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A drink at Dr. Inks, Ph.D, aboard Carnival Jubilee (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Should I Buy My Drinks Package Before or During My Cruise?

A drink at Dr. Inks, Ph.D, aboard Carnival Jubilee (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
Assistant SEO Editor
Marilyn Borth

Last updated
Mar 2, 2024

Read time
7 min read

What's a cruise vacation without a few boozy bevvies? Whether you're looking for a drinks package that includes unlimited alcoholic beverages, sodas, mocktails, or something in between, it's important you buy the right one -- and that you purchase your cruise ship drinks package at the right time.

Inclusive drink packages can be a major leg up for many cruisers, especially those who are looking to seriously indulge and enjoy a more liquid diet on their sailing (For those only in search of just a couple of drinks per day, you may want to consider purchasing beverages a'la carte while onboard instead of the drink package).

But is it always best to purchase the drinks package pre-cruise or once you’re onboard your ship? Is one option cheaper than the other?

Spoiler alert: It really depends.

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Buying Pre-Cruise Drinks Packages: Pros and Cons

Smoke billows from a cocktail in The Founders Bar aboard Oceania's Vista (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Many experienced cruisers will claim that purchasing a drink package online prior to your cruise is the best bet. Cruise Critic member berbician writes, "You should buy now and at least lock down these prices. If the prices go down you can always cancel the current purchase and repurchase at the lower price."

Not bad advice, in our opinion. But what are the pros and cons of buying a drink package before you set foot on your ship?

Pros of Buying a Drinks Package Pre-Cruise

It's the cheapest option if done well in advance and with discounts

Many cruise lines will offer discounts of varying percentages on their drinks packages months before sailing. Because of these discounts, this option will quite likely be the cheapest one.

However, be wary of these discounts and do your research. Some cruise lines will claim that they're offering a substantial discount when, in reality, there is hardly any difference between the discounted price and the typical one that’s usually offered. But be aware that prices can change at the drop of a hat -- and not always for the better.

Pre-buying a drink package is very convenient and less stressful

If you want to step onto your ship without any worry about how much you're drinking and the cost of it, then purchasing your drinks package prior to your cruise is your best choice. Everything will already be in place for you, so all you have to do is get on your ship, relax and immediately order that piña colada. This strategy can help cruisers better budget and manage costs once onboard, too, as the drink package will already have been paid for in advance during the booking phase.

Cons of Buying a Drinks Package Pre-Cruise

You may not use the package enough to justify the cost

"Drink fatigue" befalls many cruisers, which is when you get tired of drinking so much alcohol that you stop drinking booze for a certain period of time. Plus, it's always possible for you to get sick -- with a cold, stomach flu, seasickness or something else entirely -- during your sailing and forgo drinking for that reason.

Considering these reasons alone, purchasing drink packages in advance (or even at all) may make more sense for shorter sailings than on longer ones.

You could buy the wrong package

Premium liquors are usually available in the most expensive packages and not in the basic drinks packages. If you pre-purchase the wrong package and order drinks that are not covered, such as those made with top-shelf ingredients, you'd need to cover the difference.

Fortunately, if you do buy the wrong package, you can usually change it via the cruise line's app or with staff once you’re onboard.

You may feel pressure to drink enough to "make it worth it"

Drink packages aren’t always what they’re cut out to be. You might find yourself overindulging and succumbing to pressure to drink enough to "make the drink package worth it." This could make you drink more than you normally would and make your trip more stressful than you'd like for a vacation. And that’s before the hangovers.

You might miss the cut off to purchase a drinks package online if you wait too long

Maybe you're waiting for the price of your drinks package to drop, but don't wait too long because you may be forced to wait until you're onboard if you miss the cutoff date. Cruise lines tend to differ on this, but two to three days prior to embarkation is a good rule of thumb. Miss out, and you'll be stuck buying the package while onboard, which can be more expensive.

Buying a Drinks Package Onboard: Pros and Cons

Princess Cruises carries Alaskan beers onboard Majestic Princess (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

For some, buying a drinks package while onboard your ship may be the better option. In some cases, it is, but for many others, it isn't. One Cruise Critic member noted a major downside to waiting until you board your cruise for hopefully a lower price on a drinks package: "There's no predicting what the price will be onboard," writes Cruise Critic member Clarea.

Still, there may be some advantages to waiting until you’re onboard to purchase that inclusive drink package.

Pros of Buying a Drinks Package During Your Cruise

Waiting allows you to gauge the quality of drinks

Maybe you want to board the ship and see what the basic drinks and premium drinks are really like via a la carte options, then decide if they're worth purchasing a drinks package. Or maybe you're unsure of the overall "vibe" of your ship and want to feel it out. Are there a lot of parties happening onboard? Or is the sailing rather tame?

If you think you'll be more impacted by the vibe of your ship and fellow cruisers, then this might be the best option for you.

If you get sick, pregnant, or aren't looking to drink that much for any reason, you haven't wasted your money

In the case of pregnancy prior to sailing, falling sick while onboard or not wanting to drink too much alcohol for any personal reason, then not purchasing the drinks package in advance may be the most ideal situation for you. Instead, you could get a soft drinks package or just elect to buy your beverages a’la carte. You won’t have wasted money on a pricier drinks package and will still get what you want.

Cons of Buying a Drinks Package on Your Cruise

You must purchase a drinks package soon after boarding.

If you're thinking about buying your drinks package on the last day of your sailing so you can save money for most of your cruise and let loose on the final day, think again. You can only buy your drinks package onboard for roughly the first 48 hours, and packages must be purchased for the entire duration of the cruise.

Purchasing a drinks package onboard is likely the more expensive option

Cruise lines realistically have no good reason to make a drinks package cheaper mid-sailing, so don't expect them to be cheaper than they were before. In fact, they'll likely be more expensive than they'd be a few months prior to your cruise.

Some rumors have circulated that onboard-purchased drinks packages will save you money, but that is almost always not the case. According to Cruise Critic member pete14, "The only price reductions for a drinks package that I have seen are a special offer for buying the package in advance. Whether even the advance discounted price is good value is debatable and dependent on how many drinks you intend to buy."

When to Buy a Drinks Package: The Bottom Line

Wine at dinner aboard Costa Toscana (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

The best time to buy a drinks package, if you believe you need one, is almost always prior to your sailing. The pros tend to outweigh the cons for this option. This doesn't mean that purchasing your drinks package onboard is a particular bad idea, though. For some cruisers, it's more ideal to "see how they feel" once they're on the ship or potentially save money by not purchasing it for the first or second day.

Many cruisers would even benefit from not getting the drinks package at all and buying drinks individually as they go. Cruise Critic member bala1130 writes, "For a lot of people it is more cost effective to just purchase drinks and not get a package." This may include people who don't drink much alcohol or soft drinks and those on longer sailings.

Ultimately, the choice is yours to decide how, when, and if you’ll choose to imbibe.

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Publish date January 22, 2024
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