The more you cruise, the more cruising tips you find out: some help you save money, others help you get free on-board credit, but most of them help you have a better experience onboard. Each cruise line has its own secrets and there is no reason to find them out by yourself. I have recently cruised on a Norwegian Cruise and I am happy to share everything that I learned! And whether you’re a first-time cruiser or cruise every year, you might find there’s something here you don’t already know.
Before Booking the Cruise: Norwegian Cruise Tips for First-Timers
1. Do Your Research Before You Cruise
I know, cruises offer so much and you kind of want to go with the flow, but doing some research before even booking a cruise can help you have a better experience. Start by comparing cruises to find one that will work for you. Read as much as you can about your ship and excursions before your cruise. Otherwise, you can end up on a small ship without the slightest clue of what to do in any of the ports.
- In terms of port info, cruise lines rarely give enough information apart from the cruise excursions, so do extra research beforehand.
2. Not all Cruise Ships are Created Equal
As I’ve said, there are 17 ships in Norwegian’s fleet, and they’re all different. Check out what’s offered on your ship before you board. For example, the Norwegian Escape (a newer ship) has a rope course and water slides, while older ships have fewer entertainment options. A pretty easy rule to go by: longer cruises have bigger and larger ships, while shorter cruises are smaller.
- Don’t know if you’d prefer a small or a large ship? Large ships usually offer more entertainment options and more things to do, however they can be also more crowded. So, if you would prefer to have a more intimate experience, you would enjoy a smaller ship more. Neither one is better or worse, just depends on what you prefer!
3. Sign up for the Norwegian Cruiselines Newsletter
Before booking, sign up for the Norwegian Cruiselines Newsletter to be notified of special offers. (you can sign up for other cruise lines to keep your options open!) Each email will include any available discounts and specials available.
4. Score the “Free at Sea” offers
NCL often runs “Free at Sea” offers, so if you see a countdown on your site, don’t worry, they are probably not going anywhere soon. Don’t feel pressured, but you should take advantage of them: depending on the promotion and the room category you book, you can get several free offers per cruise. They typically include a free Beverage Package, free Specialty Dining Package, free Wifi Package or a cruise excursion credit. Some of them come with free flights and if you pairing some of them together, it can add up to huge savings!
Note: if you get a beverage package or the specialty dining, tips will automatically be added to your price, so don’t be surprised that your price goes up by a few hundred dollars. It can still be worth it. If you get excursion credit or free flights, the price shouldn’t change.
5. Book Your Cruise Last-Minute
If you book a cruise about 3 months before sailing, you can find great discounts. People cancel and cruise lines want to fill these rooms, so you may be able to take advantage of being flexible.
6. Set Price Drop Alerts
I always recommend this one. Before you book your cruise, you can monitor the prices by putting in your sail date on Cruiseline.com. You’ll automatically get an email if the price rises or falls more than one percent.
7. Book a Repositioning Cruise
When ships are being relocated, you can usually find good discounts on rooms. Just remember that the ship will disembark at a different port, so you will need to book airfare back. (May or may not be worth it)
8. Pricing (and Number of Kids) Depends on the Time of Year
Cruise trips will be a lot cheaper when school is in session. So, if you don’t depend on the school calendar, you can definitely save some money. Also I have heard a lot of people complain about too many kids on the cruise, but they traveled during school breaks. Here is my pick: cruising after Thanksgiving but before Christmas is a great time – cruises are usually cheaper, your hometown is getting cold and there are not so many kids in the pool!
9. Book your Next Cruise Onboard
I know this works on Norwegian, especially in the last few days of your cruise. If you book your next cruise while on the ship through a Cruise Consultant, you can get a discount and an on-board credit.
Note: If you don’t know when you want to cruise again, you can just book a Future Booking and just do a minimum deposit. That deposit is refundable if you change your mind. This year on Norwegian Escape, they were offering $400 of onboard credit for booking your next cruise.
Cruise prices can vary drastically week from week, so search multiple weeks to find the best price.
After You Book: Planning Your Cruise on Norwegian
10. Get to Know Freestyle Cruising
That’s what Norwegian Cruiselines are all about: instead of having a set dining time for each evening, you can go to the restaurant whenever you want. That being said, you can end up with a wait at peak times, so if you know in advance what time you would like to eat, make a reservation to save some time. (Especially if you are cruising as a larger group.)
Note: You can use the flat-screen TVs on the ship to see which restaurants are open and the approximate wait times.
11. Packing for a Cruise
If you’re going to cruise in the Caribbean, you need to know a few of these packing tips. On our last cruise, it rained a few times, so one of the must-pack items is always a lightweight waterproof jacket.
I wrote this great Packing Cruise Checklist that will give you more information about packing and things that you wish you had on your cruise. (You can also edit it and print it out for yourself!)
Among other tips in this article, here are a few items I always recommend taking on-board:
- Reusable Water Bottle – you will be able to refill your bottle on the top deck and you won’t have to pay for expensive water in your stateroom (about $4 per bottle).
- A Vacation Lanyard – It’s a lot easier to keep up with your key if you have a lanyard with you. They are a lot more expensive on the ship, so you can grab them from Amazon for your whole family or look for an old one at home.
- Waterproof Phone Pouch – a must for taking pictures near the water and on the beach – just hang it on your neck.
- Water Shoes – This one would be great when we went horse-back riding on the beach! And I am sure there could be a few other uses for these!
- Cover-up: If you’re spending the afternoon around the pool you’ll need something to use when you go in for lunch. The ships really crank up the AC, so you’ll want a cover-up that’s not wet.
For more things to grab with you on your cruise, check out the Bring It On a Cruise list. It has all of the things I wish I had on a cruise last time I went, make sure to have them!
12. Pack Your Cruise Carry-on Bag:
This one is a big one! At the cruise dock, you’ll give your large suitcases to the porter who will check them for you. You can carry on a small bag and personal items and you might not receive your checked bags until later in the evening after they are scanned for security. That’s why you should pack everything you may need on the first day in your carry-on:
documents, wallets, bathing suits, cameras, medications, sandals, sunscreen, a change of summer clothes and toiletries.
If the cruise line takes a while to deliver your bag, you’ll have all your necessities on hand and can change into more comfortable clothing.
While you are packing, you might want some ideas on what to wear on your vacation. Are you wondering how many swimsuits should you bring? Or what should you wear on an excursion? All of those questions might come up while you are packing. If you are still unsure or are afraid to forget anything, check my Cruise Clothing Guide!
14. Book Your Activities and Shows Early
Another big one for Norwegian! Do you want to have dinner at a specialty restaurant or go to a specific show? You should schedule it in advance online to make sure you get a space. By booking excursions early you can also save some money through early-bird discounts. But on Norwegian, you should book on-board activities too. I was disappointed to find out that some of the tastings and shows were all booked by the second day of the cruise!
15. Download the NCL App
With the NCL app, you can text your fellow travelers, check the daily schedule and deck plans, track how much you spend (or earn if you are lucky in the casino), and get info for upcoming ports of call. The app is free to download and you can chat with any of your friends on-board for just $9! It is totally worth it!
Note: I found it easier to book things through the TVs on the ship instead of the app.
16. Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is something you don’t think about until you need it. It costs a fraction of your cruise price and delivers protection against delays, cancellations, lost baggage, and injury. Read your policy thoroughly. Check out options from third-party travel insurance companies like travelguard.com.
Norwegian Cruise Tips – While You are On-board
17. Watch your balance
It can be hard to keep up with all of the charges, but there were a couple of unexpected charges on my recent cruise and I went to the front desk to discuss them. Always good to keep an eye out on it!
18. Don’t Forget Your Watch and Know Your Time Zone
It’s really important to pay attention to ship time (bringing a watch might help). You may change time zones during your cruise and your cellphone may not always keep up. Make sure to always be back on the ship on time, it won’t wait for you.
What time should you be back? Take a picture of the “all aboard time” with your phone in case you forget what time you’re supposed to be back!
19. Avoid Extra Expenses
All the extra expenses such as trips to Starbucks or ice cream shops can add up quickly. Also, think about if you REALLY need to take part in that art auction or a jewelry sale. You can spend a little or a lot and still have a great time on your cruise!
20. Turn off Your Cell-phone Data (and your phone)
If you keep your cellphone on during the cruise, ensure that data has been turned OFF. If you leave data on, your phone will constantly be searching for a signal, losing battery and might be adding some costs! I left the phone in a safe this entire cruise and loved it!
21. Norwegian Cruise Line Holds Funds on your Card
Don’t be alarmed when you get charges on your card the first day of your cruise! On my recent seven-night cruise, Norwegian held $200 per person from our credit card. By the end of the cruise it was balanced out and the hold was lifted. Norwegian does that to encourage you to spend that money on-board and most people do! Be sure to budget well before your trip and monitor your expenses!
22. Norwegian Cruise Tips – Gratuities
Norwegian recommends $15 per person, per day, for gratuities. This amount is divided between dining room services, cabin services and alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel services. The amount is automatically added to your account daily, but it can be changed at the guest services desk on the last day of your cruise. Visit guest services the last day of sailing and decide what amount of tip you would like to leave. Don’t forget that a 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills and spa treatments!
23. Get to Know Your Ship
Beautiful big ships like Norwegian Escape always have a lot going on. On the first couple of days, take some time to explore the ship, find your way around so that you’re on time for any activities you have planned. And if you’re ever turned around, don’t forget this simple rule – fish on the carpet are always swimming in the direction of the ship, follow the fish to the front of the ship!
24. Be Adventurous
On our last cruise on Norwegian Escape, there were a few adventurous activities: rope course and zip line on the ship (so cool!) and waterslides that looked terrifying! But I am so glad I tried those – it was my first time on a rope course and it was a lot of fun! If something seems a little scary, go outside of your comfort zone and try it – it makes great memories and fun stories! But, always be careful, of course!
25. Find a Quiet Spot
All of Norwegian ships have designated “quiet zones”. If you want a break to relax and read a book, find one of those areas – no one knows about these spots and they’re almost always empty. There is almost always one on the promenade deck (deck 5, 6, or 7) and on the very top of the ship. If you prefer a quiet sail-away, check out these spots!
26. Watch Sunset While on the Ship
While you are doing all of the fun activities on the ship, don’t miss the sunsets! Sunsets are even more beautiful when you are on a cruise ship – go outside, have a drink on the pool deck, take your time to enjoy the waves and the views!
27. Don’t miss the shows
The shows on cruise ships are amazing. There are usually a variety of shows that are suitable for all ages.
Bonus Tip: Show up to sold-out shows
Some of the shows may be already sold out, do try to reserve them early. If you want to see one of the big-name shows on Norwegian, but the tickets are sold out, get in line prior to showtime, cruise ship staff will let you in if seats are available.
Extra Bonus Tip: Go to the Open-Seating Shows Early
A lot of the shows on the Norwegian cruise ships are popular, so get there 30 to 45 minutes early to ensure a seat.
28. Take Advantage of Kids Clubs
If your child is 3 – 17, take advantage of the FREE kid’s clubs. It’s a great way to let the kids play and meet other children!
29. Not Everything on the Ship is Too Expensive
T-shirts, alcohol, perfume, handbags, and hats are actually cheaper on board! There are a lot of sales going on! If you are already planning to buy any of these, wait until you are on-board and see if you like anything. However, if you would like to purchase a phone charger or flip-flops that you forgot at home, you might be out of luck! This time, they didn’t have either of those in the shops! Make a list of things to pack for your cruise so that you have everything you need on your vacation!
30. Consider a Photo Package
Photographers are all over the ship to take pictures of guests throughout the cruise. While purchasing individual prints can get pricey, photo packages can help you reduce the cost.
Norwegian Cruise Tips for Dining – How to Get the Best Food Experience on the Ship
One of the best experiences on the cruise is the wonderful food that you can try. One of my favorite moments was going to the dining room in the evenings – the food is a lot better than at the buffet and then for a late-night snack at the O’Sheehans. Here are a few of my favorite Norwegian Cruise dining tips!
31. On Boarding Day, Have Lunch at the Dining Room
On boarding day, the main buffet can get crowded because that is where the majority of cruisers head when they board the ship. What many people don’t know is that there are usually multiple eateries open on embarkation day. Check the daily program or ask a crew member what venues are open for lunch. You’ll enjoy your first day so much better by dining in a relaxed atmosphere after boarding the ship.
32. Try Everything and Enjoy as Much as You Want
Many first time cruisers don’t realize that they aren’t limited to just one appetizer, entree or dessert during dinner. So, if you’re having trouble deciding between two dishes —order both. And if you can’t decide which dessert you like the best, go ahead and order two. One of the many perks of cruising customizing your meals exactly how you want. That’s what the Freestyle Cruising is all about.
Bonus tip: The Chef Can Make Any Appetizer into an Entrée
If you really like an appetizer, you can request it as your main course. Don’t feel weird about doing that, it’s totally fine!
33. Find Your Favorite Breakfast Option
There a few great options for your morning meal on the ship. Why not try them all? One day you can try the variety of options at the buffet. The next day, I would recommend giong to one of the dining room and ordering whatever your heart desires. And on one of the days, try O’Sheehan’s tasty made-to-order omelets and corned beef hash! If you try them all, come back and let me know your favorite in the comments below!
34. Eat lunch on the ship instead of in port
If you’re close to the ship, go back on board to enjoy your lunch for free. And even if you plan to eat at your destination, snacks are always a good idea. (And a quality backpack is a must for carrying water bottles, snacks and towels off the ship.)
35. Norwegian Cruise Tips – Free Alcohol On the Cruise Ship
There is never a shortage of alcohol on a Norwegian Cruise. And if that’s something you’re interested in, I recommend getting a beverage package as one of the “Free at Sea” offers that are often run on the Norwegian website. It’s totally worth it if you are planning to spend more than $40 of alcohol a day. But, if you decide to avoid the beverage package and prefer to find some free alcohol on the ship, here are a few of my insider tips:
- Attend the Captain’s Toast party or an Art Auction. They usually offer free champagne.
- Go to an alcohol tasting event at the shops. There will be free samples served!
- Another way to get free alcohol is to spend money in the casino. If you earn enough points in the onboard casino, the drinks sold in the casino area are free for the rest of your cruise!
Bonus tip: If you do get the beverage package, don’t stick to the drinks on the menu. You can order any other drink, try some expensive whiskey on the rocks, or try something you’ve never tried before! And, don’t forget to order some mimosas during brunch for me!
36. Self-assist Gets You off the Ship Faster
When your vacation is over and if you want to be the first ones off the ship, carry your own bags off. You could also go to guest relations and ask for zone 1 debarkation which will help you get off the ship faster. You will have to stay in line to get your bags back which can be a hassle.
Tell me: Do you have any secret Norwegian cruise tips that I missed? Leave them in the comments below!