December 7, 2022

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NCL Free At Sea: Everything You Need to Know


What does “NCL Free at Sea” mean? What is the Norwegian Free at Sea promotion? Is it worth it? Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea offers some great benefits, but it’s important to understand what it is before you book your cruise vacation.

If you’re considering cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line, you may have heard about the “Free at Sea” promotion. The NCL Free at Sea promotion is a great way to save on your next Norwegian cruise. It’s one of the many reasons cruising with Norwegian so appealing.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s free at sea offer gives cruise passengers the chance to enjoy a free specialty dining package, free premium beverage package, Wifi minutes, and shore excursions credit, depending on which package they choose. Sometimes it includes free gratuities and free flights.

That doesn’t mean the promotions in the NCL free at sea package is suitable for every cruiser’s needs. On our most recent sailing on the Norwegian Joy, we debated whether the beverage package was even worth the service fee we paid for the minimal amount we drank. One of us is completely sober.

So while the NCL Free At Sea promotion appears to be a great deal, at first sight, it may or may not be the right choice for you and your cruise vacation.

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What does this promotion include? And is it worth taking advantage of? In this article, we’ll answer your questions about Norwegian’s Free at Sea offer and help you decide if it’s the right choice for you and your family! Here’s everything you need to know about NCL Free at Sea.

NCL Free at Sea

What is Norwegian’s Free at Sea?

Norwegian’s Free at Sea is a promotion that allows cruisers to select one, two, or all five of the following perks:

The fifth perk rotates throughout the year, and it can be any of these:

How many Norwegian Free at Sea promotions can you choose?

The number of perks you can select usually depends on the cabin category booked. Although sometimes they’ll have limited-time offers that let all cabin categories choose up to all the offers. The perks only apply to the lead guests 1 & 2 in the stateroom.

The NCL Free at Seas package is not applicable for Sail Away rates and cabins.

Is NCL free at sea really free?

No, it’s not completely free. Depending on what offers you select, there may be a service fee. If you select the “free” Open Bar and/or the “free” Dining Package, a 20% gratuity fee of the value of the promotion is added to your cruise fare.

Some say it’s not free if you have to pay a service fee, another controversial topic. But don’t you tip your bartenders when you order drinks at a bar at home?

Another thing to keep in mind regarding marketing and promotions is that most of these “free perks” are probably already rolled into the cruise fare. Everyone does love the idea of “free” perks.

Is Norwegian free at sea worth it?

It depends on your cruise vacation style. Do you like to drink? If so, then the Open Bar package could be worth it. The Specialty Dining package might be good if you love trying new restaurants.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free At Sea Promotions

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

You must also read the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free At Seas Terms & Conditions on these promotions. While we go over what you need to know below, there is more fine print you may want to educate yourself on.

Free Unlimited Open Bar

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

The unlimited open bar in the NCL free at sea promo is their Premium Beverage Package (normally valued at $99 per person, per day). The package includes drinks that retail for up to $15; anything over will be charged to your account.

This is probably the most famous offer in the Norwegian Free at Sea promotions. The open bar perk gets you free-flowing cocktails, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages from when you board the ship until you disembark.

While it does include a variety of your favorite vacation cocktails, wine, beer, and sodas, it DOES NOT INCLUDE any bottled water (still or sparkling), bottles of wine, energy drinks, specialty coffees like Starbucks, mini bar purchases, high-end spirits and more.

The free open bar also only applies to the first two lead passengers in the cabin that are 21 and older.

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, only that it includes bottled water and specialty coffee (in dining rooms only). It applies to guests 1-8 in the stateroom.

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

Yes. As we mentioned above, a 20% gratuity is added to the cost of your cruise fare as a service fee if you select the free open bar. The gratuity is based on the value of the Beverage Package ($99 per day, per person) at the time of booking for double occupancy.

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

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Open Bar worth it?

That will be up to you and the kind of drinks and the number of drinks you think you’ll consume during your cruise vacation.

We suggest considering what you like to drink and how many of those drinks you have per day. Times that by how many of those drinks you will have per day, calculating at least $9 to $15 per drink. Adding it up and seeing the total reaches the service fee (presently $277.20 for a 7-day cruise, for two passengers).

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

Is the estimated total for the entire cruise higher or under the service fee? It is worth it if it’s over the service fee. If it is just about the cost of the service fee, it’s a wash and still worth it. If it’s half the service fee or less, it may not be worth it.

It is convenient to have the beverage package and order drinks without thinking too much about the cost. If you normally drink, that was the case for us.

You may be better off buying a soda package for half the cost if you just drink soda.

Since one of us is a soda drinker and I like the occasional piña colada, when we booked our next NCL cruise, we decided not to do the open bar and save the $277 service charge. We plan to take the money and use it as we see fit.

Plus, I also feel pressured to drink more alcohol when we have these packages, just for the sake of it, which leads to me not feeling my best. That’s just me. You do what you feel is going to make your vacation great.

Free Specialty Dining

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

The number of meals in the NCL Free at Sea Specialing Dining offer is determined by the length of your cruise and your cabin category.

  • For cruises six days or shorter, you get one free specialty dining meal for any stateroom.
  • For cruises over seven days, studios, inside and ocean view staterooms, get one free specialty dining meal.
  • Get two free specialty dining meals for cruises over seven days long, balcony, and above.

If you’re dining at an ala carte restaurant, the offer will cover one appetizer, soup or salad, a main entree, and dessert for each guest (guests 1 & 2).

It will just cover that cost if you’re dining at a restaurant with a cover charge.

You can make reservations for your specialty restaurants as soon as 90 days before embarkation day.

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. So the cost of the service fee is minimal.

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?

Since the service fee is minimal, it is well worth the cost of their ala carte specialty restaurants. These restaurants serve top-notch gourmet food that differs from the main dining room. Your dinners easily add up to over $100 at a specialty restaurant without a specialty dining package.

Taking advantage of this offer allows you the chance to try out some of the best restaurants at sea without breaking the bank.

It may not be worth it only if you don’t think you’ll use it or if you plan to eat most of your meals at the buffet.

Free Shore Excursions

With the NCL Free at Sea Shore Excursion offer, you’re not exactly getting a free shore excursion. A $50 shore excursion credit is applied to any shore excursions booked by the first guest with Norwegian Cruise Line.

Think of it as a discount that you get to use to book a shore excursion at all ports of call for your itinerary that does not include pre-cruise or post-cruise tours. It could end up being a “free” shore excursion for one person if you book a $50 or less tour.

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

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

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Shore Excursions worth it?

The value of this offer depends on how you plan to spend your time at each port. Do you book your shore excursions with the cruise line? Do you like to plan your own time at the ports?

If you plan to book an excursion at every port, this offer could save you some money. Consider it a discount you may want to take advantage of. That said, sometimes, the shore excursions sold by the cruise ship are inflated. Compare what tours cost if you book on your own to the cruise ships first.

If you’re someone who likes to just get off the ship and do your own thing, as we do, then this offer won’t hold much value for you.

Free WiFi

The NCL Free at Sea WiFi offer allows you a certain amount of Internet minutes during the time of your cruise.

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

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

No service fee.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Shore Excursions worth it?

It depends on how you plan to use the Internet during your cruise. It’s enough minutes to check your email and text messages a few times during the cruise.

And if you plan to purchase an internet package (which is expensive), then you can skip the free minutes.

However, if it’s part of the “choose all five perks” offer, keeping the minutes doesn’t cost anything extra.

Free Prepaid Gratuities

waiters servicing plates of colorful food

The NCL Free at Sea Prepaid Gratuities offer is exactly what it sounds like, and it is the unicorn of offers. It only appears as part of the Norwegian free at sea offer 1-2 times a year. Many cruisers wait to book their future cruises when they see this offer.

This offer saves you up to $20 per person per day (guests 1 & 2) on your onboard service charges/cruise gratuities.

If you choose those perks, this does not apply to the free open bar or specialty dining service charges.

Is Norwegian Free at Sea Free Prepaid Gratuities worth it?

If your cruise is seven days or more, it is worth choosing this offer. You can save up to $280+.

What are cruise gratuities? Read more: The Ins and Outs of Tipping On a Cruise

3rd & 4th Guests Sail Free

The NCL Free at Sea offer for the third and fourth guests in a stateroom is great for families of four or even groups of friends willing to share a cabin. Sometimes, the promotion is called “Kids Sail Free.”

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

Free Airfare

The NCL Free at Sea Airfare offer is a roundtrip economy airfare for the 2nd guest. Sometimes it is only a 50% credit.

While saving is great, the downside is that you have no control over the airfare. Norwegian chooses the airfare for you, books it, and manages it closer to your cruise date. You could end up with two stops on a flight that probably could have been direct had you booked it yourself.

We are not a fan of the free airfare NCL offers and advise that you manage your airfare.

122 Quick & Helpful Cruise Tips

We’ve gathered 122 of our top cruise tips and hacks to help make your planning process smoother and your cruising experience even more fabulous. We have everything you need to know to ensure your cruise is unforgettable.

While the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotions run consistently throughout the year, you may want to keep an eye on those perks that will truly make a difference for your cruise vacation.

That may be waiting for the Free Gratuities perk to come up. Or perhaps you’re planning a family vacation, and that 3rd & 4th Guests Free perk would help your budget. 

A little math will go a long way.

NCL free at sea promotion is a great deal and one you should take advantage of when booking your next Norwegian cruise!

Which one is your favorite Norwegian free at sea perk?

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