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The 17 Best Free Things to Do on a Cruise

By Dori Saltzman
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
  • Stepping on a cruise ship can sometimes feel like walking into a Caribbean straw market, with vendors hawking their wares left and right. Book your extra-fee restaurant here; pony up a few more dollars for dinner theater there. Don't forget to snap up a spa special before they're gone.

    With so many cruise ship dining venues and activities carrying surcharges these days, it's easy to forget there's still a lot of things to do that don't cost a single cent.

    So, say yes to adrenaline-fueled activities like surfing, skydiving and ropes course climbing and culinary indulgences including great pizza, poolside milkshakes and meals created by celebrity chefs -- and you'll still ring up a total onboard expense of $0.00.

    Check out our list of the best free cruise offerings (in no particular order), and share your own favorites in the comments below.

    Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line

  • 1

    Drink!

    Who wouldn't want to drink for free throughout his or her cruise? While several luxury lines offer alcohol-inclusive fares, most mainstream cruise lines do not. That all changed in 2016, when Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky began including most drinks -- valued up to $11 -- in its basic cruise prices. Passengers on the ship's three- to four-night Bahamas cruises will be able to imbibe a variety of beers, wines and premium spirits on the house. Unlimited soda and juice are free for passengers ages 3 to 20.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 2

    Surf the Internet.

    Staying in touch with friends and family while on a cruise has never been inexpensive. Internet has traditionally cost a pretty penny, but that's changing. As more cruisers demand Internet, companies have responded with faster, cheaper access to the Web. A select few are even going so far as to serve up the internet for free. Viking Ocean Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and most river cruise lines offer unlimited Wi-Fi at no extra charge. Crystal, a luxury line, provides 60 to 90 minutes of free internet to all passengers, depending on cabin category.

    Photo: Mila Supinskaya/Shutterstock.com

  • 3

    Dine at a Celebrity Chef-Affiliated Restaurant.

    Several cruise lines have partnered with celebrity chefs to offer extra-special dining experiences that would be nearly impossible (or very expensive) to have on land. But those experiences usually come with an extra price tag. Not so on Carnival, Crystal, Oceania and Seabourn. On Carnival, you can fill up on juicy burgers at Guy's Burgers, the brainchild of Food Network chef Guy Fieri. Crystal offers each of its passengers one free dinner at Nobu, the acclaimed eatery from famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. On Oceania's Marina and Riviera, cruisers can dine at Jacques, the creation of French chef Jacques Pepin. Meanwhile, Seabourn's The Grill by Thomas Keller treats diners to innovative steakhouse fare created by Thomas Keller, known for his Michelin-starred restaurants such as New York City's Per Se and The French Laundry in Napa Valley.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 4

    Sip a Milkshake Poolside

    Most cruise ships offer free soft-serve ice cream but tack on a surcharge for milkshakes (if they're even available). But milkshake-lovers on Oceania ships don't have to worry about spending a few extra dollars to indulge their dairy desires. Poolside crew members will whip up milkshakes (vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) on the spot for instant satisfaction.

    Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

  • 5

    Take in a Broadway Show.

    Snagging tix to a hot Broadway play is never going to be affordable unless you're doing so at sea. On the wide-open waters of the ocean you can see "Cats," "Mamma Mia!" and "Saturday Night Fever" on select Royal Caribbean ships or "Rock of Ages," "Legally Blonde: The Musical" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" on select Norwegian Cruise Line ships -- for nothing more than the cost of your already-paid cruise ticket.

    Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line

  • 6

    Have a Slice of Pizza.

    Carnival, Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean loyalists disagree as to who's got the best slice of pizza at sea. Carnival cruisers argue the thin crust pies from Pizza Pirate are the best, while Royal Caribbean fans argue for the cheesy yumminess that is Sorrento's. Princess cruisers say Alfredo's Pizzeria has the best hand-thrown slices, bar none. And now, Holland America loyalists think the line's new venue, New York Pizza (which replaces Slice), gives other cruise lines' pies a run for their money. What all can agree on is the price: free for one and all.

    Photo: Shebeko/Shutterstock.com

  • 7

    Surf and Skydive.

    Get your adrenaline pumping without putting a dent in your wallet on Royal Caribbean with free surfing and skydiving. Thirteen ships in the line's fleet have FlowRider surf simulators; two of these also offer iFly by RipCord "indoor" skydiving. With the FlowRider, you can give surfing or Boogie boarding a try for free, as many times as you like, but you'll only get one complimentary go on iFly by RipCord.

    Photo: Royal Caribbean International

  • 8

    Scale a Ropes Course.

    It's not just those with acrophobia who might find their knees knocking while making their way through these high-in-the-air obstacle courses. You'll find Carnival's 16-piece SkyCourse on Breeze, Magic, Sunshine and Vista, while Norwegian's 40-element ropes course (which includes the "plank," a narrow band of metal that extends 8 feet over the side of the ship) is on Breakaway, Getaway and Escape. If you find yourself stuck halfway through, just remember the $0 price tag means you can stop without losing anything (except, perhaps, a little pride).

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 9

    Putt-Putt to Your Heart's Content.

    A favorite activity for families and couples, you'll find top-deck mini-golf courses on all of Carnival's cruise ships, most of Royal Caribbean's vessels, three Norwegian Cruise Line ships and two Disney cruise ships. Most courses are just nine holes, but you can play them again and again without paying a penny -- perfect for when you're trying to cultivate your hole-in-one swing or need a rematch against your opponent. For an even more competitive twist, join a mini-golf competition if one is offered.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 10

    Snuggle up in a Bathrobe.

    Carnival takes a proletarian approach to its cruises -- there are no 1,000-square-foot suites with wraparound balconies on the Fun Ships, nor do suite passengers get much more than extra space. And everyone gets a bathrobe. So, snuggle up on the couch in your cabin while watching TV in a soft cotton robe, or throw the robe on for the walk up to the spa. (Just please don't wear it to the buffet for breakfast.)

    Photo: Stokkete/Shutterstock.com

  • 11

    Catch a Flick Outdoors.

    The movies might not be first-run, but admission is free, and you can bring in treats from your cabin or the buffet without having to smuggle them under your jacket. Outdoor Lido Deck movie screens, which can be found on virtually all cruise lines these days, are even more romantic than the real deal, with prime viewing from the pool by day and on snuggly loungers covered with warm blankets at night, popcorn included.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 12

    Detox in the sauna or steam room.

    Between all the binge-eating and bumming around on the sun deck, you might find yourself yearning for a detox. One little problem: You didn't budget for a spa day. Luckily, Carnival's entire fleet as well as a handful of luxury ships have free saunas and steam rooms (most lines charge for the steam room or require you to purchase a spa pass). Celebrity and Princess (with the exception of its Royal-class ships) allow access to only the sauna at no extra charge.

    Another honorable mention is Viking Ocean Cruises, whose facility -- complete with a handful of hot and cold therapies, including a snow grotto -- is free to all passengers. Bear in mind: While most cruise lines (including Carnival, Princess and Celebrity) offer separate saunas/steam rooms for both males and females, thermal suites like the one on Viking are typically co-ed.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 13

    Enjoy a backyard bash.

    Where can you sip lemonade on an Adirondack chair and play a game of bocce over real grass -- while sailing the seven seas? Only at Celebrity Cruises' Lawn Club. Found on five ships, the top-deck oasis feels like you've stepped into a classy summer soiree, where you and your fellow passengers can play games, enjoy a picnic or just relax and soak up the views while a guitar player serenades you with soft tunes.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 14

    Lie on a hammock and catch the sea breeze.

    There's something about lying on a hammock that conjures up peace and tranquility. On Carnival ships, passengers have access to padded hammocks on the free, adults-only Serenity deck. Celebrity Cruises also has hammocks tucked away in various parts of its ships -- including faux wicker one-person hammocks at the Lawn Club and cushioned two-person hammocks by the main pool. Select cruise ship cabins, such as the Royal Loft Suites on Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships and Havana Cabana Suites on Carnival Vista, also feature swinging chairs that provide just as much respite.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 15

    Rock out to live music inspired by legendary performers.

    Live music lovers don't have to go to Memphis to enjoy the sounds, tastes and energy of the iconic B.B. King's Blues Club. On select Holland America ships, the Queen's Lounge transforms into the land-based venue named after "The King of Blues" himself. An eight-piece band rocks the stage with hits like Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" and Martha & the Vandellas' "Heatwave," while the venue -- decked out with B.B. King's memorabilia -- serves up specialty cocktails inspired by those served in the clubs on land. The best part: There's no cover charge. At Anthem of the Seas' Music Hall, rock 'n' roll fans can sing and dance along with tribute bands covering everything from Boston and Bon Jovi to the Police and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

    Photo: Cruise Critic

  • 16

    Go stargazing.

    A cruise ship in the middle of the ocean is one of the best vantage points for stargazing. When you're far away from the illuminated cities ashore, and the skies are clear, find a spot on the ship with unobstructed views and as little lighting as possible. (Tip: The closer you are to the front of the ship, the better, as you're less likely to have smoke from the stacks obstructing your view.) Observation decks are a great place to start. Royal Caribbean ships also keep their helipads open for all passengers, as long as it's not too windy. Princess Cruises takes its own approach, with stargazing tours offered through its Discovery at Sea program, while Cunard's Queen Mary 2 offers virtual stargazing with astronomy shows held in the ship's planetarium.

    Photo: Cunard Line

  • 17

    Watch the Sun Set Over the Ocean.

    It's one of the most beautiful sights in nature, and it doesn't cost a dime. Grab a loved one's hand (or your favorite cocktail), walk over to the ship's railing, and take a deep breath. You've seen it before, sure, but watching the sunset over the ocean never fails to give you that, "I'm on vacation, and life is good" moment. Enjoy.

    Photo: beeboys/Shutterstock.com

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