Cruise lines and travel agents love to entice potential cruisers with special offers of onboard perks. But which deals actually give you the best bang for the buck?
1. Onboard Credit
Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
What You Get: A certain amount of money to spend on the ship during your cruise. It’s applied automatically to your onboard account, and offsets spending up to the amount of the credit. Onboard credit can usually be spent on just about anything on the ship: drinks, spa treatments, shopping, specialty dining, and maybe even in the casino. Some cruise lines will even let you use it toward gratuities.
What to Watch Out For: Depending on the line, it might not cover gratuities, casino/gambling or other charges. Make sure you know what you can spend it on beforehand.
Overall Value: Onboard credit is generally the most versatile bonus offer out there, but not always the best value.
2. Friends and Family Sail Free or 50% Off
Photo by Disney Cruise Line
What You Get: You book one passenger in a cabin at full price, the second passenger in the cabin sails for free or for 50% off the regular fare.
What to Watch Out For: You’ll want to compare the fare under this promotion with other discounts/specials, as it may not provide the lowest possible per person pricing. And in most cases, it won’t be combinable with other promotional offers like free onboard credit or a free beverage package, so you’ll want to make sure it’s the best overall value for your cruise needs. A good travel agent can make the price comparisons easy.
Overall Value: Can be a substantial savings but again, not always the best value.
3. Free Internet
Photo by Shutterstock
What You Get: Free internet time or bandwidth to use during your cruise.
What to Watch Out For: On many ships, internet service is still slow, so you’re not going to be able to stream movies or music, and you could quickly burn through your free time checking emails or on Facebook. On the newest ships from Carnival and Royal Caribbean, internet service is faster and more reliable, so free internet time may represent a better value.
Overall Value: Internet packages vary widely in price. Unlimited packages can cost at least $150+ for a 7 night cruise, while some lines like Carnival offer a special “Social Package” with access to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger for just $5/day. If you’re looking to relax and unplug during your cruise vacation, this may not be the best option for you.
4. Free Beverage Package
Photo by Princess Cruises
What You Get: A free beverage package, good for free drinks each day of your cruise.
What to Watch Out For: Some lines impose a per-day cap on the number of alcoholic beverages you can order per day. The packages also might not cover top shelf liquor, or include room service or some/any non-alcoholic drinks.
Overall Value: Beverage packages are among the best bonus offers out there, provided you drink at least 4 to 5 alcoholic drinks every single day of your cruise. If you expect to drink less than that, you probably won’t get your money's worth and should probably consider another option. Drink packages are usually around $50/night, so on a 7-night cruise, this package is worth around $350 per person. Keep in mind that most lines require all occupants of a cabin to purchase a package, so if you opt for this as your bonus option, you’ll need to get it for everyone in your cabin.
5. Shore Excursion Credit
Photo by Royal Caribbean
What You Get: Credit to spend on shore excursions purchased from the ship.
What to Watch Out For: Excursions purchased through the cruise line often aren’t the best value. You might do better booking independent excursions (may we suggest using our excursion finder?).
Overall Value: If you plan to tour extensively during your cruise and like the convenience and security of excursions booked through the ship, this can be a decent value. But if you have the option of a shipboard credit in the same or similar amount, you might opt for that as it will give you more flexibility in how you spend your money in case you don’t spend the whole value on excursions.
6. Cabin Upgrade
Photo by MSC Cruises
What You Get: A free upgrade from one type of cabin to another, like inside to oceanview or oceanview to balcony.
What to Watch Out For: Cabin upgrades aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes, you might be upgraded to a larger room, but the larger cabin comes with an obstructed view or a less-than-ideal placement on the ship.
Overall Value: Your mileage may vary. If a better cabin is your primary goal, this could be a good promotional offer for you. Just be sure to do the math and understand the value of what you’re getting (and giving up by not selecting a different promotion).
7. Kids Sail Free
Photo by Royal Caribbean
What You Get: You won’t have to pay a cruise fare for the kids in your party. The eligible age(s) can vary by cruise line or offer. Note that several lines have these deals on a permanent basis.
What to Watch Out For: On most lines, kids will already be paying a lower price if they’re the 3rd or 4th person in your cabin. Plus, you’ll still have to pay taxes and port fees for the little ones.
Overall Value: If you’re traveling with kids that meet the age range, this deal is hard to beat. But, as with most of these types of offers, do the math to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.