How I Got a Penthouse for $1K for 11 Days

December 24, 2014

Now that I've got your attention, I should also clarify that the penthouse for which I'm speaking (writing) is actually aboard a cruise ship, not to be confused with its land-based brethren. But yes, I was able to enjoy all the benefits, perks and privileges of a guest staying in a luxurious and spacious penthouse aboard the Norwegian Pearl for a total cabin cost of $1,049 as a solo passenger (more on that absurdity below).

I'm writing this post from my penthouse balcony and will likely put online a few days thereafter, but the story is true and no names have been changed to avoid the guilty 🙂

Ross in CuracaoSix weeks ago, I made the not-so-odd decision to book a cruise vacation with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). This is fairly common for me, as my friends and family will attest. I'd been monitoring the prices of the Norwegian Pearl – no argument needed as its my favorite ship in their fleet – for a 10- or 11-day cruise to the eastern and southern Caribbean. My hold back had been work and cost, but  "use it or lose it" at work for vacation time, and a drop in prices led me to take the plunge. I booked an inside cabin with an automatic upgrade to an obstructed view for $1,035; for a solo-traveler , 11-days, visiting St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Curacao and Aruba. A steal of a deal, for those who know the industry and what solo occupied cabins can cost.

I should add a few additional details. I am a resident of Florida and had reached Platinum status (the highest) with NCL earlier in the year after sailing the all-new Norwegian Getaway (now my second-favorite ship). I've been sailing NCL for more seven years; and we've had our ups and downs, but mostly ups.

My personal cruise consultant made the final booking, although I'd shopped CruCon and they had a better onboard credit offer. My decision to stick with NCL for the actual booking was, "… if you have questions and if the price goes down I do not know if they will go to bat for you and see if they can get you upgrades…." GREAT! Even though CruCon was offering a better deal, I stuck with NCL knowing that my dates would likely drop in pricing.

Again, another note of detail. I like to sail the week BEFORE the week of Christmas. As I sit here, this is the third time on December 12 in the past five years I've been aboard the Pearl. The pricing is usually low because it's between two peak periods of demand; Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years.

I didn't think much more of the trip for the next few weeks. My coworkers were more jealous of the fact that I was able to take 11 days off and sail the Caribbean. I made it through the days at the office, the school work, and got to Thanksgiving week.

I'd already decided I'd keep an eye on emails that week, knowing that it was Black Friday and NCL was already sending me at least one email a day. Sure enough, that Tuesday before Thanksgiving (16 days before sailing), I checked and prices for my cruise had dropped. Keeping with my personal mantra of, "nothing ventured, nothing gained," I sent an email to my personal cruise consultant with Norwegian. She responded back, knowing I didn't want a porthole room (long story, but I don't want to be on decks 4 or 5, as these are the decks used for embarkation/disembarkation for ports of call; not my preference), and was able to secure me the best ocean view room available at no extra cost. GREAT! I replied and had a new stateroom number soon after toward the aft part of the ship.

Then came along Black Friday, and while I was up at about 1 am that day for work-related promotions, I received an email and thought I'd check again later that day. Friday evening, I went online, and sure enough, pricing had dropped AGAIN! This time, pricing for a solo balcony was $300 less than what I had paid, and Minisuites were only $15.50 more than my original  booking. I thought, and thought, and thought. I decided if the prices were the same Saturday morning, I'd call my cruise consultant, but I sent her an email just to hopefully start the conversation.

Saturday morning arrived and from my iPad I confirmed that yep, pricing was still the same. I'd emailed my consultant before going to bed, but received her out-of-office until Sunday, response. I opted to call the general phone line, and again, "nothing venture, nothing gained," spoke with a great team member who confirmed I could in fact purchase the guaranteed Minisuite upgrade for $15.50.

For those who might not be familiar, a guaranteed room means that you are guaranteed that level/category of room OR BETTER, when you book. This will come in-to-play soon.

For $15.50, I thought the upgrade was a steal and pulled out my credit card. A balcony room with 100 more sq ft of space for 11 days seemed too good to be true. I was hoping that when they assigned my room, that I might get an aft-facing Minisuite, but I knew they couldn't guarantee anything.

The next full work week started, and I shared with a few of my friends and coworkers who enjoy cruising, what had happened over the holiday weekend. Each day I checked the website to see if my stateroom had been assigned, but Monday and Tuesday left a room number of "GTY" which meant I didn't have a room and therefore couldn't finalize my documents.

Eventually, Wednesday came around and I was in a weekly afternoon meeting when I got bored/distracted/whatever. The two project managers were chatting about status, and I took it upon myself to waste 30 seconds and see if my cabin number had been assigned. I logged in to NCL's website and saw cabin number 11512. "AWESOME!" I thought. I have a cabin number. Now, let's see where it is? I clicked over to the deck plans, pulled up deck 11, and nearly fell out of my chair. Grabbing the arm of my coworker, I realized cabin 11512 is a two-bedroom PENTHOUSE located forward near the stairs (it's actually the Amethyst Penthouse, for those keeping track at home).


I couldn't – and still can't even though I'm in the room – believe it. They'd more than upgraded me from a ~250 sq. ft. Minisuite to a ~550 sq. ft Penthouse for ONE PERSON!!! I checked again, and again, and asked my coworkers to look at the same screens. "REALLY?" Was the overwhelming response.

Entrance to Amethyst SuiteHonestly, I'm sure there's a logical reason. Latitudes (loyalty) status, a mistake in letting me book the guaranteed Minisuite, or just dumb luck. I don't know, but I couldn't be happier to be in such a great space aboard my favorite cruise ship. It's been three years since I was aboard her, and while she's had a few upgrades, she's still holding her own at eight years old.

Early on in my booking, I decided to add the on-board gratuities and later added the unlimited beverage package. What does this mean? Well, for about $160/day I've got an all-inclusive penthouse vacation traveling the Caribbean, complete with butler and concierge service, and a great 11 days of vacation.

So was this truly dumb luck, or was there some lessons learned to get you a similar experience? I'm not saying everyone (or anyone) will end up with a penthouse for less than $100 day, but here are some tips that have worked for me:

  • Consider traveling/cruising during slow or off-season times of the year for your destination. Traveling on or around spring break, summer, or the holidays can be the most expensive time to cruise/vacation, as demand is higher. The weeks before or after, or even months, can be hundreds if not thousands of dollars cheaper. This is true for almost any part of the travel industry.
  • Price-shop. Many companies use travel agencies to fill rooms, who receive a discount and then pass some or all of that discount on to you, the consumer. It also doesn't hurt to put them against each other; think car dealers of the same make/model.
  • Be patient. Sometimes waiting can pay off. I've only booked two of the 10 cruises I've taken previously in more than six weeks from sailing date (shh, don't tell them). I even booked a seven day Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Star 24 hours prior to her sailing; also known as my most spontaneous trip ever. While they reward a "book early and save" consumer, pricing does tend to drop on itineraries that match the first bullet, so waiting can work to your advantage. However, if you see only a "guaranteed" room/cabin available for your desired room type, you should book. It's likely they're just trying to fill up the last few rooms, or received inventory back from a reseller/agent.
  • Watch prices after booking. While NCL has a "best price guarantee," within seven days of purchase, they're also in a very competitive industry. If a price for a room/hotel/airfare drops after you've purchased, what's the harm in contacting the company? You may be surprised at the response, as customer satisfaction and loyalty are huge in today's travel and hospitality industry, which takes me to …
  • Penthouse & Loyalty SpoilsLoyalty. This can be hard if you tend to shop around, or if you don't prefer one company over another. I'm not fooling myself into thinking that my repeat customer status didn't have anything to do with my fortune. Again, this is my fifth time aboard the Pearl. That's not a small feat. Repeat visitation, loyalty, points-earners, whatever the program, can come in handy when you'd looking for that little extra special something.

Again, I can't stress enough that these results are far from being exactly duplicated. However, they've worked for me over the past few years, and all came into celestial alignment with my current vacation. Give it a shot! What have you got to lose?

Have you had a great upgrade or experience, with NCL or another cruise line? Share your experiences below.


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Caribbean, Cruise, NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line, Pearl, Vacation,