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What to Expect on a Cruise: Drink Packages on Cruises
Is a Cruise Drink Package Right for You?
Passenger drinking Champagne on a cruise ship (Photo: Nazar Skladanyi/Shutterstock.com)

Is a Cruise Drink Package Right for You?

Is a Cruise Drink Package Right for You?
Passenger drinking Champagne on a cruise ship (Photo: Nazar Skladanyi/Shutterstock.com)
Chris Gray Faust
Managing Editor
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bar cocktails

Whether or not to buy a cruise drink package when you sail is one of the most common questions that appears on the Cruise Critic forums.

Sometimes passengers balk at the price tag, which can seem steep when you are making a bulk payment as opposed to paying for each drink individually. Others worry that they won't get good service from bartenders if they have a package (or conversely, be considered "partiers" by other people).

Here are some reasons you might want to consider buying a cruise drink package, as well as times when buying a package isn't a smart idea.

A Cruise Drink Package Is a Good Deal If…

canned soda

You like knowing your bill ahead of time

Sure, it can be painful when you pay a few hundred pounds for drinks before your cruise even starts. But once you've gone ahead and paid, you have the luxury of being able to order drinks at most bars and restaurants without having to worry about your final bill.

If you're still undecided before you board, keep in mind that you can usually buy a package during the first couple of days -- but it won't apply retroactively to those first few margaritas you downed during sailaway.

You like soft drinks, specialty coffee drinks and bottled water

People who are new to cruising often don't understand that almost all drinks besides basic tea, coffee and tap water carry a charge. That means that if your daughter has a Diet Coke habit or you enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice in the mornings or a latte in the afternoons, you'll have to pay up. Cruise drink packages can cover all of the above, as well as mocktails, if you don't go for booze.

Also, don't forget the bottled water. If you have a lot of shore excursions in a hot climate, such as the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, you will want to bring some water with you on shore -- and when you're on a set tour, you might not have time to stop at a local convenience store to get your own. A package makes it easy to grab a bottle on your way off the ship, without worry.

You like convenience

Sure, some cruise lines allow you to bring on your own soft drinks or bottled water (although Carnival has banned bottled beverages -- any drinks carried on must be in cans). And almost every cruise line allows you to bring at least a bottle or two of wine onboard. But sometimes, it's just not logistically easy to do, especially if you're flying into a foreign country or don't have a rental car to get to a store. Having a drink package means you can skip the annoying runaround.


A Cruise Drink Package Might Not Be a Good Deal If...

Patron brand tequila

You prefer a specific brand or type of drink

If you're someone who must have Patron in your margarita or won't drink house wines, then you might want to examine drink packages to see if they are a better deal. Many drink packages will cover cocktails or wine up a certain amount; if your drink is more expensive, you either have to pay full price or simply make up the difference.

Note: The cruise lines don't always make it easy to find out exactly what drinks onboard cost. Your best bet to see if your favourite cocktail makes the list is to check the cruise line's website or ask the question on the Cruise Critic forums for the line you're sailing.


A Cruise Drink Package Isn't As Good a Deal if…

bar drinks

You prefer a bottle of wine at dinner

Most cruise line drink packages apply to wines by the glass. That's great if you're someone who likes to match wines with your starter and main course, or like a different type of wine than your dining companions. But if you prefer to order a bottle of wine or want a larger selection, keep in mind that while some drink packages offer discounts on bottles, many do not. (Some cruise lines have drink packages that ONLY cover wine at dinner. This might be your best bet.)

Your cabin mate has different drinking patterns than you

Some -- but not all -- lines require both adults in the cabin to purchase the same package. If you like to drink Scotch, but your wife is a teetotaler, you're better off buying drinks separately. Keep in mind that most bartenders and waiters will only serve you one drink at a time -- and will refuse to serve you if you are caught sneaking a glass to a companion.

Some alcohol is already included

River cruises usually include beer and wine at meals in the fare, as do premium cruise lines such as Azamara; the latter also includes some types of cocktails. Unless you're someone who really needs brand-name alcohol, what you already have might likely suffice.

You just don't drink much

There's no way to get around it. The absolute best way to determine if a drink package is best for you is to get out that calculator and tally up how much you would spend without the package. In general, if you think you're going to order five or so alcoholic drinks a day during your trip, a package is worth considering.

Updated January 28, 2021

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