The Best Cruise Upgrades You Had No Idea You Can Get Cheaply (Or For Free)

There's a reason why so many travelers become cruise ship loyalists after their first voyage. As anyone who's stepped foot on a cruiseliner will happily tell you, these vessels are much more than floating hotels jumping from port to port. They can be equal parts mega-mall, water park, casino, arcade, Broadway theater district, and gastronomic extravaganza — and the more you pay, the more spectacular your time at sea can be.

You don't always have to pay a pretty penny to upgrade your cruise experience. While all the major perks, such as unlimited food and drink or daily entertainment, are well-advertised, there's also a long list of little-known cheap — and sometimes even free — upgrades you can secure throughout your trip. These tend to be similar across most cruise lines, and you'd be surprised at how easy it is to take your journey to the next level. Here are some of the best to note down before embarking upon your next cruise.

Comfier beds

A bad night's sleep can ruin anyone's mood, even on vacation. Although many cruise lines invest in high-quality mattresses, these can be hit or miss — especially if the ship has been in use for several years or if you're used to a very firm or very soft bed. Luckily, even if you are unfortunate enough to happen upon one that's less than comfortable, all hope is not lost.

Many cruise lines — including Royal Caribbean and the Disney Cruise Line — stock extra pillows, mattress toppers, and egg crate mattress pads, which you can request for free from the steward and then adjust the bed to your liking. Should none of these be available, stewards will do whatever they can to make you stay comfier, such as padding out the bed with extra comforters. If there's availability, you may even be able to move to a room with a newer mattress. However, we recommend making these requests as early in your trip as possible. They can (and do) run out. Remember, if your bed is uncomfortable, the odds are other people's beds on the ship follow suit, and they'll also be looking for a way to upgrade their sleeping quarters before hitting the hay.

Walking tours

Any hardcore Disney fan can tell you about the exclusive backstage tours available at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, filling you in on all the magical gossip from the company's history and the life of Walt Disney to hidden Mickeys and Cast Member secrets.

While these can cost upwards of $120 per person, something similar can be secured for free on a Disney Cruise. Offerings vary from voyage to voyage, but typical options include the Walking Ship Tour and the Art of the Theme Show. The latter is only available to guests over the age of 18 and dives deeper into all the innovative Imagineering and little touches of pixie dust that went into building each vessel. It may not actually venture behind the scenes like the tours at Disney Parks, staying only in "onstage" areas (Disney talk for the public area of the ship), but it's an exclusive experience worth it all the same.

Neither of these tours must be booked in advance, but they are only available at scheduled times, as listed on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App. There's no saying how many times these will be offered on your cruise, so we recommend attending the first one that pops up on the app — usually on embarkation day — if you're determined to squeeze it into your vacation.


Nothing says "living the high life on vacation" like free bubbles. Sadly, you're unlikely to find an unlimited supply of champagne on any cruise ship (and we're sorry to say that the really good stuff will almost always come with a surcharge), but there are easy ways to secure yourself a complimentary glass or two.

The most popular way is by attending live art auctions. Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises, host auctions mid-voyage and will kick them off with a champagne toast. Don't worry — you won't be expected to reach into your pockets and invest in any pricey watercolors to justify your drink. However, we recommend sticking around to witness the energy and tension of the auction anyway, purely for entertainment value. Cruise ship art auctions are notoriously chaotic.

It's worth signing up for a cruise line's loyalty program. Even if you're not an annual cruiser, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some bubbly freebies during your trip purely because you're a member. It also pays to check out the special events where passengers meet the captain, which tends to be another champagne hotspot.

Classes and courses

Many cruise lines offer different classes, courses, or workshops — free of charge. Princess Cruises boasts some of the most jam-packed schedules, filled with hands-on lessons in various disciplines. Anyone left wanting to learn more at the end of their session can pay to attend a more in-depth class, usually starting at $10 per person.

You'll also find a strong variety of free enrichment sessions on a Disney Cruise. These offerings vary depending on the ship and the length of your voyage, but the likes of animation, dance, and animal towel folding (which is much harder than you'd think) crop up regularly, while you'll find activities like pumpkin carving and mask-making on Disney's seasonal cruises. You can check out the itinerary for your voyage on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App, where you can favorite the activities you want to participate in to receive reminders ahead of time.

Meanwhile, Cunard Line ships offer everything from art to tai chi classes, Crystal Cruises has fitness classes such as spin, yoga, and pilates, and Norwegian Cruise Line has a handful of fitness classes. On Celebrity Cruises, you can even learn the arts of scrapbooking and glassblowing.

Unlimited caviar

If you're looking for something equally luxurious (and every bit as free) to pair with your champagne, you're in luck aboard a Seabourn cruise. Seabourn Cruise Line — which operates deluxe cruises all over the world and is one of the few fleets with free-flowing bubbly — offers complimentary Regiis Ova Caviar service pretty much anywhere on its ships.

All you need to do is order with a nearby cruise staff member, and your caviar will be delivered to you on a silver platter, along with the drink of your choice, all the usual caviar accompaniments such as blinis, sour cream, and crumbled hard-cooked eggs, and, of course, a mother-of-pearl spoon so as to not taint the taste with metal. Best of all, there's no limit to how many times you can order a bowl of salty, smooth goodness on your trip. Combined with the knowledge that caviar rarely costs less than $100 in a restaurant, we recommend gorging while you can.

Seabourn also has a tradition of serving complimentary caviar during its lavish, beachside Caviar in the Surf events, available on select cruises. This day-long event sees uniformed staff serve passengers copious amounts of both iced champagne and caviar (not to mention shucked lobsters, pastries, local fruits, and quiche) from a table-clothed surfboard while waist-deep in the ocean.

Cheaper drinks

Complimentary champagne aside, alcohol usually isn't included in a standard cruise package. If you are drinking, it's easy to get caught up in the vacation mood and costs can quickly add up, which is why it's helpful to know as many hacks to upgrade yourself to cheaper beverages as possible.

You can often slash the price of your drinks if you choose specific items on the menu or order at certain times. Royal Caribbean's bars frequently have hour-long buy one, get one free offers, while Disney Cruise Lines has occasional 30% off happy hours and will sell its drink of the day, usually a cocktail, at a discounted rate (you can see each daily option on the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App). This concept is popular on other cruise lines, too, so be sure to check with your bartender or waiter before ordering. Holland America also offers regular happy hours, and if you join its loyalty program, you can get a voucher for an onboard cocktail.

Another spot that serves up free alcohol is a ship's onboard casino. Signing up for Norwegian Cruise Line's Casinos At Sea Players Club and swiping your card at every game will help you rack up free drinks in no time. Carnival Cruise Line has a similar system, promising that it will help you "earn free drinks twice as fast as on any other cruise line," and Celebrity Cruises offers drinks to those actively playing in the casino.

Spa treatments

On or off land, spa treatments are no cheap treat. Although staff don't walk around the deck handing out free facials, acupuncture, manicures, and pedicures, it is common for cruiseliners to offer 'taster' sessions — usually basic massages — to lure in new passengers.

Unsurprisingly, these tasters tend to be shorter and less intensive than any treatments paid for out of pocket. However, seeing as this is the opportunity for spa therapists to pitch the rest of their treatment menu to you, you'll still get to enjoy an indulgent moment on the house. Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises have offered these in the past, and while they're not a given on every voyage, it's always worth asking, just in case.

You're also more likely to nab free treatments if you head down to any spa demonstrations on the first couple days of your cruise, and they're regularly handed out as prizes at any on-ship quiz nights, raffles, or contests or if you participate in any live entertainment. Even if you opt to treat yourself to a relaxing spa day, you can often pay less if you book it on embarkation day when there are discounts or deals.

Room service

For various reasons, some cruise lines have phased out complimentary room service in the past few years. Fortunately, some are still happy to bring food directly to your cabin.

The likes of Cunard, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Holland America, and Disney Cruise Line will let you upgrade to breakfast in bed or a late-night feast. While this service is free, it's worth noting that Disney will add a surcharge for certain premium items — such as soda, alcohol, candy, and other packaged snacks — and you'll be expected to pay a gratuity. On the plus side, you can order freshly-made, indulgent dishes such as baked macaroni cheese, chicken tenders, pizza, and grilled cheese 24 hours a day until 1.30 a.m. on the day of your departure, without ever leaving the comfort of your stateroom.

Holland America also adds a small fee for certain items. Norwegian Cruise Line will bring free food to your room on demand but will charge a small delivery fee of up to $9.95 per order — except for a continental breakfast, which is genuinely free. Celebrity Cruises has the same rules as Norwegian Cruise Line and will also add an 18% gratuity to every order. However, considering how long the buffet lines can get on busy voyages, sometimes it's easy to justify the fee.

A cure for seasickness

The good news is that even those prone to motion sickness usually find that they're totally fine on a cruise ship. The majority of cruiseliners are equipped with stabilizers on either side of the ship that make your trip less rocky. However, if you are unfortunate enough to fall into the minority struck by seasicknesses mid-voyage, cruise lines are well prepared to help you deal with the fallout.

Unlike most other medications, the majority of cruise lines — including Royal Caribbean, the Disney Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises — will give you free seasickness tablets (primarily Dramamine or Bonine) or bands at either guest services or the medical center if you ask. Even if they don't offer actual pills, chewing on ginger is a well-documented natural cure for seasickness, with many cruise lines offering it for free if you just ask at onboard restaurants. Upgrading from nausea to comfort is something you're probably willing to pay for once aboard a ship, but it's even better when you can secure it free of charge.

Birthday celebrations

Whether you're in a restaurant, bar, or cruise ship, people tend to be pretty generous once they know that it's your birthday. Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruises, and many other cruise lines have birthday cakes available for purchase once aboard the ship, but it's also possible to nab some celebratory freebies like a cake, wine, balloons, or even a gift if you call up and let them know it's one of your party's birthday ahead of time.

Some cruise lines have a specific service to register any special occasions ahead of time, such as through the Princess Cruises cruise personalizer. This can mean your stateroom is already decked out for the occasion once you arrive. Guests on the Disney Cruise Line often get a free birthday dessert at dinner if you call and let them know the exact day you're celebrating (although this isn't a given and is totally at each Cast Member's discretion). You can also collect a badge from guest services to wear around the ship that will possibly garner you a few magical moments throughout the day, such as character interactions and a spontaneous round of "Happy Birthday" or two. The same goes for other special occasions, such as anniversaries, graduations, or honeymoons.

Free Wi-Fi

You'd be surprised how many people step onto a cruise ship thinking Wi-Fi will be as accessible as in your average hotel. Just like when you're on a plane, internet access is a luxury for which you'll typically need to pay (and when you do pay, there's no guarantee that your connection will be strong once 40 nautical miles out at sea).

If you absolutely cannot part with TikTok until you reach port but don't want to shell out an average of $20 a day to get online, there are multiple ways to do so for less. A cruise line's loyalty program often offers discounted or free internet as a perk for even low-tier members. Cunard is just one of these cruise lines, offering members complimentary credits to purchase Wi-Fi after just two voyages. Royal Caribbean offers free internet once you reach the higher tiers, while Princess Cruises also gifts free hours once you reach its Gold Tier.

You can also get 50MB for free on Disney Cruise Line if you sign up for its program before midnight on embarkation day — and, even if you forget to do so, you can send text-only iMessage and WhatsApp messages and chat with other passengers through the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, for free throughout your trip.

A better room

Getting a room upgrade isn't a surefire thing. Most of the time, it comes down to pure luck, just like getting bumped from economy to first class or getting a coffee on the house. If you want to boost your chances, it can pay to keep an eye on the prices of the higher-tier staterooms on the ship. A drop in prices typically suggests that a voyage is struggling to attract bookings, making your odds of being able to call and ask for an upgrade considerably better.

If these prices stay the same but the price of your room drops, it's also worth checking if your cruise line or travel agent offers a low price guarantee. You may be able to recuperate the price difference in credit, which you can use to buy an upgrade for yourself (which is essentially a free upgrade). Just be sure to check the terms and conditions; many cruise lines or agents will have a time limit on claiming this guarantee, typically giving you about 48 to 72 hours to scout out a lower price.

Booking your cruise during off-peak season (typically November, the first half of December, and January through April) can increase your chances of a free upgrade. Or, if you are willing to pay — but don't want to pay the full price — you can visit guest services after embarking to see if it's possible to snatch a nicer room for less.