We have all heard the stories and rumors, but is there such a thing as a free cruise?
Every time you cruise, you probably realize at least once that while you are paying to be there, several of the people you see onboard qualify as "free cruise" recipients. In fact, many of them are actually getting paid to be onboard. How does that make you feel, blasé or green with envy?
Let's clarify the term "free cruise" and see if you still feel the same way. Technically speaking, if you are working for the cruise line or on the ship as a tour group leader, you are not really on a free cruise, you are working for your passage. But since you have to earn a living anyway, doing it on a cruise ship sounds like a pretty good trade off, right? But working on a cruise ship is not really a free cruise. It's only truly a free cruise if you get the full enjoyment of the ship.
Short of a full-time onboard job, is it a "free cruise" if you simply exchange a few talents for a single cruise on a ship? For the sake of this article we will say "yes," because then you are going to enjoy the cruise almost as much as a paying passenger. It feels like a free cruise even if you do have responsibilities, but we will get to that later.
The truth is that there are many ways to score such free cruises and we will tell you how to do it. The other truth is that as good as it sounds, it may be more difficult than it seems because so many people want to do it.
So, How Do You Score a Free Cruise? The best way to get a truly free cruise is to win a contest, because contest winners generally don't have any responsibilities onboard. You get to enjoy the free cruise as much as if you are paying for it, and yet you aren't. That's the best of all worlds as far as I am concerned.
Where can you win a free cruise? CruiseMates is giving away a GREAT cruise right now, the Playboy Smooth Jazz Cruise sailing in early 2009. If you haven't signed up yet, what the heck are you waiting for? I will let you in on a little secret; I have sponsored cruise contests, and it is worth entering -- you probably don't have as many people vying to win as you might think! Most people look at an entry form and click away thinking it isn't worth the trouble. So, the odds can be actually surprisingly low.
Enter the Playboy Smooth Jazz Contest HERE.
If I were you I would check the jazzcruisesLLC.com web site at least once a month. They are constantly giving away free cruises.
The other place I would check regularly is cruise line web sites. You can check our CruiseMates Cruise Line Links section to find them. These cruise lines: NCL, Carnival, Holland America and Princess have all had cruise contests within the last year.
One thing I would never do (again) is filling out a long survey form that asks for anything beyond simple contact information. Fill out no form that asks you how much money you make, anything related to your home address beyond your zip code and especially what kind of vacations you enjoy the most. These are most likely lead generators for a time-share sales pitch or a scam where they promise you a free cruise that actually carries hidden fees and service charges. Have you ever received a phone call where they say, "You have won a free cruise!"
Who Gets a Real Free Cruise? Short of winning a free cruise, there are certain jobs one can do during a single cruise that essentially amount to a free cruise, and we will get to those soon. But first let's rule out the full time staff because getting a job on a cruise ship is a lifestyle change, not just a vacation. By the same token, we can consider it a "free cruise" if your onboard "job" is short term enough not to interfere with your regular lifestyle and it involves plenty of interaction with the fun side of the cruise experience.
One of the most common ways to "earn" a free cruise is to act as a group leader. What does that mean? The cruise lines give travel agents a free "berth" for every eight to twelve cruise tickets they sell. These are called "tour conductor" berths, or "TCs". The number of free berths they give away for every cruise ticket sold varies by cruise line, time of year, size of group, etc. The parameters can change at any time.
But the point is that people of affinity often cruise together as a group so they can share in activities of common interest. Cruise lines love these groups, so they give them all kinds of perks to entice them. One of these perks is free passage for the tour leaders, or conductors (TCs) organizing the group. A group cruise can be based on anything; family reunions, fan clubs, musical groups, etc. Get on board organizing one of these group cruises and you may get that Tour Conductor cabin.
But here is the rub -- a berth is but one bed. Every cruise cabin has two berths and is sold as "double occupancy". If you want an entire cabin to yourself you have to sell twice as many cruise tickets, or else pay extra money for the other bed.
This raises the question, "what do successful travel agents do with all those free cabins?" This is a perfectly valid question since successful agents sell hundreds of cruises every month. The answer is that the cruise lines will exchange these TC berths for cash, take the berths back and sell them to someone else. It sounds more complicated than it really is, and this is another way for hard-working travel agents to make extra money.
And remember TC berths exist for a reason, and that is as an incentive to get people to organize group cruises. If you can manage to reserve group space and sell eight to twelve cabins to people who want them, then you can earn a free cabin, too. Let's say you have a church group, a chess club, or any "affinity" like a fan club you can organize with a cruise. We have articles in CruiseMates on how this actually works. Yes, even family reunions qualify.
Here are some links to articles on arranging a group cruise:
Working with Singles Groups for a Free Cruise One category of cruisers that often travel in groups are single cruisers. Why? Because cruise ships are not really the "love boats" many inexperienced singles think they are. In most cases, the best way a single person can be assured of meeting new friends onboard is to sail with an organized group of single cruisers. These singles groups almost always have experienced cruisers serving as group hosts onboard, and these hosts sail in exchange for a free cruise.
If you are single don't expect to be given a single's host free cruise based on your good looks alone. This is a demanding position, and although it is a free cruise, you probably won't have a lot of free time. Still, if you are interested in learning more about singles cruises and their hosts, here are links for you:
Working for the Cruise Line The cruise lines obviously employ hundreds of professional people who are paid to perform their services on the ship, but do the cruise lines ever simply exchange services for a free cruise? The answer is yes.
What kinds of services get these free cruises? One of the most well known free cruise positions is "dance host." If you have never heard of this, I'll bet you think I am writing about women, as in 1940s dime-a-dance halls. Wrong! Most of the cruise lines actually give free passage to older gentlemen who are good dancers. Why? Far more single women than men book cruises, especially aged 60 and older. The cruise lines like to keep these single, mature ladies happy, and so they invite polite, clean mature men onboard to socialize with them nightly by dancing and conversing with them all night long. What's the main qualifier? You must be a great dancer, and we mean ballroom dancing, not breakdancing or Scottish jigs.
Here is a link to a CruiseMates article on how to get hired as a gentleman host:
Enrichment Lecturers Cruise for Free Enrichment lecturers also get free cruises. These are people in almost any given field who are capable of giving a thorough lecture and answering questions on their area of expertise. What topics are cruise lines most interested in? Ship historian is a pretty sure bet, especially on ocean crossings. Destination specialists are also popular, especially in Europe and other places rich in history. Wildlife experts, biologists and botanists do well in Alaska. Cruise Lines also accept art historians, financial planners, diplomats, former members of U.S. Presidents' cabinets, etc.
I do not want to lead anybody on because the truth is this question is asked of us far too often. Almost everyone I have ever met has wanted to be a guest lecturer at one time or another, and in truth the cruise lines already have lists of qualified lecturers long enough to last them years. The chances of you meeting the right person at the right time to give you a free cruise as a guest lecturer are almost as remote as seeing Santa Claus.
The only real way to break into the "guest lecturer" circuit is to be recommended by an existing guest lecturer, and you must be very prepared with presentation materials and a videotape of your talk before you will be invited on a cruise ship. If, in fact, you are a talented and experienced guest lecturer you may have a chance at a free cruise.
Who Else Gets a Free Cruise? Probably the luckiest people when it comes to getting free cruises are men and women of the cloth: preachers, pastors, rabbis, etc. People who can lead religious services onboard are often invited on cruises, especially during holiday seasons. This is more common on longer cruises in more exotic regions. I say they are the luckiest because in most cases they cruise for free and their time commitment is once a week for a few hours at most.
The Best Free Cruise Ever Finally, what is the best way to get a free cruise? Pay for it. Okay, that is a joke but I want to be serious about one thing. A cruise is to be thoroughly enjoyed and on a cruise time is like money. Sure, a free cruise is fantastic, but you will never have as much enjoyment on a free cruise where you are looking at deadlines and worrying about your duties as much as you will enjoy a cruise where you can do exactly as you wish at any given moment.
The more you "work" on ships, as I have, and the more you have taken "free cruises," as I have, I have to tell you nothing beats a cruise where you have NO responsibilities.
I work as a cruise journalist and I get invited on cruises often, but I did not include this as a common way to get "free cruises" because the truth is it takes several years to break into this job, and there is a LOT of work. Most of my fellow colleagues have written books or maintain full-time jobs (as I do) where they are responsible for reporting cruise information constantly. It's a great job, but it is not much different from working on a cruise ship, which I have also done, so I know. Show me one ship employee who can't tell you exactly how many days he has before he goes on vacation off the ship.