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With all the changes cruise lines have made recently, what can you still get for free in 2024? We have listed some of the best things you can enjoy on a cruise ship without spending an extra penny.

Perhaps you’ve read about the extra charges for room service on your favorite cruise line or an extra fee for getting another entree in the main dining room.

In an effort to reduce costs and pay back debt some companies have had to make a few adjustments. For instance, your stateroom might get cleaned only once per day instead of twice.

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Cruises still offer an excellent value for the money, and even though not everything is included when you sail with one of the mainstream lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC), there are still plenty of things that won’t cost you any extra.

A few of these items are a surprise to first-time cruisers or to those who haven’t been on a cruise in a while. For some of them, all you need to do is ask.

1. That extra main course for dinner

What’s better than dining at sea? Getting an extra steak or pasta dish just because you can. Even though some cruise lines are now charging extra if you want to get a 3rd entree, most will let you get at least a 2nd one for free– for now.  All you have to do is ask.

Tip: If you do want a second main course be sure to do it when you’re first ordering, especially if you’re eating with others at your table. The cruise wait staff likes to keep everyone on the same meal course, and you could delay their dessert if you don’t order an extra entree until later. I’m a peaceful person, but please don’t mess with my chocolate melting cake!

2. Free raffle tickets to the spa on embarkation day

Embarkation day can be a busy time, but make sure you swing by the spa at some point during the day. You can get a free tour of the spa and thermal suite and sometimes even get a free 5 minute massage or facial treatment.

Almost every cruise line gives out free raffle tickets for one of their service as well. You just have to be present during the drawing to win, which is usually later that same day.

I know many who have received free spa treatments and massages from these raffles, so it’s worth a shot.  Plus, it’s nice to check out the spa before committing to thermal suite access anyway.

Note: I’ve attended some of these drawings that were, well, quite drawn out, taking up to an hour. Since they function as infomercials for the spa’s services, this extra hour or so of your time might not be worth it. The gym area, where these drawings are usually held, can also get quite crowded, with over a hundred people vying for a chance at a free massage.

3. Prizes for participating in games and game shows

One of my favorite parts of cruising is both watching and participating in all the games and activities on board. Whether it’s the Love and Marriage game show, Family Feud, Deal or No Deal,  or a scavenger hunt, these games provide another way to spice up a sea day. Who doesn’t love a good Battle of the Sexes game in the main theater!

Participating in these game shows could get you some free stuff to take back to your cabin too. Granted, these prizes might just be little trinkets, plastic trophies, or coffee tumblers, but they’re free and it’s fun to actively enjoy these kinds of activities on a ship anyway.

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4. Prizes for playing cruise ship trivia

I always try to participate in at least one round of trivia when on a cruise. You can check your daily cruise planner for when these events take place, and you will find all kinds of topics to choose from as well.  On my last Carnival Celebration cruise I was amazed at the dozens of different topics and themes for trivia enthusiasts throughout the week.

So, whether you’re a history buff, sports fanatic, or a person filled with useless facts, give trivia a try and win yourself a free lanyard, t-shirt, or cruise-branded keychain. Some trivia events allow you to be part of a group too.

Note: Some cruise lines have had to cut back on prizes given for trivia, so do this one for the love of winning just in case you leave empty-handed.

5. Tournament trophies

So, the prize for winning a cornhole or ping-pong tournament might only be a ship-on-a-stick trophy or medallion necklace, but hey, it’s a free souvenir you can take home and brag about. I have a collection of these at home, and every glimpse of them just makes me get “Cruise Fever” all over again.

And now with pickleball courts on many cruise ships, there’s an extra trendy activity to enjoy on modern vessels.

6. Gifts for attending a shopping talk

While I’ve never been a huge fun of the shopping talks on a cruise ship, you can get some cool free stuff by attending them. In fact, that’s the only reason some people even go. These talks do offer some helpful information about cruise ports and what you can expect if you’re wanting to go on a shopping spree when you get off the ship. And they mainly happen on cruises where duty-free shopping is available in port.

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Some of these talks have a raffle at the end, but they always provide you with vouchers and coupons that you can use in port to redeem for free gifts at the different shops in the area.

7. Drinks and appetizers for attending a special event or meetup

Between the welcome and farewell parties on a cruise ship there are all kinds of other events throughout the week. Whether it’s a Cruise Critic meetup or a special event you can often get a free beverage and delicious appetizer to go with it. On mainstream lines these drinks cost extra, so this is a way to get a little something for free. The same goes for art auctions and talks that will typically offer a glass to each participant.

8. Onboard credit if you own some cruise stock

I recently wrote an article on the benefits of owning cruise stock in three different publicly traded cruise lines.  If you’re a frequent cruiser it makes sense to earn some perks for owning stock since you can benefit from this over and over again.

Each of these publicly traded cruise companies require ownership of 100 shares before you receive onboard credit and that can range from $50 to $250 per cruise, depending on the duration of your voyage. So yes, this “freebie” requires buying something first, but using this onboard credit over and over again can really add up, especially if you cruise a lot.

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Just bear in mind that a cruise line could take away this benefit from their shareholders in the future, so enjoy it while it lasts.   An extra $100 of onboard credit on a 7-day cruise is a nice incentive.

9. Room service

There have been a lot of recent changes involving room service policies on cruise lines, but most offer at least some room service for free. Typically, you can still get a continental breakfast delivered to your cabin that is complimentary, although you should still tip the delivery staff.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival only offer the continental breakfast sent to your cabin for no extra cost, but Norwegian Cruise Line has implemented a standard $4.95 even for this limited breakfast.

Disney Cruise Line and Holland America Line still offer free room service for almost everything on the menu, and almost all luxury cruise lines will provide free room service as well.

Read our cruise room service guide here to see which cruise lines charge fees and how much.

10. Mattress Padding

If you find that your cruise cabin mattress is a little stiff you can ask your room steward for a mattress topper. These are usually provided for free to guests who need them, but they are only available in limited supply. So test out that bed before it’s bedtime to find out if you need some padding or not.

11. Loyalty and status match perks

You might have perks available that you didn’t even know about. Some cruise lines like MSC Cruises and Virgin Voyages have status match programs that allow you to receive perks from sailing with a completely different cruise line. You will want to read the fine print and know all the details involved, but some of these perks could include free WiFi, free dry cleaning, onboard credit for drinks, and all kinds of other good stuff.

Also, be aware that cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises are owned by the same parent company and offer shared benefits when it comes to loyalty perks. Royal Caribbean Group calls these loyalty status perks “unique but comparable”.

12. Free onboard credit for referring a friend

Some cruise lines will give you onboard credit simply for recommending a cruise line to a friend. Holland America has a program called “Refer a Friend” that will pay you $50 in future cruise credit when a friend goes on a cruise with them. And the best part is that your friend gets $50 as well, so they have an extra incentive to give you “credit”.

Other cruise lines like Seabourn, Viking, and Princess Cruises also have referral programs, and some pay as much as $250. For most of these referral programs the friend needs to be new to that cruise line, but it’s a great way to not only introduce new people to the wonderful world of cruising but also get rewarded for it as well.

What did I miss?

What do you like to get on a cruise ship that doesn’t cost you anything extra? Let us know in the comments below and share the knowledge!

Also, check out these articles for more great tips on saving money and having the best cruise possible:

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