I want to buy drinks on my cruise. Is there a way I can prepay for all my drinks so I pay one price instead of per drink?

Yes, you can buy a beverage package. These all-you-can-drink packages allow passengers to pay a set fee up front for unlimited drinks (of a certain type, as outlined by the package's fine print), rather than pay per drink once onboard the cruise ship. They are offered because many cruise lines, with the exception of the most expensive luxury lines, charge extra for most beverages (including soda and alcohol) onboard. These beverage packages can be a good deal, depending on how often you plan to buy drinks on your vacation.

What types of beverage packages can I buy?

Packages run the gamut from bottled water and soda packages to all-inclusive packages that cover cocktails, wine, beer, soda and coffee. Some lines offer coffee cards for a set number of drinks from the for-fee coffee bars, or wine packages that vary in number of bottles and vintages. Packages can either be a set number of drinks for a discounted price (for example, 12 bottles of water or five bottles of wine) or a set per-day fee for a range of drinks orders.

For more details on alcohol-inclusive packages, see our story on all-you-can-drink packages.

How much do drink packages cost?

Soda packages average from $7.50 to $9 per adult, per day (usually with reduced rates for kids), and might include a souvenir cup. Water packages typically get passengers a 12-pack of bottled water (prices vary greatly, depending on brand and size), though Celebrity, for one, offers an unlimited premium water package (costing $16 per person, per day) featuring still and sparkling water (such as Evian, San Pellegrino and Perrier).

Some lines have nonalcoholic drink packages that include beverages like soda, bottled water, juice, specialty coffee and tea, smoothies and/or nonalcoholic cocktails. Prices start at about $18, per person, per day, and go up from there, depending on the cruise line and which drinks are included.

Standard alcohol packages average $55 to $65 per person, per day, and the price likewise varies both by cruise line and drink inclusions. Cruise lines that offer two or three tiers of packages will often have a limited selection of brands included in their cheapest package, with a maximum per-drink price (think beers, wines and cocktails under $12). The more expensive packages will include more drink options, such as more premium brands of liquor and more exotic cocktails, as well as a higher maximum price for included beverages.

Some lines offer a discount on the packages if you purchase them before your cruise rather than once on the ship. Also, most add a 15 to 18 percent gratuity and taxes on top of the cost of the package.

How do I know which drinks are included?

Many cruise lines post lists of the included drink types and brands on their websites, or you can ask for a list when onboard. The package fine print will often list price maximums for included beers, wine and cocktails, where applicable.

Are beverage packages worth the money?

It can be a bit tricky to determine if a beverage package is a good value for you or not. If you might only pay for a drink or two on any given day, and intend to largely stick with free beverages (water, iced tea, plain coffee), you likely will be better off paying a la carte.

However, if you drink soda all the time, love to frequent cruise ship bars, or intend to consume a wide variety of nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks on your vacation, you should do the math to see if a package makes sense. To make sure you're getting your money's worth, figure out how many drinks (soda, coffee, water, wine, cocktails) you might order each day -- keeping in mind that you'll have fewer opportunities to do so on port days -- and add up the costs to see if you would spend close to or more than the package daily rates. For accuracy with this, you'll need to look up drink prices online; however, keep in mind that cruise lines don't always post bar menus, and the ones you find online may be out of date. (Consider asking about current pricing on the Cruise Critic forums.) Also, don't forget that some packages include discounts on wines by the bottle, a factor to likewise consider when you're working out the sums.

When can I buy a drink package?

Some lines let you prepay for beverage packages ahead of your cruise, occasionally at a slight discount. You can book the packages in advance through the cruise line or get your travel agent to assist you. Otherwise, you can purchase them onboard, typically at the beginning of your cruise or within a day or two of sailing; lines vary in their policies as to whether you can purchase packages throughout the cruise or only on select days. (When permitted for purchase beyond embarkation day, prices are prorated based on the number of sailing days remaining.) Crewmembers and/or bars will most certainly be advertising packages onboard, especially on the first day, so it's easy enough to sign up.

Who can purchase a drink package?

Anyone can purchase a drink package, though alcohol packages are restricted to passengers who meet drinking age restrictions (typically 18 or 21, depending on the cruise line). However, many lines will only sell you a beverage package if every adult or everyone in the same cabin -- or in some cases, cruisers sharing the same booking number or those simply choosing to dine together -- purchases a package. In most cases, for instance, kids would need to opt for a nonalcoholic package if their parents are buying an alcoholic one.

In addition, some cruise lines do not offer package sales on select ships or sailings. For example, Norwegian does not sell its packages on one- and two-night sailings or on any Pride of America cruises, while Carnival doesn't offer drink packages for its cruise operations in Australia.

Can I upgrade, downgrade or cancel my drink package after I've bought it?

Most cruise lines are happy to upgrade you to a higher-tier package (if one exists). You can do so onboard. However, many lines do not allow you to downgrade to a cheaper package or request a refund. Lines that do let you change or cancel packages might refund your money in shipboard credit if you wait to cancel until you're onboard, rather than crediting your credit card for the difference. You would then have to spend the money on the ship and not be able to get unused credit back in cash.

Do I really get unlimited drinks?

Check your package's fine print. Some packages do have a drink maximum on alcoholic drinks. For example, Carnival and Princess limit you to 15 alcoholic drinks per day, with unlimited nonalcoholic drinks.

If I buy a package, can I get free drinks anywhere onboard?

In general, you can obtain drinks in any onboard bar, lounge or restaurant. You most often won't be able to use your package when ordering drinks via room service or from the mini-bar and definitely won't be able to use the package for buying bottles in an onboard gift shop.

Can I buy a drink for someone else or multiple drinks at once?

No, you cannot order multiple drinks at once (including buckets of beer) or purchase a drink for another passenger when using your beverage package.

How can I learn more about drink packages?

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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.