Cruise Line Beverage Packages: To Drink Package or Not to Drink Package, That Is the Question | CruiseHabit

Cruise Line Beverage Packages: To Drink Package or Not to Drink Package, That Is the Question

Whether sipping a fruity drink by the pool or enjoying a pint at a pub, alcoholic beverages are ubiquitous with cruising.  The cost of those drinks can certainly add up, but in the past 10-15 years, some cruise lines have started serving up unlimited drink packages and other options which allow you to better manage your bar tabs and even coffee expenses.  The cost, benefits, and restrictions can vary by cruise line, so let’s explore the overall concept of beverages packages, and some of the things unique to the offerings on each cruise line.  We recommend you do the math before your next cruise, we don't recommend you smuggle booze, for a number of reasons we cover here.

Drink Packages – The Basics

Whether they’re called drink packages, unlimited alcohol packages, or branded terms (such as Carnival’s “Cheers!” package the general concept is the same.  Passengers can pay a flat fee (usually at a set cost per day for the duration of the cruise), and the majority of beverages are included as part of the package.  Many times these packages include non-alcoholic beverages as well, such as fresh juices, espresso-based coffee drinks, bottled water, and soda.  In fact, some lines even offer non-alcoholic beverage packages, for guests who are only interested in soda, bottled, water, etc.

While the details vary by line (and we’ll get to that in a moment), there are some reasonably universal truths when it comes to beverage packages.

  • You cannot get beverage packages for only specific days – it’s generally all or nothing.  While you may be able to purchase a package a day or two into the sailing, it must be purchased for all remaining days.
  • You cannot share any of these packages.  Because of people sharing packages, most lines now require that if one person in a room gets a package, everyone in the stateroom who is of drinking age must also purchase it (find out the drinking age for different lines here).
  • Taking a drink to your stateroom is totally fine – but drinks ordered via room service are not included.  Mini-bars aren’t included either.
  • Drink packages cover you while on the ship – but not while in port (though some lines extend the befits to their private islands – we’ll get to that).
  • Souvenir glasses are not included – so be careful when someone comes by the pool with those fancy cups.
  • There is usually a 15-20% service charge in addition to the cost of the package, but you’re not charged per drink.  Always check to see if the advertised price includes the service charge.
  • Bottles of wine and champagne aren't included, though sometimes discounted (see below).  Splits are sometimes included.

Are Beverage Packages a Good Deal?

Whether you find value in a beverage package will depend greatly on the below factors:

  • How much you expect to drink, keeping in mind that while you’re visiting ports you’ll be paying for a package that only works on the ship.
  • What you expect to drink.  If you drink $14 single-malts you won’t need to have nearly as many drinks to make it worth it compared to someone drinking $5 beers.
  • The cost of the beverage package.  Costs vary by line, and even sailing.

We’ve heard some who suggest you should “figure out how much you need to drink to break even”, but this seems like a mistake to us.  Figure out if what you’d like to drink will hit a break even point or offer a good return on your investment.  Most of us could drink enough to break even if we had to.  If your itinerary is port-intensive, you’ll be spending less time on the ship, so for many, the economy of these packages fades quickly.

We’d suggest looking at your itinerary, then find a recent bar menu from the same ship (or at least cruise line) on which you’ll be traveling.  Figure out what you’d likely be drinking on each day – and don’t forget about espresso-based coffee drinks and bottled water, if they’re not complimentary on the line you’re sailing.  Once you total those purchases up using the prices on the menu, figure out if the total cost would be more or less than the cost of the beverage package.

Drink Package Information for Popular Cruise Lines

The below information is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the writing of this article and applies to North American sailings.  There are many other packages as mentioned, which may only include soda, for example, but we’re focusing on the alcoholic beverage packages here.  Unless otherwise noted, beverages over the included threshold can be purchased by paying the difference in cost – though this doesn’t usually apply to the “lower tier” packages some lines offer, which we’ve not covered below.  If you have questions about a cruise line you don’t see below, just ask us in the comments and we’ll help you out.

Carnival’s Cheers! Package

Cost: $45.95/person/day in advance, $54.95 when purchased onboard

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, specialty coffees, bottled water, and other non-alcoholic beverages

Restrictions: 15 alcoholic drinks per day.  Doesn’t cover drinks costing more than $50 each.  Does not include drinks purchased on Half Moon Cay or Amber Cove (private Carnival destinations).

Bonus: Includes a 25% discount on bottles of wine and champagne, beverage classes/seminars, and drinks over $50 each

 

Celebrity’s Premium Package

Cost: $65/person/day when purchased onboard, though Celebrity often bundles these packages, offering much better rates as part of their “Good, Better, Best” promotions.

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, specialty coffees, bottled water, and other non-alcoholic beverages

Restrictions: The passenger must cover the cost of any drink costing more than $13 each.

Bonus: Includes a 20% discount on bottles of wine and champagne.  Includes beverages purchased at Labadee and Coco Cay, Celebrity’s private destinations.

Notes: Celebrity offers a number of other alcoholic beverage packages at lower prices which don’t cover the same range of spirits, wines, etc.

 

Holland America Line’s Elite Beverage Package

Cost: $49.95/person/day in advance, $54.95 when purchased onboard

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, specialty coffees, bottled water, and other non-alcoholic beverages

Restrictions: 15 alcoholic drinks per day.  Doesn’t cover drinks costing more than $15 each.

Notes: HAL also offers a “Signature” beverage package at $5 less per day and doesn’t cover some premium spirits, wines, etc.

 

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Ultimate Beverage Package

Cost: $79/person/day.  Beverage packages are frequently available as part of optional promotions at time of booking, which greatly reduces cost.

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, juice

Restrictions: Doesn’t cover drinks costing more than $15 each, nor energy drinks, coffee, fresh-squeezed juice, or bottled water

Bonus: Includes drinks on Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island

Notes: In addition to cabin-mates, anyone on the same payment account must purchase a package if one person does.  If adults traveling with children purchase beverage packages, soda package will need to be purchased for the children (2 and up).  Beverage packages are included on all NCL Sky sailings, and are not available on Pride of America sailings (Hawaii).  North American sailings booked in the UK include beverage packages on all sailings.

 

Princess’ Premier Package

Cost: $59.99/person/day

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, specialty coffees, bottled water, milkshakes and other non-alcoholic beverages

Restrictions: Doesn’t cover drinks costing more than $12 each.

Bonus: Includes a 20% discount on bottles of wine and champagne.

Notes: Unlike most lines, Princess does not require all guests in a stateroom purchase a package if one does.

 

Royal Caribbean’s Deluxe Beverage Package

Cost: $55/person/day onboard, prices vary for advanced purchase but are often 20% off or lower

Included: mixed drinks, spirits, beer, wine, soda, virgin cocktails, specialty coffees, bottled water, milkshakes and other non-alcoholic beverages

Restrictions: Doesn’t cover drinks costing more than $12-$14 each, depending on the ship.  Doesn’t cover drinks purchased at free-standing Starbucks locations on-board

Bonus: Includes a 20% discount on bottles of wine and champagne.  Includes beverages purchased at Labadee and Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private destinations.

Notes: Royal Caribbean is the process up updating their policy to require that all persons of drinking age in a stateroom must purchase a package if one does.  You may find conflicting information because of this, but we’d bet that this will be the policy on all sailings in the near future.  For more information on Royal Caribbean’s beverage packages, check out RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com.

 

Wrapping Up

Drinks are just one of the potentially variable expenses on cruise lines, and for some, drink packages are a nice way to either limit the cost, or simply make the cost more predictable.  It’s important however to do your research and find out whether or not these offerings are a slam dunk or a gutter-ball, because no one wants a surprise bill at the end of a cruise – nor unnecessary expenditures.  (You can read about unexpected cruising costs here)

If you’re looking to build more into the cost of your cruise, there are options.  More and more we’re seeing specialty dining, internet access, and more offered as add-ons to cruises – rather than a la carte purchases.  Further, there are many cruise lines which offer truly all-inclusive experiences, and while they may offer some sticker shock, they can also be good values when you factor in the cost of shore excursions, drinks, transfers, pre/post-cruise hotel stays, and more.

No matter what you decide, remember that one of the greatest parts of cruising is having options – doing as much or as little as you want, so enjoy your cruise and try not to keep count of every dime and inefficiency…unless of course you plan to write about it when you get back.

What are your opinions on drink packages?  Do you usually purchase a package or go a la carte?  Comment below or reach out on Twitter or Facebook