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?

bar cocktails

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, six bottles of water or five bottles of wine) or a set per-day fee for a range of drinks orders.

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

How much do drink packages cost?

Soda packages (sometimes referred to as soda cards) can costs from $4.50 to $8 per person, per day, and might include a souvenir travel mug. Water package prices vary greatly, depending on what's included, but Celebrity's, for example, costs $14 per person, per day, for unlimited, brand-name still and sparkling water (such as Evian, Pellegrino and Perrier).

Some lines have nonalcoholic drink packages that include soda, bottled water, juice, for-fee coffee and tea, smoothies and/or nonalcoholic cocktails. Prices range from $8 to $20, per person, per day, depending on the cruise line and which drinks are included.

Alcohol packages typically cost $40 to $65 per person, per day, and the price varies both by cruise line and which kinds of drinks are included. Cruise lines that offer two or three tiers of packages will often have a limited selections of brands included in their cheapest package, with a maximum per-drink price (think beers priced up to $5 or wine and cocktails under $10). 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?

Most cruise lines post lists of the included drink types and brands on their websites, or you can ask for a list when onboard. However, some travelers report discrepancies between the website lists and the ones onboard, and they say it's often tricky to determine exactly which cocktails are included. The package fine print will usually list price maximums for included beers, wine and cocktails, where applicable.

Are beverage packages worth the money?

banana split milkshake

It can be a bit tricky to determine if a beverage package is a good value for you or not. If you might only have a drink or two on any given day, and intend to 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 packages makes sense. Or, if you just like the idea of all-inclusive beverages, it might be worth it to opt for the package, even if you'll pay a premium for it.

If you want to make sure you're getting your money's worth, then it's best to figure out how many drinks (soda, coffee, water, wine, cocktails) you might drink each day -- keeping in mind that you'll have fewer opportunities on port days -- and add up the costs to see if you would spend close to or more than the package daily rates. For this, you'll need to look up drink prices online; cruise lines don't always post bar menus, and the ones you find online may be out of date. Don't forget that some packages include discounts on wines by the bottle when you're working out the sums.

When can I buy a drink package?

Many lines let you prepay for beverage packages ahead of your cruise, occasionally at a slight discount. You can book the packages through the cruise line's website or get your travel agent to assist you. Otherwise, you can purchase them onboard, either at the beginning of your cruise or within a day or two of sailing. (Prices are prorated based on number of days.) Crewmembers will be advertising them onboard, especially on the first day, so it's easy to sign up. Cruise lines vary in their policies as to whether you can purchase packages throughout the cruise or only on select days.

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, some lines will only sell you a beverage package if every adult or everyone in the same cabin purchases a package (meaning 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; it also does not sell them to passengers ages 25 and younger on sailings out of U.S. ports during the spring break period of March 1 to April 15.

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. Some lines do not allow you to downgrade to a cheaper package; those that let you change or cancel packages often refund your money in onboard credit, which you must spend onboard (rather than crediting your credit card for the difference).

Do I really get unlimited drinks?

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

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

drinks line up

In general, you can obtain drinks in any onboard bar, lounge or restaurant and often at a cruise line's private island (where its staff is operating the bars and you pay with your cruise card rather than in cash). You might not be able to use your package when ordering drinks via room service and almost certainly can't use the package for taking items from the minibar or 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 on my ship?

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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.