Are drinks packages on cruise ships worth the price? A line-by-line guide

Feb 28, 2020

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One of the big allures of a cruise for many holiday goers is that quite a lot is included in the fare.

For most cruises, the amount you pay up front will include not just your room on the ship but meals at some or all onboard restaurants and a wide range of entertainment.

Alas, one of the big things that is rarely included in the fare is drinks. Indeed, for many lines, drinks are one of the biggest onboard moneymakers.

Someone who orders just three cocktails a day on a cruise easily can rack up a bar bill exceeding £230 on a typical seven-night voyage. On some ships, such as those operated by cruise giant Royal Caribbean, a premium cocktail such as an Appletini will set you back more than £11, including the automatic gratuities that many lines add onto drinks bills.

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The good news is there are several ways to keep your beverage costs down while cruising. For starters, some lines will offer you a “free drinks” package at the time of booking as an incentive to lock in your business (more on that in a moment). There also are some lines (generally the pricier ones) that include drinks as part of the fare.

Finally, there are drinks packages that you can buy in advance of a sailing or while on board a ship that — depending on how much you and your travel companions can drink — can lower the total cost of a shipboard bar bill.

Related: Sneak peek at Scarlet Lady, the first-ever ship from Virgin Voyages

Drink charges on cruise ships: the big picture 

The cost of both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks varies significantly from ship to ship.

Many higher-end lines that play in the luxury travel space don’t charge a single pound for most drinks on their vessels. Even premium liquors and wines are included in the fare, with just a few ultrapremium spirits and rare wines coming with an extra charge. Among cruise operators that take such an all-inclusive approach are luxury operators Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line.

Other high-end cruise sellers that have an all-inclusive formula when it comes to drinks on ships include tour company Tauck, which markets a number of river ships; Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which operates both river and ocean ships; and river cruise-focused Uniworld.

Drinks in the Splendor Lounge on the Regent Seven Seas Cruises ship Seven Seas Splendor are included in the fare. (Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)
There’s no charge for drinks in the Splendor Lounge on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new ship, Seven Seas Splendor. (Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

There also are several cruise lines that include complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but still charge for drinks ordered during the day and evening at bars. Viking is one example, which has such a policy on both its ocean and river ships. River cruise line Avalon Waterways has a similar policy.

Some lines offer a slight variation on the drinks-with-lunch-and-dinner theme. River line AmaWaterways, for instance, has begun including select alcoholic drinks at no extra charge during predinner happy hours on its ships. That’s on top of beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

There also is one cruise operator, Disney Cruise Line, that includes the cost of soda in its base fare but not alcoholic drinks. Much to the delight of children on Disney ships, soda dispensers are accessible for free near Disney ship pools. Complimentary soft drinks also are available at teen-only lounges on Disney ships. Oddly enough, you’ll pay extra for sodas at Disney bars and lounges.

A number of river lines and some ocean ship operators — Sea Cloud Cruises, for instance — have speciality coffee machines in public areas that are available to passengers at no extra charge.

Most of the big-ship lines that cater to broad audiences such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises charge for almost all drinks on board. These are the lines that typically have the most extensive drinks packages.

How to snag a free drinks package 

Most big-ship lines offer one or more drinks packages for an extra charge. But, you might be able to get one of the packages for free. Some big-ship lines will throw in drinks packages for no extra cost as a perk during limited-time booking promotions.

The line perhaps best known for throwing in free drinks packages as a booking perk is Norwegian. Norwegian seemingly always is running some variation of its “Free at Sea” promotion that brings a choice of a free drinks package, free speciality dining, free excursions and other perks. Depending on the cabin category you book, you can get one or more of the freebies thrown in.

Norwegian Cruise Line often throws in free drinks as a booking incentive.
Norwegian Cruise Line often throws in free drinks as a booking incentive.

Other lines that sometimes run promotions with free drinks packages include Princess Cruises and Holland America.

The pros and cons of a drinks package

Does it make sense to buy a drinks package if you aren’t offered one as a booking incentive? The quick answer is that, well, it depends.

The first thing you should do when considering a drinks package is carefully think through how many drinks (and what type) you normally order while on vacation.

Drinks packages on ships often are quite pricey, and they only make sense if you’re a big spender on drinks — a really big spender. Carnival, for instance, charges as much as $59.95 (about £46) per person, per day for its Cheers! drinks package. Royal Caribbean drinks packages sometimes cost as much as $89 (about £69) per day. One Norwegian drinks package is over $120 (about £93) a day. These packages only make sense if you routinely spend more than those amounts on drinks on a per-day basis.

Well-known mixologist Rob Floyd helped Princess Cruises redesign the cocktail menu on its ships in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Well-known mixologist Rob Floyd helped Princess Cruises redesign its cocktail menu in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

If you’re a beer drinker, the packages generally are not a good deal. It’s better just to pay for beer as you go. On Carnival ships, for instance, many beers cost $6.25 (just less than £5). You’d have to order more than nine beers a day at that price for Carnival’s Cheers! package to start paying off.

The packages make better sense for wine drinkers, as the cost of wine by the glass on cruise ships often is high. Wines by the glass on Carnival ships range from around £6 to £11. At the higher end of that spectrum, you’d have to order five glasses a day for the package to start paying off.

Note that, in addition to alcoholic drinks, passengers purchasing a drinks package typically also can order an unlimited number of nonalcoholic beverages such as speciality coffees and sodas that normally come with an extra charge. So, the packages can be a good value to holiday goers who are fond of ordering a high numbers of lattes, Cokes and other nonalcoholic beverages during the day in addition to alcoholic drinks.

To use the Carnival example again, someone who orders two or three lattes in the morning, several sodas during the day and three or four glasses of premium wine in the evening would come out ahead by buying a drinks package.

One thing to keep in mind is that lines generally sell drinks package by the cruise, not by the day. If you’re on a seven-day cruise, you’ll have to pay the steep per day rates for all seven days. You can’t just purchase a drinks package on the handful of days you plan to really booze it up.

That means the packages make the most sense for passengers who consistently order a large number of drinks from day to day.

On many ships, you’ll also need to factor in the drinking habits of your travelling companion. Several lines including Carnival, Holland America and MSC Cruises have a rule that, if one adult in a cabin orders a drinks package, all adults in the cabin must order the package. This is to prevent two people in a cabin from sharing a single drinks package.

Two lines that notably don’t have such a rule are Princess Cruises and Windstar Cruises.

Below is a line-by-line look at available drinks packages (for lines that offer them; as noted above, there are some lines that don’t charge for most drinks and thus don’t offer drinks packages). Note that the pricing listed is per person, per day. In cases where a line offers more than one drinks package, we’ve highlighted the most inclusive package in detail while also noting other packages cruisers can consider.

Carnival Cruise Line

Package name: Cheers!

Cost per day: $56.95 to $59.95, when purchased on board, not including an 18% automatic gratuity charge; $51.95 to $54.95 plus the gratuity charge when purchased in advance of sailing.

Available on: All ships except those sailing in Europe or Australia

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and most bottled water. The package also features a 25% discount on wine bottle purchases.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $20

Fine Print: More expensive drinks are available at a 25% discount. If one adult in a cabin purchases the package, all adults in the same cabin also must purchase it. There’s a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks per person in a 24-hour period.

Celebrity Cruises

Package name: Premium Beverage

Cost per day: $69, not including a 20% automatic gratuity charge

Available on: All ships except those in the Galápagos (where drinks are included in the fare)

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and premium bottled water. The package also brings a 20% discount on wine bottle purchases.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $15

Other packages: Celebrity offers two less-inclusive, less-pricey alcoholic drinks package. The Standard package, costing $45, only includes select beer, wine and cocktails priced at up to $6 as well as soda and bottled water. The Classic package, costing $59, adds alcoholic drinks priced at up to $9 as well as fresh-squeezed and bottled juices, premium coffees and teas. Wine bottle packages also are available.

Fine print: Packages do not include drinks from in-room minibars or shipboard wine dispensing machines. Drinks ordered through room service also aren’t included.

Holland America Line

Package name: Elite Beverage

Cost per day: $59.95, including a 15% gratuity charge

Available on: All ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and bottled water.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $15

Other packages: The slightly less expensive Signature Beverage Package only includes drinks costing up to $11. It costs $54.95 per day.

Fine print: If one adult in a cabin purchases a package, all adults in the same cabin also must purchase it. Packages do not include drinks from in-room minibars or ordered through room service. The package is not valid on Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay.

MSC Cruises

Package name: Premium Plus

Cost per day: $79, not including a 15% gratuity charge

Available on: All ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, spirits, aperitifs, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and bottled water. The package also brings a 30% discount on wine bottle purchases.

Limitations related to drink cost: None

Other packages: The slightly less expensive Premium Package only includes drinks costing up to $12. It costs $62 per day. The far-less-pricey Easy Package only includes a limited number of drinks costing up to $6 and is not valid in extra-charge speciality restaurants.

Fine print: If one person in a cabin purchases a package, all people in the same cabin or travelling group also must purchase a package (children in cabins will be charged for a less-expensive, nonalcoholic package). Packages are not available on sailings shorter than three nights with the exception of South America sailings.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Package name: Premium Plus Beverage

Cost per day: $128, not including a 20% gratuity charge

Available on: All ships except Pride of America

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and bottled water. Select bottles of wine also are included. There’s a 40% discount on other bottles of wine.

Limitations related to drink cost: None

Other packages: Norwegian has two less-inclusive, less-expensive alcoholic beverage packages. The Corks and Caps Wine and Beer Package, costing $65 per day, includes beer, wines by the glass costing up to $15, soda and juices. The Premium Beverage Package, priced at $99 per day, adds spirits and cocktails priced up to $15. Norwegian’s Hawaii-based Pride of America has a single drinks package costing $99 per day.

Fine print: If one passenger in a cabin purchases a package, everyone in the same cabin as well as other cabins tied to the same method of payment must purchase the package, too. Children are charged for a less-expensive, nonalcoholic package. Packages do not include drinks from in-room minibars or ordered through room service.

Oceania Cruises

Package name: Prestige Select

Cost per day: $59.95, including gratuities

Available on: All ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks and cocktails. Sodas, bottled water and speciality coffees already are included in the fare on Oceania sailings. The package also brings a 20% discount to wine-pairing dinners on Oceania’s Marina and Riviera.

Limitations related to drink cost: None

Other packages:  Oceania offers a less expensive House Select package that includes wine and beer with lunch and dinner. It costs $39.95 per day. A wine bottle package also is available.

Fine print: None.

Princess Cruises

Package name: Premier Beverage

Cost per day: $59, not including an 18% gratuity charge. On Australia cruises, packages are priced in Australian dollars at 86.99 Australian dollars, or about $57.60, per day.

Available on: All ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks, speciality cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, smoothies, milkshakes, speciality coffees, teas and bottled water. The package also brings a 25% discount on wine bottle purchases.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $12

Other packages: Princess also offers discount beer packages on most sailings.

Fine print: There’s a limit of 15 alcoholic drinks per day. The package is not available for Australia-based itineraries shorter than seven nights or voyages shorter than three nights in all other regions.

A bar on a Princess Cruises ship. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
A bar on a Princess Cruises ship. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Royal Caribbean 

Package name: Deluxe Beverage

Cost per day: $69 to $89, not including an 18% gratuity charge

Available on: All Royal Caribbean ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, spirits, mixed drinks, cocktails, soda, juices, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, speciality coffees, teas and premium bottled water. The package also brings a 40% discount on wine bottle purchases for bottles costing up to $100. More expensive bottles come with a 20% discount.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $12

Fine print: If one adult in a cabin purchases a package, all adults in the same cabin also must purchase it. Packages do not include drinks from in-room minibars or those ordered through room service.

Viking 

Package name: Silver Spirits

Cost per day: $19.95, including gratuities

Available on: All ocean ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, mixed drinks and cocktails (sodas, beer and house wines by the glass ordered at lunch and dinner already are included in the fare at Viking; so are speciality coffees and teas at all hours). The package also brings a 15% discount on wine bottles and premium beverages costing more than $15 that aren’t included in the package.

Limitations related to drink cost: Cannot be used for drinks priced over $15

Fine print: None.

Windstar Cruises

Package name: Captain’s Exclusive Beverage

Cost per day: $59, not including a 15% gratuity charge

Available on: All ships

What it includes: Beer, wine by the glass, spirits and cocktails. Sodas, speciality coffees and other nonalcoholic beverages already are included in the fare on Windstar sailings. The package also brings a 30% discount on wine bottle purchases for bottles costing up to $100.

Limitations related to drink cost: None

Other packages: The less-costly Topmast Discoveries Beer & Wine Package, at $49 per day, includes a choice of beers and premium wines but not spirits and cocktails.

Fine print: None

Planning a cruise for 2020? Find everything you need to know here:

Featured image courtesy of Princess Cruises 

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