Is a drinks package right for you?

One of the most frequent topics that come up with new cruisers is whether drinks packages are right for them and whether they’re worth the money. Here’s my two gin & tonics worth…

Now, if you know me you’ll know I love a drink – this is no secret. But you don’t have to be as fond as a drop of liquor as I am for a drinks package to make sense for you. So let’s start at the beginning…

What is a drinks package?

Think of drinks packages as the Netflix of alcohol on cruise ships.

You pay a flat fee per day, or per cruise, which in turn offers you unlimited drinks whilst you’re onboard the ship.

Are they really unlimited? What kind of packages can you get?

Cosmos & Sunsets

The limits and types of package vary by cruise line, but they’re usually unlimited with a “fair usage policy” – which means the cruise line can cut you off if the crew think you’re either too intoxicated or abusing the package.

Most cruise lines offer a range of packages. These usually fall into three categories:

  1. The soft drink package – these usually include unlimited bottled water, fountain soda, juice, and premium teas & coffees.
  2. The “standard” alcohol package – Wines, beers, ciders, spirits, cocktails and everything included in the soft drink package – up to a maximum value of around $10 per drink.
  3. The “premium” alcohol package – As per the standard package but a maximum drink value of around $15 per drink. This means you’ll have included access to more expensive cocktails, wines and top shelf spirits.

If a drink exceeds the limit of the package, for example you want to buy a $15 cocktail but your package limit is $10, you will be charged the $5 difference – cruise line dependent.

If you’re only interested in wine, some cruise lines also offer ‘wine packages’ where you can get a discount if you buy several bottles of wine at once. In the same vein if you’re only after soda, and nothing but soda, some cruise lines offer soda fountain packages too.

Is a drinks package right for me? What’s included in my cruise fare?

Assuming you’ve not booked an “all-inclusive” cruise your cruise fare will usually include: Ice water, standard brewed tea & coffee (not barista coffee), iced tea, still lemonade, orange cordial.

If you think you’ll be happy on just the included options for your cruise, or perhaps you only have one glass of wine a night, then maybe a drink package isn’t the right fit for you.

But if you think that on your cruise holiday you’re likely to drink four or more drinks from the bar per day you may find that a cruise package is right for you.

How much are drinks onboard? Will it be worth it for me?

So first to work out value we need to look at how much drinks cost onboard cruise ships. I’ve taken approximate prices from menus on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of The Seas and NCL’s Jade, that I photographed in 2018, and rounded them up to the nearest US dollar.

ItemRoyal CaribbeanNCL
Bottled water$3$4
Soda / Juice$4$3
Premium coffee$4$5
House wine (glass)$13$12
Spirit & Mixer
Mixed cocktail

Below are the current prices for Royal Caribbean and NCL’s soda only, and premium packages. Please note that prices can vary based on the ship, length of cruise and port of departure (prices, per day, taken from cruise line websites).

Royal CaribbeanNCL
Soft drinks package
Premium Package$63 – $70$99

Now these individual and package prices can look rather steep on the face of it, but let me take you through an imaginary day at sea.

Imagine yourself, a day at sea, somewhere off the southern tip of Italy…

You start your day with a fancy Barista Coffee ($5) before you head to a restaurant for breakfast you opt for a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa ($10) because why not, you’re on holiday.

Island coolers for days…

Later that morning you’re hanging around by the pool and whilst splashing about you down a couple of Diet Cokes (2x $4). You’re getting peckish around 1pm so you head in for lunch and whilst you’re digging into that freshly made salad it’d be rude not to have a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc ($12) wouldn’t it?

After lunch you find yourself a quiet sunny spot to sunbathe, the waiter comes around every now and then and over the course of the afternoon you have a couple of Pina Coladas (2x $13).

As the sun starts to go down you head back to your stateroom, via the atrium bar to pick up a glass of Champagne ($15), because who doesn’t like some bubbles whilst they’re getting ready for dinner?

Over dinner and conversation with your new found cruise mates you have a couple of glasses of Malbec (2x $13) to go with that lovely prime rib – after all red meat needs red wine.

The night leads you on to the nightclub, or maybe the piano bar, where you have a couple of Rum & Cokes or perhaps a couple of Gin & Tonics (2x $10) and dance badly to a song you’ve never heard before. Bed is calling you, but before you leave the bar you grab a bottle of water ($3) – to stave off that hangover.

Your imaginary day at sea has run up a bar tab of $127.

A drinks package could have saved you somewhere between $28 to $64, and over a seven day cruise that saving is could be as high as $448.

But one of the biggest bonuses of a drinks package is not having to count the pennies on holiday. Who wants to be in their swim suit, bobbing around in the South Pacific trying to keep a tally of how much their bar bill is, or stopping yourself having that Mojito because in the back of your head you’re crunching numbers?

My recommendation

If you’re planning to drink more than four alcoholic drinks per day I would recommend a drinks package. You’ll likely save money, and it eliminates hassle and worry when you should be enjoying your hard earned holiday.

Look for deals with drinks packages included, cruise lines often have these as “free at sea” or “premium sailing” offers throughout the year, but even if the cruise you’re looking at doesn’t have one of these offers always ask your travel agent if they’re able to do you a deal on one – it never hurts to ask.

If you do decide to buy a drinks package it often pays to buy them online ahead of your cruise – with most cruise lines offering a 10%-20% discount to those buying them in advance, plus it allows you to add it to your holiday budget and pay it off over time.

If this was helpful to you consider sharing it using the buttons below. What’re your thoughts on drinks packages? Got a question I haven’t answered here? Feel free to leave a comment, or contact me on twitter at @CruisingWithTom

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