web browsing, email, social media, and messaging but no access to streaming. You can upgrade to NCL’s Unlimited Premium WiFi with streaming for an additional $10 per person per day.

Free at Sea Plus upgrades four perks, providing a wider selection of beverages, extra dining options, and unlimited Wi-Fi.

In my experience, it’s worth upgrading to Free at Sea Plus for most people. I love the extra two specialty dining meals, unlimited WiFi, and my partner receives a shore excursion credit. Upgrading to Free at Sea Plus is a no-brainer if you prefer top-shelf liquor.

Is Norwegian’s Free at Sea Really Free?

Norwegian Epic cruise ship funnelPin

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion offers enticing perks, but it’s essential to understand that not all the perks are truly “free.”

The Free Open Bar and Free Specialty Dining have an automatic 20% gratuity. While not completely free, these perks still offer incredible savings.

At $109 per person per day, you’ll be paying $21.80 per day when you select the Free Open Bar. That’s $152.60 for a 7-night cruise.

If you choose the special dining package, you’ll pay $20 per person for a 7-day cruise in a studio, inside, or oceanview stateroom and $27.80 per package for a 7-day cruise in a balcony or above stateroom category.

Even the free sailing perk for the third and fourth guests has hidden costs. Although the base fare is free when using the extra, you’re required to pay the taxes, fees, and port expenses for the third and fourth guests.

The free shore excursion credit provides $50 at each port of call. There aren’t any strings attached, but you’ll have a hard time finding a tour for less than $50. That means you’ll often pay a portion of every shore excursion.

My Thoughts

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea offers incredible value for passengers. But calling it “Free” at Sea is a bit misleading. The perks provide incredible value, and I’m always happy to take advantage of the savings. But Free at Sea isn’t truly free.

Make sure you understand the fine print before making your selection.

Can You Opt Out of Free at Sea Perks?

You can opt out of specific Free at Sea Offers. For example, if you want the Open Bar package but not the Specialty Dining, you can choose to keep the Open Bar and forgo the Specialty Dining Package.

My sister doesn’t drink much alcohol. So for her it’s not worth paying the $21.80 daily gratuity. She finds it more cost-effective to purchase individual drinks. But she loves trying new foods. My sister always opts out of the Open Bar but keeps her Specialty Dining offer.

Free at Terms Fine Print

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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.

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

Editor’s Tip

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-transferable. If you choose to decline any bonuses 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. You can combine the Free at Sea promotion 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 when booking.

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

Final Thoughts: Is Norwegian Free at Sea Worth It?

Despite not being truly “free”, Nowegian’s Free at Sea is worth it. The perks provide incredible savings for passengers.

The value you receive depends on how you use the perks.

For example. When you select the Open Bar offer, you’ll still pay a $21.80 daily gratuity. If you don’t consume $22 worth of drinks, you’ll spend more than you receive. As long as you drink more than $22 in beverage value Free at Sea is worth it.

You should follow a similar thought process when looking at the other perks. Consider the hidden costs of each perk before making your selection.

If you plan to take full advantage of the offerings, such as enjoying multiple drinks a day or dining in specialty restaurants, Free at Sea is worth it.

Don’t forget, you can opt out of perks if you don’t want to spend the hidden fees.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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