Drink Up! (Or Not): Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth the Cost?
I go on a lot of cruises.
So one of the questions people ask me most frequently is whether drink packages are worth the cost.
My answer? It depends.
Most cruise lines include basic beverages like coffee, tea and water with the fare because, honestly, they don’t want passengers falling over on deck from dehydration.
But when it comes to Frappucino lattes or finely aged port, you’re going to need to pony up some cash.
Coffee, Tea or Wheeeee!
A lot of cruisers enjoy a poolside drink (or more — ahem) or a cocktail with dinner. Others like to sip fancy coffees or chug soda all day.
Prices vary wildly by cruise line and drink type so it’s virtually impossible to list them all here.
Here are some baseline individual prices on popular beverages to help you calculate how much you could spend on drinks per day:
- Soda — $4
- Latte — $4
- Domestic beer — $6
- Mixed drink — $10
- House (okay, ship) wine — $12
You can certainly buy sodas, Americanos or cocktails one at a time. But if you plan on ordering more than a couple during the course of a day, it might make more sense to buy your beverages in bulk.
Oh, yes — I’m talking about a drink package.
How Do You Wet Your Whistle?
While some cruise lines offer them as part of the ticket price or as a promotional deal to entice customers, drink packages are typically something you’ll need to purchase at extra cost.
Whether cruise drink packages are a bargain for you depends on how much you drink and and what kinds of drinks quench your thirst.
Give Me All the Drinks
If you love a variety of both boozy and non-alcoholic drinks, then an all-inclusive package is the one for you.
From fresh-squeezed orange juice and specialty coffee in the morning to fine scotch and umbrella drinks at night, these packages cover pretty much everything.
Price: $49.95 per person, per day, if you buy before boarding. It’s $54.95 per person, per day, if you buy on board. Both packages include a 15% gratuity.
The CHEERS! package includes any alcohol on the ship that’s priced $50 or lower per serving. It also includes smoothies and virgin frozen drinks, soda, juice, specialty coffees and teas, a variety of bottled waters, even energy drinks to keep the party going all night.
CHEERS! also snags cruisers a 25% discount on bottles of wine and champagne, cocktails priced over $50 and tickets to beverage classes and seminars.
Sorry, Disney cruisers, you’re out of luck. This line doesn’t offer an all-access drink package.
Price: $79 per day, plus an 18% gratuity.
The Ultimate Package includes soda, beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails priced $15 or less.
Royal’s Deluxe Package includes juice, soda, premium coffees and teas, bottled water, beer, wine and cocktails priced up to $12.
Cruisers with the Deluxe Package also get 40% off bottled wines up to $100 and 20% off bottled wines over $100.
Just Wine, Thanks
If you prefer vino over mixed drinks, a wine package may be right up your alley.
Carnival’s wine package prices are based on the length of the cruise. On trips six days or less, prices range from $77 to $114 for three bottles, depending on the brand labels you choose. On trips seven days or longer, the price range jumps up to $193.
Like Carnival, Disney’s wine package prices are based on the length of your cruise. Classic Packages range from $89 to $199, while Premium Packages will set you back anywhere from $136 to $309, depending on the kind of wine you choose.
A 15% gratuity will be applied to all packages.
Instead of a stand-alone wine package, Norwegian rolled vino into a $59 per day combo package that also includes beer and soda. An 18% gratuity will be applied.
Bummer, wine lovers. Royal doesn’t currently offer any packages exclusively for wine.
Here for the Beer
Not many cruise lines offer beer-only drink packages, but cheer up! They don’t ignore beer lovers all together.
Carnival doesn’t currently offer any beer packages, so its CHEERS! program might be the best option.
If you pay $14.95, you’ll score a snazzy souvenir mug you can refill with 21 ounces of beer for the 16-ounce price at any bar on the ship.
There’s no beer-only package on Norwegian, but you can snag the beer, wine and soda combo package for $59 per day.
Royal doesn’t have beer-only packages, but many ships in its fleet offer buckets of beer for a discount off the per-bottle price.
For the Non-Booze Cruisers
Teetotalers need love too. Check out these non-boozy packages for kids and people who prefer to skip the sauce.
The Bottomless Bubbles unlimited soda package for adults is $6.50 per day. The price drops to $4.95 for passengers 17 and younger.
Bottled water is available for purchase and delivery to your stateroom. A 12-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles is $4.50.
Soda, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk and juice are available at no cost from any dining area on the ship. Complimentary soda is also available at the teens-only lounge.
Soda packages are $8.50 per day for adults and kids and include a cool souvenir insulated cup. Large and small cases of Evian bottled water are available for delivery right to your stateroom starting at $39.
For the DIYers
Most cruise lines allow passengers to bring a limited amount of wine, champagne or non-alcoholic beverages with them when they board.
Each line has its own policies, so be sure to check with them before you arrive at the port to find out what’s permitted and what’s not.
- 12 12-ounce cans or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages like juice, milk and soda
- One 750-milliliter bottle of unopened wine per adult
- 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750-milliliter) or six 12-ounce beers
- Passengers may bring their sealed bottles of wine but will be charged a corkage fee per bottle: $15 for a 750 milliliter bottle or $30 for a 1,500 ml Magnum bottle
- Two bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 milliliters).
Pros and Cons of Cruise Drink Packages
If you’re still on the fence about whether to get a beverage package, consider your ship’s itinerary.
If your trip is port-intensive, you won’t be on the ship most days to use your package, so it may not be worth the expense.
One exception: Drink packages are usually valid on private islands owned by the cruise line.
There are a few pros and cons to think about that may help sway your decision in one direction or the other.
- A fixed cost means no huge surprise bar tab at the end of the cruise.
- Access to a variety of drinks, brands and flavors to indulge whatever you’re in the mood for at the moment.
- Try new drinks risk-free. If you don’t like it, you’re not out the money for a beverage you’re not going to finish.
- It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to “get your money’s worth,” so you might end up drinking more alcohol or calorie-laden soda that you usually do.
- Some of the well and house alcohol is, to be honest, complete crap. It can range from kinda lousy to outright undrinkable.
- The really expensive stuff isn’t usually included, so if your heart is set on quaffing Johnny Walker Blue for a week, expect to pay extra for it.
- Certain cruise lines, like Carnival and Norwegian, require that when one guest in a stateroom purchases a drink package, every adult staying in that stateroom must also buy a drink package.
- Some unlimited drink packages aren’t so unlimited after all. For example, Carnival passengers are limited to 15 alcoholic drinks per day.
Skip the Tricks, Not the Tips
A few more things to keep in mind:
- If you’re tempted to be tricksy and smuggle prohibited beverages on board or secretly share a drink package with someone else, take my advice. Don’t do it. Passengers try all kinds of weird stuff to get around paying for drinks on their vacation, but cruise lines have seen everything. Assume they’re on to you too.
- Most drink packages include a built-in gratuity for your servers. If you can afford to tip an extra dollar or so on every drink you order, you’ll be doing the hard working servers a huge favor that’ll almost certainly be reflected in extra-special service.
- Read the fine print before you buy (and before you’ve had your first drink). That’s where you’ll find the final word on costs and fees, along with other important information like whether the stuff in the mini bar is included in your package (probably not).
A final note: The packages and prices I’ve listed here are merely a guide. They change all the time, so please check with the cruise line directly before you cruise for the most up to date information.
Your turn: Have you ever bought cruise drink packages?
Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She has around 28 insulated souvenir cups from her cruises so she clearly digs a drink package when she sails.