Updated February 11, 2020
What's free on a cruise can vary greatly -- after all, it's not free to book a cruise unless you're very lucky and you win a cruise, someone books a cruise for you or you cruise very, very often and earn a comped voyage. But, there are some tips and tricks for finding freebies on just about any ship you sail.
So often cruisers discuss being nickel-and-dimed, but there are some awesome perks lurking right under your sunscreened nose. We outline how to get free stuff on a cruise for those looking to sweeten their next sailing -- and without more spending.
Hit the shops.
It might seem counterintuitive to head to the store for something free, but shopping onboard a cruise ship can be a bit different. A cruise ship's onboard shops often host promotional events throughout each sailing, and in addition to sales, these often include coupons and freebies.
Typically held the first day or two onboard, these giveaways entice cruisers to swing by and check out the goods. Jewelry stores might offer a free charm or pendant, while duty-free liquor outlets might lure you in with free alcohol tastings.
Take a tour of the spa.
Even if you haven't budgeted for a lavish spa treatment on your next cruise, consider taking a tour of your ship's spa facilities on embarkation day. In addition to possible product samples and swiping a cup of fancy fruit water, raffle tickets are usually given out.
Spa raffles might give away everything from free personal training to a complimentary massage. The caveat is usually that you have to be present at the drawing to win.
Who ever said you can't get something for nothing? Simply by participating in the daily activities onboard your ship, you could walk away the proud owner of some new swag. Nearly every ship at sea hosts trivia games, and if you know your stuff, you might earn free bingo cards on Royal Caribbean or one of Carnival's signature "ship on a stick" trophies. Making a fool of yourself out by the pool could pay even better dividends -- win a dance or mixology contest and you might earn some free drinks or a souvenir to take home.
Then there are lines who make you work for your wares. Cunard, Oceania and Silversea are among the cruise lines that award points or punch cards for participation in various onboard happenings. From bean bag toss to enrichment lectures, make sure you rack up as many activities as you can muster, and at the end of the cruise, redeem all of your efforts for prizes that typically include logowear items.
Don't just join the crowd -- up the ante by joining a game onstage. Many cruise lines host shows, such as the Newlywed Game, which rely on audience participation. For being a good sport, couples are often treated to bottles of Champagne and even a specialty dinner for two.
Carnival's Hasbro, the Game Show awards small prizes throughout its many rounds, but the ultimate winner receives a Hasbro gift certificate and a number of brand-new games to pack for the trip home.
Attend an art auction.
You don't have to be a serious art collector to poke your head into an art auction. Just for doing so, you'll be greeted with a glass of sparkling wine -- art auctions are just one of the many places to find free booze around your cruise ship.
You might even bring home a small piece of complimentary artwork.
All cruise lines have loyalty programs, and the more you sail, the better the perks. Depending on your status, you can expect some bonuses to appear in your cabin, such as a fruit or dessert platter, bottle of wine, bag of free laundry or a commemorative token like a pin or a keychain.
Not to mention, loyalty members are frequently invited to private events, including captain's dinners and cocktail hours -- of course, plenty of free-flowing food and drink are on offer here, at no expense to you.
Book the right cabin.
A cruise cabin is inherently not free, but it's your ticket onboard. Sometimes the added amenities in your stateroom might make it worth the upgrade Cruise lines will also offer free tote bags and branded slippers depending on your cabin category -- especially at a suite level.
If your cabin is designated as a spa cabin, expect free access to the thermal suite, yoga mats, exercise equipment, free laundry, bottled water, upgraded toiletries and more among possible perks. Family-designated cabins on select Carnival ships include an hour of free babysitting, free room service and access to a lounge.
Attend a Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle.
Not only are Meet & Mingles (also called M&Ms) a nice way to gather and connect with fellow Cruise Critic users, but often they provide access to private lounges and time to chat with ship officers and staff, occasionally including the captain.
These gatherings vary from line to line, but most are offered in the morning of the first sea day and include a complimentary breakfast spread with coffee and pastries, or canapes later in the afternoon. MSC Cruises usually creates a custom cake for the occasion. Royal Caribbean will hold a raffle for larger meetings, giving away some major prizes, such as specialty dining or FlowRider lessons.