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I got a free cruise in the ship casino. Here's what it really cost me


Did you know that if you gamble enough in your ship's casino, you could earn a free cruise? 

Graham Bernard and his wife Jodie recently experimented to see how much they'd have to gamble on Royal Caribbean to reach Prime status within the cruise line's Club Royale Rewards Program. 

According to his Facebook post, they were able to reach Prime status after 10 hours of gambling and betting $7.25 per spin on the slot machines. While the couple spent $2,260 in the casino, he claims the total value of the Prime status exceeds the cost.

Read more: How old you have to be to drink and gamble on a cruise

Between the value of the free cruise and complimentary drinks, Graham estimates that the total value of Prime status is around $9,210


The key to maximizing Prime's benefits is to achieve the status by spending as little on gambling as possible. "We looked at how slot machines typically pay out," Graham shares, "and worked out what machines would be best to play in order to achieve Prime with the lowest cost possible (excluding a lucky win of course)."

He continues, "Basically, we selected a machine that did not have a big link Jackpot - as those machines make [fewer] small payouts in order to accrue money from the punters for the eventual large payout." 

Graham and his wife exclusively stuck to slot machines, where you gain one point per $5 bet, rather than try their luck at table games. To reach Prime status, you must obtain 2,500 points, gambling around $12,500. 


The couple, however, didn't actually spend $12,500, as their out-of-pocket cost was shy of $2,300. It took them around 10 hours of gambling activity to hit Prime status, all of which was completed within the first two days of their 17-night Transpacific sailing aboard Ovation of the Seas. 

Points are tracked via SeaPass cards, so when gambling and wanting to keep track of your overall status, you must remember to sign into the machine with your cruise card. If you reach Prime status in the middle of a sailing, you can immediately utilize the perks, rather than having to wait for your next cruise. 

As the Bernards reached Prime status at the beginning of the 2024 Club Royale season, which goes from April 1, 2024 to March 31, 2025, they'll be able to use the benefits, including complimentary drinks in the casino, for close to two years, as perks are valid for the year in which they were reached and the following one. 


Graham tallied how many cruise days they have booked over the next two years, and they have 138 days at sea to enjoy their newfound Prime benefits. Assuming Prime status saves them $45 per day on alcoholic drinks, they'll have an extra $6,210 in their pockets in March 2026 than they would have if they had to purchase each drink! 

"We received several free bottles of wine from the Casino...during that cruise [as we didn't] gamble again after reaching Prime," Graham claims. Plus, on top of the drinks and free cruise, they received $150 in FreePlay.  

Read more: How much cash should you bring on a cruise? 

The catch? The free cruise isn't completely "free"


Though the Bernards won't have to pay the fare for themselves, they're required to pay taxes, port fees, and other expenses. Plus, if they want to cruise with a third or fourth passenger, they'll have to pay the standard fare, as the free cruise only covers the first and second passengers. 

This is a common practice in the industry. Even when lines offer "Kids Sail Free" deals, parents must pay for their taxes and other applicable fees, as well as gratuities. Whenever you see a promotion that's almost too good to be true, read the fine print, as there's almost always some catch, whether a certain age restriction, occupancy requirement, etc. 

Additionally, free Prime cruises are limited to sailings up to 7 nights in interior staterooms, meaning that they cannot be redeemed for Transatlantic cruises or 10-night European getaways in ocean-view or balcony cabins.  


Regardless, even though a "free" cruise isn't 100% free, it's certainly cheaper than paying for all of the expenses out-of-pocket. Rather than shelling out thousands of dollars for the base fare of a 7-night cruise, that money can be allocated toward other add-ons or even another cruise! 

Read more: I've been on 10 cruises. Here are 9 things I always pay extra for on my vacation

Royal Caribbean's Club Royale has four tiers


The first, Choice (1 to 2,499 points), is the entry-level tier for all passengers. Choice status doesn't really come with any benefits worth writing home about, so those seeking free cruises and other complimentary perks will want to strategically gamble to reach Prime (2,500 to 24,999 points) within a qualification period. 

Those within the Prime tier receive benefits like a discount on VOOM Wi-Fi and spa treatments, free drinks in the casino, an annual cruise in an inside cabin (up to 7 nights), and a waiver on cash advances in the casino. 

With the Signature level (25,000 to 99,999 points), you will receive all of the benefits you did as a Prime member, as well as free Wi-Fi for one device and an ocean-view balcony for your annual cruise, rather than an interior cabin. 


The highest tier within Royal Caribbean's Club Royale program is Master, which requires 100,000+ points. Master-level players benefit from a wide array of perks, including priority check-in, access to Coastal Kitchen, complimentary internet for two devices, extra onboard credit (based on the length of the sailing), a free annual cruise in a Grand Suite, and more. 

Unlike Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society, however, Club Royale is more akin to airline and hotel loyalty programs, with points that must be accumulated annually to reach certain status levels. In order words, if you reach Prime status this year, you aren't grandfathered into the tier for life. 

Those loyal to other cruise lines should research the benefits of their casino reward programs

Prima casino

Do you have an upcoming Carnival cruise? Look into their Players Club®. According to their website, " [can] earn free drinks twice as fast as on any other cruise line." Plus, the more points you earn, the more benefits you can enjoy, such as discounts on cruises, and private invitations to Carnival Premier Cruises and tournaments. 

Norwegian Cruise Line's casino loyalty program is called Casinos At Sea, and like Royal Caribbean's program, it's comprised of four tiers: Pearl, Sapphire, Ruby, and Elite. 

One major difference between the two is that to reach the "entry-level" tier with Norwegian, you must accumulate 4,000 points. Moreover, you aren't eligible for complimentary drinks until you reach Ruby status, which requires a minimum of 35,000 points during a tier evaluation period. 


And while Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are owned by Royal Caribbean Group, their casino programs are structured differently. On Celebrity, for example, there are six tiers: Pearl, Onyx, Amethyst, Sapphire, Sapphire Plus, and Ruby. 

The highest tier, Ruby, requires an astonishing 1,000,000 points; however, it's slightly easier to earn points gambling in Celebrity's casino versus Royal Caribbean's, as wagering just $1 on the slots and $2 on video poker earns you one point. You also earn eight tier points for every $1 on theoretical table games. 

The annual cruise benefit is awarded to those who have Amethyst (25,000 points) status and higher. Once you reach the Sapphire level (100,000) points, you'll receive a complimentary Classic Drinks Package. 

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