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Cruise Line Drink Packages - drink packages and the dilemma about them

Cruise Line Drink Package Questions & Answers

 

Questions about drink packages on your cruise? When it comes to taking a cruise, people like to have a good time, and that good time usually involves alcohol flowing freely. Bars are everywhere on a modern cruise ship, and with people buying drinks, the costs can quickly add up.

Tropical drinks on a cruise
Drink packages offer a way to enjoy plenty to drink without having to worry about the budget.

But there are a number of finer details that come with the packages you’ll want to know about.

 

That’s why many people are interested in “all you can drink” packages that cruise lines offer. The appeal of these packages is easy to see. You pay one set amount, and then you don’t have to worry about running up a huge bar tab.
Instead, you simply head to the bar, order whatever you want, and get back to the fun. Want a beer? A glass of wine? A cocktail? You only need to flash your room key and you’ll get it. (Drink packages also include things like soda and water.)
But before you rush out and buy the drink package, there are some things you should know. We’ve rounded up some of the biggest questions — and answers — about the cruise line beverage packages to help you get a better idea of if it’s the right thing for your next cruise.

How Much Do Beverage Packages Cost?

You would think that the cost of the beverage packages would be straightforward. Unfortunately, the cruise lines like to give people a lot of different options, which makes things a little more complicated. Below, we’ve listed the recent prices of specific packages to give you an idea of what you’d pay.

Drink Package Prices by Cruise Line

 
Package Price Per Day Gratuity Total Per Day
Carnival      
CHEERS! (Pre-purchased) $59.95 18% $70.74
CHEERS! (Onboard) $64.95 18% $76.64
Royal Caribbean      
Deluxe Bev. Package $75-94* 18% $88-112*
NCL      
Open Bar Package $109.00 20% $130.80
Premium Plus $138.00 20% $165.60
Princess      
Plus Package $64.99 18% $76.70
Premier Package $84.99 18% $100.29
Celebrity      
Classic Package $89.00 20% $106.80
Premium Package $109.00 20% $130.80
MSC Cruises      
Easy $49.00 15%* $56.35
Easy Plus $64.00 15%* $73.60
Premium Extra $88.00 15%* $101.20

Carnival
Carnival offers the CHEERS! Package, which covers nearly every beverage — alcoholic or non-alcoholic — on the ship, up to $20 per drink. The price is $59.95 per person, per day if bought prior to your cruise or $64.95 per person, per day if bought on the ship.
Note that both prices will have an 18% gratuity tacked on. The final price per day is $70.74 if bought before the cruise and $76.64 if you wait to buy on the ship.

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean’s Deluxe Beverage Package covers pretty much any beverage on the ship, up to a $14 per drink limit. Prices vary for this package, depending on your cruise and the ship that you sail.
At last check, the package costs between $75-94 per day (Royal Caribbean charges different prices depending on the specific cruise, so your price will vary), plus an 18% service charge. That comes out to a total of around $88-112 per day.
One thing to note is that once you book your cruise, Royal Caribbean will often have large discount offers if you pre-book the drink package, which brings the cost down considerably.  For example, during a recent cruise we saw an offer of 20% off the drink package if bought beforehand.

 

See our complete guide to the Royal Caribbean Beverage Package here.

Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian offers the Unlimited Open Bar Package, which covers just about any drink up to $15. The cost is $109 per person, per day, plus an additional 20% gratuity, for a total of $130.80. Norwegian often offers “free” drink packages as a perk on some sailings, but you have to still pay the gratuity.
The cruise line also has a higher-end beverage package called the Premium Plus Beverage Package. This covers all drinks served by the glass on the ship, no matter the cost. It runs $138 per person, per day. With the 20% gratuity, that comes to $165.60 each day.

See our guide to Norwegian’s drink packages here.

Princess Cruise Lines
Princess offers its Plus Beverage Package covers any available beverage up to $15 per drink. The package costs $64.99 per person, per day or $76.70 with the required 18% service charge.
They have also added a Premier Beverage Package that offers drinks up to $20 per glass. This package runs $84.99 per day, plus and 18% gratuity. That comes to a total of $100.29 each day.
Note: Princess offers drink packages as part of their Princess Plus and Princess Premium deals. These programs include the drink package, wi-fi, gratuities, and more, for less than the daily cost of the drink package. If you plan to purchase a drink package, you’ll save money (and get more perks) with these offers.

Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity offers different drink packages, billed as the Classic and Premium packages. Prices and what’s included will vary depending on which package you purchase.
The highest-end offering is the Premium Package, which gives you practically any drink you could want up to $17 per glass. The price starts $109 per day, with an additional 20% service charge, for a total of $130.80.
There is also the Classic Package, which offers fewer options and drinks by the glass up to $10 each. It starts at $89 per night. Including gratuity you will pay $106.80.
Note: Celebrity now offers an “Always Included” program, where all passengers have gratuities, the Classic Package, and wi-fi included with their cruise.

MSC Cruises
In late 2021, MSC updated its drink package offerings with a new lineup. Now the cruise line offers the Easy Package ($49 per person, per day, with select drinks), Easy Plus ($64 per person, per day, with drinks up to $10 each), and the Premium Extra ($88 per person, per day, with drinks up to $16 each). Note that prices are for booking ahead of your cruise.
In addition, MSC charges a 15 or 18% service charge on the package pricing if booking on the ship. If you book before your cruise, then this charge is waived. See our complete guide to MSC drink packages here.

Lineup of drinks on Norwegian
No matter what type of alcohol you like, you can get it with a drink package. Certain high-end brands, however, may not be included unless booking a higher-tier package.

Do I Have to Buy a Drink Package?

Absolutely not. Drink packages are completely optional. In fact, most people simply pay for each individual drink. When you do that, you’ll be charged each time you get a beverage, and don’t forget the extra gratuity — usually around 18% — that’s tacked on.
Just know that if you buy the package, you can’t change your mind later and get your money back. So be absolutely sure you want it before you purchase. 

What Is Included in the Drink Package?

To start, you should know that each drink package on each cruise line is a little different. There will be slight variations on what all they include.
But in general, if you get a drink package then you’ll get alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine, and cocktails up to a certain dollar limit per drink. This limit is normally around $15, depending on the cruise line and package. This covers most drinks on the ship, but some high-end beverages may still be an extra cost.
Most drink packages also include a number of non-alcoholic drinks including soda, bottled water, and juices. There are usually no price limits and few restrictions on non-alcoholic drinks included with your package.

What Is Not Included?

Even if you have the drink package, that doesn’t mean everything on the ship is available to you. While rules will vary among cruise lines, usually all the following are excluded from drink packages:

  • Drinks in souvenir glasses
  • Alcohol by the bottle (except beer)
  • Drinks offered at the gangway (welcome beverages)
  • Room service alcohol or mini-bar drinks
  • Shareable drinks like buckets or pitchers

Most drink packages also have limits on the cost of the drink they will cover.

So if there is a $15 per drink limit, it will cover drinks up to that amount. If you want a beverage that’s more than $15 per glass, then you’ll pay extra for the amount over $15. In this case, an $18 drink would cost you $3.

Atrium Bar on Norwegian Encore
Bars are everywhere on a cruise ship. Due to that, you might end up drinking more than you originally planned, making packages a better value.
 

Are There Limits in How Many Drinks I Can Get?

The only cruise lines we know to have any limits on the number of drinks you can order are Carnival and Princess (which is owned by Carnival Corporation). They have a 15-drink limit on alcoholic beverages during the 24-hour period that runs from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. Non-alcoholic drinks aren’t included in the 15-drink total.
So if you have 15 alcoholic drinks, you can’t order another until the next day, but you can have all the water or sodas that you want.
While other cruise lines may not set explicit limits, if you are obviously intoxicated, then don’t be surprised if you are cut off from ordering any more drinks.
Most cruise lines do have limits on ordering more than one drink at once. As well, there are often waiting periods (normally around five minutes) between drink purchases. 

Do I Have to Buy Beverage Packages For Every Day of the Cruise?

Yes. You can’t simply decide you are going to go wild one day and buy the package for that single day. Nor can you pick and choose the days you want to buy it.
If you purchase the package, it is charged for every day you are on the ship. It doesn’t matter if you are in port for a day, you are still charged. This is one of the main drawbacks of the beverage package.
Also, keep in mind that the drink package is sold on the first day or two of the cruise. You can’t decide halfway through the trip that you want it. You’ll need to buy it early.

Does Everyone in the Cabin Have to Purchase the Beverage Package?

Often yes, if one person in a cabin buys the package, all adults will need to as well. That said, the rules do vary depending on the cruise line you sail.
Carnival requires that each adult in a stateroom purchase a drink package if one person does. So if a husband purchases the package but the wife doesn’t drink, she must still purchase the drink package as well.
Royal Caribbean requires adult passengers in a cabin to all purchase the package if one person does.
Norwegian Cruise Lines requires each adult in the stateroom (and additional staterooms if you are traveling under the same payment method) to purchase the same drink package.
Princess does not specifically say that all passengers in a cabin have to purchase the drink package.
Celebrity Cruises spells out detailed terms of their drink package, including age restrictions, and that “all guests wishing to purchase a Drink Package to do so for ALL guests of legal drinking age in the same stateroom.”
MSC Cruises requires each adult to purchase the drink package if one person does. If you are traveling with a minor, then they will need to have the non-alcoholic drink package.

Bottom line: Except for a few cases, you should expect everyone to buy it if one person does.

What If I’m Traveling With a Minor or Someone That Can’t Drink?

Maybe you are traveling with someone in recovery, is pregnant, or a minor who can’t drink. In that case, you’ll want to call the cruise line to explain the situation.
They will make accommodations to where that person doesn’t have to buy the alcoholic package. It may still be that they need to buy a non-alcoholic package. You may also have to provide some sort of proof of a medical condition that means a person can’t drink.
Obviously minors won’t have to purchase an alcoholic package.

Can You Share Drink Packages on a Cruise?

Drink package lineup on a cruise
It’s tempting, but no, you can’t share drinks with a drink package. That’s one reason cruise lines require all adults in a cabin to purchase if one person does.

It’s tempting with unlimited drinks to do what we’ve all thought — one person buys the package and just gives a drink to the person they are traveling with.

Every cruise line has rules against this. If you are caught, you could lose your drink privilege.

That said, unless you are blatantly ordering drinks and then handing off to other people, it’s almost impossible for you to be caught sharing drinks. If you are discreet, the chances of your being caught are minimal.

Do I Have to Pay Gratuity on the Drink Package?

Gratuity is added to the cost of the package. So when you purchase the package, you’ll see an additional gratuity charge tacked on to the total (typically around 18%, depending on the cruise line). So a $60 package, for example, will end up costing around $71 per day.
When you then use the package at the bar, you aren’t charged an additional gratuity. It’s already taken care of with the cost you paid for the package. There may be a line for an additional tip on the receipt if you are feeling generous, but it’s not required.

Do Cruise Line Drink Packages Work in Port or Private Islands?

In most cases, the drink package only works on the ship. That’s because most ports of call aren’t affiliated with the cruise line. So when you port in Cozumel, you are headed into Mexico — not an extension of the cruise ship.
That said, drink packages work in some private islands that are run by the cruise line. For instance, CocoCay — Royal Caribbean’s private island — allows you to use the package while in port. MSC’s Ocean Cay also allows you to use your drink package in port.
This isn’t the case everywhere, however. Notably, Harvest Caye — operated by Norwegian — doesn’t offer the use of drink packages (though NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay does allow the use of drink packages). Carnival’s Half Moon Cay and Princess Cays also don’t offer the use of the onboard drink package.

Bottom line: Your drink package won’t work in ports of call, but there is a possibility if you are visiting a private island run by a cruise line.

Keep in mind being able to use the package in port is a BIG deal. It’s essentially an extra day that you can get your money’s worth versus spending out of pocket when you are off the ship.

How Do I Buy Drink Packages?

If you want to purchase one of the drink packages for your cruise, the best way is to either call your cruise line or go online to book through your reservation.
It’s usually better to book online ahead of time because there are often discounts for early purchases. For instance, we’ve seen discounts of 30-40% on some drink packages for booking early.
If you want the best rate, definitely do not wait to book once you are on the ship. Rates are often highest when purchasing on board. Even so, if you wait, you’ll find tables set up around the ship offering the package. You can also just head to the nearest bar and ask about buying it.

Other Things to Know Before Purchasing

Before you pull the trigger on buying the drink package, you should know that just because you purchase the unlimited beverage package on your cruise doesn’t mean you can drink anything in sight.

  • Most packages have limits on what’s available, excluding drinks that are above a certain price limit (usually around $15). If you are the sort of person who only drinks the highest-end beverages, then you might want to check and make sure your particular drink is included in the package. If you go over that amount, the per-drink limit will be deducted from the cost and you will need to pay the difference.
  • If you are a wine drinker, you can’t have whole bottles of wine with the packages, although you can get wine by the glass. If you want to purchase the whole bottle, having the drink package usually entitles you to a significant discount (20-40%) of the purchase price.
  • You can’t use the drink packages to buy whole bottles of liquor in the ship’s duty-free shops.
  • Drink packages don’t apply to drinks from your in-room mini bar. You’ll be charged full price for those beverages.
  • You can only get one or two drinks at a time with most drink packages. There is often a short waiting period (5 minutes) in between buying drinks.
Drinks on a bar top
Wondering if drink packages are worth it? That depends on your cruise style. If it’s not a vacation without a drink in your hand, you’ll often want the package. More modest drinkers may come out better buying drinks individually.

Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth It?

Whether or not a drink package is worth it depends on how much — and how often — you drink. For some, it’s absolutely worth the money. We would guess that for many people, however, the costs don’t justify purchasing an all-you-can-drink package.

You can use our drink package calculator to see if it’s worth it for you.

Consider that a beer on the ship costs between $6-8, before gratuity. For a drink package running $60 per day, you’d have to drink about 8-10 beers each and every day — including on days when you are in port — to get your money’s worth.
If you like more expensive drinks like cocktails, the math works a little more in your favor. A $10-14 cocktail means you’d have to drink about 5-7 drinks every day to make it worth your while.
Many people might be able to keep this sort of pace up for a couple of days, but it can be tough to do that for every day of your cruise. Also keep in mind if you have to spend more to purchase the drink package for everyone in the cabin, even if they don’t want it.
There is one benefit to consider, even if you don’t come out ahead financially. Some passengers love knowing exactly what they will spend with the package and not having to worry about every nickel and dime they spend on drinks.
With the drink package, you aren’t going to be surprised by a high bill at the end of your cruise. You’ll know exactly what you’re spending right up front.

Are There Other Benefits to Drink Package Beyond Saving Money?

The biggest point of the packages is that they can save you money if you plan to drink your fill on a cruise. But there are some other benefits beyond just the potential money saved.
As mentioned above, some people enjoy that they can get the package and not have to worry about the bill. Instead of keeping a tally of what they’ve spent, they can just relax and know exactly what they are paying each day. That gives some peace of mind.

But there is another benefit — the option of trying new things without worrying about the cost. Head to a bar normally to try something new, and you pay out of pocket whether you love it or hate it. With the drink package, you can try drinks you normally wouldn’t order without the risk.
If you happen to not like it, you didn’t pay anything extra thanks to the package. You can head right back and order something else. That’s a bonus that many people don’t realize.
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