Winning a ‘Free’ Cruise

June 20, 2012 | By | 7 Comments

Onboard Norwegian Gem on a sea day, as we cruised back to New York from the Bahamas, we were watching the Czech Republic get routed by Russia in the 2012 Euro Cup when my husband reminded me it was time for the final bingo session of the sailing — the one at which they give away a free Caribbean cruise, he emphasized.
I didn’t want to go. Sure, somebody always wins, but it’s never us. He still insisted, and besides, we already had raffle tickets. (They came with the instant wins and bingo tickets on which we’d already spent some $100.) Wouldn’t it be stupid not to be there — just in case?
The room was packed; it felt like half the ship was there, hoping to win either the $2,000 bingo jackpot or the free cruise. Even people who wouldn’t normally play bingo came, just to get raffle tickets.
We played two rounds of bingo; we didn’t even come close to winning. Then it was time for the raffle. A young boy was selected to pick the ticket. The cruise director made the audience promise whoever won the cruise would pay the boy $5 for picking their ticket number. The cruise director and one of his assistants picked him up by his heels, held him over the bathtub-shaped bucket and let him root around for a while. Finally they pulled him out, a small ticket clutched in his fist.
“It’s a red ticket,” the cruise director joked, and the audience laughed. We all had red tickets.
Then he began to read the numbers. Have you ever had that feeling that something big was about to happen? Where the world has slowed down and your breathing slows, but your heart races?
We won. I barely suppressed a scream and pushed him toward the cruise director. They shook hands; my husband gave the boy a $20 bill.
Shortly thereafter, one of the cruise director’s staff gave us our free cruise certificate. But here’s where my elation soured:
I had known the free cruise was only valid for an inside stateroom, but what I hadn’t realized was that the certificate was equivalent to a maximum value of $1,000. (My friend and her sister, who had both accompanied us on the cruise, were staying in an inside cabin, and it cost them more than $1,000.)
Taxes, fees and gratuities were also additional. Although I hadn’t realized it — but should have — I wasn’t too bothered by the fact. You have to pay taxes on lottery winnings, after all.
It was the $1,000 limit that bothered me. The “free” cruise we’d won, which the ship’s crew had been aggressively pushing all cruise long, wasn’t actually free.
As fellow passengers approached us with congratulations, I wanted to show them the fine print. I smiled and said thank you instead. I wondered how many people scrimp and save for trips like this. Would they be able to take advantage of winning this “free” cruise? The sailing has to be taken within a year of winning it — but that doesn’t give the winner much time to save up for it.
Back at work Monday, I scrolled through forum posts on Cruise Critic by others who had won free cruises on several cruise lines. The posts were divided. Some said it was super easy to redeem and actually ended up being a great deal. Others said the prices they were quoted (for taxes and “fees”) seemed jacked up. I didn’t hold much hope for us.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Redeeming our cruise was indeed super easy, and it really was a bargain. Reading deeper into the fine print, I learned that the $1,000 maximum only applies to itineraries other than those found on Caribbean sailings. In other words, the certificate provides a free inside cabin, no matter what the retail cost, only on a seven-day Caribbean sailing. On any other sailing, the certificate is worth $1,000 off the retail price of any cabin.
The only additional cost for booking an inside cabin in the Caribbean (on a seven-day sailing) is the taxes. But the taxes I was quoted were LESS than what I’d seen online. For the two of us, taxes came to $284.60. Taking airfare out of the equation, that’s pretty affordable for just about anyone.
And the fee for upgrading us to a balcony cabin was ridiculously low — just $260 each.
We ended up booking a New Year’s Eve cruise for two in a balcony, on Norwegian Jewel out of New York, for just a tiny bit more than $800. Since we don’t have to fly, our only other necessary expenses will be gratuities and parking.
In the end, while our “free” cruise wasn’t exactly free in the way I’d been expecting, it was still an amazing win.
So, yeah, somebody always wins; as it turns out, it could be you.
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    7 Responses to “Winning a ‘Free’ Cruise”

    1. Scott
      June 20th, 2012 @ 11:41 am

      Late last year, we won a “free” cruise from Harrah’s Casino through one of their promotions on NCL. We could take pretty much any cruise on certain ships or itineraries this year, and get a “free” inside cabin.

      Of course we had to pay taxes and port charges, that was expected. But suprisingly there was a charge of $175 per person beyond the taxes and port charges. The costs started adding up pretty quickly. Granted it still ended up costing about 1/3 of what the cruise would have cost if we had booked directly, so it was still a big savings.

      The worst part, though, was that we had to cancel the cruise due to unforseen circumstances about a month before sailing, and ended up losing $260 (non-refundable deposit) on a “free” cruise.

    2. Jeff
      June 20th, 2012 @ 11:44 am

      This is a good article. I wonder what the income tax implications are for this? Do you pay income tax on $1,000 or do you pay it on the fair market value of the actual cruise fare?

    3. Peg Woltz
      June 20th, 2012 @ 1:23 pm

      My dear husband always enjoys the poker tournaments and will often buy-in a second time just to continue enjoying both the socialization and the competition. Little did we ever believe that he would be the victor with the 1st prize being a free cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

      As a bit of background, we had already sailed on the Oasist three times and on the Allure once. At the conclusion of our final Oasis class sailing, I had firmly announced that it would be our last on the class. We didn’t need to sail again since the ships,not
      the ports, became the destinations. We need not experience it again. We were, unlike most people, not pleased with the winning of a free cruise. This in no way is disparaging to Royal Caribbean, however, since the prize was of considerable value and a most honest offering.

      The cruise prize was foraccommodations in a more than adequate cabin and included the buy-in to the annual poker tournament. The usual amenities on this largest cruise ship afloat were included of course, though gratuities, taxes, fees, and airfare were not. This was indeed a prize worthy of any victory.

      In the end, we gave the prize to our son and daughter-in-law as a Christmas gift since it was also transferable, and they enjoyed every moment of what was indeed a quality “free cruise” from Royal Caribbean.

    4. Sonya Sherow
      June 24th, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

      Great information and I may really try to win one. Thanks!

    5. KenSanDiego
      June 24th, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

      My first cruise back in 1997 was a ‘prize’ for attending a time-share presentation. Of course we did it just for the cruise voucher, and I must say it was well earned after saying ‘NO!’ for what seemed like hours.

      Anyone who has ever seen the South Park episode ‘Asspen’ ( )knows what I mean.

      The voucher was filled with terms and conditions, seemingly impossible to meet. You had to pick three different sailing dates within a 12 month period. The kicker was there were ‘blocked out’ dates you had to work around. We were barely able to even FIND 3 separate dates to submit. You had to call to ‘validate’ the voucher, then receive a ‘confirmation code’ by mail that you had to include on your voucher PRIOR to submitting it. This took nearly 2 months to get so our choices were narrowed significantly.

      Once the voucher is submitted you are notified by mail which date was chosen for your sailing. You then had 10 days to submit taxes, license and port fees, plus processing fee and a ‘reservation fee’ or the deal was off.

      The fees amounted to about 3/4 the cost of booking ourselves. It was a HUGE hassle but it did result in me becoming addicted to cruising.

      I have since been on 15 cruises, achieving Platinum on Carnival and sailing with NCL Jade on their Med Cruise that includes Egypt.

      While the ‘deal’ was a huge ‘no deal’, it all worked out in the end.

    6. Chef Monts
      June 25th, 2012 @ 11:56 am

      Great Story….may not have be “free” but certainly a GREAT discount!

    7. Elizabeth Bentz
      September 18th, 2012 @ 11:24 am

      I live on a fix income and am handiecap. exactly how can I find out the cost should I be so fortunly to win.I get around on a scooter.I’M a heart and lung patient.oxygen 24/7. can you accomidate me?claimedd

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