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

MICHAEL DEYOUNG/NCL

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 cruise line free shore excursions

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?

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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.

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.

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.

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

norwegian cruise line 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.

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

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?

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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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Understanding the Benefits & Catches of NCL's Free at Sea Program

Cruise line marketing teams are crafty folks, and pricing strategies sometimes make figuring out what you’re getting and for how much a bit confusing.  This is perhaps most true with Norwegian Cruise Lines, where they’re always in the midst of a sale that has limited time left, and they look to bundle a lot of extras with their fares.  Looking past the multitude of fine print and options can be tricky - but we’ll help make it clearer so you understand exactly what’s right for you.

NCL free at sea

What is NCL’s Free at Sea Offer?

Most of NCL’s sailings these days include NCL’s “Free at Sea” offer, bundling drinks, Wi-Fi, dining , and other amenities with the price of a cruise.  Specifically, this includes their premium beverage package, specialty dining credits, shore excursion credits, an internet package, and often, free air for a second guest.  Of course, there are details to hash out with each one of those things, which we’ll address.

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When is Free at Sea Offered?

This collection of items may be advertised as “free unlimited open bar, airfare, and more” or some other combination of perks - but the core offer is Free at Sea.  It’s also worth pointing out that NCL often makes it seem as if parts of this offer are about to go away - and maybe that will happen, but we find that while cruise fares vary, this offer is pretty consistent.  In other words, if you’re looking at an NCL cruise, Free at Sea is probably available to you.

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The Catch with NCL’s Free at Sea Program

Whether it’s to entice people to book or simply because you can’t fit every detail of an offer in the corner of an advertisement (probably a combination of both), the initial presentation of Free at Sea perks may look much more simple, and perhaps generous, than it is.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the program isn’t valuable - but it’s important to know what’s really included.  Let’s go over the details of each benefit.

Free Unlimited Open Bar

The Premium Beverage Package included with Free at Sea includes drinks up to $15, such as cocktails, beer , wine, and juices.  What’s not included, however, are specialty coffees or packaged water.  This isn’t bad, and while we appreciated the particularly high-end spirits available for an up-charge (or with the Premium Plus package), on our recent NCL Encore Alaska cruise, we found there was no shortage of quality options available with this package.

What many guests don’t expect with an included beverage package is the need to pay anything, and while the core package cost of $109 per person/per day is included, the required gratuities are not.  This means that if you opt to take advantage of the included beverage package when you book, you’ll pay 20% of the value of the package.  So, the included package will actually set back two guests $305.20 on a seven night cruise.

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Free Specialty Dining

Specialty dining restaurants are a big deal on NCL, because some of their ships have a lot of them.  The Free Specialty Dining offer isn’t unlimited, but allows for a set number of specialty meals depending on the length of your cruise and cabin type.  On seven to 11 night cruises, the first two guests in a balcony stateroom will get two meals at a specialty restaurant.  While the true value depends on where you choose to dine, the assigned value in this case is $99 (for two people, per meal), which means there will be a $39.60 gratuity charge added with this included offering.

Because this one can be a bit more complex, we’ll put the breakdown for different sailing lengths and stateroom types below (all assuming a stateroom with two guests).

Three- to six-night cruise, any cabin: one meal ($118 value, $23.60 gratuity)

Seven- to 11-night cruise, studio, inside or oceanview cabin: one meal ($118 value, $23.60 gratuity)

Seven- to 11-night cruise, balcony cabin or above: two meals ($198 value, $39.60 gratuity)

Twelve-night cruise or longer, studio, inside or oceanview cabin: two meals ($198 value, $39.60 gratuity)

Twelve-night cruise or longer, balcony cabin or above: three meals ($278 value, $55.60 gratuity)

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To start, it’s important to know that for any cruise line, Wi-Fi is always included in order for you to use the cruise line app, and sometimes other services.  What guests actually pay for is internet access while connected to that Wi-Fi network.  If you’re still confused, this is something we help explain in this article .

What is included with this part of the offer can also be a bit confusing, but similar to dining , guests do not get unlimited internet access included with Free at Sea.  What you actually get is a certain number of included minutes of internet access - but that goes very quickly.  The good news is that you can use this as credit to upgrade to other internet packages, such as the Unlimited or Unlimited Premium packages, which are normally priced at $29.99 and $39.99 per device per day, respectively.  For a recent seven night cruise, the included access offered us 150 minutes of access, or $130 credit for upgrade, allowing us to upgrade to the Unlimited Premium (which includes streaming) for $129.93.

laptop and a mimosa on a table on celebrity apex

Free Excursions

Shore excursions, on any line, can vary greatly in price, and what is included here won’t get you many excursions, but it will get you $50 off of one excursion, for one guest in each port of call.  So, if you want to go to the Baths at Virgin Gorda (and you really should), and NCL offers that tour for $150 per person, then the two of you can go for $250 total, and get another $50 off another tour in the next port.  

Where you’ll want to be careful here is making sure that it’s not cheaper to abandon the discount in favor of booking an excursion through a third party.  We discuss the pros and cons of this extensively in this article , and include it in our video discussing the multiple things you should consider when planning your time ashore .  This in mind, you might think that NCL’s private islands of Great Stirrup Cay and Harvest Cay might be the perfect places to use a $50 credit, and you’re not wrong - but you can’t use this credit on equipment rentals at these locations (though other tours at these destinations are compatible with the credit).

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Free Airfare

This isn't technically part of the Free at Sea offer, but it seems to be tacked on as an extra very frequently, so it's worth mentioning.  Few things are as enticing to travelers as free airfare, and what NCL offers here can be a significant value…or a non-starter.  If you book air through NCL’s air-to-sea program they’ll give you two air tickets for the price of one.  This can be a great deal, but there are two big things to consider.  First, air prices vary a ton, so you’ll need to price this out to see if you can get your air taken care of independently for less money.  Fortunately NCL makes this pretty easy, as when you or your travel advisor is pricing your cruise they display the price based on which origin airport you choose.  The second consideration is timing.  We always recommend you arrive to the embarkation city at least a day before you sail.  NCL allows guests to fly in up to two days early, but if you want to extend your trip by more than that, or if you want to pick your flights (airline, arrival time, etc) then this perk may not be of value to you.  

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Final Considerations for Free at Sea

The offer, for many guests, is a net positive - but as you can see there are things to know and consider so that you’re not caught off guard by the additional costs or restrictions.  If you don’t think you’ll use these perks, then you can definitely look to see what Sail Away rates might be available, which don’t build any of these things into your cruise cost - but in our experience the rates aren’t so drastically different that it makes sense even if the only perk you’ll use is the beverage package.

Still, you can part out the offer.  If you’re not going to drink at least the cost in gratuities , then opt out of the drinks - the same logic applies to specialty dining.  If you stick with limited internet, don’t forget to log out as soon as you’re done browsing.  In other words, do the math based on what you expect you’ll value and enjoy.  If you’re someone that thinks you’ll benefit from additional add-ons, such as Unlimited internet and the Premium Plus drink package, then look into NCL’s Free at Sea Plus program, which bundles these in, along with more shore excursion and specialty dining credits.  Just know that you can only choose this update before you sail.

The biggest thing that may help you save money and decode these offers?  Use a good travel agent.  They can help clear things up and sometimes get you additional incentives not available by booking directly, in addition to providing valuable service and letting you skip the call centers.  You can find out more about using a travel agent in this article .  However you book, and whatever you do, choose the right cruise for you, and have a great time.

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View the discussion thread.

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Good Deal? 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. After all, everyone likes getting something for free.

But is it a good deal? It is worth buying? And what details should you know when you book?

Norwegian Pearl in port

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 fare at a price that’s normally less than if you booked them all separately. 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 third/fourth guests

So with the deal you can pay one price and then get drinks for the duration of your trip, wi-fi, shore excursions, and more.

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 many of the extra charges that creep into the cost of a cruise 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.

In This Article...

The Number of Perks May Depend On Your Cabin Type (But Often Includes 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 may depend on the type of cabin that you purchase. Often no matter which cabin type you book, all the perks are included. Other times, it may be that the higher grade of cabin you choose, the more picks you receive. The offer can change occasionally.

If you book at a time when not everything is included, then if you pick a studio or inside cabin, you might only be offered one or two free perks. Oceanview, balcony, and mini-suites will usually get to pick more offers offers, while suites, and The Haven cabins normally get to select all the perks. 

But it seems limiting the perks based on cabin type is becoming less common . 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.

Sometimes More Perks Are Offered

Norwegian Sky in Nassau

In addition to changing the number of perks included with the room you book, NCL also adjusts the actual perks themselves at times. 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: 

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 seemingly 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 (If You Can Find Them)

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 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 $2,369 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 $2,319 per person.

So the Free at Sea deal was actually $50 more per person — or $100 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 ($109 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. But for most people, it likely will be worth the extra cost.

One thing to note is that it seems the fares without the offer often say they are sold out on NCL’s website. It may be difficult for you to find a fare without the offer.

You May HAVE to Buy the Free at Sea Offer

In years past, there was a rather large difference between the cruise fares with the Free at Sea offer and those sail away balconies (on the order of hundreds of dollars). Then that difference seemed to get smaller and smaller to where booking with the offer was a no-brainer. Now, it can be seemingly tough to find a cruise without the offer included.

During our most recent price checks, we looked at several cruises departing in the weeks ahead all the way to more than a year out. On none of them were we able to find a sail away room available. While the option was shown for all cruises, the website labeled them all sold old — even for cruises leaving more than a year from now. Meanwhile, there were still options available with the Free at Sea perks included.

In other words, if you wanted a fare without the offer, it may be tough to find.

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 $109 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 $21.80 per person, per day. For two people, that’s $43.60 each day.

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

It’s similar with the specialty dining package. There, you will see gratuities on the free meals with the offer, which are paid when booking.

You can opt out of the free drink package and specialty dining to avoid paying the gratuities. (See more on that below.)

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

Drinks on a bar

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

When making your reservation, you have the choice to opt out of those packages that require a gratuity charge such as the drink package and specialty dining. That way if you don’t think you’ll get your money’s worth, you don’t have to pay the gratuity charge.

Understand the Terms & Conditions Before Booking (Lots of Fine Print)

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

Gratuities: We’ve mentioned that gratuities are still charged even on free perks. But if you take advantage of the third and fourth guests in a cabin sail free perk, they will still be charged a daily service charge of $20 per person on the ship like any other passenger.

Specialty Dining: While other things to know include that the free specialty dining perk is only for a some meals (two per person in total for a 7-day cruise if booking a balcony cabin, for example but only one per person in a studio, inside, or oceanview) and gratuities are also charged on the value of the package.

Wi-Fi: 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.

Shore Excursions: While the shore excursions are labeled as “free” in fact, it is actually a $50 credit for the first guest, per excursion. If your excursion is more, then you’ll need to pay the difference. And NCL says the “offer is application to first guest on the cruise reservation” — not multiple guests in the cabin.

For the full terms and conditions of the offers, you can click here . And here is a breakdown of what’s included from Norwegian Cruise Line.

“Free At Sea Plus” Offer Could Be Better For You

Maybe you’ve made the choice to book Free at Sea instead of a basic cabin without the perks. There’s one more choice to consider, and that is Free at Sea versus Free at Sea Plus.

Norwegian has created an upgrade with the following perks included:

  • Premium Plus Beverage Package (includes all top-shelf spirits)
  • Two additional specialty dining meals
  • $50 shore excursion credit per tour for both first and second passenger
  • Unlimited wi-fi for first and second passenger  

Compared to the regular Free at Sea deal, this includes a higher-tier drink package , more specialty dining meals, an additional $50 credit per shore excursion, and unlimited wi-fi instead of a bundle of minutes.

The price runs $49 per person, per day ($29 pp for kids and $42 pp if traveling solo).

Given the list prices of these services, you do come out ahead with this package if you used the features. For instance, the Premium Plus Beverage Package is $29 more per day while unlimited wi-fi runs $30-40 per day. That alone is more than the $49 per day that you’ll spend. Add on a couple of uses of the $50 shore excursion credit and the additional meals, and you’re well in the black.

But these are also extras that you may not need. For instance, many passengers would be just fine with the basic drink package. Some may not need unlimited wi-fi. Others may take only an excursion or two during the trip, meaning the discount isn’t as big a deal.

Before you book, you’ll want to do the math to figure if the daily cost ($98 a day for a couple traveling) is worth the upgrade. 

Check Prices on Airfare Offers

One of the perks that can be popular for people living a distance from the port is free airfare. Often, it is free for the second guest on the cruise, although the offer specifics can vary.

As you might expect, there are some caveats when it comes to free flights. Most notably, airfare charges will vary depending on where you’re flying from. You’ll be able to select your departure city, and then it will tell you the price of airfare for the guest that does have to pay.

In that case, it’s worth a quick search of flight-search websites like Kayak to see what the airfare rate will be. In a recent search, we found flights on our own for several hundred dollars cheaper than what we were quoted on the NCL website. However, when you consider the free airfare for the second guest, the Free at Sea offer was better overall.  

Good Deal? Likely, but Do the Math Before You Buy

For many people, selecting the Free at Sea offer is a no-brainer (or may be required if a sail away fare isn’t available), and they will end up saving a considerable amount of money. 

But if you aren’t a big drinker or plan to drive to the port instead of fly, 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. Even so, there’s a reason the offer is popular — for many people it’s a smart move.

More on Sailing NCL:

Worth It? Complete Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Drink Package Guide

  • 25+ Fun Must-Do Things on a Norwegian Cruise

20+ Norwegian Cruise Tips, Tricks, and Things to Know

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Ncl offers additional 50% off from normal 50% off. It says upon reservation to see as it is added to latitudes account. So in order to actually see total cost I have to book the cruise?

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 .

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.”

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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Norwegian’s Free at Sea: The Ultimate Guide

By: Author Carrie Ann Karstunen

Posted on Published: January 30, 2020  - Last updated: June 15, 2022

Norwegian’s Free at Sea: The Ultimate Guide

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion is a popular sale with cruise passengers. But be sure to choose your Free at Sea perks carefully! Some of NCL’s “free” promotions aren’t exactly free.

What is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea?

Norwegian’s Free at Sea is a promotion that NCL consistently runs for sailings of three nights or more. Passengers can take advantage of free perks including a free drink package, free specialty dining, and free friends & family on a cruise voyage, based on your choice of stateroom category.

Guests in higher categories can choose more perks than those traveling in a lower-category cabin.

Is NCL Free at Sea really free?

Some of Norwegian’s Free at Sea options are really, totally free. Others aren’t truly free, because you need to pay a mandatory charge to take advantage of the free part of the promotion.

One option is sometimes free, but it depends on where you’re traveling from and which type of stateroom you pick.

Confusing, I know! Don’t worry, I’m about to explain it all so you can make the best choice for your upcoming Norwegian cruise.

What does Norwegian’s Free at Sea include?

Norwegian’s Free at Sea sales aren’t always the same. They often offer a “Take Five” sale, where guests can choose among five offers. The most common choices include:

  • Free open bar
  • Free specialty dining
  • Free excursions
  • Free airfare
  • Free friends and family

The choices can vary from one sale period to another, and not all choices will be offered in any one sale.

Free Open Bar: what you need to know

The most popular Norwegian Free at Sea perk that cruisers choose is the Free Open Bar . Cruisers can enjoy unlimited soft drinks, spirits, cocktails, wine by the glass, and bottled or draft beer, priced at up to $15 per drink.

But be aware that if any guest over 21 chooses the free open bar, all other guests over 21 on the same reservation need to choose or purchase the open bar as well.

At a $99 value per day, choosing the open bar perk will save you the most money, but only if you’re planning to drink several adult beverages per day.

You’ll also have to prepay a 20% gratuity on the entire value of the package, which works out to $19.80 per person per day.

If you’re not planning on having at least a few alcoholic drinks per day, it may be a good idea to choose a different free perk.

If you have kids or young adults booked in your stateroom, the first two passengers on the reservation need to be at least 21 by embarkation day to qualify for Free Open Bar.

Guests under 21 will receive the soda package, normally $5.95-$7.95 per day. You guessed it, you have to pay 20% gratuity on the free soda packages as well.

Unlike drink packages on many other cruise lines, Norwegian’s Free Open Bar doesn’t include specialty coffees or bottled water. You also can’t use it for fresh-squeezed juices, room service, minibar items, and a few other exceptions. (Many of these restrictions are lifted on Pride of America sailings in Hawai‘i.)

Be sure to factor this into your budget when deciding if the open bar is right for you.

Read more: Is a Cruise Drinks Package Worth It?

Free Specialty Dining: what you need to know

Although all of Norwegian’s ships have plenty of dining options included in your cruise fare, eating at one of their specialty restaurants can be a treat.

Choosing Free Specialty Dining from Free at Sea will usually only credit the first two passengers in a stateroom with a free dining package. You’ll also have to pay a 20% gratuity on the value of each package.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Specialty dining venues vary by ship, but they include:

  • American Diner
  • Cagney’s Steakhouse
  • Food Republic
  • Moderno Churrascaria
  • Bayamo by Ocean Blue
  • Pincho Tapas Bar
  • Q Texas Smokehouse

You can also use your Free Specialty Dining package to dine in an entertainment-based restaurant, for a small additional charge. Just visit the ship’s box office on board to upgrade.

As with the Free Open Bar option, choosing Free Specialty Dining requires passengers to prepay a 20% gratuity on the value of the dining package.

  • 3-4 night cruises: 1 specialty meal (valued at $44.95) gratuity = $8.99
  • 5-6 night cruises: 2 specialty meals (valued at $79.00) gratuity = $15.80
  • 7-8 night cruises: 3 specialty meals (valued at $99.00) gratuity = $19.80
  • 9-10 night cruises: 4 specialty meals (valued at $114.00) gratuity = $22.80
  • 11+ night cruises: 5 specialty meals (valued at $129.00) gratuity = $25.80

Free Shore Excursions: what you need to know

Norwegian’s Free Shore Excursions option could be a good value for you, but be sure you know exactly what you’re getting for free before you choose this option.

The Free Shore Excursions perk will give you a $50 credit towards a Norwegian-sponsored shore excursion in each port you visit. However, note that the credit is per stateroom, not per passenger!

If you have a port-heavy itinerary, and you’re planning on taking an excursion in each port, this perk could be a good choice. For cruises with a lot of sea days, you may find that it’s not the best value.

If you’re able to find low-priced shore excursions that you like in every port, this could be a fantastic option for you. Before you make your Free at Sea selection, check NCL’s Shore Excursion Search to see what shore excursions are offered in each port. You can sort the list by price.

If you want to make this perk completely free, you may find that there aren’t any options at or under the $25 mark, assuming that you’re cruising with one other person in your stateroom. But the $50 credit can knock a decent percentage off of some of the shore excursions you’ll see listed.

If you have more than two in your stateroom and you’re all going on shore excursions, this perk will just give you a small discount on your excursion bill.

Also remember that it’s always nice (but not mandatory) to tip your shore excursion tour guide. These folks don’t work for the cruise line, so they’re not covered under your automatic gratuities.

Free Wi-Fi: what you need to know

If you’ve cruised before, you’ll know that the internet on a ship is EXPENSIVE! Norwegian’s Free Wi-Fi perk is great if you need to stay connected, and it’s completely free. But (you knew there’d be a but, right?) it’s not unlimited.

The free Wi-Fi package is limited to 100 minutes per stateroom for 3- to 6-day cruises and 250 minutes per stateroom for 7-11+ day cruises. That can go fast!

The package will be credited to the first passenger on the reservation, and they’ll be able to make one login profile. You can share the login profile with your cruise companions, but it can only be used on one device at a time.

In my experience, Norwegian’s Wi-Fi is pretty decent. I usually don’t choose the Wi-Fi perk because I actually like the novelty of being disconnected!

On my Norwegian cruise to Bermuda , one of our pets had a medical issue at home, so I purchased Wi-Fi by the minute when I needed it. It wasn’t too outrageously priced for the few five-minute FaceTime calls I needed to make, and the connection was reasonably fast.

Tip: You’ll usually be able to find free Wi-Fi when you’re in port at cafés and restaurants, or at public access points. If you’re fine with just checking in on port days, you may not need a Wi-Fi package on the ship.

Free Kids: what you need to know

If you’re planning to cruise with the whole family, Norwegian’s Free Kids perk can help make your cruise vacation much more affordable.

When this promo is offered, cruise fares are waived for two kids (age 17 and under) sailing in a stateroom along with two or more adult guests. Any additional children are charged the regular fare.

You won’t need to pay an extra deposit at booking for the two free kids’ fares, but you will be responsible for paying taxes and port fees.

Free Friends & Family: what you need to know

Much like the Free Kids promotion, choosing Free Friends and Family allows two extra people to sail in the same stateroom with a free cruise fare. There are no age restrictions on this perk.

Taxes and port fees will be charged for the two extra passengers on the reservation.

Free Airfare: what you need to know

When Norwegian runs a Free Airfare promotion, you can save significantly if you need to fly to your cruise port. Depending on where you’re flying from, you may be able to take advantage of free or significantly-reduced coach airfare for up to two guests booked in the same stateroom.

If you book an oceanview, balcony, or mini-suite stateroom, you’ll get free or discounted airfare from select gateways.

If you have a Concierge-level or Haven suite, you’ll receive complimentary airfare from all eligible airports. Usually, NCL doesn’t extend this offer to interior or solo cabin passengers.

Over 200 airports in the US, Canada, and Europe are included in the promotion when passengers fly to some of Norwegian Cruise Line’s home ports.

You’ll need to book your plane tickets through NCL to take advantage of this perk. The 3rd through 8th guests in the stateroom will receive a small discount on their airfare.

This offer does include taxes, fees, and surcharges. So if you’re eligible, this could be a completely free perk!

How many Norwegian Free at Sea promotions can you pick?

Norwegian lets you choose free perks based on your stateroom category. The higher (and more expensive) the category, the more promos NCL allows you to take.

During a “Take Five” sale, for example, passengers in various stateroom categories are entitled to choose:

  • Inside Staterooms: choose one offer
  • Oceanview, balcony, and mini-suites: choose two offers
  • Suites and The Haven: get all five offers

Sometimes Free at Sea is available with NCL’s Sail Away fares ( guarantee staterooms ) and sometimes it’s not, so be sure to read the fine print for your specific Free at Sea sale. You may have to upgrade to a higher category stateroom to take advantage of the promotion.

Can you choose different Free at Sea options than your cabinmates?

Unfortunately, you can’t each choose different Free at Sea options. When booking your cruise, you’ll choose your perks for the reservation, not as individuals.

When does Norwegian’s Free at Sea sale happen?

Norwegian always seems to be running some kind of Free at Sea sale. If there isn’t one going on right now, just wait a minute and there’ll be another one! Kidding, but NCL’s sales are so frequent that I’d never book a Norwegian cruise without a Free at Sea sale.

If you want to check what they’re currently offering, check NCL’s Promotions page to find out the dates and specific terms and conditions of each sale.

Want more tips and info for your Norwegian cruise?

  • 25 Norwegian Cruise Tips You Need to Know
  • 2020 Guide to Norwegian Cruise Line Drink Packages
  • How to Get Onboard Credit for Owning Norwegian Cruise Line Stock
  • Ultimate Guide to Great Stirrup Cay

Have you taken advantage of Norwegian’s Free at Sea promotion? What was your favorite perk? Do you think it was a good value? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Sunday 14th of August 2022

I was ready to give up on NCL until I read your explanations on the beverage packages and the Free at Sea article. Are all the cruise lines this different from my little 7 day Bahama cruise 25 years ago? I want to go to either Alaska, NZ or upper Europe in the next 12-18 months and just the speciality dining alone had me confused. thanks!

Friday 19th of August 2022

Hi Rita! I'm so happy that you loved my articles about Free At Sea and NCL beverage packages. I'm literally just hours off of my last NCL cruise (we did Bermuda from Boston again on Norwegian Pearl and got in this morning).

Norwegian Cruise Line can be SO confusing with what's included and what's not. That's precisely why I write these articles! Make sure you read all of my NCL posts before your next cruise!

You mentioned some epic potential itineraries in your upcoming plans. If you haven't cruised in 25 years (and don't have any particular loyalty or status on a certain brand) I'd shop around, especially for the locations you mentioned.

Princess and HAL are great for Alaska, and I highly recommend UnCruise Adventures for an adventurous small-ship option. Princess and P&O are the best for NZ, although Carnival also has some nice itineraries (and I'm doing one myself next February).

Northern Europe depends on where you want to go - If you're thinking a Baltic cruise I'd hold off for now - St. Petersburg is usually the highlight. But I did just do a nice two-week Royal Caribbean British Isles cruise, and there are several cruise lines that also do a nice job with the Norwegian fjords.

Thursday 27th of August 2020

Very valuable information. Thank you for explaining all this . I was kinda lost til I read your brief 🙂

Hi Wendy, thanks so much for stopping by! Free At Sea can be confusing - I'm so glad I could clear it up for you! :D

Wednesday 5th of February 2020

Wow all of these guidelines and plans are tough to get a grip on. I'd need a holiday to get over the exertion of trying to figure them out! Thanks for providing a simplified overview of what's free and what's not so free.

Friday 7th of February 2020

Free at Sea can be so confusing, and Norwegian's website doesn't do a great job explaining it. I'm glad you liked my guide!

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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Norwegian Cruise Line: Free Gratuities

Take advantage of limited-time offers and special deals

Exclusive Offer for Norwegian Cruise Line:

Free pre-paid gratuities *, free shore excursion credits *, free pre- or post-cruise airport transfer *.

Offers only available for select sailings departing at least 6 months from today in Balcony or above; call for details. Excludes categories IX, OX, BX & MX (Sail Away Categories). Published prices are not combinable with promotion; call 1-800-377-9383 for applicable fares.

PLUS, our exclusive offers are combinable with Norwegian Cruise Line's Take All Free  deals with up to 5 FREE Perks :

FREE Open Bar*

Free specialty dining*, free shore excursion credits*, free wi-fi*, free or reduced 3rd & 4th guests*, free airfare for 2nd guest*.

Offers available for select sailings only and exclude categories IX, OX, BX and MX (Sail Away Categories). Published prices are not combinable with promotion; call 1-800-377-9383 for applicable fares

LIMITED TIME ONLY for SELECT SAILINGS.

Call 1-800-377-9383 for current offers.

* Rates and offers are subject to select dates and categories, cruise only, per person, based on double occupancy, in US Dollars, and include NCCF. Government taxes, port expenses and fees are included in advertised fares. Discretionary onboard service charges are additional. Cancellation fees also apply based on the booking/sailing date. Offers are not applicable to categories IX, OX, BX, MX (Sail Away Categories). Offers valid on select sailings only; exclusions apply. Exclusive Cruise Web Offers: Free pre-paid gratuities refers to the complimentary pre-payment of the automatic service gratuities for guests 1-2 ( NOT applicable to categories BX or MX ). Free pre-paid gratuities offer applies to select sailings only. 20% service charges for optional beverage package and/or specialty dining package perks are additional and required prior to cruise, if applicable. Free shore excursion credit is provided in the form of a voucher redeemable with Shore Excursions Group. Free Pre- or Post-Cruise Airport Transfer includes one free transfer per person for guests 1-2 (either pre- or post-cruise); availability based on itinerary and air gateway. Exclusive offers only available for select cruises departing at least 6 months from today. Limited time offer; call for details. For Free at Sea offer terms, please call 1-800-377-9383. Additional restrictions may apply. Please contact The Cruise Web at 1-800-377-9383 for full terms and conditions. Ships' registry: The Bahamas and United States. The Cruise Web is not responsible for typographical errors or omissions.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Norwegian Cruise Line reserves the right to charge a fuel supplement without prior notice should the closing price of West Texas Intermediate Fuel increase above $65 per barrel on the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange Index). In the event a fuel supplement is charged, Norwegian Cruise Line will have sole discretion to apply the supplementary charge to both existing and new bookings, regardless of whether such bookings have been paid in full. Such supplementary charges are not included in the cruise fare. The fuel supplement charge will not exceed $10.00 per passenger per day.

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NCL Free At Sea: Everything You Need to Know

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What exactly is “NCL Free at Sea”? Dive into the Norwegian Free at Sea promotion and explore the latest NCL Free at Sea Plus addition. Is it a worthwhile choice?

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea offer includes free specialty dining, unlimited open bar, Wi-Fi minutes, shore excursion credits, and sometimes 3rd & 4th guests free and-or free flights. But is it a fit for every cruiser?

Let’s look at what’s included in your options and help determine if you should take advantage of the NCL’s year-round promotion offers and if upgrading to NCL Free at Sea Plus is worth it. Follow along as we review Norwegian’s Free at Sea offer in 2024.

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Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we earn a commission at no extra cost. Please refer to our  full disclosure  for details.

  • The pricing and examples provided apply to a seven-night duration and are calculated for two passengers.
  • Tasty Itinerary is an independent entity not associated with or employed by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Table of Contents

What is Norwegian’s Free at Sea?

Norwegian’s Free at Sea is a promotion that allows cruisers of the following perks:

Free Unlimited Open Bar

Free specialty dining, free shore excursions.

The 5th and 6th perk rotates throughout the year, and sometimes they are both offered simultaneously.

  • Free 3rd & 4th Guests

Free Airfare

** The NCL Free at Sea package does not apply to Sail Away rates and cabins.

Upgrades Available:

  • NCL Free at Sea Plus Explained

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Original Free At Sea Promotions Explained

Let’s dive in and look at the NCL Free at Sea offers so you can decide if they’re right for you.

  • Make sure to go through the Terms & Conditions of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free At Sea promotions. While we cover essential details below, it’s advisable to familiarize yourself with the additional fine print.

NCL Free at Sea Open Bar

Premium Beverage Package for cruises over three days (valued at $109 per person daily).

  • Covers drinks up to $15; extra charges for exceeding this limit.
  • Free-flowing cocktails, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages (up to $15) from boarding to disembarkation, including some favorite NCL cruise cocktails .
  • You can order two drinks at a time.
  • Exclusions: Unlimited bottled water, bottles of wine, energy drinks, specialty coffees, mini bar items, high-end spirits, etc.
  • Free open bar for guests 1-8, aged 21 and older; minors get the soda package.
  • 20% service/gratuities of the value of the package is added to the cruise fare.

bottles of bacardi

Bottles of Barcadi lined up behind the Sugarcane Mojito Bar on a Norwegian cruise ship.

Is there a service fee for the NCL Free at Sea Open Bar?

Yes. Opting for the NCL Free At Sea drink package adds a 20% gratuity to your cruise fare, calculated on the Beverage Package’s value ($109 per person per day for double occupancy) at the time of booking. The service charge is automatically included when you add this perk to your reservation.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Open Bar worth it?

Whether the cruise drink package is worth it depends on your drink preferences and consumption. Calculate daily drinks at $9 to $15 each, reaching at least $305 for a 7-day cruise for two.

  • If the estimate exceeds the service fee, it’s worthwhile.
  • If it equals the service fee, it’s still worth considering.
  • If it’s half the service fee or less, it may not be the best choice.

The beverage package offers convenience for worry-free ordering, whether you prefer soda or virgin frozen drinks.

Alternatively, a soda package at $9.95 per person daily plus a 20% gratuity is an option. However, after doing the math, you might find the Free Open Bar’s gratuities provide better value.

Calculation example: ($10 per drink) x (how many drinks a day) = estimated total for one cruise day. (Total of one cruise day) x (# of days of your cruise) = estimated total for the entire cruise. You can also use our handy Cruise Drink Package Calculator below.

Cruise Drink Calculator

mixx bar on norwegian joy

Option to Upgrade to the NCL Free at Sea Plus

Another option is upgrading the Free at Sea Open Bar to the Premium Plus Beverage Package without having to upgrade to the full NCL Free at Sea Plus . The Premium Plus Beverage Package costs $29 per person per day, plus 20% gratuity.

With the NCL Free at Sea Plus , your beverage package will be upgraded to the Premium Plus Beverage Package, which includes Starbucks, all bottled water, high-end spirits, and more.

About the Hawaii Beverage Package

Pride of America sailings does not qualify for the Free at Sea Open Bar offer. It has a similar Hawaii Beverage Package; the difference is that it includes bottled water and specialty coffee (in dining rooms only). It applies to guests 1-8 in the stateroom.

Read more: Norwegian Drink Packages Explained

NCL Free Specialty Dining

Free Specialty Dining Package Inclusions (NCL):

  • Guests enjoy complimentary meals at specialty restaurants.
  • The number of meals included in the offer depends on the stateroom type and the length of the cruise.
  • Applies to guests 1 & 2.
  • Covers one appetizer, soup or salad, main entree, and dessert per guest.
  • 20% service/gratuities added to the cruise fare.
  • Other stateroom guests: Purchase a dining package or pay a la carte.
  • Children can order from the kid’s menu.

How many meals are included in NCl free at sea?

plate settings at food republic on norwegian cruise

The free specialty dining is a great offer if you enjoy eating at the cruise ship’s pay restaurants. As foodies, we take full advantage of this offer.

You can make reservations for specialty restaurant dining starting 90 days before embarkation day . You can also book your dining reservations on embarkation day. So, if they seem to be booked full online, don’t worry; the ship only releases a certain percentage of the reservations online. Just wait till you embark on making the reservations.

What is included in the free specialty dining package on NCL?

When dining at an ala carte restaurant, the NCL free specialty dining package will cover one appetizer, soup or salad, a main entree, and dessert for each guest (guests 1 & 2). If the restaurant cost is a cover charge, then the dining package will cover the cover charge to that restaurant.

Is there a service fee for the NCL Free at Sea Specialty Dining?

Yes, a 20% service fee covers the value of a specialty dining package, which retails at $89 to $119 per person. The service fee is minimal, ranging from $10 to $24 per person.

If you add this perk to your reservation, the service charge is automatically added to the cost of your cruise.

bread and butter at cagneys steakhouse on norwegian

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Specialty Dining worth it?

Considering the minimal service fee, the NCL specialty dining package is a great value for dining at the à la carte specialty restaurants. These restaurants offer gourmet food distinct from the main dining room, and dinners can easily exceed $100 without the package. This allows you to enjoy some of the best restaurants at sea without spending a fortune. However, it might not be worth it if you don’t plan to use it or prefer the buffet.

If you upgrade to the Free at Sea Plus , you will receive two additional specialty dining meals for guests 1 & 2.

Want additional specialty dining meals without upgrading to the Free at Sea Plus ? Upgrade for $69 per person, plus 20% gratuity for an additional 2 Meal Dining Package .

Read more: Guide to Specialty Dining Restaurants on NCL

NCL Free at Sea Shore Excursions

  • Not a free excursion, but a $50 discount.
  • Applies only to the first guest in the reservation.
  • Credit is applied to shore excursions booked with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Consider it a discount for shore excursions at all ports of call in your itinerary (excluding pre/post-cruise tours). If you discover a shore excursion priced at $50 or less, it could be a “free” excursion for one person.

UTV on dirt road

Is there a service fee for the NCL Free at Sea Free Shore Excursions?

No. No service fee is added when booking shore excursions.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Shore Excursions worth it?

It all depends on your port preferences. If you tend to book cruise line-sponsored excursions at every port, this offer can be a money-saver—a handy discount. However, keep in mind that cruise ship-advertised tour costs can be inflated. Before deciding, compare them with independently run tours.

In exceptional instances, you might stumble upon tours, tickets, or transfers at port that align with the discount’s value, essentially converting it into a complimentary tour.

For cruisers who prefer independent exploration or booking their excursions, as we do, this offer might not be the most valuable choice.

Read more: Tips to Book Cruise Shore Excursions On Your Own

Thinking about upgrading to Free at Sea Plus ? When you upgrade, a $50 credit is added to guest 2 in the cabin. This brings the shore excursion credit to $100 per stateroom per tour ($50 per guest 1 & 2).

NCL Free at Sea Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi Free offers include internet minutes you can use during your cruise.

  • 75 minutes per person (guests 1 & 2) for 3-6 day cruises
  • 150 minutes per person (guests 1 & 2) for 7-11 day cruises
  • 300 minutes per person (guests 1 & 2) for cruises over 12 days

woman relaxing in cruise balcony with her laptop next to her

Is there a service fee for the NCL Free at Sea WiFi?

No service fee.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea WiFi worth it?

It depends on your internet usage plans. The free minutes suffice for checking emails and texts a few times on the cruise until you’re onshore.

Choosing this perk won’t incur any extra cost as part of the “choose all perks” offer.

With Free at Sea Plus , you will receive unlimited internet for guests 1 & 2, but it will not include streaming.

You can upgrade your Free at Sea WiFi to Unlimited Wifi without upgrading to the full Free at Sea Plus package.

  • Unlimited WiFi (no streaming): $109.03/person (guest 1&2).
  • Premium Unlimited WiFi (with streaming): $179.93/person (guest 1&2).

3rd & 4th Guests Sail Free

NCL Free 3rd & 4th Guests

This NCL Free At Sea Offer is free to cruise fare and is known as 3rd & 4th guests Free or at $99 per guest. Sometimes, this promo is also known as “Kids Sail Free.”

  • 3 & 4 Guests Sail Free or for $99 per guest, with dates subject to change without notice.
  • Only available on select sailings.
  • Only valid for guests 3-4 sharing a stateroom with guests 1-2 paying full fare. Guests 5-8 in a reservation must pay fares.

family overlooking the ocean and cruise ship

The NCL Free at Sea offer for the third and fourth guests in a stateroom is great for families of four or groups of friends willing to share a cabin.

This offer is not always available as a perk, but it comes up often.

NCL Free at Sea Airfare

This perk offers a roundtrip economy airfare for the 2nd guest, occasionally a 50% credit. The 1st guest will have to pay full airfare via NCL.

  • The promotion applies to guests 1-2 only.
  • Does not apply to sail away sailings.
  • Not available for sailings less than 7 nights.
  • Deviation requests of 2 days before or after the cruise need to be submitted in advance.

inside of plane with passengers

How does NCL free airfare work?

Norwegian arranges your airfare, finalizing flight details closer to the cruise date. This could mean multi-stop flights instead of non-stop flights you can book independently. Sure, letting them book your airfare could lead to significant savings, especially for international cruises, but you’re risking the loss of control over your travel plans.

We don’t favor NCL’s free airfare due to this lack of control. We recommend handling your airfare independently to avoid any surprises.

The Option to Upgrade with Norwegian Free at Sea Plus

bailys with whip cream with a view of glacier bay on a cruise

What is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea Plus?

NCL Free at Sea Plus is the latest addition to Norwegian’s Free at Sea program. And it is a game changer! You can elevate your Norwegian cruise vacation by upgrading to the NCL Free at Sea Plus for an additional cost per person. It includes an upgraded version of everything in the original Free at Sea promotion.

What is the cost of the NCL Free at Sea Plus ?

Upgrading to NCL Free at Sea Plus is an extra $49 per person daily for guests 1 & 2, plus gratuities. It’s important to note that you must have initially selected the original Free at Sea promo to qualify for this upgrade.

What is included in the NCL Free at Sea Plus ?

NCL Free at Sea Plus (based on a 7-day cruise on a balcony and above) includes:

  • Premium Beverage Plus Package
  • 4-night Specialty Dining Package (two nights from the original Free-at-Sea promo, plus two nights from the Free-at-Sea Plus upgrade)
  • $100 shore excursion credit per tour ($50 for the 1st passenger from the original promo, plus $50 for the 2nd passenger with the NCL Free-at-Sea Plus upgrade)
  • Unlimited Wifi (no streaming)

Is the Free at Sea Plus worth it?

That depends on your budget and cruise vacation style. Will you drink an additional $700+ on a 7-day cruise? Are two extra nights of specialty dining and free unlimited Wi-Fi (no streaming) important to you?

We upgraded to the Free at Sea Plus Package on our last two NCL cruises and found it valuable, even though my husband is sober. We enjoyed all the Starbucks we wanted, multiple Pellegrinos throughout the day, top-shelf drinks, and even $30 glasses of champagne at Le Bistro. The unlimited Wi-Fi kept us in touch with our dog sitter and family. We tried two extra specialty restaurants, which was worth it since it was a full-capacity cruise, and the MDRs were overwhelmed.

By the end of the cruise, it balanced out. It was fun, convenient, and suited our needs perfectly.

NCL Free at Sea FAQs

How many norwegian free at sea promotions can you choose.

Typically, the number of perks you can choose is determined by the booked cabin category. However, keep an eye out for limited-time offers where all cabin categories may have the option to select all the available offers. The Open Bar perk extends to guests 1-8, while the remaining perks apply to the lead guests 1 & 2 in the stateroom .

Is NCL free at sea really free?

Not entirely. While the package is labeled as “free,” a service fee/gratuity is attached, depending on the selected offers. If you opt for the “free” Open Bar or the “free” Dining Package, a 20% gratuity/service fee, calculated based on the package value, is added to your cruise fare.

In essence, the package is complimentary, but gratuities/service fees are not covered.

The debate about whether it’s genuinely free due to the service fee is subjective—some argue tipping bartenders for drinks is common.

Another important consideration in marketing and promotions is that the cost of many of these “free perks” is likely already included in the overall cruise fare . Despite this, the allure of complimentary perks remains universally appealing.

Does NCL Free at Sea Include Gratuities?

Cruise gratuities are not part of the NCL Free at Sea package. Although there have been instances when free gratuities were offered as a perk, they typically exclude gratuities on beverage packages, dining packages, and other services.

When does Norwegian’s Free at Sea sale happen?

The NCL Free at Sea promotion is ongoing throughout the year. Perks may vary, offering a choice of 2 or all, with occasional additions of other NCL promotions to enhance its appeal.

When does the Norwegian Free at Sea promotion end?

The Norwegian Free at Sea promotion never ends. The perks rotate or change throughout the year and sometimes with additional perks.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea worth it?

The NCL Free at Sea can be worth it, especially if your drinking habits align with the perks and you enjoy dining at specialty restaurants. It becomes a great promotion when you see the additional gratuities as added value.

🚢 Book a CrUISE with NCL

BEFORE YOU SET SAIL, HERE ARE SOME RELATED ARTICLES YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS:

  • NCL Drink Package List Explained
  • Norwegian Cruise Drinks Cruisers Love
  • 10 Highlights of Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Getting Ready for Your Cruise: 11 Tips

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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NCL Free At Sea: All You Need To Know

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DISCLOSURE: Stylish Cruising contains affiliate links and is a member of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, as well as affiliate programs with other companies. If you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. To learn more, please see our  Privacy Policy .

When you book a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line , you will see their Free At Sea program mentioned. What is the NCL Free At Sea program , and what does it mean to you?

Save For Later 4

Frequently Asked Questions About NCL Free At Sea

Free At Sea is a promotional offer made by Norwegian Cruise Line for those booking its cruises. It includes unlimited open bar, Wi-Fi, a shore excursion credit, free specialty dining, and more.

Yes and no. Yes, you can have as many drinks per day as you want (but drink responsibly). However, the threshold is $15 per cocktail, beer, or glass of wine, and any cost over that is charged to your account.

Only the first guest on the reservation receives the excursion credit with Free at Sea.

No, you receive a number of minutes depending on the length of your cruise.

Never! Free At Sea is an ongoing promotion.

If you drink alcohol, maybe. If you don’t, then no. Read on to find out why.

What Is Free At Sea?

NCL’s “Free at Sea” promotion is a game-changer in the world of cruising, offering passengers unparalleled value and flexibility when booking their cruise. The promotion allows you to select multiple free add-ons, tailoring your cruise experience to match your unique preferences. Whether you’re a seasoned cruiser or a first-timer, this offer brings an array of exciting choices and benefits to your fingertips.

This offer changes, sometimes with four components offered and other times with more. You can choose any or all of the components of Free At Sea, giving you the ultimate flexibility.

Let’s break those down.

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Ultimate Cruise Planner

Need a little assistance organizing and planning your cruise? Our Ultimate Cruise Planner can help!

Always Included With NCL Free At Sea

Free unlimited open bar.

Unlimited Open Bar (also known as the “beverage package”) includes spirits and cocktails under $15, beers and wine by the glass under $15, and unlimited juice and soda. You also receive a 20% discount on bottles of wine or champagne, wine or spirit experiences, and on flights. There are no limitations per day to the number of drinks you order, but you must drink responsibly.

Things to know:

  • The beverage package’s worth is $99 per person per day.
  • You must be 21 years old or above to be eligible for the beverage package.
  • You may not share drinks with other people; doing so may cause a revocation of your package.
  • You can only order two beverages at a time.
  • If one person in a cabin has the beverage package, all adults in the cabin must have the beverage package.
  • The beverage package is not usable at Harvest Caye.
  • Drinks ordered while the ship is in port are subject to the charge of VAT taxes.
  • At booking, you are charged gratuities of 20% for the package, and it is significant. Be aware of that.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Free Specialty Dining

Treat yourself to new dining experiences at Norwegian’s specialty restaurants. With Free At Sea, you receive specialty dining nights for the first two guests on the reservation. The number of specialty meals per person you receive depends on the length of your cruise and the type of stateroom you have booked as follows:

  • 3-6 nights (any stateroom) – 1 meal
  • 7-11 nights (studio, inside, oceanview) – 1 meal
  • 7-11 nights (balcony and above) – 2 meals
  • 12+ nights (studio, inside, oceanview) – 2 meals
  • 12+ nights (balcony and above) – 3 meals
  • You will be charged 20% gratuities on the specialty meal package.
  • The free meals are only applicable for guests 1 and 2 on the reservation.
  • Jazz Brunch, Wine Lovers, Murder Mystery lunches, and beverages are not included.
  • Specialty Dining Packages include one main course per person at Cagney’s and Le Bistro.

table set in a specialty restaurant

Stay connected with your loved ones back home and share your amazing cruise experiences with Wi-Fi access. Save on a free internet package of a set number of minutes that is dependent on the length of your cruise.

  • For a 3-6 night cruise, you receive 75 minutes.
  • For a 7-11 night cruise, you receive 150 minutes.
  • For a 12+ night cruise, you receive 300 minutes.
  • Free minutes are only for the first two guests on a reservation.
  • Free minutes received are per person; two logins per stateroom.
  • The minutes can only be used on one device at a time.
  • The minutes don’t work on Harvest Caye or Great Stirrup Caye.
  • You must log in and log out of the package each time you use it. Otherwise, your minutes will drain away.
  • Once those minutes are used, you either have no Wi-Fi or you buy an additional package onboard.

woman lying on the pool deck looking at her cell phone

Free Excursions

Save $50 for each shore excursion that you book, for one person per stateroom. If an excursion is priced below $50, the excursion is free.

  • The person who is first on the cruise reservation is the one who receives the shore excursion credit. Other guests in the cabin do not receive this credit.
  • You may use the free excursion on more than one excursion per port.
  • The discount is combinable with the Latitudes discount (which is a discount you can receive due to your tier status with the cruise line).
  • Private and custom shore excursions do not receive this credit.

palm trees on the beach on a tropical island

Sometimes Included With NCL Free At Sea

Sometimes Norwegian will advertise other special offers with their Free At Sea promotion for a limited time. At times, you can choose ALL of the offers, and at other times, you can choose a set number of offers.

These can include:

Free Airfare

Buy an air ticket through NCL and the second guest flies for free. You can also add on ground transportation to and from the airport for a fee.

  • These offers are limited based on capacity.
  • Only available on certain sailings of seven nights or more.
  • Only applies to the first two guests on the reservation. All others pay full fare.
  • Reservation must be made more than 110 days from sailing.
  • You can fly in up to two days early or leave up to two days after your cruise for a $25 fee per person.
  • The air booking will be an economy fare.
  • NCL chooses the airline and flights.
  • You can get the flight booking number and contact the airline to change or upgrade your seats at your cost, and you can get the airline points.
  • Includes airline taxes and fees.
  • Domestic flights will be booked with a maximum of one stop when possible. International flights will be booked with a maximum of two stops when possible.

Delta Airline airplane in air

Free or $99 Extra Guests

This offer, which is only made on certain sailings, allows a third and fourth person to stay in your stateroom for free or for $99 each. This offer is perfect for families so they don’t have to pay full fare for their children.

  • The first two guests must pay the full fare.
  • Offer only valid on select sailings.
  • No deposit is needed for qualifying third and fourth guests.

little girl playing in surf on tropical beach

NCL Free At Sea Plus

Once you have booked a cruise, you might notice a cruise upgrade offered on your online account for something called Free At Sea Plus. For a fee, which is dependent on the length of the cruise, you can receive a better selection of alcoholic beverages, more specialty dining, unlimited Wi-Fi, and more excursion credits.

Here is how it breaks down:

Beverage Package

The Unlimited Beverage Package is upgraded to a Premium Plus Beverage Package, which includes:

  • All cocktails and spirits
  • All beer, wine, and champagne by the glass
  • Select premium bottles of champagne and wine with dinner, then 40% off other bottles
  • Unlimited sodas and juices
  • Unlimited still and sparkling water
  • All Starbucks coffee and specialty drinks
  • Energy drinks

Premium Dining

Your specialty dining package will be upgraded with two additional meals.

Free excursions

The second guest on the reservation also receives the $50 excursion credit per tour per port.

Free Wi-Fi is upgraded to Free Unlimited Wi-Fi, which is wonderful.

We tried Free At Sea Plus. Here is what we thought about it.

screenshot from NCL's website showing the Free At Sea Plus option advertised

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But is ncl free at sea really free.

Let’s be clear—Free At Sea is a way of marketing all-inclusive packages versus cruise-only packages. There is a bump in the price to include Free At Sea (as opposed to cruise-only), plus extra gratuities are charged for beverage and specialty dining packages. So, no, it isn’t free.

Despite that, we always cruise with Free At Sea because it makes sense for us. In fact, my rule of thumb when pricing an NCL cruise for the two of us is to take the per-person stateroom charge advertised and multiply it times three to estimate the total fare including Free At Sea gratuities, plus taxes and port fees.

But is Free At Sea a good deal?

If you take a deep dive and look at the costs for a cruise-only fare, then add in the components of the Free At Sea package one by one, you will see that the beverage package is the most expensive part of the Free At Sea package.

Therefore, if you enjoy having several cocktails, sodas, bottled waters, juices, and more per day, then the Free At Sea package would probably be a good deal for you.

Otherwise, it might be better for you to choose a cruise-only fare and add only Wi-Fi, for example, if it is important for you to stay connected to loved ones back home, or for work.

If you would like to check to see if a beverage package is right for you, we have a fabulous calculator to help with that.

wallet with money clip and cash

Final Thoughts on the NCL Free At Sea Program

We have cruised often on Norwegian and always have cruised with Free At Sea. In fact, we also upgraded our Wi-Fi to unlimited because logging in and out each time you use the Internet to preserve your minutes is such a pain. We wouldn’t dream of cruising without Free At Sea.

Your situation may be different, so I hope this post has helped you decide what is best for you when booking with Norwegian.

Happy cruising!

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What’s Included on Norwegian Cruise Line and What Is Not

what's included on a norwegian cruise and what's not

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Are you planning a Norwegian cruise and wondering what is and is not included? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

I recently went on the Norwegian Joy and enjoyed many activities, shows and dining options. On Norwegian Cruise Line, there are a variety of things to do. Some are included or “free”, while others have an extra charge.

In this post, I will go over what’s included and what isn’t included on Norwegian Cruise Line.

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What’s Included on Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line

Main Dining Room

On Norwegian Cruise Line , the main dining room will serve a sit down meal, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re someone who prefers to sit down, eat at your own pace and have waiters serve you, then you will love the main dining room experience.

The unique thing about Norwegian Cruise Line, is that there are several main dining restaurants on most cruise ships. Some NCL cruise ships have two main dining rooms or restaurants, while others have 3 (ie. Taste and Savor restaurants and Manhattan Dining Room).

Water Slides

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Norwegian ships are known for having some of the best water slides at sea. On a sunny day, a fun way to cool off is trying out one of the water slides.

Going on the water slides is an awesome free activity and a great way to keep the kids busy!

Pools & Hot Tubs

Norwegian-Joy-pool-area

On Norwegian cruise ships, the pools and hot tubs are included in the cruise fare. Relaxing in the hot tub or going for a swim in the pool is a great way to spend a sea day .

On certain Norwegian cruise ships, you’ll find Spice H2O, which is an adult only area. In Spice H2O, there’s a hot tub, sun deck, and you may have a small cooling off pool area.

Entertainment & Activities

Deal or no Deal game on Norwegian cruise

One of the best parts about cruising is the amazing entertainment and fun activities. On a Norwegian cruise, you’ll have some of the best entertainment at sea and some really enjoyable activities.

Norwegian has broadway style musicals, and the best part is that there is no additional cost! They also have performances by singers, live bands, magicians and comedians.

When it comes to the activities onboard Norwegian, there is never a dull moment. There are pool side activities, trivia games and game shows that are super fun to participate in.

Related: 101 Amazing Cruise Activities for Every Cruiser

Buffet on a cruise

Buffets are a staple of cruising and Norwegian has one of the best buffets at sea . On Norwegian, the buffet is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As someone who recently cruised on the Norwegian Joy , I have to say that I was blown away with the buffet options. There was a wide variety of meal and dessert options and plenty of healthy food choices as well.

The great thing about the buffet is that you can eat as much as you want and it’s completely free!

Related: 17 Free Things to do on a Cruise

24-Hour Restaurant

The Local and O’Sheehan’s are the 24-hour restaurants on Norwegian cruise ships. These restaurants serve pub style food and are open all the time.

Whether it’s for lunch, dinner or if you want a late night snack, going to the Local or O’Sheehan’s is a great option.

On many cruise lines, it can be hard to get food later on at night. However, on Norwegian their 24-hour restaurant has a ton of free and delicious food options.

Some favorites are the wings, nachos, pretzel balls and burgers!

Fitness Center

If you’re someone who likes to workout, then you will enjoy the fitness center on Norwegian cruises. They have state of the art workout equipment and everything anyone can ever need to stay in shape during their cruise vacation.

The great thing about the fitness center is that it’s completely free to use the gym equipment. There will even be fitness staff in the gym that are there to answer any question and help passengers.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Mini Golf is another included activity on almost all Norwegian cruise ships. The exception is Norwegian Prima, where it is an upgraded mini-golf course.

If you want a nice activity on a cruise , playing a game of mini golf is a fun time.

Although the mini golf courses on most NCL ships are pretty standard, it’s a family friendly activity that is included on a Norwegian cruise .

Kids Club & Teens Club

The kid’s club and teen club is included on NCL. The great thing about the kid’s club and teen’s club is that parents can leave their children in a safe and supervised environment.

As someone who grew up cruising, the best part of cruises when I was young, was going to the kid’s club. The kid’s club on Norwegian has super fun activities and it’s a great way to make friends.

For teenagers, there are theme parties, scavenger hunts and other activities that are awesome. The kid’s camp and teen club is one of the best parts of going on a family cruise !

Related: 6 Best Norwegian Cruises for Families

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norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Regular Coffee and Tea

On Norwegian, basic regular coffee is included. You can either ask for coffee when you’re in the main dining room, or you can serve yourself when you’re are in the cruise ship buffet.

The regular coffee is pretty decent. However, if you prefer specialty coffee, you can pay extra per coffee or consider purchasing the specialty coffee package.

Basic tea is included and available in restaurants as well.

Juice & Ice Tea

Although soft drinks aren’t included on a Norwegian cruise, flavoured juice drinks and ice tea are. Around the ship you’ll find juice, ice tea and water machines where you can get yourself a drink.

If you prefer soft drinks, it may be worth it to purchase Norwegian’s soft drink package .

Related: Norwegian Cruise Line Beverage Packages: What’s Included and is it Worth it?

If you’re looking to relax and read a book while you’re on vacation, then check out the library. Onboard Norwegian cruises, you’ll find a library with plenty of books and quiet areas to sit and read. Another area to sit and relax is the Observation Lounge (ie. on Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Bliss & Norwegian Encore), or any of the beautiful lounges on any of the ships.

If you find an interesting book, you can leave the library with a book and read around the ship. At the end of the cruise, you can put the book back in the library.

What is Not Included on Norwegian Cruise Line

Specialty restaurants.

Norwegian Joy La Cucina specialty restaurant

If you want a special culinary experience, then you may want to try one of the many specialty restaurants. On Norwegian cruise ship, the specialty restaurants serve excellent food and offer top notch service.

Norwegian offers a ton of different specialty restaurant options, ranging from Italian food to seafood and steakhouses.

Whether if it’s to celebrate a special occasion or just to have an amazing meal, trying a specialty restaurant is an extra that is worth the cost.

Tip: Consider booking with the Free at Sea promotion , where specialty dining may be a free perk!

Vibe Beach Club

One of the issues that some passengers have on Norwegian cruise ships, is not being able to find deck chairs by the pool. Unfortunately, crowded pool areas can be an annoyance on many mainstream cruises.

However, the Vibe Beach Club on Norwegian Cruise Line is a good solution.

The Vibe Beach Club is a private adult only area of the cruise ship, which only has certain amount of passes available each cruise. This way, those who pay for the Vibe Beach Club can always have a pool chair and they will have more privacy as well.

Galaxy Pavillion

norwegian cruise ship arcade

The Galaxy Pavilion is the virtual reality area onboard Norwegian cruises. Each game costs $8 and last for around 2 minutes.

There are also unlimited hour passes, daily passes and weekly passes available.

Related: 30+ Best Activities on Norwegian Joy (Entertainment, Features & Amenities)

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

If you’re looking for an activity that is fun for the whole family, then try Laser Tag. Laser Tag is a family friendly game that is super fun and only costs $10 per person.

I tried the Laser Tag on Norwegian Joy and found it really enjoyable and worth the price!

norwegian cruise ship race tracks

The Speedway is one of the coolest parts about cruising with Norwegian. Currently, the Norwegian Joy, Norwegian Prima, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore cruise ships all have Go-Kart tracks.

On the Speedway, each ride costs $15 and lasts for around 10 minutes. There is also an unlimited package which costs $199 for the duration of your trip.

The Speedway is a really fun time and one of the coolest attractions at sea .

Alcoholic Beverages

drinks on a Norwegian cruise beverage package

If you like alcoholic beverages, then you are going to want to get a beverage package. The beverage package includes most alcoholic beverages, beer, wine and cocktails .

If you prefer higher-end liquor, then you are going to want to get the premium plus beverage package. This includes the premium liquors, craft beers and more expensive wines.

If you’re not a big drinker, you can purchase drinks individually. However, purchasing drinks individually can get quite pricey if you’re having multiple drinks.

Soda Packages

If you’re someone who likes to drink soda, then you can purchase the soda package. The soda package will include all of the sodas that they offer onboard the cruise ship.

Bottled Water

Bottled water is not included with the basic beverage package. If you want bottled water (or in cartons as plastic bottles are not sold on NCL), you can either purchase the premium beverage package or buy the water bottles (cartons) individually.

Specialty Coffee

Although coffee is included, specialty coffee is not. On Norwegian, you’ll find Starbucks on many cruise ships. You can choose from a wide variety of coffees, teas and refresher drinks.

Please note that if you buy the Starbucks coffee package, you’ll need to buy it for everyone in the cabin.

Tip: Use your Starbucks gift cards onboard Norwegian cruise ships at any Starbucks location.

Like most cruises, internet does cost extra onboard Norwegian. If you’re looking to keep in touch with your loved ones back home, then you can purchase a Wi-Fi package.

The basic Wi-Fi package is super slow. If you intend on using any social media apps, email or streaming services, you may want to upgrade your internet package.

The Free at Sea promotion includes some internet. If this is all you need, this may be sufficient for you.

Photo Packages

On formal nights, in port and on embarkation day there will be photographers who will offer to take photos. If you want some memorable photos from your vacation, then you can purchase a single photo or a photo package.

This way, you can take advantage of the photographers around the ship and take plenty of photos.

Fitness Classes

In the Norwegian fitness center, they offer fitness classes. On the Norwegian Joy there were spin classes in the morning which cost $30 for an hour.

There is also the option to get personal training sessions at about $85 per session.

Room Service

If you’re in the mood to lay back and relax in your room, then you can order room service. However, room service is not free on Norwegian, and does have an additional cost.

The good thing about room service is that it’s available 24/7. If you want a late night snack and you don’t want to leave your cabin, then you can order room service.

There is a convenience charge of $9.95 plus a 20% gratuity per order placed.

Spa Services

If you’re looking to take your cruise vacation to the next level, you can book a massage or other spa services. The spa is a great way to take it easy and relax while you’re on vacation.

On Norwegian and most cruise lines, spa services do have an additional charge.

Shore Excursions

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Although this may seem obvious to some, shore excursions do have an extra charge. At the excursion desk, you can look into the different excursions that are available in the destinations that you are visiting. However, it’s best to book shore excursions online, in advance of your cruise for the best prices and availability.

Booking a shore excursion is one of the best ways to make the most out of the destinations you’re visiting.

What's included on a norwegian cruise and what is not

Gratuities / Service Charge

Service charge.

Daily gratuities , or a service charge, are an additional expense to plan for on your Norwegian cruise. A daily fee, based on your stateroom, is charged directly to your onboard account. It can also be pre-paid before your cruise.

The service fee covers your cabin attendant, as well as waiters and servers, and even people behind the scenes that are providing service to guests.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Cruise Ship Gratuities

Daily Service Fee Information

  • Haven and Suite guests: $20.00 US p/p per day
  • Club Balcony suites: $18.00 US p/p per day
  • All other staterooms: $16.00 US p/p per day

A gratuity of 20% is charged on drinks and drink packages, specialty restaurants and dining packages, as well as spa services.

Video: Norwegian Free at Sea Explained

Related & Popular Posts:

  • 50 Must-have Cruise Essentials from Amazon
  • Is Norwegian Cruise Line Worth It? Pros & Cons
  • Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea Perks – Everything You Need to Know
  • What to Wear on a Norwegian Cruise
  • What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
  • 27 Things People Forget to Pack for a Cruise
  • 6 Best Norwegian Cruises for Families
  • How to Prevent Seasickness on a Cruise

Final Thoughts on What’s Included on Norwegian Cruise Line and What is Not

Well there it is, everything that is and isn’t included on Norwegian Cruise Line.

If you’re on a tight budget, Norwegian Cruise Line has plenty of included activities, restaurants and entertainment to make a great vacation.

If you’re looking to add some extras to enhance your cruise vacation, Norwegian has some great options that are well worth it.

In this post, I share what’s included on Norwegian Cruise Line and what is not.

What’s your favorite extra on a cruise? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy Cruising!

P.S. If you found this helpful, please don’t keep it to yourself ;-). Please share on Facebook or PIN to your favorite Pinterest board (share buttons at the top). Thanks so much!

Author Bio: Ethan Schattauer writes about fashion, travel and college advice on the website WhatToWearMen.com . As a frequent cruiser, Ethan shares his unique perspective on what cruising is like for teens and young adults.

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Shore Excursion Details

Electric model t ford - cultural and historical tour, nassau, bahamas.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

  • 1 1/2 hrs Estimate Duration

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Drive through beautiful downtown Nassau in an electric-powered replica of a Model-T Ford that will add a touch of nostalgia to the experience. You will pass some of the capital’s most culturally and historically significant destinations, including the Queen’s Staircase, a 66-step entryway to Fort Fincastle that was hand-cut out of solid limestone. After crossing Nassau Harbor on the bridge to famed Paradise Island, you will get a glimpse of the lush Versailles Gardens and pause to enjoy Cabbage Beach, a stretch of sugar-white sand that is incredibly photogenic. Many of the island’s most luxurious hotels, including Atlantis, overlook the beach. You will also stop at hilltop Fort Charlotte, a fortification that the British built in the 18th century. Although 42 cannons are perched on its ramparts, not one was ever fired in battle. The guides there wear historical costumes that will bring that time period to life, much like the Model-T reflects the early 1900s.

• Settle in for a picturesque drive around Nassau in an electric replica Model-T Ford. • Pass iconic attractions such as the Queen’s Staircase and the Versailles Gardens. • Admire the gorgeous scenery at Cabbage Beach on the north side of Paradise Island. • Explore 18th-century Fort Charlotte, which was named for the wife of King George III.

HELPFUL HINTS

• Dress in weather-appropriate clothing. • Wear flat comfortable walking shoes.

Need to Know:

Check out the, activity attributes, excursion type:.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Scenic & City Tours

Activity level:.

Image Title

  • 3 Challenging
  • Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL Excursion Reviews

By Coastalbreezes , May 16, 2016 in Norwegian Cruise Line

Recommended Posts

1,000+ Club

Coastalbreezes

When I was deciding on what excursions to take on my upcoming cruise, I found it so helpful to read the reviews on NCL's website. Some excursions that sounded great had some terrible reviews and others enlightened me that it might be an hour catamaran ride followed by a 45 minute bus ride to get to a particular place (something I wouldn't be interested in).

One thing I did notice is that most excursions only had a few reviews (maybe a few had 10 or more but that was the minority).

Considering the thousands of people who take excursions, I was surprised that there weren't more reviews.

To those who post them, thank you. And if you do take a ship-sponsored trip, I would love to read about your experience. It really helps especially with the high cost involved for most of them.

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30,000+ Club

BirdTravels

One thing I did notice is that most excursions only had a few reviews (maybe a few had 10 or more but that was the minority).   Tracy

I am a "Top 10" shoreex reviewer on NCL.com. The majority of the reviews that I have done over the years are no longer on the NCL website. I've never tied to figure out how it all works.

I had originally assumed that between seasons, tours were removed from the website when they were no longer offered. Then when the cruise line contracts with a tour provider for the next season, they were created with no reviews. Now I just don't know.

All I can say is that there were many more reviews written than what you find on the web site.

Like

You would be shocked at how many posters just walk aimlessly around the ports and don't venture further...so no reviews needed

Many just take a cab to the beach...which is a perfect thing to do in the Carib...so no reviews

Sent from my iPad using Forums

When I was deciding on what excursions to take on my upcoming cruise, I found it so helpful to read the reviews on NCL's website. Some excursions that sounded great had some terrible reviews and others enlightened me that it might be an hour catamaran ride followed by a 45 minute bus ride to get to a particular place (something I wouldn't be interested in).   One thing I did notice is that most excursions only had a few reviews (maybe a few had 10 or more but that was the minority).   Considering the thousands of people who take excursions, I was surprised that there weren't more reviews.   To those who post them, thank you. And if you do take a ship-sponsored trip, I would love to read about your experience. It really helps especially with the high cost involved for most of them.   Tracy

Something to remember is that when booking an ncl excursion....you are basically using the same operators that you would book if booking on your own

Price notwithstanding....it is quite likely that you won't even be able to book a particular say snorkel excursion on your own in many case as ncl has already booked the boats for their excursions

When you can find a private snorkel excursion the prices are usually very high but you are getting more time

While you can dig around to find one I myself have found it easier to do certain excursions through the ship

Fwiw the last thing I want or need is a bus tour of an island. If I book ncl tours I want snorkeling or I can just grab a cab to a beach....which btw in a place like st kitts will also get you a stop on a mountaintop to see the monkeys and where the Atlantic and Carib meet.

Any taxi driver worth their salt in st kitts knows to stop there if you are going to that part of the island

99% of the time I am cruising solo so I only take NCL excursions because I don't feel comfortable jumping in a taxi alone.

I love going to the beach and for my upcoming cruise, I was about to book a certain beach excursion when I decided to read the reviews. Most of them talked about how rocky the beach was, lots of seaweed and how the local vendors refused to leave you alone. Not my idea of fun so I nixed the idea.

Fortunately by continuing to read additional reviews, I found the perfect beach trip.

500+ Club

I submitted a review of an excursion in Tangier that was a bit critical - NCL never published it.

Jenjer

Check out the ports of call you are visiting here on CC you will get more info than you will ever find on NCL's web site. Or any one ships web site.

Or check out Trip advisor.

The posted ones are approved by NCL so not everything gets posted.

That's too bad because I would think it would help others make an informed decision. I've also written some critical (yet honest) reviews and have had both my positive and negative ones published.

99% of the time I am cruising solo so I only take NCL excursions because I don't feel comfortable jumping in a taxi alone.   I love going to the beach and for my upcoming cruise, I was about to book a certain beach excursion when I decided to read the reviews. Most of them talked about how rocky the beach was, lots of seaweed and how the local vendors refused to leave you alone. Not my idea of fun so I nixed the idea.   Fortunately by continuing to read additional reviews, I found the perfect beach trip.   Tracy

I don't actually believe you would be solo in a taxi to the beach anyway.

They usually wait until the van is full or semi full and then try to agree on a pick up time at the beach for the group

That's been our experience anyway

We get in taxi...with others whom we do not know...but who usually are agreeable to whatever beach the group wants....although you can go to any beach you want but the dispatchers know to group riders by beach preference....then....

Upon drop off at the beach the group usually agrees to a pick up time....as no one wants to miss the ship

Its all very civilized and easy

The group can agree to make sure they locate you before they leave just to be sure you don't miss the ride back

No need to stay with them at the beach but honestly just agree to meet up at agreed upon time

All pax have the same concerns so you will be ok doing this IMHO

25+ Club

I have to debate the NCL sanctioned excursions. Coming off the Getaway back in the end of April, this was the first time I booked third party excursions (and one NCL) for this trip. And to be honest, I did a lot of reading here (CC) and with TripAdvisor to select my excursions. The cost savings is substantial when you are a family; (I had two adults and two kids). Every NCL excursion was a budget buster and I saved at least close to $200 per excursion going third party. Each one had absolute assurances to make sure you didn't miss your boat. Many rely on reviews to maintain their business model and they know we (Americans) like to speak our mines so many won't risk a bad review.

I did Cozumel (last port) on NCL as a "last minute" selection since we had nothing planned. The cost was the highest of all the excursions.

Do your homework and have confidence that there are plenty of good third party excursions out there.

Hope this helps.

atomax

Don't forget to join your roll call and go to the Meet & Greet! Most people on the roll call have already researched/arranged independent tours (many based on Trip Advisor reviews and are looking for people to round out their groups. If the groups are full, you can contact the tour operator directly about starting another group.

We have never done a ship-operated tour, most because they are so expensive, and the groups are always sooo large! On private tours, you have smaller groups/buses, so it is easier and faster to get around/stay ahead of the ship tours.

On our most recent cruise, we met up with a couple from our M&G. The husband would go ashore as soon as the ship was cleared, survey all the tour operators selling tours, and then negotiate a price for a group of us (made up of M&G'ers and other people we met on the cruise). We ended up saving a ton of money on these private excursions, and the service was often better because the companies are smaller and more reliant on good reviews on sites such as TA.

Last three posts = great suggestions!

  • 5 years later...

pghflyer

Has this not changed in the last 6-years?  Still no way to post a tour review (I just poked around for 20 minutes and couldn't figure it out)?  The descriptions on their reviews leaves MUCH to be desired (ex. recent "7 hour tour including Mayan ruins etc"....but 6 of it is BUS transport time). 

I guess as the seller (and profiter), they are likely not going to want any negative reviews so I suppose I am not surprised, but I never realized they were so curated.

Happycrafter123

I really wish there were reviews posted for the NCL excursions too.  Upcoming Baltic cruise, and I’ve compared prices with other tour operators, when factoring in the free at sea discount, it really is about the same price give or take a couple dollars as going with non-NCL operators, but not sure of the quality, and really don’t like the risk of missing boat…. 

Sailing12Away

Sailing12Away

Best bet is to search in the port of call forums. That's where you'll get unfiltered and honest opinions on the best (and worst) cruise-sponsored tours, as well as options for ones found via Viator or private companies.

  • 1 year later...
On 5/16/2016 at 8:43 AM, BirdTravels said:   I am a "Top 10" shoreex reviewer on NCL.com. The majority of the reviews that I have done over the years are no longer on the NCL website. I've never tied to figure out how it all works.   I had originally assumed that between seasons, tours were removed from the website when they were no longer offered. Then when the cruise line contracts with a tour provider for the next season, they were created with no reviews. Now I just don't know.   All I can say is that there were many more reviews written than what you find on the web site.

do you have a place where you posted your reviews? looking for the mediterranean

littlelulu01

littlelulu01

18 hours ago, Joan18 said: do you have a place where you posted your reviews? looking for the mediterranean

https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2727265-mediterranean-ship-excursions-review/page/2/#replyForm

Not Bird travels but I posted reviews of about 14 Mediterranean ncl excursions on this review.  It was just prior to the pandemic but same excursions still on offer through ncl so you might get some ideas. 

Thanks

12 minutes ago, littlelulu01 said: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2727265-mediterranean-ship-excursions-review/page/2/#replyForm Not Bird travels but I posted reviews of about 14 Mediterranean ncl excursions on this review.  It was just prior to the pandemic but same excursions still on offer through ncl so you might get some ideas. 

I remember reading your review, it was great!

19 hours ago, Joan18 said: do you have a place where you posted your reviews? looking for the mediterranean

Sorry. They were NCL reviews which are probably OBE. The pandemic cancelled our last med cruise and we have been staying closer to home since. 

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norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Thinking of booking a cruise? Here are the lines you should — and shouldn't — sail with.

  • Before you book a cruise , it's important to understand that not all cruise lines are equal.
  • Each cruise line has amenities, entertainment, and experiences tailored to specific cruisers.
  • Carnival is good for families, Virgin Voyages for solo adults, and Cunard for mature travelers. 

Insider Today

I am a very, very avid cruiser. Last year alone, I spent 73 days on cruise ships .

I've sailed with most major lines, from kid-focused Disney Cruise Line to the sometimes-naughty Virgin Voyages. When people ask me which cruise ships I recommend , my answer isn't so straightforward.

Each cruise line is unique, offering amenities, entertainment, and experiences tailored to specific cruisers. What you book will depend on your needs, wants, budget, and what you'd rather avoid.

So, I've done some research about popular cruise lines and combined my personal experiences to help you decide which cruise line to book with.

After all, this is kind of the year of the cruise , with travelers predicted to set sail at some of the highest rates in years throughout 2024.

Here's what you need to know about some of the major cruise lines before you book your next trip.

Editor's Note: Price ranges were calculated at the time of publication based on available listings on each cruise site. Cruise pricing is per person, based on double occupancy and the cheapest stateroom/fare available. Prices were calculated before taxes, port charges, and other fees. Itineraries with added tours built-in were not included when calculating this information.

Carnival Cruise Line

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Cost: $ | Prices range from $156/pp for a two-day getaway from Sydney to $3,273/pp for a 10-day Alaska cruise

Ideal for: Budget travelers, intergenerational groups, families, and partiers

Skip if: You're looking for a high-class, elegant experience or a quiet, laid-back vibe

Highlight: All Carnival cruises come with itineraries loaded with fun activities. Some ships have especially exciting features like the first roller coaster at sea, SkyRide zip-line-style aerial bikes, and themed parties.

Possible cons: This is not a cruise line for those who like to wear a tux or ball gown or have a quiet cruise experience.

Launched in 1972, Carnival Cruise Line is one of nine cruise lines owned by parent company Carnival Corporation & plc. It's the company's largest cruise line, with 27 ships. Its cruises typically range from two days to 29 days.

Carnival Cruise Line offers year-round cruises in Australia, The Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Mexico and seasonal cruises in Alaska , Bermuda, Canada, Europe, Hawaii, and New England.

Celebrity Cruises

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

Cost: $$ | Prices range from $233/pp for a three-night Key West & Bahamas cruise to $6,912/pp for a 7-night Galapagos cruise

Ideal for: Couples, families, and solo travelers

Skip if: You're looking for a slower-paced classic cruise

Highlight: All Celebrity Cruises come with amazing outdoor spaces like The Lawn Club with real grass on the top deck of Solstice Series ships and the Rooftop Terrace on Millennium Series ships. You also won't want to miss the Magic Carpet , which allows guests to hang out while suspended above the ocean on some ships.

Possible cons: This is not a cruise line for those who want to attend lectures about their ports of call.

Celebrity Cruises began sailing in 1997. There are 16 ships, which sail on itineraries ranging from three to 19 nights to nearly 300 ports of call in 70 countries.

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Cost: $$$ | Prices range from $249/pp for a two-night cruise from Southampton, England to Hamburg, Germany, to $19,158/pp for a 111-night World Voyage

Ideal for: Sophisticated travelers and mature cruisers

Skip if: You're looking for a high-energy cruise, hoping to travel with children , or craving adventurous activities

Highlight: All Cunard cruises come with white-glove service. You won't want to miss Cunard's famous 3:30 p.m. afternoon tea, gala evenings, and fine dining arranged by stateroom grade.

Possible cons: This is a very formal cruise with strict dress codes. You won't find water slides or pool parties here.

Founded in 1840, Cunard offers a classic cruise experience with cruises ranging from two to 116 nights.

Its four ships sail to Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

Disney Cruise Line

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Cost: $$$ | Prices range from $422.40/pp for a two-night cruise from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia, to $5,592/pp for a 12-night Mediterranean with Greek Isles cruise

Ideal for: Disney adults , families, and intergenerational groups

Skip if: You don't want to vacation around a bunch of children and you crave peace and quiet

Highlight: All Disney Cruise Line cruises come with heaps of Disney magic in the way of special events and details. You won't want to miss character meet and greets, pirate-themed parties with fireworks, and passengers trading pins and leaving treats inside decorative pouches hung on stateroom doors.

Possible cons: There is a significant child population on most of these cruises and not much adults-only entertainment. Dinners in the main dining can get loud, and, just like at the theme parks, there can be many queues for activities and other offerings.

Disney Cruise Line first set sail in the 1990s and has five active ships, with the new Disney Treasure set to debut in December. The line has sailings all around the globe, and most range from two to 15 nights.

Holland America Line

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Cost: $$ | Prices range from $94/pp for a one-day Pacific Northwest cruise to a $27,399/pp for a 132-day Grand Voyage

Ideal for: Music lovers and sophisticated world travelers who appreciate European hospitality and smaller ships

Skip if: You're young, traveling with children, or want to party

Highlight: All Holland America Line cruises come with a dose of Dutch hospitality and elegance. During my cruise with the line, I enjoyed the Dutch cuisine and Music Walk , which features live performances at B.B. King's Blues Club, Rolling Stone Rock Room, and Billboard Onboard.

Possible cons: The line takes its formal nights really seriously and attracts an older crowd.

Holland America Line has had ships sailing the globe for over 140 years. Its 11 ships cruise to more than 425 ports of call on seven continents, and cruises range from one to 118 days.

MSC Cruises

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Cost: $ | Prices range from $80/pp for a three-night Mediterranean cruise to $46,149/pp for a 116-night World Cruise

Ideal for: Budget travelers, families, intergenerational groups, big groups

Skip if: You're looking for lots of food options or top-tier entertainment

Highlight: All MSC Cruises offer great value — and good pizza

Possible cons: The cruise fare does not include many dining options, and the evening entertainment skews old-school and a bit more basic than some other cruise lines that do Broadway-worthy shows.

MSC Cruises has 22 ships, with one more projected to join its fleet by 2025. The line has sailings all around the globe, and most range from two to 118 nights.

Norwegian Cruise Line

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Cost: $$ | Prices range from $79/pp for a one-day Australia cruise to $4,379/pp for a 10-day European cruise

Ideal for: Couples, families, and solo cruisers

Skip if: You're looking for structure, ballroom dancing, and fancy dinners

Highlight: All Norwegian Cruise Line cruises offer freestyle dining. You won't want to miss its Broadway-level shows and generous drink package, which is often offered complimentary.

Possible cons: This is not a cruise line for those who like formal dress codes, and some dislike the à la carte pricing.

Norwegian Cruise Line has been sailing the world for over 57 years. Its 19 ships visit 400-plus ports on seven continents, and cruises typically last one to 25 days.

Princess Cruises

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Cost: $$ | Prices range from $127/pp for a two-day Australia Seacation to $24,098/pp for a 98-day World Cruise

Ideal for: Mature solo travelers, couples, and retirees

Skip if: You're looking for lots of activities and party vibes. Princess Cruises tend to attract an older crowd, and the shows and activities reflect this. There aren't many events offered each day. On the three cruises I sailed with Princess, the entertainment was primarily musicals, piano players, and singers backed by an orchestra. There were only a handful of children on each cruise.

Highlight: All Princess Cruises offer Discovery and Animal Planet-exclusive shore excursions — and many have an excellent onboard lecture series.

Possible cons: This is not a cruise line for those who like to party, love water slides, or have teenagers.

Founded in 1965, Princess Cruises has 16 ships that sail to 330 destinations worldwide on itineraries from three to 111 days

Royal Caribbean

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Cost: $$ | Prices range from $196/pp for a two-night Hong Kong cruise to $8,266/pp for a 13-night Arctic Circle cruise

Ideal for: Couples, families, and intergenerational travelers

Highlight: All Royal Caribbean cruises come with fun activities and a broad range of entertainment options. Some have the Ultimate Abyss , the tallest slide at sea, or the glass capsule North Star , the tallest viewing deck on a cruise ship. You won't want to miss the Oasis Class ships' seven distinctly themed neighborhoods and Royal Promenade, a mall-like thoroughfare with shops, restaurants, and lounges that runs the length of the ship.

Possible cons: Many of its ships are mega-ships, so this isn't the line for you if you want a more intimate trip.

Founded in 1968, Royal Caribbean sails to about 240 destinations on six continents. Cruises range from two to 22 nights.

Royal Caribbean has many of the world's largest cruise ships in its fleet of more than 20 vessels.

Virgin Voyages

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Cost: $$ | Prices range from $415/pp for a four-night roundtrip cruise from England to Amsterdam to a $3,072/pp for a 13-night Canada, Carolina, and Miami cruise

Ideal for: Child-free travelers, health enthusiasts, the glamorous, and those who don't like strict rules

Skip if: You want a classic cruise, need structure, or can't handle playfulness (and, sometimes, naughtiness)

Highlight: All Virgin Voyages are child-free, and everyone gets unlimited WiFi, access to group fitness classes, and gratuities included in their fare. You won't want to miss its famous Scarlet Night, 20 eateries (every venue is considered specialty dining), and eclectic shows like "Untitled DanceShowPartyThing."

Possible cons: There aren't traditional song-and-dance shows, assigned dining times, and nightly portrait photography

Virgin Voyages has been sailing its "Lady Ships" inspired by superyachts since 2021. Three nearly identical ships are currently in service, and a fourth one is set to set sail later this year.

Virgin Voyages sails to about 100 destinations in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom on cruises ranging from three to 16 nights.

norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

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norwegian cruise line free shore excursions

How to find a cruise excursion you’ll actually enjoy

Ben Souza has had some unforgettable shore excursions. On a cruise from Singapore to Thailand , he and his wife visited an elephant sanctuary, a high point in their dozen years of cruising. On a Caribbean voyage, he booked a tranquil day at a Bahamas resort. The property turned out to be ratty, with a trash-filled pool and a mediocre beach.

Unlike the animal encounter in Phuket, he wishes he could wipe that outing from his memory.

“If I had been on my own private tour, I could have left and went to a better place to relax,” said Souza, the editor of Cruise Fever who has sailed on 75 ships with 18 cruise lines.

For passengers, the land is as important as the sea. Many travelers choose a voyage based on the ports. However, because shore time is limited, they must be savvy when planning their excursions.

The most convenient option is to sign up for an outing through the cruise ship. The cruise line makes the arrangements and vets the operators, which is especially important in destinations with safety concerns. Onboard credits apply to excursions. In the event of a cancellation or disruption, the cruise line will issue a refund. Most important, the captain will always wait for tour groups to return, even if they arrive past the scheduled departure time.

“Some guests value having the cruise line handle everything,” said Michael Consoli, who owns a travel agency that specializes in cruises. “So they just have to leave their house and come home.”

Booking an excursion with the cruise line comes with disadvantages. If the trip requires a minimum number of guests, the ship will cancel outings that do not meet its quota. Alternately, if too many people sign up, you may feel like a lost lamb in a flock. On a recent Royal Caribbean excursion in St. Kitts, we waited in a broiling parking lot while the guide tried to find us a spot on the packed tour bus. He finally plopped us down on a hard jump seat that blocked the exit.

Excursions organized by cruise lines can also feel like a highly touristy way to see a port destination. During our trip aboard the Margaritaville at Sea Paradise , shore excursions ranged from a $59-per-person beach day, including chair and umbrella reservations, to ethically questionable wildlife experiences like an “Up-Close Encounter” with dolphins.

The cost is also higher than booking with a third-party operator, because cruise lines place a premium on extras. Independent travelers can save 25 to 40 percent on tours they plan themselves, according to Souza. On a Hawaii cruise, he arranged an island adventure that was nearly identical to one offered by the ship, except for the price.

“We all ended up on the same river cruise together. The only difference was we took different buses to get there and everyone who booked through the cruise line paid double,” he said.

Organizing your own excursions has additional benefits, such as greater flexibility, smaller group size, a wider variety of activities and a more personalized experience.

“If you want a truly unique experience while traveling,” said Souza, who organized a side trip to Capri for an upcoming Princess cruise that stops in Naples, “sometimes you just have to do your own thing.”

For advice on planning shore excursions, we spoke with cruising experts and tapped into our own seafaring adventures. Here are our top tips.

1. Book excursions as early as possible

Cruise lines open up reservations weeks or months before the ship’s departure date. Consoli said excursions sell out on luxury cruises that offer free shore activities, such as Regent Seven Seas and Silver Sea. The limited spots also fill up on mega cruise ships with thousands of passengers, such as Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas .

“When you have a ship with 7,000 passengers, it’s going to be harder to get excursions,” he said.

If you change your mind, you can often cancel without penalty, depending on the ship.

You should also plan ahead if you are booking with a local outfitter. Tours and guides can be hard to come by on busy cruise days or during peak travel periods.

2. Stick with cruise lines on complicated outings

When deciding between a ship’s excursion and your own, consider the complexity of the outing. If the adventure involves several modes of transportation or long distances, signing up with the cruise line is the safer bet. On the other hand, if the excursion is close by and straightforward, you can easily make your own arrangements.

“If I was going to Cozumel and I wanted to do the pyramids or ruins on the mainland, I would book a tour through the cruise line because you’re leaving the island and you want to make sure you get back on time,” said Doug Parker, guest host of Cruise News Today . “But in Nassau, where I can see the ships from most places on the island, I would … do something on my own.”

In some countries that require tourist visas, only passengers who are touring with a licensed operator can disembark without the document. Souza discovered this arrangement on a Mediterranean cruise that stopped in Algeria and Tunisia. Consoli said China recently introduced similar restrictions.

3. Research tour options before the cruise

Part of the appeal of cruising is that the company oversees every detail. However, you should still read reviews of excursions posted on Cruise Critic , Tripadvisor or reputable cruise blogs to guide your decisions.

If you strike out on your own, carefully research the guides and operators in your destination, including the ones who solicit business inside the cruise terminal. Check their credentials and ask to see pertinent licenses.

Many cruisers use the same outfitters as landlubbers, such as Viator and Tours by Locals . Shore Excursions is also popular. You may also be able to find your own activities like cooking classes and food tours on Airbnb Experiences .

Parker said some excursions, such as hop-on/hop-off buses, are a set price, regardless of whether you book through the ship or the outfitter. However, if the purveyor has an online promotion, you might save a sliver of money.

If you book your cruise with a travel agency, the agent can also arrange private shore excursions. In addition to overseeing the planning, the adviser provides a safety net and can reschedule or cancel the tour on your behalf. Consoli said some planners, such as himself, do not charge for this service; they earn their commission through the cruise line and tour operators.

4. Look outside the terminal for better prices

Tour operators, rental agencies and taxi drivers hike up prices in cruise terminals. For lower rates, venture a short distance away from the disembarkation point.

If you take a cab to an attraction where taxis seem scarce, arrange a pickup time. Ilana Schattauer, who blogs at Life Well Cruised , recommends hiring the driver for the entire excursion.

“If I was doing something that was a little bit off the beaten path or if I wanted to go to a more secluded beach, I would have the driver stay with me,” she said. “Or I would book a tour where the tour guide and driver stay there.”

During our Margaritaville at Sea sailing, we used Google Maps to find a scooter rental company in Grand Bahama. Around 9 p.m. we called Bullseye Car Rental , a local agency with strong reviews. Despite the late time, owner Raymond Bowe answered on the second ring. He knew our cruise schedule, offered to pick us up and drop us off from port, and gave us clear instructions for where to find him when we docked. The total for the day’s rental: $49, including transfer and helmets — about half the cost of taking the cheapest shore excursion from the cruise line.

5. Ask locals what to do, eat and drink

If you haven’t planned your off-ship day down to the minute, talk to taxi drivers, shop keepers and other locals to get tips. Crew members, who are often familiar with the ports, also are great resources.

In Grand Bahama, Bowe was an invaluable source of intel for how to spend our day. We’d made no plans and instead took Bowe’s suggestions for beaches and restaurants.

That’s how we ended up at Bernie’s Tiki Hu t , where lunch for two — Bahama Mama cocktails and a fresh lobster tail fried on the spot — cost $35. We ate on the beach in front of the tiki shack, then swam in the sea before driving down to Terry’s Conch Salad Stand . Owner Terry Pratt showed us the process of breaking a live conch out of its shell and preparing it into a Bahamian ceviche. It was $11 for a bowl and far better than anything we ate on the ship.

6. Give yourself at least an hour for the return

If you have ever left an airport during a long layover, this rule will sound familiar: Don’t cut it close . Give yourself an hour or two before final boarding time.

“If the ship is sailing at 4, I try to be back at 3,” Parker said.

Schattauer reminds cruisers that in some destinations, such as Caribbean islands, the small roads can get congested, especially when passengers are returning to the ships around the same time. She said a few years ago, she rode a shuttle to Magens Bay on St. Thomas. The trip to the beach was a quick 15 to 20 minutes. The return took an hour longer. Because she gave herself a two-hour buffer, she arrived at the terminal before the ship sailed off.

How to find a cruise excursion you’ll actually enjoy

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  1. Shore Excursion Search

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    Duration 4 1/2 hrs. This unforgettable excursion will have you traveling along the coastlines on the Sir Francis Drakes Highway heading through small villages such as Capoons Bay, Apple Bay & Carrot Bay. ... Adult from: C53.15 CAD. Child from: C25.89 CAD. DURATION 4 1/2 hrs.

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    NCL Free 3rd & 4th Guests. This NCL Free At Sea Offer is free to cruise fare and is known as 3rd & 4th guests Free or at $99 per guest. Sometimes, this promo is also known as "Kids Sail Free.". 3 & 4 Guests Sail Free or for $99 per guest, with dates subject to change without notice. Only available on select sailings.

  13. NCL Free At Sea: All You Need To Know

    Free Excursions. Save $50 for each shore excursion that you book, for one person per stateroom. If an excursion is priced below $50, the excursion is free. Things to know: The person who is first on the cruise reservation is the one who receives the shore excursion credit. Other guests in the cabin do not receive this credit.

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    On Norwegian cruise ships, the pools and hot tubs are included in the cruise fare. Relaxing in the hot tub or going for a swim in the pool is a great way to spend a sea day. On certain Norwegian cruise ships, you'll find Spice H2O, which is an adult only area. In Spice H2O, there's a hot tub, sun deck, and you may have a small cooling off ...

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  17. Ship-Sponsored or Independent Shore Excursions: Which Is Right for You?

    In some cases, cruise lines really go to a lot of effort to offer special shore excursions and tour opportunities. Paul Gauguin Cruises, for instance, has its own scuba diving program in the South ...

  18. How to Pick the Best Shore Excursions: Key Questions to Ask

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  24. How to find a cruise excursion you'll actually enjoy

    The total for the day's rental: $49, including transfer and helmets — about half the cost of taking the cheapest shore excursion from the cruise line. 5. Ask locals what to do, eat and drink

  25. Princess Cruises Unveils Incentive to Boost Loyalty Plan Levels

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