After 50+ cruises, I booked my first sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line using a "Free at Sea" promo.
The promo promised everything from free bar drinks to included internet, specialty dining, and more.
Some of the perks advertised fell short, but it saved my family a lot of money on our vacation.
As a frequent cruiser, I've often seen ads for Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) "Free at Sea" promotions, which promise a variety of complimentary perks, including specialty dining, bar packages, internet, shore excursions, and more.
So, when booking a recent sailing to the Norwegian fjords I decided to try NCL and see if its "Free at Sea" package lived up to the hype.
Ultimately, my family of three enjoyed the benefits this offering provided during our 10-night sailing on the Norwegian Prima. However, a few things surprised me.
Here are the main things you should know if you're considering booking the package yourself.
The number of included perks can vary based on the length of the cruise and the level of stateroom you purchase, so read the fine print.
NCL's "Free at Sea" promotion comes with various perks, but the exact benefits available vary based on several factors, including the length of the sailing, what type of stateroom you choose, and more.
For example, I booked an ocean-view stateroom for my sailing, which entitled me and my husband to one complimentary meal in the specialty dining restaurant of our choice. However, guests who opted for a pricier balcony or suite room received additional dining credits.
Before booking, it's important to research and read all the fine to better understand what's included with your sailing.
The complimentary beverage package was the best deal, but it came with a few caveats.
Of the included perks, the unlimited bar package was a hit for me and my husband.
Although I generally don't opt for unlimited drink packages on cruises as I don't order enough to justify the hefty price tag, having beverages included on this sailing was a carefree addition to my vacation.
We did have to pay for the gratuities for this package, which amounted to $218 per person for our 10-night sailing, but we felt this was a relatively small price to pay for the convenience of not paying per drink. Plus, it was still a great deal because the unlimited drink package usually costs over $100 per person per day.
However, unlike drink packages offered by competitors such as Royal Caribbean, NCL's did not include bottled water or specialty coffees. These items still required an upcharge, as did premium alcoholic drinks costing more than $15.
The included internet was also a great value for those looking to do a small amount of browsing while at sea.
With the promo, my husband and I also each received a 150-minute internet package for use during our sailing. This was an amazing addition to our cruise as it gave us enough time to check in with the "real world" without feeling glued to our devices.
Like many other included benefits, this package was only provided to the first two people on the booking. So, my 10-year-old son did not receive an internet package of his own.
As an avid gamer, he was disappointed — especially since onboard gaming options at the ship's virtual-reality arcade, Galaxy Pavilion, were limited. However, as a parent, I was happy to see him (mostly) unplugged for a change.
Saving on excursions was a nice perk, but I don't like that they were listed on the NCL website as being "free."
In my opinion, the most misleading part of the "Free at Sea" offer had to be the "Free Excursions" listed on the NCL website.
Just next to that offer, the site reads that each stateroom is actually only entitled to $50 off per tour for the first guest on the booking. A $50 excursion could be free with this promo, but all of the ones on my cruise cost well over $50.
For example, the Land of the Trolls excursion in Alesund, Norway, cost my family of three $577, or $527 after the $50 credit was applied.
Saving money on excursions is always welcome, but I wish the language of the promotion had been more straightforward.
Representatives for Norwegian Cruise Line didn't respond to a request for comment from Insider.
We loved the complimentary dining voucher for two, but our son had limited options.
With eight specialty restaurants on the Norwegian Prima, the complimentary dining voucher from the "Free at Sea" promo was a clear winner. The restaurants, which are not included in the cost of the cruise, have seafood, steak, sushi, tapas, and more.
My husband and I loved getting one free specialty dining meal — and we only had to pay $10 per person in gratuities.
Again, this benefit was only for the first two people booked in my stateroom, so my son did not get complimentary dining unless he ordered from the standard kid's menu.
This menu, which included generic kiddie fare such as chicken nuggets, was the same every night of the cruise, making it a less-than-exciting option for my budding 10-year-old foodie.
As such, we allowed him to order off the adult menu while dining with us at the ship's Italian eatery, Onda by Scarpetta, which cost us an additional $44.35.
Although NCL's "Free at Sea" promotion was not as comprehensive as I had hoped, it saved my family money and is a good value for budget-conscious travelers.
Norwegian Cruise Line's "Free at Sea" promo sometimes includes other perks, such as discounted flights, and it often can be combined with other ongoing deals that provide additional savings.
It's this combo of compelling offers that helps make NCL a great choice for anyone looking to get a lot of bang for their buck.
Not only did my family save hundreds of dollars on drinks, dining, and shore excursions, but also we enjoyed things we likely would not have splurged on otherwise, such as the internet package.
So, although I was a little underwhelmed with some of the savings advertised, I believe the "Free at Sea" promotion offers good value for travelers, and it greatly enhanced my family's vacation experience.
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