The best cruise booking perks – and which ones are actually free

These days, when booking a cruise, it’s common to expect a range of perks and freebies included in the package. Cruise lines often run promotions to incentivize travelers to book in advance and choose their line over competitors. During the booking-heavy period between January and March, known as “wave season,” it’s important to take advantage of the free offerings when reserving a cabin. However, it’s crucial to read the fine print and ensure that these “free” bonuses are actually worth the cost.

One of the most common perks offered is an open-bar package. While it may seem like an unlimited supply of drinks, it’s important to understand that the package covers select spirits, cocktails, wines, beer, soda, and juice up to a certain value per drink. Exclusions may include Starbucks drinks, room service, bottled water, minibar drinks, energy drinks, and premium brands. Additionally, passengers who choose the free bar package are required to pay a gratuity fee on the package’s retail value, which can add up to a significant amount over the course of a week-long cruise.

Free onboard Wi-Fi is another highly sought-after perk. While it is indeed free, there are limitations to consider. Some cruise lines offer free Wi-Fi on one device per passenger, while others limit it to one device at a time for the first two passengers in a cabin. There may also be restrictions on the amount of free minutes available and streaming may be blocked. It’s also important to note that if the ship’s line of sight with the satellite is obstructed, Wi-Fi may not be available at all.

Onboard credit is essentially a gift certificate that can be spent on various amenities and activities onboard the ship. It’s a truly free perk with no taxes or tips involved. However, there may be conditions attached, such as only passengers booked in certain cabin categories receiving the full amount of credit. If the credit is not fully utilized, it cannot be refunded in cash. Passengers may also be tempted to spend more than the credit amount, resulting in additional expenses.

Specialty dining is another perk that can save passengers money on their cruise. Free meals at the ship’s specialty restaurants can be a valuable bonus. However, it’s important to note that gratuity fees may be charged on these complimentary meals, and additional charges may apply for certain dishes. It’s not an all-you-can-eat-free deal, but it can still provide significant savings.

Free shore excursions are a popular perk, especially for those who plan to explore the ports of call. While some cruise lines offer up to a certain amount of credit to spend on shore excursions, others may only provide a fixed amount per port. It’s important to consider the cost of excursions and whether the credit provided will cover the desired activities. In some cases, passengers may need to pay additional fees to fully utilize the offer.

Lastly, some cruise lines offer promotions where kids sail free or third and fourth passengers receive discounted fares. These promotions typically apply to children sailing as third and fourth passengers in the same cabin as their parents. While it can be a great deal for families, it’s important to understand the limitations of the offer and any additional expenses that may arise.

In conclusion, while it’s tempting to take advantage of the various perks and freebies offered when booking a cruise, it’s important to read the fine print and understand the actual value of these offerings. Some perks may come with associated fees or limitations, and it’s crucial to weigh the cost against the benefits before making a decision. By being informed and making informed choices, travelers can ensure they are getting the most value for their money when booking a cruise.

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