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 WiFi
- Free kids
- 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.
Specialty dining venues vary by ship, but they include:
- American Diner
- Cagney’s Steakhouse
- Food Republic
- Le Bistro
- Los Lobos
- Moderno Churrascaria
- Ocean Blue
- Bayamo by Ocean Blue
- Pincho Tapas Bar
- Q Texas Smokehouse
- Raw Bar
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 excursions 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 Wifi: what you need to know
If you’ve cruised before, you’ll know that WiFi on a ship is EXPENSIVE! Norwegian’s Free WiFi 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 WiFi package is limited to 100 minutes per stateroom for 3-6 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 WiFi is pretty decent. I usually don’t choose the WiFi 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 WiFi by the minute when I needed it. It wasn’t too outrageously priced for the couple of five-minute FaceTime calls I needed to make, and the connection was reasonably fast.
Tip: You’ll usually be able to find free WiFi 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 WiFi 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 🙂
Thursday 27th of August 2020
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!