The Cost of Drinking on a Cruise
The all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation is perhaps its biggest attraction – inclusive of accommodations, food and many activities for a single price whilst cruising to far-off exotic destinations. It’s the perfect hassle-free vacation style for many people who crave the easy life and no-nonsense trip planning. The only thing missing is the free booze. Those endless poolside piña coladas can soon add up. Cruises undoubtedly offer superb value for money, but a few drinks each day can seriously blow your planned vacation budget out of the water. If you have a taste for beer, wine or hard liquor you could effectively see that ultra-cheap short cruises almost double in price. There is no getting away from the fact that shipboard drinks are expensive, even before gratuities are factored in. From $8 beers to $15 cocktails, drinking on a cruise can easily rack up an onboard bill of hundreds of dollars.
Sure you can abstain, but where is the fun in that? You can still enjoy your guilty pleasures without the worry of a huge bar tab with a little creative planning. Check out our insightful tips to make your dollars go that much further with drinks on cruises, and the all-important question of whether a prepaid drinks package or a-la-carte pricing is best for you.
- Are there any free drinks on cruises?
- Can I carry alcohol and beverages onboard the cruise ship?
- The truth about cruise line beverage packages
- Do I need to buy a beverage package on my cruise?
- Inclusive Drinks on a Luxury Cruise
- Tips about drinking on your cruise vacation
- Raising your glass without the sticker shock
Are there any free drinks on cruises?
Tea, coffee, tap water and non-carbonated drinks are often free for all passengers throughout the cruise in certain areas of the ship, but alas, you’ll have to shell out cash for your favourite alcoholic drinks on cruises. However, there are a few creative ways to score free drinks. If you can sit through the art auction, you can happily sip free wine or score free drinks (and nibbles) on cruises at the captain's cocktail party, which is usually open to all passengers on or before formal night.
Perhaps the best way to drink for free is to show your loyalty. Once you have taken a cruise with a line, you will be enrolled in their loyalty program, which unlocks a whole range of opportunities for free or cheaper boozing, depending on your tier status. This could entail invites to welcome-back parties and other social events with free drinks, or discount coupons for half-price drinking on a cruise.
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Can I carry alcohol and beverages onboard the cruise ship?
The simple answer is almost always no. However, that doesn’t deter hundreds of cruisers every year from trying to sneak bottles of scotch, rum and vodka aboard in a variety of creative ways. A quick browse of YouTube will find dozens of videos promising success with their sneaky booze smuggling hacks, but the simple fact is the cruise lines are aware of every trick out there. The penalty for getting caught? First up the embarrassment factor of being treated like a naughty school child is perhaps not the best way to kick off a cruise vacation. The illicit bottles will be confiscated until the end of the cruise and quite possibly you may never get them back. In the worst case scenario, there is even the threat of getting kicked off the ship which is perhaps unlikely, but worth keeping in mind before you hatch your smuggling plan.
There are some exceptions to the no-booze in bags rule. For many people, a cruise trip is a special occasion – perhaps an anniversary, birthday or even a honeymoon. A bottle of wine or Champagne is permitted on some lines to toast the occasion, although you may be liable for the corkage fee if imbibing in one of the shipboard restaurants. Bringing your own bottled water, soda and juice is allowed on some cruise lines although quite strict limits are set.
|Cruise Line||Minimum Drinking Age||Alcohol Allowed to be Carried Onboard|
|Carnival Cruise Line||21||1 bottle of wine/champagne|
|Celebrity Cruises||21||2 bottles of wine|
|Holland America Line||21||1 bottle of wine/champagne|
|MSC Cruises||21||No alcohol|
|Norwegian Cruise Line||21||Unlimited wine/champagne|
|Princess Cruises||21||1 bottle of wine/champagne|
|Royal Caribbean||21||2 bottles of wine/champagne|
|Crystal Cruises||21*||Unlimited alcohol|
|Regent Seven Seas||21||Unlimited alcohol|
|Silversea Cruises||21||Unlimited alcohol|
The truth about cruise line beverage packages
It sounds pretty enticing. Pay once prior to sailing and enjoy unlimited booze for the duration of your cruise. It’s easy to see the appeal of an ‘all you can drink’ package - no more worrying about running up a huge bar tab. Simply head to the bar, order what you like and enjoy. If you like a tipple, surely it’s a no-brainer. But not so fast… Not all prepaid drinks packages are made equal and each one has its own restrictions. Is an inclusive alcoholic beverages package right for you? That depends. Firstly, let’s look at the cost. They run for $50-60 per person per day (plus service charge), which means you will need to down quite a few drinks a day to make it worthwhile financially. Based on $10 cocktails, you would need to drink at least 6 each day. You’ll need to do the math to work out whether unlimited drinks on cruises offer any cost benefits, or check out one of the online drinks package calculators. Also factor in port of call days. You are required to buy the beverage package for every day of your cruise but you will likely not make full use of it with a full-day excursion on shore.
There are also a number of other restrictions to bear in mind before diving in and booking that booze-inclusive package. Most drinks packages have a unit cost upper limit of $12-$15 per drink, depending on the cruise line’s policy. If your favorite tipple is a more expensive premium single malt Scotch, you will have to pay the difference in price. Although wine by the glass is covered, whole bottles of wine are not, but there are sizable discounts offered for wine bottle purchases (up to 40%). Some lines also offer dedicated wine packages.
What about teetotaler cruisers and kids? There is a range of prepaid packages for you too. In fact there are even more non-alcoholic options available on most cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line’s ‘Bottomless Bubbles,’ Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. It starts with the soda package which is self-explanatory. You get unlimited refills at the soda fountain starting at under $10 a day depending on the line, and often involve a discount rate for kids. Regular and premium non-alcoholic drinks packages invariably bundles iced tea, fresh juices, specialty coffees, and mocktails for around $20 a day. Other beverage packages include coffee-only and bottled water only options.
If you decide to opt for one of the inclusive beverage packages, plan ahead and book it in advance to snag a discount. Most lines offer cheaper rates if booked in advance which can save you 10%-30%. From time to time, cruise lines roll out great cruise vacation deals which bundle a cheap base cruise fare with one or more added perks. Oftentimes this includes a free drinks package, or onboard credit. A well-timed booking could you save a ton of money.
Do I need to buy a beverage package on my cruise?
Beverage packages are not compulsory but there are very distinct rules governing what you can and cannot do with them. There is the obvious temptation to pay for one package and surreptitiously share it with your cruisemates. This is forbidden by virtually all lines, which mandates that if one person orders an alcoholic inclusive beverage package, every adult above drinking age in the same stateroom must also. This combats sneaky sharers but also makes it less attractive if your significant other is either a teetotaler or just a light drinker.
Another significant drawback for some cruisers is that drinks packages have to be purchased for the entirety of the cruise. So, consider this scenario: you have a big blowout on the first night and wish to take it easy the following day to nurse a hangover, so you are unlikely to get the cost benefit. Occasional drinkers are usually better off ordering a la carte.
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|Cruise Line||Beverages Included in Fare||Beverage Package Options||Cost of Beverage Packages|
|Carnival Cruise Line||No||Bottomless Bubbles Package||$7.50|
|Celebrity Cruises||No||Classic non-alcoholic||$18.00|
|Standard Beverage Package||$45.00|
|Holland America Line||No||Quench Package||$17.95|
|Signature Beverage Package||$57.44|
|Elite Beverage Package||$63.19|
|MSC Cruises||No||Non-alcoholic Package||$29.00|
|Easy Package (Selected drinks)||$35.00|
|Norwegian Cruise Line||No||Soft Drinks Program||$5.95-$7.95|
|Corks & Caps Wine & Beer Package||$65.00|
|Ultimate Beverage Package||$99.00|
|Princess Cruises||No||Unlimited Soda||$8.05|
|Premier Beverage Package||$59.99|
|Royal Caribbean||No||Classic Soda Package||$12.99|
|Deluxe Beverage Package||$63.00-$70.00|
|Regent Seven Seas||yes|
Inclusive Drinks on a Luxury Cruise
Only the ultra-luxury cruise lines offer a true all-inclusive product which means no bloated bar tab to pay off on checkout. Simply order what you want and enjoy. These lines, which include Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal Cruises, include gratuities and all alcoholic and soft drinks in the cruise fare, including Champagne, so overall, it’s a more civilized, hassle-free and transparent way to cruise – for a price. Obviously, you are not selecting a cruise on a high-end line simply to avoid high drinks prices. It’s not just mainstream label drinks included; you also get high-end whiskies and premium wine vintages.
Premium lines like Azamara Club Cruises adopt a slightly different drinks policy with standard spirits, international beers, and a small selection of wines included in the cruise fare. There is the option to upgrade to a premium beverage package offering high-end liquors, Scotch and Champagne by the glass. There is also a Wine Connoisseur Package. On Oceania Cruises you get complimentary still and sparkling water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas with a choice of two alcoholic drinks packages. Enjoy unlimited drinks during lunch and dinner or at any time throughout the day.
Tips about drinking on your cruise vacation
- Drinking responsibly: You’re on vacation, the sun is shining and you’re cruising leisurely to an exotic location. What’s not to love about cruising? You’re in vacation mode with a celebratory mood so the drinks are flowing more than usual. However you don’t want to go overboard – figuratively and literally. There is the ever-present risk of drinking to excess with a prepaid beverage package. You’ve paid upfront and now you can relax without having to worry about the cost. Sure, you want to get your money’s worth but too many booze-filled late nights can severely hamper the overall cruise experience. There is nothing worse than fighting off a raging hangover during an eagerly awaited shore excursion. While you may come across the occasional group of boisterous boozers in a bar, the cruising fraternity is generally laid back and responsible enough to realize when enough is enough.
- Drinking on a budget: You’ve decided an alcoholic drinks package is not for you but there are still dollars to be saved with a well-planned drinking strategy. Savvy cruisers like a tipple but know just how to get more bang for their buck. Rule #1 is to look out for the various happy hours in your ship’s bars. Generally speaking, there will likely be pre- and post-dinner drinks deals, from around 5-6pm and then again from 10pm-midnight. They could range from half-price on the first drink, BOGO specials or any number of other incentives. Check out the daily newsletter for advertised happy hours, although sometimes other ad-hoc cheap deals may only be advertised in the bar itself. Liquor tastings take place on most cruises offering freebies (or heavily discounted drinks) or join a cocktail-making class for a fee and once you’ve made your cocktail masterpieces, you get to drink them, which works out at half-price or less per glass compared to normal bar service.
- Drinking age: The minimum age limit for drinking alcohol is 21 departing a cruise from a US port, however guests aged 18 to 20 may drink provided a parent or guardian (who must be aboard the ship) signs a declaration form giving permission. In this instance, under 21s may drink only when the ship is in international waters. So for cruise ships sailing in Hawaii or Alaska the age limit is strictly 21.
Raising your glass without the sticker shock
The various policies and restrictions to the different drinks packages can mystify even the most experienced cruisers. In short, there is no simple one-stop solution for all, so it takes careful planning and the ability to accurately calculate your expected budget for drinks. Whether a la carte or an all-in drinks package, you have plentiful options. It’s important to note that you are on vacation, and worrying too much over every dime will detract from the overall mood. Go ahead and do the math, plan your strategy, but be spontaneous too. Sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow. We have highlighted just a few ways to save on the cost of drinks but there are many other creative ways to keep your costs down – check back for a dedicated article on the best hacks to get cheap drinks on cruises.