NCL Free At Sea Vs Free At Sea Plus



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Booking a cruise can sometimes be a little complicated, especially if you’re new to cruising. There’s a lot to consider and work out, including what type of room to book, when to sail, and more.

Three women sharing a joyful moment on a cruise ship's deck, with two holding glasses of wine and one with a cocktail. They are casually dressed, enjoying the open ocean view under a clear blue sky, reflecting a relaxed and luxurious cruise experience.

You’ll also need to check what’s included, and see whether your cruise line offers additional packages to cover things the basic fare normally wouldn’t.

NCL has a Free at Sea package that guests can book for a more inclusive cruise, but things get a little more complex because there’s also Free at Sea Plus.

So, what does each one give you, and which should you book? Is it best to book neither and choose a cruise-only fare? Let’s take a look.

Free at Sea Explained

Free at Sea is a package that guests can book alongside their NCL cruise to give them a more included fare. It gives guests a limited range of free drinks as well as a small amount of free WiFi credit, speciality meals and shore excursion credit.

A close-up of a hand with white nail polish holding an Aperol Spritz on the sun-drenched deck of an NCL cruise, with poolside loungers and the ship's structure in the background, capturing the 'Free at Sea' promotion's essence of relaxation and enjoyment.

NCL has changed how Free at Sea works over the years. It used to be that you could book and choose one of the benefits for your cruise without paying extra, or pay more to get all the packages included.

But in more recent years, the offer has changed so that you don’t get any of the extra benefits with a standard cruise fare, but you can often pay a reduced-price upgrade fee to get all of the packages included.

And now there’s the additional option of Free at Sea Plus, which costs more again and gives you additional benefits.

It can be a little confusing, but the option is always there to just choose a cruise-only fare if you like, and then pay for the different parts of your cruise individually. However, you may find that Free at Sea or Free at Sea Plus offers much better value, depending on how much you’ll use the perks.

Free at Sea and Free at Sea Plus Compared

Here’s a quick guide to what you get with Free at Sea and Free at Sea Plus:

PackageFree at SeaFree at Sea Plus
BeveragesUnlimited Open Bar Package including a range of drinks under $15Premium Plus Beverage Package including a much wider range of drinks
Speciality Dining Up to 3 included meals depending on cruise length and cabin categoryTwo additional meals
Shore Excursion Credit$50 per tour for guest 1An extra $50 for guest 2
WiFiUp to 300 minutes free depending on cruise lengthUnlimited Standard WiFi for 2 guests

To really understand the range of benefits, you need to delve a little deeper, so let’s look at what each package gives you in more detail.

NCL’s Free At Sea Package Includes:

1. Drinks

Two refreshing drinks on a cruise ship bar, with a vibrant yellow and red frozen cocktail garnished with mint in a cup labeled 'NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE,' next to a clear drink with a lime wedge, showcasing the NCL's 'Free at Sea' indulgent beverage options.

The Free at Sea cruise package includes NCL’s Unlimited Open Bar Package. Despite the name, this isn’t completely unlimited, because there are restrictions on which drinks you’re allowed.

What you get is:

  • Selected premium cocktails and spirits under $15
  • Selected beers and wines by the glass under $15
  • 20% off all bottles of Champagne and wine
  • Unlimited soft drinks and juices

But this bit is really important – who gets the drinks package depends on where you cruise from.

If you’re cruising from the UK, only Guests 1 and 2 enjoy the drinks package, and anyone else sharing your cabin will need their own drinks package. 

On cruises booked with NCL in the US, the terms and conditions are different, and the drinks package covers up to 8 guests in the same cabin, provided they are aged 21+. Kids don’t get the drinks package.

Sounds like the US gets a great deal compared to anyone booking in the UK, right? Well actually, US guests need to pay a gratuity for the Open Bar package, which UK guests don’t have to pay. And that gratuity is 20% of the cost of the drinks package per day, so while you’re getting a ‘free’ drinks package, you’re still asked to pay $21.80 per person, per day. 

While this is a lot cheaper than paying the full cost for the package (which would be $109 per day, plus the $21.80, for a total of $130.80 per day), it still is a little bit of a kicker when you get almost $300 added to your cruise fare for a week-long cruise for two guests for your ‘free’ drinks package.

2. Speciality Dining

An elegantly plated bruschetta with diced tomato, onion, and a sprinkle of cheese on a toasted baguette slice, garnished with parsley and drizzled with a balsamic glaze, served as part of NCL's specialty dining experience.

NCL ships have a range of speciality dining restaurants onboard which come with an additional fee. But with Free at Sea, you’ll be able to enjoy at least one free meal in one of these restaurants.

The amount of free speciality dining meals you get will depend on which cabin type you book, and how long your cruise is:

  • Cruises of 3-6 nights – 1 meal
  • Cruises of 7-11 nights in a Studio, Inside or Oceanview cabin – 1 meal
  • Cruises of 7-11 nights in a Balcony cabin or above – 2 meals
  • Cruises of 12+ nights in a Studio, Inside or Oceanview cabin – 2 meals
  • Cruises of 12+ nights in a Balcony cabin or above – 3 meals

Regardless of whether you book your cruise in Europe or the US, these free speciality meals are for first and second guests only – anyone else dining with you will need to pay the regular cover charge.


Read more: NCL Free At Sea Specialty Dining Explained

3. Shore Excursions

The Shore Excursions desk on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, featuring a polished wood counter, informational screens, and plush seating in a cozy lounge area with vibrant blue carpeting, ready to assist guests with their onshore adventure planning.

With the standard Free at Sea package, you get a $50 credit to use against shore excursions, but it’s $50 against each tour. Essentially, this means you’re getting a $50 discount at each port of call you visit.

It only applies to the first guest though, so if you have a shore excursion costing less than $50 per person, one guest will get it free but the other guests will have to pay full price.

4. WiFi

Woman using NCL cruise wifi

You get a limited amount of free WiFi with the Free at Sea package, but both the first and second guests can make use of the credit. The number of minutes you get depends on your cruise length:

  • 3-6 nights – 75 minutes of WiFi
  • 7-11 nights – 150 minutes of WiFi
  • 12+ nights – 300 minutes of WiFi

It’s not a huge amount – around 15-20 minutes per day on average, enough time to check a few emails and send a few messages, but it’s better than having to pay for a WiFi package if you don’t plan on using the internet much.

Free At Sea Plus Includes: 

1. Drinks

A creamy, tropical piña colada served in a Norwegian Cruise Line branded cup, garnished with a fresh pineapple slice, symbolizing the all-inclusive 'Free at Sea' offerings on a sunny cruise deck.

You get the Premium Plus Beverage Package when you choose Free at Sea Plus, which gets you a much wider range of drinks included. You get:

  • All top-shelf cocktails and spirits
  • All beer, wine and Champagne by the glass
  • Select premium bottles of wine and Champagne served with dinner, and 40% off all other bottles
  • Unlimited soft drinks and juices
  • Unlimited still and sparkling bottled water
  • All Starbucks coffees and speciality drinks
  • Energy drinks

If you’re travelling from the UK, then the same rules apply as with the regular Free at Sea package – only Guests 1 and 2 get a Premium Plus Beverage Package, and all other guests must pay for their own drinks package.

Things get a little more confusing with bookings made for US guests though. Unlike Free at Sea, not everybody gets the drinks package. Instead, you need to pay extra to cover the upgrade charge from Unlimited Open Bar to Premium Plus, which means paying an additional $29 per person, per day plus the extra gratuities.

Guests 1 and 2 will instead be paying $27 per person, per day as that’s the gratuity cost for the Premium Plus Beverage Package.

So to summarise for US guests:

  • Guests 1 and 2 pay $27 per person, per day gratuities for their drinks package
  • Guests 3-8 in a cabin pay $56 per person per day ($29 upgrade fee + $27 gratuities)

If Guest 2 is a child travelling with an adult then they will get a Soda Package with Free at Sea Plus. This applies to all guests no matter where you’re booking your NCL cruise. But Guests 3-8 don’t get any drinks package if they are under 21.

2. Speciality Dining

When you book a Free at Sea Plus package, you get two extra speciality dining meals, compared to the equivalent Free at Sea package. So again, it depends on how long you’re cruising for, and the cabin type you book.

Here’s a simple guide for comparison:

Cruise TypeFree at SeaFree at Sea Plus
3-6 nights1 Meal3 Meals
7-11 nights, Studio, Inside or Oceanview cabin1 Meal3 Meals
7-11 nights, Balcony or above2 Meals4 Meals
12+ nights, Studio, Inside or Oceanview cabin2 Meals4 Meals
12+ nights, Balcony or above3 Meals5 Meals

It’s also worth clarifying that if you’re travelling as a solo guest, you still get the extra speciality dining meals but only for one person – you can’t invite a guest you meet on the ship to dine free with you.

For everyone else, the free meals continue to apply to Guests 1 and 2 in a cabin only.

3. Shore Excursions

With Free at Sea Plus, you still get $50 shore excursion credit per tour for Guest 1, and you get an additional $50 credit for Guest 2.

So if you’re a couple, you’ll each get $50 off your shore excursions in each port. But remember that if you’re travelling with 3 or more guests in a cabin, everyone else will have to pay full price for their excursions.

4. WiFi

The free WiFi offering you get with Free at Sea Plus is a lot simpler than with regular Free at Sea. Regardless of how long your cruise is, you’ll get an Unlimited WiFi package for your cruise for Guests 1 and 2 (Guest 1 only for solo travellers).

It’s the basic package so you won’t be able to use streaming services – if you want to, you can upgrade for an additional £9/$10 per person, per day to get the Unlimited Premium WiFi package which includes streaming.

Free at Sea Vs Free at Sea Plus Costs

One of the biggest deciding factors for whether or not you should upgrade your cruise is the cost of the package. 

Two Norwegian Cruise Line receipts side by side, detailing the costs of various dishes and the 'Free at Sea' benefits, including a discount line item and a note about a $50 onboard credit, reflecting the perks of cruise dining packages.

In the UK, the cost of upgrading to Free at Sea is very clearly explained. You’ll pay between £149 and £449 per person, depending on the length of your cruise.

  • 3-5 day cruises – £149 per person
  • 6-8 day cruises – £199 per person
  • 9-11 day cruises – £249 per person
  • 12-14 day cruises – £299 per person
  • 15-17 day cruises – £349 per person
  • 18-21 day cruises – £399 per person
  • 21+ day cruises – £449 per person

In the US, it’s not as straightforward, and depending on the promotion at the time, you might find that you get Free at Sea with one or two of the perks included for lower-value cabins, with the option of adding more if you upgrade.

It gets a little clearer when you upgrade to Free at Sea Plus though. Here are the upgrade prices:

Booking locationFree at Sea Plus AdultFree at Sea Plus Solo AdultFree at Sea Plus Child
UK£39 per person, per night£35 per person, per night£25 per person, per night
US$49 per person, per night$42 per person, per night$29 per person, per night

These are the prices you’ll pay on top of your standard Free at Sea fare, so in the UK for a 7-day cruise you’ll be paying £199 per person for Free at Sea, plus an additional £273 per person for Free at Sea Plus, so a total of £472 per person above the cruise-only fare.

Which To Choose?

Which of the Free at Sea packages you should choose will depend on your budget for your cruise, and how much you’ll use each element.

Let’s use the working example of a 7-day cruise to demonstrate the value of each package, and let’s assume you’re booking a balcony cabin. 

In the UK you’ll pay £199 per person for Free at Sea, or £472 per person for Free at Sea Plus.

Here’s the value of each element, broken down:

Drinks

A bartender aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship skillfully pours a bright red cocktail into tall glasses, set against the backdrop of an elegant bar with a distinctive modern sculpture and a relaxed atmosphere.

With Free at Sea, your Unlimited Open Bar would normally cost you $109 per person, per day – so that’s $763 per person, which is around £600.

With Free at Sea Plus, the Premium Plus Beverage Package would normally cost you $138 per day – so that’s $966 per person, which is around £760.

Speciality Dining

A classic caprese salad with ripe tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and a sprig of basil, seasoned with black pepper and olive oil, presented on a white plate as part of a specialty dining experience on a Norwegian Cruise Line voyage.

For this example of a 7-night Balcony cabin cruise, you’d get 2 meals with Free at Sea. While individual restaurant costs can vary, a 2-meal speciality dining package would normally cost you $99, or around £78.

Free at Sea Plus would get you 4 meals, and a 4-meal package usually costs $169, which is around £133.

Shore Excursions

Remember you get either $50 or $100 credit depending on which Free at Sea package you choose, but that’s against every tour.

For the sake of this example, let’s say you book 3 tours on your 7-night cruise. That means a total value of $150 for the Free at Sea package (approximately £118) and a total value of $300 for Free at Sea Plus (approximately £236).

WiFi

It gets a little trickier to place a value against WiFi on the Free at Sea package, because you can’t normally pay for WiFi by the minute. So for Free at Sea, we have to value it at £0, and just give the minutes as bonus time.

For Free at Sea Plus, you get the Unlimited WiFi package worth $29.99 per day, which is around $210 for a 7-night cruise, or approximately £165.

BenefitsFree at Sea ValueFree at Sea Plus Value
Drinks£600 per person£760 per person
Speciality Dining£78 per person£133 per person
Shore Excursions£118, averaged to £59 per person£236, averaged to £118 per person
WiFi£0£165
TOTAL VALUE£737£1,176

This means that booking Free at Sea gets you £737 of value per person for a cost of £199, meaning a saving of £538.

Free at Sea Plus gets you £1,176 of value per person for £472, for a saving of £704.

So, which should you book?

Free at Sea Plus offers better value but only if you would be buying a Premium Plus Beverage Package, a Speciality Dining Package, multiple shore excursions and a WiFi package anyway.

Most of the value comes with the drinks. If you aren’t someone who drinks alcohol, then think hard about whether the speciality dining, shore excursion credit and WiFi costs you get are worth the package.

With Free at Sea they are, but it’s not worth paying £472 per person to get £133 of dining credit, £118 of shore excursion credit and £165 of WiFi. You’d actually be overpaying by £416.

Of course, the Premium Plus beverage package does include soft drinks too, as well as Starbucks coffees and bottled water. You don’t get that with regular Free at Sea bookings.

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Final Word

I wish there was an easy answer to tell you which of the packages was the right one for you, but it entirely depends on how much you like to drink (and what you drink), how many excursions you take, how valuable WiFi is to you and whether you prefer to dine in speciality restaurants or the complimentary ones.

For a lot of people, it might make sense to book a cruise-only fare and then pay just for a soda package or even buy drinks individually.

But for anyone who likes to drink premium spirits and Starbucks coffees, dine in the speciality restaurants, or get online during their cruise, choosing Free at Sea Plus could be a better choice.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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1 thought on “NCL Free At Sea Vs Free At Sea Plus”

  1. Just off the Jewel in Bangkok, no Fever Tree, ran out of Schweppes, plenty of Coke otherwise the majority Americans would have rioted, wifi was pants

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