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Thread: Tips to get the most out of the Caesars "free cruise" benefit for Seven Stars

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    Tips to get the most out of the Caesars "free cruise" benefit for Seven Stars

    NOTE: This article first appeared on PokerFraudAlert in June, 2014. Much has changed about Norwegian Cruise Line since then, including their CEO. This article was updated on February 18, 2018, providing up-to-date information, and removing obsolete advice. It will be additionally updated in the future as more things change.
    __________________________________________________


    Are you ready to book your "free" Seven Stars Annual Criuse?

    First off, understand that it is not FREE. There is no way that you will escape without paying at least $500, and realistically you will end up spending MUCH more than that. If you do not enjoy cruising, then this isn't a good benefit for you, as it will still cost you substantial money and you won't enjoy it.

    So why bother?

    Because if done right, you will get an incredible deal on a cruise that you would never be able to duplicate elsewhere.


    What is the Seven Stars Annual Cruise benefit?

    Caesars Seven Stars members are entitled to take one "free" (actually heavily discounted) cruise on certain Norwegian itineraries each year. Keep in mind that the "year" is not a calendar year, but actually runs from February 1 to January 31.

    You are only entitled to take cruises which have an onboard casino. This means you CANNOT take the "Pride of America" Hawaii itinerary, as that one never leaves Hawaii and has no casino onboard.

    There are also various blackout dates and cruises. See more information below for details.

    Why does there have to be a casino? It is important to understand that this is a marketing partnership between Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and Caesars. Caesars is NOT paying for your cruise. In fact, neither your host nor Total Rewards nor anyone else at Caesars will get involved in booking this cruise. It is completely independent of Caesars, aside from your Seven Stars status giving you the ability to take this heavily discounted cruise.



    What Do You Get?

    You are entitled to a "balcony stateroom" (category BA or lower) on all itineraries EXCEPT the Alaskan ones, where you only get an "ocean view" stateroom. This cruise is for 2 people, though you can go by yourself if you want.

    Your cruise has to be 5-7 days long.

    Typically the weeks of Christmas, New Years, and 4th of July are blacked out. Thanksgiving is typically NOT blacked out.

    Certain cruises are also blacked out. These are usually the more expensive cruises, such as rare itineraries (Norway fjords are a good example) and brand new ships (Norwegian Bliss in 2018. for example). You won't know what's blacked out until you call.

    To understand where these lie in the hierarchy of rooms on cruise ships, here is a general ranking of staterooms on NCL, from best to worst:

    1) Suite. These are the best staterooms on the ship, and come with their own butler and concierge services. These tend to run around $2000-$3000 per person after taxes, though there are also some super-expensive ones that are much more than that.

    2) Mini-Suite. These are MUCH inferior to regular suites, and don't come with the butler/concierge or private areas. They are basically just balcony rooms with a bigger bathroom. Still, they usually run about $1400-$2500 per person after taxes. Total misnomer. Avoid these, unless you get upgraded to them for free.

    3) Balcony. This is what you usually get as part of your Seven Stars benefit. It's very similar to the inside/oceanview rooms (i.e. very small), but is a little bit bigger, and more importantly, has a balcony. The price widely varies on these, from $800-$1800 per person after taxes, depending upon itinerary and date. They are most expensive on Alaska cruises, which is why you don't get them as a Seven Stars benefit on those itineraries.

    4) Oceanview. These are identical to inside cabins (the lowest category) with one major difference. You have a window to see out the ship, and let in natural light. The size and obstruction of these windows varies. These rooms run you about $500-$1100 per person after taxes.

    5) Inside. This is the cheapest category. The rooms have no windows and in fact are on the "inside" of the ship. They will run you about $350-$950 per person after taxes.

    These cruises are promoted as "free", but they are anything but that. In reality, you are just getting heavily discounted fares. Here is what you can expect to pay:

    - Admin fees, port charges, and taxes: Right off the bat, you will be charged a $140 "admin fee" for each guest. There is no way out of this, and yes, that's a form of actual fare you're paying, known in the industry as "non-commissioned fare" (NCF). Usually this is rolled into normal cruise fare, so in reality your room will cost $140+tax per person, rather than the published fare plus tax. Still a hell of a deal in most cases, but by no means free. There are also port charges and taxes, which are itinerary-dependent. These usually run you between $120 and $250 per person, but most commonly come in near $150 or so. This means, on the typical "free" cruise for 2, you will be paying about $550-$600 right out the gate.

    - Airfare. Perhaps you're fortunate enough to be cruising from near where you live, and flights aren't necessary. There are NCL ports in many places, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Houston, and Miami. But if you need to fly (which you probably will), it will cost you airfare for two, and this is not covered at all by Caesars. However, there is one way around this -- by combining other Caesars promotions which include airfare. More on that later, too.

    - Service charge. $14 per day, per person. They automatically put this on your bill, meaning 7-day cruises will run you $196 in tips for two people. They are often (inaccurately) referred to as "gratuities" or "tips". This money is supposedly shared by the entire staff, and you are not expected to tip further (though it's allowed). You can remove these charges, but they make it a pain in the ass to do so, as you have to mail in a form after-the-fact. It is my opinion that these are not actually "tips", but actually kept by NCL as a way to reimburse themselves for paying staff a fixed rate, though I have not verified this. You might want to opt out with the mail-in form and then just give cash tips to the staff onboard.

    - Specialty restaurants. Most food on board is free, but the main dining room restaurants simply aren't very good. These restaurants charge you for what you order, though prices are much cheaper than you would find at a comparable restaurant on land. You can also order specialty restaurant packages in advance, making it a bit cheaper.

    - Shore excursions. The boat will stop at various ports. You don't have to get off, but I think it's pointless to cruise without the shore excursions. You will end up spending money for tours of these places, taxis, or whatever. I would suggest trying to arrange your own excursions instead of booking with the ship, as you will both save money and get a more private/better experience.

    - Drinks. Most drinks cost money on the ship. Basics like tap water, milk, and juice are free, but everything else (including soft drinks) cost money. You can get a "drink package" as a perk (more on this later), which entitles you to unlimited drinks (except bottled water). As a Seven Stars member, you do get a card allowing you free well/blended drinks at the casino bar only. NCL does not allow you to bring drinks onboard (not even bottled water), aside from wine, which requires a $25/bottle corkage fee.

    So as you can see, you will be spending money.



    In the next post, I will give you various money-saving tips for the cruise.

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    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Tips to Save Money & Selecting the Right Perks

    The fine print says that you can only get a balcony room, and in the case of Alaska, just an oceanview room.

    What if you want better? You have to pay to upgrade, and it will usually be very steep and almost completely negate the big discount you thought you were getting. Therefore, you should really avoid paying directly to upgrade your room. If you want to participate in NCL's "upgrade bidding program", I will describe that later.

    When you book your Seven Stars Cruise, you are also entitled to whichever promotion is currently running at the time for normal paying customers. In 2014 and earlier, these varied widely, and required a lot of diligence to wait for the best one and jump on it.

    This all changed in 2015 when new CEO Frank Del Rio took over, who basically standardized Norwegian's promotions. While there is still some variance, for most of the year the promotions are the same.

    You will be entitled to whichever perks are given at the time of booking for normal customers booking a balcony stateroom. Typically you are allowed to choose TWO of the following 5 perks:

    - Three free nights of specialty dining for BOTH passengers
    - Unlimited drinks for BOTH passengers (alcoholic and non-alcoholic, but NOT bottled water)
    - 250 minutes of internet access
    - $50 shore excursion credit for BOTH passengers
    - Third (and fourth, if you need it) passengers allowed to come along for FREE, only paying port charges and taxes

    Since you'll probably only get two, which ones should you choose? I'll go over each one, so you know which one is best for you:

    Specialty Dining Package: Each person in the room gets three meals where they get to choose one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert at one of five specific specialty restaurants onboard. (The Tapas and seafood places on the larger ships are NOT included in this.) This is about an $80 value per person, give or take. While it's not technically allowed, as of the time of this writing, specialty restaurant managers WILL allow you to transfer credits from one occupant of the room to another (informally), so you can use all six if the other person in your room doesn't want them. I personally select this perk every time, as good food is important to me, and the ambiance is much nicer. Be aware that you will be charged $12 or so in "gratuities" per person if you select this package, and this cannot be avoided.

    Unlimited Drink Package (also known as "Open Bar"): This entitles you to drink for free onboard -- whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic. This is by far the best "value" perk you can select, as it normally costs nearly $750 per person! However, you should be aware that you will be charged about $112 per person in "gratuities" if you select this package, so you may want to skip this if you aren't a drinker.

    250 minutes of internet access: This normally costs $125, and you get 250 minutes of internet access. Basically, every time you sign on, a clock ticks down, and once you've used 250 minutes, you're done. Due to the slooooooooooow speeds on cruise ships, this 250 minutes will fly by, especially because it averages to only about 35 minutes per day. The good news is that you can upgrade to an unlimited plan on most ships, for just another $120. I highly recommend this. To do this upgrade, wait until you get onboard, sign onto the internet normally for 1 minute, log off, and then go visit the internet manager, who is located in the internet cafe. Ask him how you can upgrade the 250 minute perk to unlimited, and he will likely tell you that you can do so for an additional $120. This varies from ship to ship, but if you're refused, try telling them, "They do this on the Norwegian Escape ship, please check with them", and you might have some luck.

    $50 Shore Excursion Credit for each person: I recommend booking your own shore excursions with independent providers, or simply getting a rental car and exploring yourself, depending upon the port. The ship-provided shore excursions tend to be expensive, slow, rigid, and crowded, so your "free" $50 won't go very far. I would suggest skipping this perk.

    Third and Fourth Guests Free: This is a great perk IF you plan upon stuffing additional people in your room. Normally this is quite expensive to do (over $500 each person), so you're totally avoiding that charge, and only paying the port fees and taxes, as described above. However, be aware that you will probably be miserable if you have more than 2 people in a balcony stateroom, so you probably don't want to do this anyway, unless it's a very small child. Just spring for a second room.


    You will also often get $50-$100 on board credit for booking a balcony stateroom. This credit can be spent for anything onboard. If you have absolutely no use for it, you can use a trick to cash it out via the casino:

    1) Go to the casino, and sit at a blackjack table
    2) Buy chips for the exact amount you want to "burn" from your onboard credit. So, for example, if you have $30 of on-board credit left which you don't think you'll use, buy in for $30 and charge it to your stateroom.
    3) They will give you chips.
    4) Right after buying the chips, stand up and say something like, "Oops, I didn't realize how late it was, I'll come back later"
    5) Go to the cashier and cash in the chips. They will hand you cash.
    6) The amount charged to your room will be canceled out by the on-board credit remaining, plus a 3% surcharge. So if you had $30 on board credit left, and bought $30 in chips, your stateroom account would only increase by 90 cents (3% of $30).

    So basically the above allows you to cash out onboard credit at a 97% return rate, which is pretty good. This is LEGAL, and Norwegian is aware of it. They do not seem interested in making an effort to stop people from doing this.

    Occasionally there are some additional promotions ON TOP of what is listed above. For example, sometimes they will run a "tax free" promotion, where they will pay your port fees and taxes, PLUS give you the two perks listed above. You should jump on that one if you see it.

    Also, sometimes they will give you ALL FIVE perks listed above, instead of just two.

    You are also entitled to a full and complete refund if you cancel more than 120 days out. So there's really no penalty you'll suffer from booking now (to make sure the cruise doesn't fill up). Then, provided it's more than 120 days away, if you see a better promo, call Norweigan back, tell them you want the current promo, and they will give it to you instead.



    Booking Before You Have Your Certificate

    Some itineraries sell out quickly. These tend to be the "rare" ones -- itineraries which Norwegian only visits once or twice a year. In these cases, you may not be able to wait until February 1st for your Seven Stars cruise certificate to be generated. Your desired cruise might be sold out by then. There's actually a way to avoid this from happening, and it won't cost you anything.

    Seven Stars members already get a discount, though not as good as one given for the Seven Stars Cruise. It's listed as "35%", but in reality it's nowhere near that, due to what they categorize as "fare" (I won't bother to explain because it's unimportant). But the takeaway here is that, even if you've never cruised with Norwegian before, you're already in their Casinos at Sea system as a Caesars Seven Stars member.

    Therefore, you can simply call them and book ANY cruise at ANY time, even if you don't have a certificate yet. You will be asked to pay a fully refundable deposit (usually $250), which you can get back in full if you cancel before 120 days prior to sailing. Do this, and it will hold your place on the cruise. Then, when February 1 comes, and your Seven Stars cruise certificate is generated, call them right back, and tell them you'd like to switch payment method to that certificate. They will do it for you. You will be switched to the current promotion being offfered by Norwegian, but everything else will remain the same.

    This will work, unless the cruise is fewer than 120 days from the February when you get the certificate. This is because the 120-day mark is "final payment date", and you will already have paid before the certificate is generated! For example, if you see a cruise you want to take on May 8, 2018, you can't do this trick and call back with the certificate on February 1, 2018, because final payment will have already been due in early January! However, this works great for summer, fall, and winter cruises which might otherwise fill up.

    Keep in mind when I refer to a "certificate", it's not a physical piece of paper, but rather a credential granted to you in Norwegian's system (even if you've never cruised with them before) every February 1.



    Here are a few other general money-saving tips:

    1) Avoid booking shore excursions with Norwegian. These will always be heavily marked up, and you will typically be in large, slow groups. These tours are usually very impersonal, you see very little (because the size of the group slows things down), and are very inflexible. Do a little research beforehand and hire your own private tours. These tours are often CHEAPER than the group tours offered by the ship, and yet you will get a private experience and see so much more, plus have a lot more flexibility in what you do. Don't be intimidated by dealing with locals in other areas/countries. Most won't even require you pay up front, and you can pay when you arrive and actually see what you're getting. You can find out more about specific ports by going to the Cruise Critic forums at http://www.cruisecritic.com

    2) Avoid buying drinks. NCL's "soft drink package" is fairly expensive and probably not worth it (unless you choose "open bar" as your perk, which will still cost you $112 in forced "gratuities"). If you want to drink alcohol, you get free well drinks and blended drinks at the casino bar. They will give you a card when you board that entitles you to this. You do NOT have to play at the casino at all to be entitled to these free drinks.

    3) Do not play in the casino, no matter how tempting. The rules and paytables are horrendous. Also, your host at Caesars will never hear about how much you do or don't play, nor will they care. NCL is completely independent from Caesars. You are not expected to "earn" this cruise through play. You are not expected to play in order to be able to come back next year. You can play NOTHING and repeatedly take these cruises, year after year. You will not earn tier credits or RCs for Caesars in the NCL Casino! It is a completely separate system, operated by NCL, and the perks are lousy. You will not be bothered by any hosts onboard unless you actually start playing. Also avoid the poker tournaments, as the house takes a staggering 50% or more rake from them! The blackjack tournament is an exception, as sometimes the participation will be low enough to where the house rake isn't bad (since it's a $500 guaranteed first prize), and the players have absolutely no clue how to play tournament blackjack, thus giving you a big edge if you know what you're doing.

    4) Do not shop onboard, unless necessary. Everything is heavily marked up.

    5) Do not use the spa, unless you really want to. Everything is heavily marked up.

    6) Do not play in any contests on-board that cost money. Some of these can appear to be fun/tempting, but they are bordering on a scam and barely anyone wins.

    7) Wait until they run a laundry promotion, or just bring enough clothes to where you don't need to do laundry. They charge per item, and it's expensive. Usually twice during the cruise, they will run a promotion to where they will do all the laundry you can stuff into a bag for $25.

    8) If you eat in the specialty restaurants, buy a package beforehand. It will cut down your costs. I like the specialty restaurants, and eat in one every night. I suggest you do the same, unless food quality isn't important to you. They aren't that expensive, and they are WAY better than the main dining room, in both food and service.



    Now, what if you do want to bring a 3rd and/or 4th person on this cruise, and don't want to cram them into your balcony stateroom, Can this be done at a reasonable cost?

    It won't be cheap, but there are plenty of ways to get the best value out of this. I will describe it in the next post...

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    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Ignore this post if you are not cruising with more than two people.

    Cruising With More than Two People

    Your Seven Stars benefit is for one or two people.

    But that's not practical for everyone. Perhaps you want to go on this cruise with other family members or friends, and will have more than two in your party. How does NCL handle that?

    As mentioned in the post above, you can almost always select the "perk" which allows the third and fourth people to cruise for just the port fees and taxes, but I find such a configuration cramped and uncomfortable.

    This post will discuss the process of getting a second room in the cheapest way possible.

    Can you combine other NCL free cruise certificates you received throughout the year to bring additional people? No, you can't, and they will NEVER make an exception to this policy. This will only work if the certificates are in the name of others you want to bring aboard. Basically, the person holding the certificate can only be booked once on the ship, so if you're already booked under your Seven Stars benefit, you can't occupy a second room simultaneously. It's not a like a hotel where you can book an unlimited number of rooms in your name.

    So what do you do?

    First off, it's important to understand that cruises are double-occupancy. This means that it's expected that you have two people in each room. If a person wants a room by himself (such as a 3rd person in your party who wants their own room), it can get pricey.

    If you have an odd number of people in your party, such as 3, it becomes more expensive, as you will be forced to pay almost double for that room. Therefore, you might want to think about bringing a fourth person along, as the cost to bring them will be minimal. There is a trick to getting a 3rd person their own cabin cheaply, but it doesn't always work. See the end of this post for details.

    What fare will you be paying for these an additional room? It depends.

    First off, you probably just want an inside cabin for the second room. This is because your balcony stateroom isn't a bad "hangout" place during the day for 4 people, but it sucks to have 4 people actually staying there (using the bathroom, sleeping, storing their things, etc). So basically the second cabin is best just used for sleeping, showering, etc.

    You will be given what is called a 10% discount if you want a second stateroom, but it's actually closer to around 7%. Your so-called 30% Seven Stars discount will not apply, because you already have a balcony stateroom, and it cannot be combined with the Seven Stars Cruise.

    However, if the third or fourth cruiser has their own status at Caesars (say, if they're a Diamond), then you may get a better discount. They will get a 20% (actually more like 15%) discount if Diamond. If they are Seven Stars, they have their own certificate they can use for their own balcony room! If they're Platinum or Gold, they will not have a better discount than you, so you might as well book their room for them.

    Also, if this third/fourth person has a Total Rewards card, you may want them to check their offers. They may have offers for a "free" inside stateroom on Norwegian, in which case they should redeem that offer (which requires visiting the Caesars property on the date of the offer), and then they can use their certificate to cruise the same date as you.

    If planning to use two certificates in the same household, make sure you change the other person's address in the Caesars system BEFORE BOOKING, or NCL may give you a hard time if they see the same address for both people. This is because of their "one certificate per cruise per household" rule, though often this isn't enforced. But better safe than sorry.

    If you don't have a second certificate, then you're going to be greatly affected by the going rate of the price of the cabin you want. Here are some tips on how to get them the cheapest:



    Finding the Cheapest Fares for Your Extra Rooms

    Cruises fares vary wildly, even for the exact same ship on the exact same sail date. Like airline tickets, the big difference is when you book. However, unlike airline tickets, the cheapest fares tend to be closest to sail date, and there is a long window when you can cancel and rebook with no penalty!

    First, unless it's less than 120 days to the cruise date, just book the second room. You can get a full refund if you decide you don't want it, or if the price changes (prior to 120 days out) and you want the better deal. You also won't be required to pay in full when you book. You will have to give a deposit of $250, which again is fully refundable before 120 days out.

    Now, repeatedly visit the NCL website (I'd say once per week), look up your cruise date, and see if the fare they're currently offering is less than when you booked. If it is, call back, cancel, and rebook immediately. They will adjust your fare lower.

    If somehow the fare went up (or stayed the same), do nothing. You are locked in at the rate you were quoted until you take action to change it.

    Keep in mind that, prior to final payment date (120 days out), your cruise fare isn't likely to change much.

    Also, as stated in the other post, you will qualify for any promotion that is currently running.

    If you have a little gamble in you, wait until the 89-day mark before the cruise, and then start monitoring prices closely. At some point between the 89 and 14 day mark, the prices will likely dramatically fall, and you can buy a second room then. This will not always occur, but is common for most non-holiday, non-rare sailings. You will be risking the ship selling out, so closely monitor the situation on the website, and even call up and ask how many rooms are still available. You will usually have limited selection as to where the room is located, though. One trick is to add the people to your room, and then remove them when you find a 2nd room price you like. You can get a full refund for people added to your room up until 14 days before the sail date, which differs from the refund policy of the 1st and 2nd people in the room, which is 120 days.



    How do I handle it if I'm cruising with two adults and two minors?

    Cruise ship policies state that one adult (over 18) must be registered in each room. So if you are a family of two adults and two kids, don't panic. Book your Seven Stars room for you and one of the kids. Then book the other room for the other adult and the other kid. You can put the two kids together in the second room, and no one will care. It's a policy they never enforce beyond booking.



    My family rarely gets a second hotel room when we travel together, so why should we bother with a second stateroom?

    Because staterooms are much smaller than hotel rooms. Trust me, you will HATE cruising with 3 or more people in a balcony stateroom.



    You mentioned a trick to get a 3rd cruiser their own room cheaply. Can you tell me this trick?

    When a cruise isn't selling well, and it's fairly close to sail date (a few weeks away, typically, but sometimes more), they will start offering single cruisers the ability to avoid the "single penalty" for occupying a stateroom alone.

    This means that you're not paying nearly double fare to get that 3rd person their own room. Instead, they're getting the prevailing double-occupancy rates, but only paying single occupancy! Often these rates are very cheap, as well (because they've discounted the cruise in order to desperately sell rooms!)

    This typically works for inside, oceanview, and balcony cabins, but it will NOT work if the cruise is selling fairly well.

    Also, as already mentioned, you won't know if this is the case until fairly close to the cruise date.

    To find out, simply go to ncl.com, and pretend you're booking the same ship and date you're on, and select "1 guest". See if it charges you double price. (You can do all of this without entering any personal or billing information.) If the price is not doubled because it's a solo guest, then this special is available. Call immediately and book at that point.

    Often you cannot select your cabin when you do this, and only take a category type (such as "inside", "oceanview", "balcony", etc). However, there aren't many bad cabins on the ship, so this is typically a smart thing to do to save a lot of money.

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    Combining the Cruise With Other Caesars Trips and Promos

    Caesars is pretty strict when it comes to combining offers and promotions. If you try, they will usually refuse, unless you're a high roller and they make an exception for you.

    So does that mean you can't combine your Seven Stars cruise with other Caesars promos? No.

    Since this benefit is being provided by NCL, and not by Caesars, it does NOT count as you redeeming any Caesars offer or promotion! This means it is fully combinable!

    So how can you use this to your advantage?

    There are several ways, but the most obvious one is to use your Seven Stars Annual Trip (or, alternately, your Diamond Aspirations II $750 air credit) to cover the airfare.

    Of course, this does require that you are leaving from a port somewhere in the vicinity of a Caesars property.

    The best choice for this is New Orleans. Harrah's New Orleans is less than a mile away from the NCL port!

    If you are cruising from New Orleans, there is a very easy way to get your airfare covered, take the cruise, and earn 50,000 RCs in the process!

    First, choose New Orleans as your Seven Stars trip. Have the trip start the night before the cruise and tell them you will be there for three days (you really won't).

    Next, have Caesars Passport Travel book your roundtrip flight to New Orleans. You will have $1200 to spend on the airfare, which should be enough for 2 people. Make sure the return flight is booked for the day the cruise returns, unless you want to stay in New Orleans longer. This will be fine by Passport, by the way.

    Fly in the day before the cruise. They will pick you up in a limo from the airport and drive you to Harrah's New Orleans. As soon as you check in, they will deposit 50,000 RCs in your account! You are NOT required to spend any of the RCs on this trip. These are being given in lieu of a folio credit.

    The next morning, simply check out early, take a taxi to the cruise port, and take your cruise!

    Alternately, you can fly into New Orleans a few days early if you want to spend a few days there. Or you can do what I did last year, and use your Seven Stars comp benefit for a night before the cruise, and book the annual trip part for a few days after. They're fine with that, too, and will still give you both the airfare and the comp limo to and from the airport.

    But what if you're cruising out of a different port?

    Well, it depends how close a CET property is.

    If you're going out of Los Angeles, you can use Harrah's Rincon, though it will be a good 100 mile drive to get to the port (and you'll have to hassle with a one-way car rental).

    If you're going out of New York, you can use Caesars Atlantic City, but again it will require a good drive to NYC, and again a one-way car rental.

    If you're going out of Miami, you can stay in Biloxi, but it's 750 miles to get to Miami (and again, the one-way car rental).

    Also, none of those properties will give you the 50,000 RCs, so you will waste most of the $500 folio credit, unless you stay awhile before the cruise.

    You are NOT required to fly round trip from the same airport. They are 100% fine with you taking your annual trip to Biloxi, and taking the return flight from Miami, for example.

    In general, I wouldn't suggest combining it with the annual trip unless:

    1) You are cruising from New Orleans (in which case it's perfect)
    -or-
    2) You make a little side trip out of it, where you start out at the Caesars property, take a mini-road-trip, and end up where you start the cruise.

    Also keep in mind that one-way car rentals are usually expensive.

    If you've already used your annual trip, you can still use your $750 Diamond Aspirations II air credit, or you can use any applicable airfare promotion in your Total Rewards account. For example, if you have an offer for a free roundtrip flight to New Orleans, you might want to just use that, especially if it comes with some sort of freeplay.

    Furthermore, if you want to stay in New Orleans BOTH before and after the cruise, you can use two separate offers when doing so, as a full week will pass between them.



    Using Two Cruise Certificates

    As I said earlier, you CANNOT use a free NCL cruise certificate at the same time as your Seven Stars cruise.

    However, there is an exception to this.

    If your traveling companion has a certificate in their name, then you CAN use this certificate at the same time as your Seven Stars cruise, to get a second room.

    Example: You are a Seven Stars member, and your wife is Platinum. Your wife has a NCL free cruise certificate from a Caesars promotion she attended. You book your Seven Stars cruise normally, and list your second passenger as someone else (NOT your wife). Your wife then books separately with her certificate, and she is also entitled to take a second person. Then, once you get aboard, configure who stays in each room to your own desire (i.e. you still get to sleep in the same bed as your wife).

    There are some restrictions to being able to do this, though.

    The free cruise certificates tend to be very restrictive, and you may not be able to use it for the itinerary that you want.

    Your wife may not get a free cruise offer if she is associated with your TR account in any way. This is why I suggest your wife never linking her account to yours in any way, and in fact receiving her Total Rewards mail at a different address, if possible.

    NCL may balk about a husband and wife using two offers at once. Technically it's against the rules, but it varies from rep to rep whether or not they care. Additionally, they will probably have no idea unless you both use the same address when you book on NCL. I would suggest if you do the above, your wife give her work address or mother's address, or something like that, when booking with NCL. Again, nobody will care once you're on board, and this is NOT illegal. They may not even have a policy against it, but you're better off appearing to be two completely separate bookings. I cannot find anything in the fine print against allowing a husband and wife with separate certificates booking together, but again you're better off avoiding the question coming up in the first place.

  5. #5
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    How To Book the Cruise

    If you're used to your host holding your hand and booking everything for you, I have some bad news for you.

    Your host will NOT get involved in the booking process for your cruise. This is because there is no Caesars play involved with these cruises.

    So how do you book?

    First, you need to wait until February 1st. You cannot book before that, because NCL will not have the information that you qualify for the cruise. The only exception to this is if you're booking a cruise to take place before January 31, and you did not use your Seven Stars cruise for the previous year. Basically, you have from February 1 to January 31 to use this Seven Stars cruise benefit for each year you qualify for Seven Stars. If March 31 passes and you didn't cruise in the past year, you literally missed the boat, but can book one for the current year if you're still a Seven Stars member.

    Before you call NCL, you need to figure out what cruise you're taking. Go to the NCL website http://www.ncl.com and find a cruise you want to take. Remember, it has to be 5-8 days and there has to be an active casino on board. This means no Hawaii cruise. However, you can take cruises to many other locations, including California-Vancouver, Caribbean, Alaska, NYC-Bermuda, NYC-Canada, Europe, and many others.

    Do not worry about the quoted fare on the website, unless you are buying a second room. In fact, it's actually better if the quoted fare is higher, because that means you're saving more money!

    You'll want to select a room before you call. To do this:

    1) Go to the NCL website, and select your itinerary.

    2) Act as if you're going to book. Go through the motions. Don't worry, you will be stopping before any credit card or personal information needs to be entered.

    3) Select Balcony staterooms (except on Alaska cruises), and you will see various types of Balcony rooms offered. Pick the one labeled "Balcony" or "Mid-Ship Balcony" -- NOT "Family Balcony", as you won't qualify for that.

    4) You will have a few other choices in that sub-category. Select the best of those sub-categories -- usually either listed as BA, BB, BC, BD, or BE.

    5) It may offer you some upgrade. Decline it.

    6) It will show you a list of staterooms and a small map of that floor on the ship. On the left side, you will see a list of available staterooms.

    7) STOP HERE once you select a stateroom. In general, it's best to pick one closer to the middle of the ship. Also, avoid anything listed as a "connecting room", as these can be noisy.

    If you are on an Alaska cruise, do the same, except select the Oceanview category instead of Balcony. Then pick the Oceanview Picture Window subcategory, and pick the best (OA) of those categories.

    Once you have selected your stateroom, it's time to call and book. You will be calling the Casinos At Sea (CAS) department at Norwegian. They have two offices -- one in Miami, one in Arizona.

    Miami is the superior office to deal with.

    This is because the Miami office is the home office for NCL, while Arizona is just a satellite office. Miami has all the power. In fact, the Miami CAS office is empowered to do a lot of things and make a lot of exceptions. They are also a lot more knowledgeable about the various idiosyncrasies of the booking process (such as you being able to qualify for all running promotions), while the Arizona office will often deny things like this.

    The Miami office's phone number is (877) 752-9625. They are open from 6:00am-2:30pm Pacific time, Monday through Friday. Not exactly ideal hours if you're on the west coast, but this is definitely the office you want to deal with. Always select option "1" to book a new reservation, even if you already have a reservation, as it will get them to answer the phone faster. I have found the other options sometimes can't get through to anyone.

    The Arizona office is open until 5pm or 6pm Pacific, which makes them easier to reach. However, I would suggest avoiding this office, as they tend to be incompetent and powerless. Only call them if you have general questions or need to verify something on your existing reservation. Their number is (877) 742-9521.

    Once you get through to the Miami office, tell them the exact room you want, and you will probably get it. Again, the only exception is if you're getting a free upgrade to a higher category.

    When you book your Seven Stars cruise, you will be required to pay in full when you book. However, as I already said, you can cancel and get a full refund provided it's 120 or more days away from the cruise date. Closer than that, you will get 75%, then 50%, then 25%, then 0%, depending upon how many days are left when you cancel.

    There is a wide variance among reps in Miami. Some are extremely nice, knowledgeable, and helpful. Others are nasty, arrogant, clueless, and awful. If you get a crappy one, ask for a supervisor, or just hang up and call back. Do not let any of them talk you out of the things I mentioned here, as some are still confused about policies.

    Make sure they send you an e-mail PDF with all the details of your booking, and double-check everything!

    The Miami office is empowered to do a whole lot, while the Arizona office has to follow regulations to the letter.

    Do NOT bother trying to pay to upgrade. It will be a HUGE surcharge, and you will end up paying almost the equivalent of retail price, thus negating your Seven Stars discount. If a balcony room isn't good enough for you, then don't use the Seven Stars cruise benefit.

  6. #6
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Casino Drink Card

    One nice perk that comes ONLY with the Seven Stars certificate involves a "casino drink card".

    This card entitles you to free drinks at the casino bar only. You do NOT have to play at the casino in order to earn these drinks.

    You are entitled to any "well" alcoholic drinks, and also non-alcoholic drinks such as soda.

    Additionally, you are entitled to bottled water, both regular and sparkling.

    This is especially a nice perk, because you are no longer allowed to bring your own bottled water onto Norwegian ships, and the price onboard for bottled water is horrible.

    You can actually "collect" bottled waters, 2 at a time, by simply carrying the drink cards and stateroom room cards for BOTH occupants of the room (only you need to be present), presenting them both to the casino bar, and asking for two waters. They will "charge" each card (though the charge will be zero -- it's just for record-keeping), and hand you the two waters. You can then bring them to your room, and stick them in the refrigerator.

    There is no limit to the number of times you can do this, but presumably you have to wait at least 10 minutes or so in between requests, since they can only give you one drink per card at a time.

    I did this whenever I passed by the casino, such as on the way to dinner.

  7. #7
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Figuring Out What You're Saving -- And If This is Worth Doing

    First off, if you don't like cruising, don't do this. You will be unhappy and end up spending a lot of money.

    This is only for people who like cruising and want to do so at a heavy discount.

    But even if you love cruising, is this really worth it?

    It all depends how much you're saving versus how much you're spending.

    Remember, there are a lot of costs here -- the fees/taxes, the airfare, the tips, the specialty restaurants, the shore excursions, and any miscellaneous charges, such as taxi fare and car rentals.

    If you're only saving a few hundred dollars on the whole thing, is it really worth it? After all, you're being forced to take Norwegian, are restricted to certain itineraries, and forced to a certain room type. If you're spending $3000 and only saving $600, it's probably not worth it.

    So how much are you really saving? It depends on a lot of factors:

    1) How expensive is this itinerary for this room type?

    2) Is it a popular cruise date?

    3) Are you getting an upgrade, such as an oceanview to a balcony on an Alaskan cruise?

    4) Are you saving money in any other way, such as combining this cruise with your annual trip to New Orleans, thereby earning 50,000 RCs and getting your airfare paid?

    You need to add these things up, determine your actual savings, and then compare it to what you are actually expected to spend.


    EXAMPLE OF BIG SAVINGS:

    I took the Christmas cruise from New Orleans to the Caribbean (this was in 2013, before they were blacking that date out). Balcony staterooms were going for $1600 per person after tax. Flights to New Orleans were about $600 per person. I paid about $275 per person, and got the flight for free. I also got 50,000 RCs, worth $500. This means I saved about $2500 on the cruise, plus $1200 on the flight and earned $500 RCs. That's a staggering $4200 savings. Even with the tips, specialty restaurant costs, and shore excursion costs, this was well worth it! In fact, I took an additional two people (and paid their airfare), and it was still worth it.


    EXAMPLE OF SMALL SAVINGS:

    You take a cruise from Miami to the Caribbean. You pay for airfare. You pay for a hotel the night before the cruise (since there's really no time to fly in the same day.) You pay about $275 per person, but notice that balcony rooms were going for about $700 per person after tax, right before the cruise. You also buy a second room for two others in your family, and spend about $1300 total on that. You ended up only saving about $850 total, yet you spent your own money on airfare for 4, tips for 4, specialty restaurants and excursions for 4, and a hotel room. When you add it all up, you find that you spent about $4000 of your own money, just to save $850. Not worth it!

    This is where the European cruises start to become questionable. If you can get a cheap flight to Europe, great! But don't end up spending so much on airfare that the few hundred you save per person on the cruise becomes mostly inconsequential.

    Unless you are saving at least 33% on your total trip expense, you probably don't want to bother in a case like the above, unless you REALLY like the itinerary you picked.


    This why it is imperative to find those free upgrades or other promotions that will make your cruise for valuable.

    If you're cruising during high season, you are also probably going to be saving a lot of money. However, I wouldn't suggest high season because the ports tend to be more crowded and it's harder to find space on private excursions. High season (such as Thanksgiving) tends to only be valuable if it's convenient for your work/school vacation schedules (which is why they cost so much). But if you have a fairly open schedule, don't cruise during high season just so you can feel like you're saving money!

    Regarding bringing additional people, again that cuts into your overall savings.

    So how do you figure out what you're saving?

    Simply go to the NCL site at any time, and pretend like you're about to book a new balcony stateroom. On the right side of the screen, the total price will appear (before you have to enter your info or credit card). Subtract what you're actually paying from that price, and that's your savings.

    Finally, you can give yourself credit for a little bit of savings on drinks, provided you plan to use the casino bar to get free drinks.

    But be honest with yourself. If you really aren't saving that much, this probably isn't worth doing, unless you would have booked a similar cruise vacation anyway, even without this Seven Stars benefit.

  8. #8
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    VERIFIED:

    A married couple with two NCL cruise vouchers can't use them at the same time.

    This is yet another reason you should have your spouse listed at a different address than you in the TR system.

    If they have the same address, NCL will not allow them to take a "free" cruise on the same ship as you. (That is, they can be your second guest, but they can't get a second room on their voucher or Seven Stars benefit.)

    However, there is a small silver lining. If you want to COMBINE your benefits and get an upgraded room, you can call Teresita at NCL at (305) 436-4410 between 6am and 2:30pm PDT. Not sure how much they will upgrade you, I'm guessing not much. Maybe a balcony to a mini suite.

  9. #9
    Master of Props Daly's Avatar
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    One point of order on the shore excursions .... They are more money then booking independently. You pay more for the guarantee that they will hold the boat for you if something goes wrong. If you are doing a shopping tour at the pier its most likely a huge waste. If you are going to visit a pyramid in Belize and the bus breaks down you are fucked.

  10. #10
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daly View Post
    One point of order on the shore excursions .... They are more money then booking independently. You pay more for the guarantee that they will hold the boat for you if something goes wrong. If you are doing a shopping tour at the pier its most likely a huge waste. If you are going to visit a pyramid in Belize and the bus breaks down you are fucked.
    I think you're being a bit extreme here.

    If you are doing a long tour where it's going to cut it very close as to whether you'll make it back to the ship in time, then yes, it's a better idea to go with the ship-provided tours.

    However, if you're in port from 7am-4pm, and you have a 4-hour activity planned, you can easily do that on your own without panicking about missing the boat, provided you get an early enough start.

    I should also mention that independent excursion plans become increasingly cost-effective as your party is larger. So if you're by yourself, it can be expensive to hire your own private tour. However, if you are a family of 6, it's MUCH cheaper to hire the private guide, as the ship charges per person, and usually the private guides don't.

    You can also take the "rent a car and see everything yourself" approach, which is cheapest and most flexible. However, this is recommended only in first-world countries, as navigating in foreign countries can be difficult, even with a GPS device.

  11. #11
    Cubic Zirconia
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    New to forum and just wanted to say - WOW, amazing information. So much to think about it almost takes the fun out of going in the first place.
    Thanks for the clarification about the casino on the ship and its' relationship to Seven Stars.

     
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      YUUP: Welcome

  12. #12
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    BUMP

    Updated this.

    Deleted lots of old, obsolete info, and added a bunch of new stuff.

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