Promotional lingo touting "free drinks" and "big savings" often makes buying a cruise line beverage package sound like a no-brainer -- but it's not always a good deal. There are several instances where cruisers can actually lose money (and we've heard horror stories from some of our Cruise Critic members) if they give in to the temptation of a package without considering the reasons why it might not be the best fit. Avoid getting ripped off by paying attention to these 11 signs you should not buy a beverage package.
In other words, you're not a big drinker. This might seem like an obvious sign, but it's easy to assume you'll be able to drink your money's worth if you order up an extra drink or two throughout the entire day. To determine if that drink package is right for you, calculate how much you'd likely spend on drinks a la carte; then compare the two totals. The general rule of thumb is if you don't foresee imbibing more than five alcoholic drinks a day, a package will not save you money.
Is a Cruise Drink Package Right for You?
Cruise line beverage packages come with a catch: Drinks must be valued at a certain amount, usually about $9 to $15 each. (Bear in mind: Drinks from the mini-bar, room service and onboard shops are not included.) If you're brand-loyal to a premium spirit or wine, expect to pay out of pocket for that drink. You also will pay for specialty cocktails and other items, such as Celebrity Cruises' famed martini flight, that surpass the dollar limit of what's included.
Sail on luxury lines such as Viking Ocean Cruises or Azamara, and chances are, you won't feel the need to get a beverage package. These cruises usually serve complimentary house wine, beer and soft drinks, but offer beverage packages for those who wish to splurge on premium offerings. (Some river cruise lines have similar beverage options.) If you're content with what's included, there's no need to pay extra for the package
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Most cruise lines let you bring at least one to two (sometimes more) bottles of wine onboard with you at embarkation. Others allow a certain amount of soft drinks, like water, soda and juice. While you'll be responsible for a corkage fee when you consume the wine onboard, you might find that what you're able to bring onboard will suffice your needs for the duration of your sailing.
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If you're on a port-intensive itinerary with limited sea days, it's important to consider how much time you'll spend off the ship. You can't use your beverage package in port -- unless you're on a cruise line private island that allows it -- so all that money spent on per-day drinks goes to waste unless you plan on knocking back five or six drinks every evening.
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Or at least is not a big drinker. Some cruise lines impose the stipulation that if one adult in a cabin purchases a beverage package, all other occupants 21 and over must purchase one as well. Cruise Critic members suspect the rule is in place because many have been known to "share" packages in order to save money. Nevertheless, if you sail with a cruise line that enforces this, and your cabin mate doesn't drink much, you're far better off paying for drinks individually.
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Staying loyal to one cruise line comes with many benefits -- among them is free drinks, often in the form of cocktail parties and vouchers. You'll be limited in what you can drink at the cocktail parties, but if you don't mind house selections and basic draft beer (offerings vary by cruise line), you can savor the perks and put the money you otherwise would have spent on a beverage package toward shore excursions or spa treatments.
Be aware of alcoholic beverage packages that don't include non-fountain sodas. We've heard stories of passengers trying to order a gin and tonic with slimline (diet) tonic, only to be told they'd have to pay full price because the cocktails covered in their beverage package cover only fountain soda. The same goes for any other drink mixed with a specialty soda. (Note: The ginger beer used in cocktails such as the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy is considered a mixer and therefore is generally covered under beverage packages.)
Casinos work a little differently at sea than they do on land; on a cruise, you don't get free drinks just by playing the tables or slots. However, many cruise lines allow you to accrue points as you play; reach a certain status in the line's players club and you'll be rewarded with free drinks. If you tend to spend a good chunk of time in the casino while you cruise, there's no need to shell out money for a beverage package.
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We can think of several reasons why you shouldn't sneak alcohol on a cruise, but the truth is: There will always be those who rebel. If you're brave enough to smuggle in purpose-made containers filled with your favorite liquor, then there's no reason to purchase a beverage package.
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Booked in a suite? Find out what perks are included before you buy a beverage package. There's no need to spend more money if your suite comes with a stocked mini-bar, invitations to exclusive cocktail parties or access to a special, suite-only lounge or bar where the booze flows freely. Some cruise lines up the ante by including free all-inclusive beverage packages with suite bookings.