Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth It?

You’ve booked your cruise and made your final payment. Woohoo!! You start to browse all of the shore excursions, specialty dining options, and drink packages that the cruise line offers. Maybe you have unlimited funds (must be nice), and you can choose anything that you’d like. Or, like most of us, you have a budget for your vacation. If so, you’re probably asking yourself if you should purchase a beverage package. Is it worth the money to buy a cruise drink package?

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What does a cruise drink package include? What’s the cost?

Most cruise lines offer a wide range of drink packages, at various price points. Some cruise lines, like Disney, don’t offer beverage packages at all (Disney does offer discounts on wine and beer bundles).

Soda packages generally cost about $8 per day, and “unlimited” alcohol packages generally cost $50-$90 per day. A few lines also offer options for just wine and beer, at a lower cost. Some also offer specialty coffee packages, such as Princess’ $35 New Grounds Coffee Package, which gets you 15 specialty coffees for a one-time fee.

A soda package will set you back about $8 per person per day.

Can I pick which days I want to have a drink package?

Not usually. Sorry. You may be able to purchase a drink package on day two of your cruise, but it would run through the remainder of the cruise. Some cruises offer a discount for purchasing a package before you sail, so do the math if you’re considering waiting to buy on board.

Azamara is an exception to this rule. They do allow guests to purchase a beverage package to start at any time during a cruise, but the package will continue through the end of the sailing. Azamara does not allow guests to retroactively sign up for a beverage package.

Note that some ports (NYC and Galveston are examples) don’t allow the use of unlimited alcohol packages on embarkation day. You won’t be charged for that day, but any beverages that you do consume will be charged to your card.

Do cruise drink packages include tips?

The per-day prices for beverage packages don’t include tips, and the cruise line will charge a gratuity of 15-18% of the price of the package. If you receive a free beverage package through a promotion, such as Princess’ Sip & Sail or NCL’s Free At Sea, you will still be charged the gratuity on the value of the package. As you’re paying the gratuity on the value, you don’t have to worry about paying an extra tip per drink…you’re all set!

Of course, if your bartender or server provides you with exceptional service, you may want to thank them with an extra cash tip. This isn’t necessary, but it will be appreciated.

Do note that some ports will also charge local taxes on alcoholic drinks while in port, and often for several miles after leaving port.

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How much will individual non-alcoholic drinks cost on the cruise?

Bottled water will cost you about $2-4 for a single small bottle. Ugh. If you can’t (or don’t want to) carry on a case of water bottles, most lines will let you order a case to be delivered to your stateroom. Prices vary among lines. A 12 pack of 16.9 oz. (half liter) bottles will cost you a little over $5 including delivery fee on Carnival. Norwegian charges $27.95 for a 12 pack of one liter bottles.

A can or fountain soda will run you between $2-3 on lines that charge for soda (all but ultra-premium and luxury lines). If you usually drink 3-4 or more soft drinks per day, an $8 per day soda package is a no-brainer.

Specialty coffees are pricey, and usually much smaller than your Starbucks venti. Keep in mind that if you usually have an enormous iced vanilla latte each morning, you may need two from the ship’s cafe to get your fix! Specialty coffees are priced between about $3-6, depending on variety and size. Some “unlimited” beverage packages include specialty coffees, but some do not, so check before you purchase.

Cruise lines also add a service charge per drink ordered, usually 15-18%. Remember that when you’re ordering individual drinks, you’re charged this gratuity per drink. Packages are charged gratuity on the price of the package.

How much will individual alcoholic drinks cost on the cruise?

As in the real world, the price of an adult beverage can vary based on how basic or premium the brand is perceived to be. Just to simplify, I’m not going to include ultra premium spirits or rarer-vintage wines here, although you most certainly will have the option to purchase those on board if you would like.

Beer is going to cost you around $6-8 for 12-16 ounces. Often you can purchase a bucket of beers at a discount; common promotions are $2 off a bucket of four, or 5 for 4, where you get one bottle free. If you’re a beer drinker, not only will this save you money on the price of the individual beers, it will also save you on the gratuity, because the overall bucket price is less.

Wine by the glass is about $7-12. Most bottles of wine cost around the $30 mark. If you purchase a bottle and don’t finish it at one location, your server can hold it for you for another time (or even for another location!). Remember that “unlimited” beverage packages don’t include bottles of wine, just by-the-glass, although they usually will discount bottles if you have the package.

Cocktails and spirit-based drinks cost around $7-12 for well and the low end of premium. This includes basic and specialty cocktails, as well as spirits served neat. What is considered a “premium” spirit can vary among lines. If you must have a specific brand of alcohol, I would suggest googling “bar menu <your cruise line> <the current year>” to see current pricing. Premium spirits may be expensive, and therefore may not be covered if you do purchase a beverage package.

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What can I drink on board for free without a beverage package?

Mainstream cruise lines offer a limited selection of complimentary drinks. Tap water, non-specialty coffee, tea, and juices (usually only at breakfast) are the most common. You may purchase soda, energy drinks, specialty coffees (lattes, cappuccino, etc.), and alcoholic beverages at an extra charge.

Basic coffee and tea are free on a cruise, but specialty coffee and tea drinks are an extra charge.

Premium lines vary wildly with their inclusive offerings. Princess includes only iced tea, lemonade, water, tea, and non-specialty coffee. Azamara, on the other hand, has an extensive list of cocktails, wine, beer, and soda that are included in your cruise fare. Packages are available for purchase to upgrade to higher-end spirits.

When cruising on a luxury line, your beverages are likely all-inclusive.

If your cruise fare does not include alcohol, there will usually be some events on the ship that will offer a free glass of sparkling wine or a cocktail. Art auctions, returning cruiser cocktail parties, formal night parties, and jewelry store events are likely candidates for a complimentary beverage. Check your daily newsletter for details. On a recent Norwegian cruise, the hostess gave us coupons for a free glass of Champagne because the wait for the main dining room was longer than usual.

Can’t I just pack my own drinks?

The answer is a definite maybe. You’ll just need to check the policy of your specific cruise line, as different lines have wildly different policies on what you can carry on a cruise.

Are you wondering which cruise lines allow you to bring your own drinks on board, and what exactly you can take? Read What Beverages Can I Bring on My Cruise?

I’ll just sneak alcohol in my bag! No one will ever know, right?

Cruise lines are becoming more vigilant in checking bags for sneaky alcohol. It may have been easy in the past to fill water or mouthwash bottles with vodka. In 2016, Norwegian actually changed their policy on carrying on water bottles for just this reason.

“The inspection of large volumes of beverages has an impact on the embarkation process and security resources. As one example, guests who attempt to smuggle alcoholic beverages onboard often try to do so in beverage containers. This means all beverages must be personally screened, taking both time and dedicated personnel.”

– Norwegian Cruise Line FAQ

There are plenty of other products designed to smuggle alcohol onto a ship, including “rum runner” style flasks and faux toiletry bottles. Would I chance it? No. But many do, and some of those people get caught.

If you are caught, odds are you won’t get kicked off the ship, but they will confiscate and dispose of your alcohol along with your smuggling containers.

Can I buy one drink package and share it with family or friends?

Cruise lines are also catching on that cruisers have been sharing drink packages, so they’re cracking down, big time. Some lines now require that if one person in a stateroom purchases a beverage package, all other guests of legal drinking age must also purchase a beverage package.

What happens if you’re caught sharing a beverage package? The cruise line can revoke your package for the rest of the cruise, with no refund. Ouch.

Sharing your drinks package with friends or family can get your package revoked!

I don’t drink much soda, or I’m not a big alcohol drinker. Should I still consider a beverage package?

You might be like me, and you swore off drinking soda years ago (carbonation gives me hiccups). Perhaps you generally just drink water, coffee, or hot tea. Maybe you don’t drink much (if any) alcohol, or only in social situations. My question for you is, do your habits change when you’re on vacation, at the beach, or at a party? If not, then definitely don’t waste your money on a beverage package. You want to have just one iced mocha in the morning, one beer by the pool in the afternoon, and a glass of wine with dinner? Don’t bother with a package.

What are some scenarios where a cruise drink package is a good value?

Scenario 1: The girls’ trip

Let’s use Olivia as an example. Olivia is booked on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise on Princess with her two sisters. She isn’t a huge drinker at home, but knows that when she and her sisters get together, they can put back a few bottles of wine in an evening. Olivia doesn’t have super expensive tastes in alcohol, but she definitely does not want to drink plain coffee or tap water.

Here’s what Olivia purchased during an average port day on her cruise, without a beverage package:

  • 7:30 AM: Iced mocha $3.75
  • 8:00 AM: Two bottles of water (one for now, one for her shore excursion) 2 @ $2.25 each $4.50
  • 3:00 PM: A frozen daiquiri at the pool $8.25
  • 4:00 PM: That first one hit the spot! One more. $8.25
  • 4:45 PM: Need to hydrate. Bottle of water $2.25
  • 5:00 PM: Sisters want to try the Bellini bar before heading to dinner. Bellini $7.95
  • 5:45 PM: Dinner. Glass of pinot gris $9.00
  • 7:00 PM: Just made it to the early show. No time to grab a drink.
  • 8:15 PM: Sisters want to have a quick shot of caffeine – dancing later! Espresso $2.50
  • 9:30 PM: Off to the club! 90’s night! Three Grey Goose and sodas, at $7.25 each $21.75
  • 12:00 AM: One last bottle of water to take to bed $2.25

Total: $70.45 + 15% automatic gratuity = $81.02

If Olivia had purchased the Premier Beverage Package ($68.99 per day including gratuity), it would have covered all the beverages she consumed today (drinks under $12, small bottles of water, specialty coffees), and she would have saved $12.03. Assuming that she doesn’t drink more on sea days (which many people do), Olivia would save $84.21 on her seven day cruise.

Scenario 2: Expensive Tastes

Michael is taking a seven-day Carnival cruise with some old college friends. Michael likes top-shelf liquor, but he’s not made of money. He pre-purchased the CHEERS! beverage package at $51.95 per day plus 18% gratuity – $61.30 per day. Michael is looking forward to enjoying some premium liquor, as the cap is $20 per drink!

Here’s what Michael consumed during an average port day on his cruise, with the beverage package:

  • 8:00 AM: Large latte menu price: $3.50
  • 8:30 AM: Two small bottles of water (to take on a shore excursion)
    menu price: $1.25 each, so $2.50
  • 3:00 PM: The guys want to meet up at the Alchemy Bar. Antioxidant (with Belvedere Grapefruit vodka)
    menu price: $10.95
  • 4:00 PM: Might as well have one more! The Quick Fix
    menu price: $10.95
  • 4:45 PM: Grab a small bottle of water
    menu price: $1.25
  • 6:00 PM: A quick drink after meeting the guys at Guy’s Burger Joint. Chivas Regal
    menu price: $10.95
  • 7:30 PM: Off to the casino! Two shots of Roca Patron Silver,
    menu price: $15.95 each, $31.90
  • 10:00 PM: Small bottle of water to take to bed
    menu price: $1.25

The total menu price of Michael’s beverages on his port day would be $72.00. With the automatic 18% gratuity, his total would be $84.96.

But remember, Michael had the beverage package, so he saved $23.66 today alone. That would total a $165.62 savings over the course of his seven-day cruise, if this is an average day. Would Michael have ordered premium liquor without the beverage package? Probably not. But he would break even ordering 5 of the $10.95 cocktails and nothing else.

Be sure to check out these resources before you buy a cruise line drink package:

Is a cruise drink package worth it for you? Check your cruise line’s prices and do the math! What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.


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