How to Cruise For FREE, What is FREE on Cruises

By ,   January 8, 2016 ,   Tips & Tricks

Here CruiseMapper provides with information and tips on How to Cruise For Free and What is FREE on Cruises. This article is integrated with our Cruise Tips and Tricks.

On most cruise lines there are many ways to get a free cruise for yourself. Major cruise lines offer travel incentives for group tavel booking. One of these incentives is called TC ("tour conductor"). TC is actually credit for the Group Leader ("Pied Piper") to cruise for free with a group of relatives, friends or colleagues that he/she has brought to the company. Ask your relatives and friends first, and then go to co-workers and acquaintances. The other travelers will receive a reduced group rate. You will cruise for free.

As tour conductor, you'll work with the travel agency and make all travel and cruise ship arrangements for the group. The cruise travel agent will walk you through itineraries you might be interested in, guide you to all types of cruises, and inform you of cruise lines' group policies. Your primary jobs will be recruitment and communication. However, company's award is limited to the cruise fare only. Additional are port charges, Governments fees and taxes. As Group Leader you'll need to make yourself familiar with the company's policies before you start booking.

How to Cruise For Free - CruiseMapper

Cruise For Free: How to Start?

The place to start is to decide how you will create your group. Identify a group of like minded individuals who want to sail together. Remember that cruise lines love Pied Pipers. To earn your Free Cruise you have to start speaking to all the people you know about their interest in joining a group cruise vacation. Group cruises are great for:

  • Family Reunion; Friends; Birthday Celebrations;
  • Anniversaries and weddings; Associations and Clubs;
  • Sports Groups; Social Groups; Professional Groups; Retired Military Groups; Church Groups; Franternity and Sorority Groups.

If you can't find enough family or friends to get the group benefits, look for travel agencies who are members of national accounts or travel consortiums (Ensemble, Virtuoso, etc.). Travel agencies are given incentives by the line to block a significant amount of space in advance of sailing dates. The incentives are usually in the form of better pricing, added amenities, or both.

As a group leader you earn the right to sail for free. But do not worry - your friends will also get benefits. As a starter, the rates for groups are lower than the individual rates. You can also sell the free cruise TC and divide the money among your group members, thus saving everyone money.

Cruise lines base their fares on double occupancy, that is 2 persons to a cabin. They often refer to occupancy as "berths". 1 berth is 1 bed, or 1 passenger. The group size needed to obtain a free bed/berth varies by cruise line. Major cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian, ordinarily define a group voyage as a minimum of 16 passengers occupying eight cabins (3rd and 4th passengers in a cabin are allowed, but they don't count toward the total). The tour conductor, the 16th person, cruises for free. 

Here is an example of the number of free berths/beds you could earn if your group booked a 7-night cruise:

  • 8 cabins (16 passengers) traveling = 1 Free Berth/Bed
  • 16 cabins (32 passengers) traveling = 2 Free Berths/Beds (1 free cabin)
  • 24 cabins (48 passengers) traveling = 3 Free Berths/Beds
  • 32 cabins (64 passengers) traveling = 4 Free Berths/Beds (2 free cabins)
  • 100 cabins (200 passengers) traveling = 12 Free Berths/Beds (6 free cabins)

What you choose to do with the free beds is up to you. Following are a few ways to take advantage of earned beds:

  1. Group Leader Sails Free: The ones who take the time to organize and promote the group, coordinate with all group members and make the arrangements, often keep the free berths for themselves and cruise for free. Group leaders may even earn extra spending money. This is agreed upon in advance and kept confidential.
  2. Gifts or Shore Tours: Some groups take the value of the free berths and apply towards the purchase of city tours, helicopter ride or snorkeling adventures. Other groups may choose to provide in-cabin gifts like wine, fruit baskets, bathrobes, caps or t-shirts.
  3. Deeper Price Discounts: As we said above, there are also group leaders who take the value of the free beds and divide it among the others to provide an additional discount. 
  4. Special Guest Invitation: Inviting a guest lecturer or celebrity to add value to your group experience is another way to use the free berths. This could be a radio personality or a specialist in your group's field of interest.
  5. Onboard Group Escort: Some cruise groups choose to hire a group escort in order to help in coordinating on-board and on-shore activities. Even though you may have to pay a fee for the escort, the cabin bed is free.

Some cruise lines offer special perks that are only available to group cruisers. For example, many companies award “group amenity points” which are based on the number of guests in the group: the more passengers, the more points, and the more perks. Amenities include such things as cabin upgrades, shipboard credits, private hosted cocktail parties, bottle of champagne in cabin, logo wear.

Remember that many cruise lines offer a free cruise for less than 16 passengers. For example, such are the ultra-luxury lines Silversea and The Yachts of Seabourn (providing 1 free berth for every 10 sold). You may find even more attractive policies and terms with off season sailings. 

If you establish an ongoing relationship with a cruise line or a travel agent, you may be able to work such deals consistently, so that all cruise vacations of yours are free. You may even turn it into a full-time job. 

WARNING: As the group leader you will have to work hard to sail for free. You'll be coordinating with group members, promoting the group and facilitating communication between the group members and the cruise agent. Your agent will work directly with the line to make the air arrangements, bookings, cabin assignments, onboard events, dining times, etc., but your group will look to you if anything goes wrong. Be prepared! Being a TC is not a breeze. 

Other Ways to Cruise For Free

  • Points for frequent travel: This works like frequent flyer points - you accumulate points with the airlines and may be able to cruise for free with the money you save. Many of the cruise packages are offered with an air travel package, since most travelers are not lucky enough to live close to a cruise port.
  • Combine discounts: Collect your discounts from vendors, discounts from the cruise line, travel agents, restaurants and airlines. Trade with your friends to get more coupon books and discounts. When you put all together, your voyage may be free (nearly free).
  • Contests and prizes: Enter whenever you have an opportunity. Someone has to win the free cruise and that person might be you.
  • Last minute deals: You may be able to find the greatest deal that is free (nearly free) if you resist and wait until the last minute to book your cruise. Tremendous discounts are offered to those who fill up empty space caused by travelers canceling their voyage. Also check the wave season cruise deals.
  • Travel packages: These offer huge discounts. If you can work your cruise package in conjunction with one of the ideas above, you may sail free of charge.
  • Get a job on a cruise ship: Along with your weekly salary, you get the chance to cruise to exotic destinations free of charge. Room and food come complimentary with the position.

Trade Your Talent and Cruise For Free

You can trade your talent for a free luxury cruise. Cruise lines are very interested in keeping their guests happy at all times. Such a goal is a bit more challenging on sea  days. To address the issue the cruise companies offer all manner of activity onboard. Many of the activities are staffed by outside performers who typically sail free or at discounted rates. Most outside contractors are able to bring along a traveling companion. He or she also cruises free.

  • Photographers and travel writers often get free cruises as they agree to write about the cruise, the destination, or the entertainers and the businesses on the cruise ship. If you have photography and writing skills, along with media credentials, try this avenue. Contact the line to see what you can work out. 
  • Enrichment Lecturer: Many lines feature formal enrichment programs in a variety of topics. The majority of these use destination-driven lectures but many lines also consider general interest topics.
  • Computer Instructors: Today many cruise lines are interested in contracting with people who can deliver a series of computer classes onboard.
  • Arts and Crafts Instructors: Projects range from "high art" watercolor classes to simple projects like macramé. Typically, the more popular are those classes that are destination related, i.e. folk art or handicraft of one of the countries on ship's itinerary.
  • Dance Instructors: Dance classes are also often related to the visited destinations, i.e., Tarantella (Italy), Line dances (Texas); Salsa (Puerto Rico), Meringue (Dominican Republic); Samba (Brazil), etc. Obviously you must know your business and have happy feet.
  • Gentleman Host: If you are single, chatty and happy feet, get ready to entertain unescorted ladies appropriately. Polite company and dancing are the stock in trade for the position.
  • Nanny, Bodyguard or Personal Assistant: You should get a cabin and board on the cruise ship for free as part of the payment for your services.
  • Performer with the cruise line: Cruise for free and earn income as an entertainer.
  • Bridge Players: If you love playing bridge and have the "knack" for it, you could spend a couple of hours per day in the game room in exchange for your free cruise. Often a requirement here is that your companion must be ready and able to sit in on a game if a pair need to be completed to play.

The list doesn't end here. Major cruise companies will consider any kind of interesting activity. In any event, trading your talent to cruise for free, is worth the investigation.

Free Birthday cruise

In 2017, MSC Cruises started offering a new "free deal" for customers celebrating their birthday. in case your birthday falls during selected MSC cruises, it is complimentary.

  • MSC's free cruise offers are on itineraries in europe (Mediterranean, Baltic), Asia (Arabian Peninsula /Dubai), Caribbean (West Indies, Cuba). Longer itineraries are available through World Cruises.
  • Booked passengers can extend their free birthday cruise and combine itineraries into B2Bs (back to back cruises) from 14 to 22 nights.
  • Bookings must have at least one paying passenger and only one free birthday passenger. The birthday of the passenger must fall on one of the itinerary days, but excluding the arrival and departure days.
  • Such offers are usually promotions, subject to selected availability and valid for lower cabin categories only (usually excluding Suites).

Star Cruises (Asian company) also offers free Birthday cruise deals on select ships and departure dates. The company's "Free Birthday Celebrant Package" consists of:

  • Cabin decorations (set up on the embarkation day)
  • 0,5 kg chocolate cake
  • Birthday card
  • Cruise voucher (at the ship's Reception) is applicable at onboard retail shops and spa/wellness outlets. To use the voucher, you need to swipe your access card at the outlets. When you settle your bill during checkout, the voucher's value is deducted from the total amount due.
  • Free Wifi vouchers for 2 passengers for the entire cruise  (at the ship's Reception). Wi-Fi connections on Start Cruises ships are available in all public areas and in the cabins.

What is FREE on Cruises?

Modern mega-liners offer an increasing number of drinking, dining and entertainment options which are not complimentary (fare-inclusive). The days when the bar bill was the only financial concern onboard are long gone. Today cruise ship travelers feel like right after embarkation starts the corporate plundering of their pockets. Add-ons and surcharges will always be, but also plenty of notable experiences are still ticket-price inclusive.

  • Wi-Fi Internet is free on the ships of Viking Ocean, RSSC Regent, Crystal, Oceania, also on river cruise ships.
  • Best pizza for free is on Carnival ships - cooked-to-order pizzas are fresh-baked (in wood-fired oven) and with thin crust. On Royal Caribbean free pizza is offered at Sorrento's, on Princess - at Alfredo's Pizzeria, on Holland America - at New York Pizza.
  • Ham and cheese croissants: A sandwich is more than sliced bread and filling onboard Royal Caribbean the minute you try an addictive cheese and ham mini-croissant, cheesy, flaky, three-bite morsel with tomato, lettuce, mustard and mayo topping. This fee-free mini is a staple in the 24-hour signature Cafe Promenade.
  • Indian food all-you-can eat: Carnival Tandoor dining is among the best free cruise things to try at sea. The aromatic counter, open typically for lunch, serves Indian food made by Carnival Indian cooks. Try the grilled meats and fish, daals and basmati rice, curries, alongside essentials like raita, mint chutney, and achar.
  • Free donuts are available on Oasis-class ships (Royal Caribbean) at the Boardwalk's donut shop on rotating lineup with various flavors.
  • Complimentary fast-ffod bars are usually located poolside. On Carnival ships, "Guy's Burger Joint" and "Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que" are industry's best complimentary venue for fee-free gourmet burgers and steaks. The burgers feature buttered buns, signature sauses and  toppings (onion rings, chipotle mayo, blue cheese crumbles). On Princess ships, "Salty Dog Grill" is complimentary burger bar (by Ernesto Uchimura), where also free are street tacos, hot dogs plus other snacks. On Seabourn ships, "The Grill" steakhouse (by Thomas Keller) is also fee-free.
  • Milk and cookies: While you're lounging poolside onboard a Princess voyage, with no intention to move though longing for something sweet, attentive waiters will make your dreams come true - just relax while the staff bring over ice-cold milk and soft-baked cookies.
  • Poolside milkshakes and ice-creams are offered on most large ships via soft-serve machines.
  • Free cabin toiletries: Inclusions in Carnival famous in-cabin complimentary toiletry baskets rotate, but you may expect Ludens, Pantene, Arm & Hammer.
  • Bathrobes are provided complimentary on all Carnival and Holland America ships - regardless cabin category. Other companies include bathrobes in higher-tier staterooms (including all suites). Additionally, bathrobes can be provided in most cabins (at no extra charge) upon request made to cabin stewards.
  • Free of charge saunas and steam rooms are available fleetwide on Carnival. Celebrity and Princess allow complimentary access to the sauna only. Viking Ocean ships have the complimentary snow grotto (part of the ship's Thermal Suite).
  • Hammocks are free on Carnival ships (at the adult-only Serenity deck) and on Celebrity ships (at the Lawn Club and by the main swimming pool).
  • Surf simulators (FlowRider) on all Royal Caribbean ships offer complimentary boogie-boarding and surfing. Also complimentary is the indoor skydiving (Oasis-class ships only) at "iFly by RipCord".
  • AquaSpa Cafe is Celebrity Cruises' healthy dining concept - fee-free restaurant offering sushi, salads, and other light-fare healthy foods plus some a la carte menu items (poached salmon, grilled pork).
  • Big-Screen Wii Battles: For all grown-up kids who wish to show video-gaming skills, and now have the audience to appreciate their expertise. Norwegian Cruise Line fleet is outfitted now with Nintendo gaming interactive system, Wii. "Bowling", "Boxing", and other tournaments are available on most sailings.
  • Outdoor theater movies are free of charge. These large-sized LED screens are installed on Lido Deck and by the swimming pool, with complimentary loungers (daily) and blankets (at night). On Princess ships, "Movies Under the Stars" movie experience also includes complimentary Norman Love confections (chocolate chip cookies) served with milk, plus other snacks. Disney ships play old and new Walt Disney classics in the Buena Vista Theater (indoor).
  • Broadway-style evening show productions are included in ticket prices. Other complimentary entertainment options include WestEnd and TV stars performances, classical concerts, stand-up comedians, acrobatic and magician shows, cabarete, DJ parties in the disco  nightclub.
  • Blue Man Group: The best free cruise show onboard Norwegian Epic - one of a handful of venues where you can watch the blue mutes' performance at sea and the Blue Man Group painted percussion mime mess, free of charge. So put on a poncho - get ready for a show.
  • Mini-golfing on Sports Deck is among the "cruise freebies". (-hole mini-golf courses and putting greens are available on most ships (including smaller-sized) and are complimentary.
  • Ropes Course is also among the freebies. The largest facility is on Carnival's largest ships - SkyCourse (16-piece). NCL's ropes course (on fleet's largest ships) also includes a metal plank extending 8 ft (2,5 m) over the ship's side.
  • Mast-climbing (like a pirate) on Star Clippers ships allows passengers to climb one of yacht's masts up to crow's nest lookout. 
  • People-watching: This free cruise entertainment is for people who would like positioning a chair in the highest-traffic zone on pool deck, atrium, or promenade and watch your shipmates. No matter bizarre behavior, fashion snafus or overheard juicy conversations, all that you witness onboard a cruise ship rivals the best reality TV.
  • Dancing Lessons: Waltz, tango, or the electric slide - contemporary cruise ships are one of the best places to try a variety of dance styles for free, including on themed music & dance cruises. It's not a problem to have two left feet - keep calm and try out some new steps during live pre-dinner music. Be sure that the couples there burn up dance floors constantly. P&O Cruises also offer the opportunity for learning some free cruise moves from 'Strictly Come Dancing ' professional dancers onboard selected voyages.
  • Sunset over the ocean: We consider it the most beautiful sight while cruising (and yet not the less important among the top free cruise things), which even doesn't cost a penny extra. Grab your better half's hand (or a cocktail ;-)), and walk over to ship's railing. Sure, you've seen it before, but watching the sun fall down over the ocean is one of the things that make life feel good - take a deep breath and feel this moment.

Free Drinks on Cruises

  • Holland America's loyalty program guarantees the event "Mariner Society Brunch" with complimentary food and sparkling wine (just after the first voyage). After 75 cruise days it gives 25% discount pricing on wine packages and cabin minibar purchases. After 200 cruise days it gives 50% discounts and complimentary wine tastings.
  • Royal Caribbean's loyalty program givesnightly happy hours with free cocktails for Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle members with exclusive access to Diamond Lounge. On older ships (without Diamond Lounge) these loyalty members receive vouchers for free drink each night during the happy hour.
  • Disney Cruise Line ships have Captain's "Welcome Aboard" cocktail party (one per each voyage). The event is formal, open to all passengers and provides free drinks.
  • Princess and Oceania ships have similar parties with complimentary cocktails and Champagne. Princess ships additionallly have farewell evening parties on 14+ night long itineraries.
  • Cruise ship art auctions feature free sparkling wines (by the glass).
  • Happy hours in some onboard bar lounges offer discount-priced or 2-for-1 drinks. Drinks of the day are also cheaper. Oceania ships have nightly happy hours with drinks promotions (2-for-1) - at 5 pm and at 10:30 pm. Princess and Holland America ships also offer drink specials at certain times (read the daily onboard newsletter delivered in your stateroom for times and places).
  • Gambling in the ship's Casino often comes with free drinks. On cruise ships, after accruing club points (for example, NCL 5000 points, Carnival 1500 points), passengers receive complimentary drinks when playing - either on both the tables and slot machines. Passengers playing a certain amount of money on the cruise get free drink card on their next cruise.
  • Some cruise companies (like Oceania, Princess, Holland America) offer discount-priced bottles of liquor and sodas via cabin room service.
  • Cabin room service is 24-hour and complimentary on Carnival and Celebrity (between 6 am - 11 pm).
  • "Bon Voyage" gifts are pre-cruise orders delivered to staterooms. All beverages (especially alcohol and packs) are very good deals. However, passengers are not allowed to take "Bon Voyage" drinks out of their staterooms. Among such companies are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Oceania.
  • Most companies allow bringing 1-2 bottles of wines on the ship, but then passengers are charged a corkage fee for dining room restaurant consumption.
  • Buying "All-You-Can-Drink Package" allows passengers to pay a fixed price for unlimited drinks on the ship (drink inclusions vary by package). Some companies (Carnival's CHEERS, Royal Caribbean's unlimited drinks) offer only 1 unlimited package, while other (Celebrity) offer several options with different beverages and prices. Unlimited packages cost between USD 45-65 pp per day. Booking promotions and select voyages (like repositioning crossings, for example) often offer as bonus complimentary beverage packages.
  • Luxury cruise lines are usually all-inclusive and offer free alcoholic beverages (including premium liquors and Champagnes) included in cruise fares. There is additional complimentary minibar in each cabin - fully-stocked with alcohol and sodas.
  • Booking Suite cabin on most cruise ships allows exclusive access to a Club Lounge (self-service complimenary bar with drinks and snacks).
  • Almost all river cruise ships in Europe allow bringing your own alcohol (liquors, beers. wines) on the boat. In addition, locally sourced wines and beers by the glass are complimentary served with each lunch and dinner on the ship. Also free on river cruises are the "Coffee Corners" (onboard beverage stations with unlimited water, coffees, teas, juices, snacks).