The True Cost of a Free Cruise with Norwegian Casinos at Sea

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I’ve booked a free cruise with Norwegian through their Casinos at Sea program.  This was part of a promotion from the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, MS.  I just want to reiterate that this cruise was not comped based on play on board a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, but was comped based on play in the Hard Rock Casino.  We had picked up our certificate at the casino in Biloxi a couple of months ago, and we booked the cruise a few weeks ago by calling the Norwegian Casinos at Sea desk.

When we picked up our certificate in Biloxi, we learned that players get assigned different “tiers” based on their play.  My player (family member) was a T3, and was able to book an outside cabin on many 7-day itineraries, including Europe.  As we were standing in line to pick up the cert, we heard other players talking about their certs for inside cabins only.  Presumably there are players in different tiers that get offered balconies and suites.  My player called Casinos at Sea and told them I had permission to handle the cruise booking for us.

My first call to Norwegian was to determine which cruises would work with our schedules, and if there were any black-out dates. President’s day week, the last week in March, and Christmas/New Years week were blacked out.  We decided on a 7-day Mexican Riviera itinerary mid-March out of Los Angeles.  I called back to make our booking.

There are several costs associated with these free cruises.  The first is the “non-commissionable fare.”  This makes up about a third of the cruise base fare.  In our case this was $185 per person.

The second cost includes taxes and port fees.  These were $116.96 per guest.

So far our free cruise costs $301.96 /person.  Now the hard sell began with the Casinos at Sea representative.

The first upsell attempt was to get us to upgrade to a balcony room for a few hundred dollars per person. If we did that, we would only have to pay a deposit.  If we stayed with the “free” outside cabin, we would have to pay the full fare upfront.  I said, “no thank you” and kept the outside room.

Then there was a determined attempt to sell us cruise insurance.  When I said “no thank you” again, I was sternly lectured about how I would lose all my money if I had to cancel the cruise. I explained that I had trip cancellation insurance on my credit card (Ink Plus)

After I declined the insurance the agent tried to sell me some shore excursions, which I declined.  I knew that the offer to buy the beverage package would be forthcoming, but I was pleased to hear her offer on this.  We were offered a “free” Ultimate drinks (all alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages) package with our casino rate, providing we paid the gratuity up front.  If drinks packages are not included in your rate, you can buy a unlimited drinks package for $64/person/day, so the retail value of this for a 7-day cruise is $448.  An 18% service charge for gratuities is added to this package which is $80.64.  We liked this deal and added this to our cruise.  Now the cost of the cruise was $382.60.

We will need to fly to LAX from Atlanta.  Since our chosen cruise coincided with many colleges’ spring breaks, we were not able to get award tickets at “saver” rates.  So we’re buying round trip transcontinental tickets on Delta for $350/person.  I won’t add this into my cruise cost, but it’s still cash out-of-pocket for us.  We will pay $13.50/day each for gratuities, and this will bump our costs up by $94.50 person.  Here’s a summary of the cost of our “free” cruise, per person.

cruise fare       $185

taxes, fees      $116.96

drinks             $80.64

gratuities         $94.50

total               $477.10

What would our costs be if we booked the same cruise at the retail rate?  I will remove the costs of the beverage package gratuities, regular gratuities, and taxes and fees, since these will be the same no matter what kind of deal we get.  The base price of our “free” cruise is $302.

The price of a comparable oceanview cabin, including the drinks package, is $1000/person as of today.  It is possible that this price will drop before the sail date, but as of today, we are getting a $700 discount per person.  While not “free” this is a substantial savings, and I’m looking forward to our deeply-discounted cruise.














23 thoughts on “The True Cost of a Free Cruise with Norwegian Casinos at Sea

  1. At least they tried to upsell you the travel insurance. In my case they just added it without saying anything. I had to call in to have it removed.

  2. Yes I suppose I should be grateful that they gave me so many options. However, your comment goes to show that we have to be vigilant about checking our invoices for extra charges. Hope you enjoyed your cruise!

  3. Hello, I just got a VIP offer from Turning Stone Casino and am wondering once you accept the certificate can you select the date of the cruise. The offer date is Oct, 1, 2016. I want to select the Alaskan Cruise but do not want to go there this time of year. Are you given a selection of dates or is it selected for you.? I am wondering is it worth accepting the certificate if it is only just to gamble on a ship. However, it may be a way for me to see Alaska at a reduced rate or am I fooling myself. Thank you in advance.

  4. Once you accept the certificate you should have almost a year to select a cruise. When you pick up the cert, you probably will be given a sheet that tells you all cruises that are available with the offer. There are quite a few to choose from, and many options for Alaska cruises. You will call the Casinos at Sea agents at Norwegian, and they will book the cruise for you. I hope you find something you want! Let me know.

  5. Hi Leigh, I got my certificate and booked next August for Alaska. Your information was right-on-target about what I would receive. After we disembark on the return trip, we will start another week -long , land vacation I booked that will cover Denali National park and other areas areas in Alaska. Thank you.

  6. That’s great, Ken! You are smart to tack on the land vacation while you’re already up there. Best of luck in the casino. If you win big, come back and tell me!

  7. Leigh, I thought I would list a breakdown of my free cruise booking for an inside state room on the Norwegian Pearl to Alaska, which includes a free-at-sea discount of $229. There, is a slight mix-up on what the $474 is listed under. My Cruise Consultant said that booking should have listed it as just Government tax (it does not change the cost).

    Total Guest 1 Guest 2
    Voyage fare including non-commissioned fare $520.00 $260.00 $260.00
    Gov Tax/Port Exp/Fees $474.30 $237.15 $237.15
    Insurance $118.00 $59.00 $59.00
    Gross Total $1,112.30 $556.15 $556.15

  8. Sorry to take so long to reply to your latest comment Kenneth. For some reason I’m not getting automatic notifications when someone relies to one of my posts.

    Thanks for supplying the breakdown on your cruise costs. These free cruises sure aren’t free but you still get a pretty good discount. The fees are pretty high on that itinerary though. How many ports are you visiting?

  9. I would be careful not to expect any further comps,they are known to change casino hosts daily and if you ask for a comp they say come back the next day,\I also found the slots to be extra tight to the point of never ever paying,

  10. Dwight–we never got any comps by talking to the casino hosts, which really surprised me considering the amount of action we had going on. The cruise and drinks package were comped via the land-based casino. We just played table games, but we didn’t win either!

  11. Leigh, I am not getting email updates either. I had no idea you commented, I just decided to check back today. I will make a note to check back more often.

    We are stopping at 4 ports: Juneau,Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria British Columbia. I agree that I am still getting a good deal. Without the Cruise, I would not have booked the Alaska land vacation package.

  12. Dwight, thanks for the advice. For some reason (I am not sure it’s factual) I always felt that any non brick and mortar Casino would be tighter with payouts. I suppose I will find out soon enough.

  13. Kenneth, thanks for letting me know about the emails. I didn’t see your email in my subscriber list, so I’ll try and add you myself. I’ll be interested in hearing all about your cruise, the ports, the land portion, and of course, your casino action!

  14. Leigh, thank you. I verified the subscription and got your email. I will have a thorough report on each portion of the vacation.

  15. Leigh, here is an update. I called NCL about 6 weeks ago when I discovered an error on my cruise confirmation and to pay them $1,000. Suddenly, they say I have to pay Turning Stone Casino, because they are the travel agent. Funny, the down payment was taken by NCL by phone. A Turning Stone promotion person said, “don’t pay us, pay NCL-I will look into it”. 3 weeks later, after no responses to my voicemail messages, I finally got a hold of the Turning Stone promotion person (I used a different phone, which displayed a number not associated with me). Like magic he answers and said NCL was playing phone tag with him and that he would ask his manager if she had a better number to call NCL. it’s been almost 2 weeks now and no call or emails concerning this issue. No one answers when I call Turning Stone, because they probably recognize the phone number. Meanwhile, full payment is due 5/31/2017. Oh, by the way, NCL can’t even find the Personal Cruise Consultant assigned to our cruise in their records. The only evidence of him is the emails that I saved. I even have one from turning stone thanking me for the down payment. If I had not went to Turning Stone personally to pick up the certificate I would say this was scam. Update to follow.

  16. Oh boy Kenneth. This sounds like a huge mess. Are you talking to the Casinos at Sea desk at Norwegian, or have you just been speaking to one of their regular agents? It’s possible that the right hand (regular Norwegian cruise consultants) don’t know what the left hand (Casinos at Sea agents) is doing. There is a special number for the Casinos at Sea desk–just google Norwegian Casinos at Sea and you’ll find it.

    The agent that told you to pay the casino obviously doesn’t know what he/she is talking about When you got the cert for the free cruise and made a booking, that put you in the Casinos at Sea database, and you should only be dealing with them.

    Thanks for the update and let me know how you get it worked out.

  17. Thanks Leigh. I got the Casinos at Sea number. I went to the website and the sign in leads right back to my empty account where I was able to pull up the reservation 2 months ago. I will give them a call tomorrow.

  18. Leigh, you are a vacation saver. I called up the correct section, Casinos at Sea this morning. The representative was very helpful and found my reservation in the database in seconds. She said from the very start NCL and our Personal Cruise Consultant provided us with the wrong information and pointed out his errors in the room options. She also suggested I move to a quieter cabin one deck lower, helped me add another guest, computed all the figures and provided a number to call to make my account (it only contained names, account number, and ship name) accessible online again. I thanked her and told her I would make the call after work, because I was running late. However, after work I signed in just to check before I made the call-there it was, the account with all the proper links and guest sections. I, my sister and friend thank you for your advice.

  19. So glad you’ve gotten it worked out (finally!). Hope you have a great cruise and Lady Luck treats you well in the casino.

  20. I am getting ready to go on a cruise from an offer via the GN in Vegas. I’ve cruised before and had to pay the same taxes as always but the room is free as is the beverage program. There were no upselling. The offer also came with $250 in show-up money. I wonder what level of play gets you this offer. The best part is that I had a winning run at craps and left over 7K ahead.

  21. Toni, you have done well. You asked about the level of play to get these kinds of offers. On my last Norwegian cruise I spent about 2 hours a day in the casino and played the $10 minimum blackjack tables. A few of my bets were in the $200-$300 range, and I ended up with a loss of about 1K. This level of play was not enough for them to make another Casinos at Sea offer.

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