32+ Norwegian Cruise Line Tips: What You Need to Know Before You Sail

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Looking for Norwegian cruise line tips? As someone who’s sailed on several NCL cruises and with more booked, I’ve compiled a handy list packed with NCL cruise line tips to help you make the most of your cruise.

For instance, did you know there are no formal nights? Or that you can start checking in at midnight EST 21 days before your cruise? I’ll also explain how you can make dining reservations 120 days in advance and discuss a few upgrades that might bring your cruising experience to the next level. There’s plenty more to cover, so let’s dive in.


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NCL = Freestyle Cruising

Norwegian Cruise Line has led in its Freestyle Cruising concept, letting you decide what to wear, when you want to eat, and what to do on your vacation. Their laid-back approach to cruising is one of many reasons many love to cruise with NCL.

Consider Cruise Ship and Ship Classes

Kathy on a tender boat, looking towards a brightly decorated cruise ship, the Norwegian Breakaway, anchored near Great Stirrup Cay. The ship’s hull is vividly painted with colorful artwork featuring tropical motifs. The picture combines a clear blue sky and turquoise watersPin

Norwegian has 19 cruise ships in its fleet, divided into 16 ships across six classes and three unique individual ships. While all ships maintain a consistent quality that reflects Norwegian’s brand, each class offers variations in size, amenities, and entertainment options.

For example, ships like the NCL Encore and Prima feature go-karts, whereas the NCL Breakaway has a Rope Course. Entertainment also varies; you might see the Broadway show “Beetlejuice” on the NCL Viva, but another ship might only offer “Wheel of Fortune.” The mid-sized ships in the Gem Class may not have as many family activities, while the larger Breakaway Plus Class ships provide more options for larger groups with children.

NCL Caters to Solo Cruisers

If you’re traveling alone, NCL stands out as one of the few cruise lines that caters to solo cruisers. They offer dedicated solo cabins and exclusive lounges on several of their ships. Additionally, NCL recently introduced special rates for single supplements, a benefit not regularly offered by other cruise lines, which typically charge solo travelers for double occupancy. This makes NCL an attractive option for those cruising solo.

Try to Bid and Upgrade to a Higher Category Cabin or The Haven

About 110 days before your cruise, you’ll receive an email inviting you to participate in Norwegian’s Bid Upgrade program. This offers you the chance to place a bid for a cabin in a higher category than the one you initially booked, including the luxurious Haven Suites.

On our first cruise with NCL, we bid $500 per person for a Haven Penthouse Suite on the Norwegian Getaway and were thrilled to win the bid three weeks before sailing. It turned out to be one of our most memorable cruise experiences. It’s worth giving it a shot to enhance your vacation, but remember to choose a cabin you’d be happy with from the start, as winning a bid isn’t guaranteed.

Consider Adding Priority Access to Your Reservation

A view of the Priority Access check-in area at a cruise terminal, showing blue banners and a few passengers, highlighting an exclusive service area.Pin

Don’t have priority status? Long lines on embarkation day can be a hassle. Norwegian offers a solution with Priority Access, which you can add to your cruise reservation for an additional fee. This service lets you skip the long check-in lines and board the ship early. Other perks include priority tender services, disembarkation, and complimentary standard breakfast room delivery.

We used Priority Access on our last cruise and found it greatly reduced our frustration on embarkation day. While it’s not necessary, we appreciate the added convenience.

Take Advantage of Free-at-Sea Perks

Wondering if you should book with Norwegian’s Free-at-Sea perks? Absolutely—these perks are a huge reason many choose NCL. Even with the extra gratuity charges, most people find the value unbeatable.

Here’s what’s typically included for the first two guests based on a 7-day cruise in a balcony and above:

  • Unlimited Open Bar (drinks up to $15)
  • 2 Specialty Dining Meals
  • 150 Mins of Free Wi-Fi
  • $50 off a shore excursion (1st guest only)

We break down the details of NCL’s Free at Sea perks [here]. When selecting your perks, if the gratuities for the Open Bar exceed what you’d typically spend on drinks, you might want to focus on the 2 Specialty Dining meals and free internet instead. The high quality of the meals more than makes up for the gratuity cost, and the provided internet should suffice for checking emails while you’re at sea.

Book Specialty Dining Reservations in Advance (as early as 130 days)

One of my top tips is to book your specialty dining reservations as early as possible. Here’s how early you can book based on your room category:

  • The Haven: 130 days before sailing
  • Club Balcony: 125 days before sailing
  • Balcony and Below: 120 days for sailings of 7 days or more and holiday sailings of 6 days or less; 90 days for non-holiday sailings of 6 days or less.

You can manage your reservations by signing into your NCL account online, using your mobile app, or calling in and speaking to a customer service rep. Remember, only some reservations are released online before embarkation day. If you don’t get a chance to book in advance, you still have the opportunity to make reservations on embarkation day.

Read More: List of all Norwegian’s Specialty Dining Restaurants and Menus

NCL Check-in Starts 21 Days Before Embarkation at 12:01 AM EST

The check-in window for your NCL cruise opens precisely at 12:01 AM EST, 21 days before your embarkation day. If you’re as eager as I am, you’ll want to be ready to check in right when it becomes available. This is one of my must-do tips: I always check in at the stroke of midnight to secure the earliest possible boarding time. Mark it on your calendar and make it a priority. Early check-in allows you to get your cruise documents prepared well in advance, and arriving early at the terminal lets you board the ship sooner, kicking off your vacation the right way.

Daily Service Charges (Gratuities)

When sailing with Norwegian Cruise Lines, gratuities are automatically added to your account. Daily service charges are $20 per passenger per day for standard staterooms, and they increase to $25 per passenger per day for Suites and The Haven staterooms. To avoid any surprises at the end of your cruise, we recommend adding these gratuities to your reservation and paying for them when you book your cruise. This way, you can enjoy your vacation without worrying about the final bill.

Alternative Dining Options on Embarkation and Sea Days

Rueben from O’Sheehan’s or The Local

Upon boarding, many passengers head straight to the buffet, but NCL offers several other dining venues open on embarkation day and sea days to help distribute the crowd. This ensures the buffet isn’t overwhelmed and provides a pleasant dining experience for everyone. Make sure to check the Freestyle Daily for a list of available dining options and their operating hours.

Dining establishments typically open include:

  • O’Sheehans or The Local (almost 24/7)
  • Taste or Savor
  • American Diner
  • Hudson’s (Prima Class Ships)
  • Food Hall (Prima Class Ships)

Reservations for Some Popular Production Shows Can Be Made 21 Days in Advance

production show, choir of men, stage set on ncl encorePin
Choir of Men on NCL Encore

Depending on the ship, you can make reservations for some of Norwegian’s most popular production shows. You can book these shows 21 days before your cruise starts by logging into your NCL account. Not all showtimes and dates are available for advance booking, so if it’s already booked or the date doesn’t work for you, you’ll have another opportunity to book once you’re on board.

Maybe Upgrade to NCL’s Premium Plus Drink Package– It Has No Limits


Indulging in $30 glasses of Veuve Cliquot at LeBistro, included with the NCL’s Premium Plus Drink Package.

Upgrading to NCL’s Premium Plus Drink Package truly enhances your cruise experience. Based on our own experiences, having upgraded to this package on our recent cruises, we’ve found it worth it. This upgrade allows you to enjoy higher-end liquors, drinks over $15, and bottled and sparkling water. You can also indulge in unlimited Starbucks and specialty coffees.

It’s important to note that even though my husband doesn’t drink alcohol, he consumes a lot of Pelligrino and Starbucks. When I calculate the drinks, the convenience and ability to enjoy our favorite drinks without worrying about the cost makes the upgrade valuable. It’s a personal decision, but for us, it means enjoying our usual comforts without restriction.

NCL Allows You to Bring Bottles of Wine and Champagne Onboard

A lesser-known perk with NCL is that you can bring your own bottles of wine and champagne onboard. Enjoy them at dinner in a restaurant or the comfort of your cabin—there’s no set limit on how many you can bring. The usual $15 corkage fee per bottle is waived if you have a beverage package.

Tip: Don’t forget to pack a wine bottle opener if you plan to enjoy it in your stateroom.

Try Some of NCL’s Top Drinks

An image of a hand holding a Miami Vice cocktail in a "NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE" branded cup, with distinct yellow, blue, and red layers. The background features a vibrant blue ocean and sky, viewed from a cruise ship.Pin

If you’ve chosen a drink package, maximize it by sampling some of Norwegian’s signature drinks. Explore their extensive drink menus and discover new cocktails throughout your cruise.

Pack a Reusable Water Bottle

Bottled water isn’t covered under the Free Unlimited Open Bar offer. If you’re not upgrading your beverage package, bringing your favorite reusable water bottle is smart. You can easily refill it at the water stations located in the buffet area, which provides filtered water. This helps you stay hydrated on and off the ship and saves money on purchasing bottled water throughout your trip.

NCL Ships Have a Vibe Beach Club That’s for Adults Only

If you’re seeking a peaceful retreat away from the bustling pool deck and energetic kids, the Vibe Beach Club might be your perfect spot. You can purchase a pass to this adults-only area for an additional fee. Here, you’re guaranteed a lounge chair and dedicated drink service in a quieter, more relaxed setting.

Passes to the Vibe Beach Club are limited—typically, only 80 are available, though the exact number can vary based on the ship and the size of the club. A portion of these passes is sold in advance online and can start at $229 per passenger for the week, so it’s wise to book early if you’re interested.

Stay Informed with the Freestyle Daily Delivered to Your Cabin

example page of a freestyle daily from norwegian cruise linePin

You’ll receive the Freestyle Daily in your cabin each day of your cruise. This helpful newsletter provides a rundown of the following day’s activities, shows, dining options, and more, ensuring you never miss out on fun. You can also access the Freestyle Daily through NCL’s mobile app for added convenience.

No Coffee Makers in the Staterooms

Don’t expect a coffee maker in your cabin unless you’re in a suite. You can request a coffee maker from your cabin attendant, but it’s not guaranteed they’ll bring you one.

The Cabin Has a Hair Dryer, but No Iron


Using the cabin hairdryer with my universal hair diffuser for my curly hair.

NCL cabins are equipped with hair dryers, so you can leave yours at home and save some space in your luggage. However, you won’t find an iron in your cabin, and bringing one onboard is not allowed for safety reasons. You can ask your stateroom attendant if they can lend you one for a short period; this service is not guaranteed.

Limited Toiletries in Your Stateroom

a bathroom setup on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, featuring wall-mounted dispensers for Nourish conditioning shampoo and Revive body wash.Pin

In standard NCL staterooms, the provided toiletries are fairly basic, including hand soap, body soap, and a shampoo/conditioner combo. For many cruisers, this may be enough to lighten their packing load. However, if you have specific skin or hair care needs like I do, you might prefer to bring your own favorite products.

Room Service Surcharges

Room service surcharges are increasingly common on mainstream cruise lines, including Norwegian. While the food doesn’t cost extra, there is a delivery fee: $4.95 for breakfast and $9.95 for lunch and dinner. It’s a small price to pay for the convenience of dining in your cabin.

If you’re splurging on a stay in The Haven, you’ll be pleased to know that room service delivery by your butler is included, adding an extra touch of luxury to your experience.

Ways to Book Onboard

touchscreen kiosks on an NCL ship, which are used for making reservations for bars, lounges, and the spa. The screens provide an interactive and convenient way for passengers to manage their onboard activities and services.Pin

Once you’re aboard the ship, you’ll find several convenient ways to book dining, shows, and activities:

  • On Embarkation Day: Crew members will be available on Deck 6 to assist you with bookings and changes.
  • Norwegian App: Connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi and use the Norwegian app on your phone to book your dining reservations, shows, and more from anywhere on the ship.
  • Touchscreen Kiosks: Large touchscreen displays are located near the elevators and stairs of the main public decks and near guest services. Here, you can make bookings with just a few taps.
  • Booking Desk: For personalized service, visit the booking desk by guest services on Deck 6, where a crew member can assist you with all your reservation needs.
  • Cabin TV: You can also make reservations for shows, tendering, and more from your stateroom television.

Register Your Kids for Splash Academy on the First Day

the entrance to the Splash Academy on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, showcasing a vibrant blue wall decorated with white splash designs. The sign "Splash Academy" is prominently displayed along with framed documents, likely containing information about the programs and activities available for children at the academy.Pin

Make sure to register your kids for Splash Academy right on embarkation day. While you can technically sign up later, securing a spot on a busy cruise brimming with families is much harder. Splash Academy has a capacity limit when it’s open, so registering early ensures your kids won’t miss out on the fun and engaging activities planned for them throughout the voyage.

Buy Cruise Next Deposits Before Disembarkation Day

Before disembarking, consider stopping by the Cruise Next desk to purchase future cruise deposits at a discounted rate. These deposits are a smart investment if you sail with Norwegian again. Depending on the current promotions, you might even be able to use two deposits for one booking. Watch for flash sales—sometimes, Norwegian allows triple Cruise Next deposits for a limited time. The best part? These deposits no longer expire, allowing you to plan and book your next cruise when ready as long as it is booked 120 days before the sailing date.

Own 100 Shares of NCLH Stock and Get Onboard Credit

a smartphone screen displaying the logo of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) with a stock price chart in the background, indicating the user is viewing NCLH's stock information on their device.

If you own 100 shares of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings stock (NCLH), you’re eligible for onboard credits ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the length of your cruise:

  • $50 OBC for cruises of 6 days or less
  • $100 OBC for cruises lasting 7 to 14 days
  • $250 OBC for cruises of 15 days or more

To claim this perk, follow the shareholder benefits instructions and submit the required form via email or mail. Once your submission is approved, the onboard credit will be added to your account so you can enjoy it during your cruise.

Fun Fact: I’m currently on a mission to acquire 100 shares of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH). Using Stash, an app that makes investing simple, I plan to gradually invest in NCLH by contributing a small amount every two weeks. It’s a manageable and steady way to reach my 100-share goal. (Disclosure: I am not a financial adviser).

NCL Has a Military Appreciation Program

Norwegian Cruise Line offers a special thank you to US military members and veterans through its Military Appreciation Program. This program includes a 10% discount on cruises along with additional benefits. Once onboard, military members receive a special welcome package that includes a unique challenge coin. To take advantage of these offers, register and verify your military status. This is a wonderful way for NCL to show gratitude to those who have served.

Itineraries Are Subject to Change at Any Time

Remember that itineraries with Norwegian, as with any cruise line, can change at any time, both before and during your cruise. It’s important to be mentally prepared for this possibility. These changes often occur for reasons beyond our control, such as weather conditions.

No Formal Nights on NCL


One night, for dinner on Norwegian Breakaway, I kept it simple in my T-shirt dress. Comfort and ease are a priority when I travel.

What a relief—there are no formal nights on Norwegian Cruise Line! You can dress up or keep it casual throughout your cruise unless you’re dining at a specialty restaurant with a dress code like Cagney’s or LeBistro. While in the past, NCL hosted “Norwegian’s Night Out,” an optional dress-up event on the first sea day of the cruise, now the choice is entirely up to you every night.

Theme Parties on Norwegian Cruise Ships

glow party on norwegianPin

NCL is known for its theme nights that take place after 10 pm. While they may not inform you of them in advance, you may want to pack a few things to participate, although it’s not required.

  • ’70s Dance Party
  • Awesome ’80s Party
  • ’90s Throwback Party
  • Glow Party (White Night)
  • Latin Fiesta

You’ll Need to Check Out Pool Towels on NCL

One of the less convenient aspects of cruising with Norwegian is checking out pool towels. Unlike some cruise lines like Celebrity, which provide a clean set of towels in your cabin before port days, NCL requires you to pick up towels at the lido deck. This can be particularly inconvenient when you hurry to head out to port.

Although sometimes towels are available by the gangway, this isn’t always the case. On our last NCL cruise, it was missing. Luckily, I had brought my packable beach towels, which were very handy and took up less space in my beach bag.

Tip: Get clean towels from the pool deck the day before port day. This way, you won’t have to run to grab them the morning of.

No Launderettes on the NCL Ships, Instead Laundry-in-a-Bag Special

a basket of neatly folded laundry, including various clothing items, placed on a couch inside a stateroom on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The room features a balcony visible through the sliding glass door, suggesting a pleasant and comfortable onboard accommodation.Pin
Folded clothes from the laundry

Unfortunately, Norwegian ships do not have launderettes with washing machines. However, they offer a laundry-in-the-bag special mid-week during your cruise for $34 (it used to be $29 until recently). You stuff as much laundry as you can in the bag, send it out, and have a nicely folded basket of clothes delivered within a day or two. We always take advantage of this and come home with clean clothes.

  • Club Balcony Cabins: Guests in these cabins receive one complimentary laundry bag with their stateroom.
  • Gold Latitude Members: Enjoy a 50% discount on one laundry bag.
  • Platinum Latitude Members and Above: Benefit from one free laundry bag as part of their tier perks.

Follow the Fish

a corridor on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, lined with various suitcases. The carpet in the hallway features a pattern with fish, which are used as navigational aids, pointing towards the front of the ship. This is a practical design element intended to help passengers orient themselves as they move through the ship's corridors.Pin

A quirky yet helpful tip for first-time cruisers on Norwegian Cruise Line ships: keep an eye on the fish patterns in the corridor carpets. These aren’t just playful designs; they serve a navigational purpose. The fish always point and swim toward the front of the ship (FWD). So, if you find yourself walking against the direction the fish are facing, you’re heading toward the back of the ship (AFT). This simple visual cue can be a fun and easy way to orient yourself while exploring the ship.


Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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