When it comes to cruise line drink packages, not all are created equal. And, unless you are sailing with a luxury all-inclusive cruise line, only coffee, tea, water, and juices are included with the cruise fare -- all other drinks incur an extra charge.
Back in the day, the only option for excluded drinks was to pay as you go. But over the past decade, cruise lines have introduced optional beverage packages for purchase, allowing guests to pay one price and enjoy a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks throughout their entire cruise.
Cruise Critic compared beverage packages from five major cruise lines, plus one worth mentioning, to see how cruise line drink packages vary from line to line. Here's what we found:
Although every cruise line has its own unique beverage packages on offer, all lines have a few common ground rules about cruise line drink packages:
Guests must be 21 or older to purchase an alcoholic beverage package.
The beverage package must be purchased for the entire duration of the cruise.
Both guests in the stateroom must purchase the beverage package, and to prevent sharing, guests can only order one drink at a time.
Package prices are always based on per person, per day.
There is a limit to the number of alcoholic beverages (usually 15) per day or within a 24-hour period.
Beverages sold in souvenir glassware, pitchers, and buckets, as well as those ordered through room service and the in-room mini-bar are excluded from the beverage package. Top-shelf spirits are also sometimes excluded as well.
Editor's Note: Prices listed here are based on current rates charged by each cruise line at press time. Rates, terms and conditions, and inclusions/exclusions are subject to change at any time.
Carnival’s CHEERS! beverage program includes all alcoholic beverages by the glass priced at $20 or less, sodas, mocktails, smoothies, juices, specialty coffees & teas, milkshakes, energy drinks, and 500-ml bottles of water. A 25% discount is offered on drinks over $20, wine and champagne by the bottle, and beverage seminars and classes.
For non-drinkers and under-aged guests, Carnival offers its Bottomless Bubbles program which includes unlimited fountain sodas and juices.
Cost: CHEERS! package: $59.95 per peson, per day if purchased before embarkation, $64.95 if purchased onboard.
Bottomless Bubbles: $6.95 per person, per day for kids 17 and under, $9.50 per person, per day for adults 18 and over. An 18% service charge will be added to all beverage packages.
Pros: Discounted rate for advanced purchase before the cruise; covers drinks up to $20 which is a high limit compared to other cruise lines.
Cons: For some inexplicable reason, freshly-squeezed juices are excluded.
Celebrity offers two alcoholic beverage packages. The Classic Package includes alcoholic beverages up to $10 per serving, specialty coffees and teas, juices, sodas, bottled water, and a 10% discount on wines by the bottle. The Premium Package offers a wider selection of beverages including top-shelf brands up to $17 per serving and a 20% discount on bottles of wine.
Celebrity also offers a Zero-Proof non-alcoholic beverage package that includes bottled waters by Evian, Perrier, San Pellegrino & Panna, specialty coffees and teas, smoothies, mocktails, Red Bull energy drinks, and fresh juices.
Cost: Classic Package: $89 per person, per day / Premium Package: $109 per person, per day / Zero-Proof Package: $30 per person, per day. A 20% service charge will be added to all beverage packages.
Pros: Offers two package options depending on guests’ preference.
Cons: Celebrity’s packages and service charges are the most expensive of the cruise lines on our list.
Holland America offers its Signature and Elite Beverage Packages for alcoholic drinks up to $11 and $15 per serving, respectively, as well as specialty coffees and teas, fountain drinks, juices, and bottled water.
Non-drinkers and those under 21 can opt for the Quench Package which includes specialty coffees and teas, juice, fountain drinks, and bottled water, or a Coca-Cola Package with unlimited fountain drinks.
Cost: Signature Package: $54.95 per person, per day / Elite Package: $59.99 per person, per day /Quench Package: $17.95 per person, per day / Coca-Cola Package: $8 per person, per day. An 18 percent service charge will be added to all beverage packages.
Pros: The cost to upgrade to the Elite Package is minimal; the availability of a less expensive soda-only package is great for families with children or those who only enjoy sodas.
Cons: The Quench Package still has a limit of 15 beverages per day, even though they are non-alcoholic.
Princess has bundled its beverage packages with other onboard perks into a new pricing option. When booking their cruise, guests can choose the Princess Plus Program which includes a beverage package with beer, spirits, wines by the glass, and cocktails priced at $15 and under, as well as 500-ml sparkling or still bottled water, sodas, fresh juices, smoothies, specialty coffees and teas, and Red Bull energy drinks. In addition, guests receive complimentary Wi-Fi (one device per guest), prepaid gratuities, two premium desserts, and two fitness classes.
Guests who prefer top-shelf brands can choose the Princess Premier Package, which has a $20 limit on drinks (and the same non-alcoholic inclusions as above), complimentary Wi-Fi (up to four devices per guest), prepaid gratuities, two specialty restaurant meals, a photo package, unlimited premium desserts and fitness classes, and reserved seating in the theatre during production shows. Both packages include a 25 percent discount on bottles of wine, one-liter bottles of water, and can sodas.
Cost: Princess Plus $60 per person, per day / Princess Premier $80 per person, per day.
Pros: Terrific value with additional perks for around the same price, or even less, than what other cruise lines charge for their beverage package alone.
Cons: Guests under 21 who book Princess Plus or Princess Premier will receive the Zero Alcohol drink package, but not at a reduced rate.
Royal Caribbean’s Deluxe Beverage Package includes wine, beer, and spirits up to $12 per serving, specialty coffees and teas, can sodas, fresh and bottled juices, still and sparkling bottled water, and a 40 percent discount on bottled wines up to $100 and 20 percent off wines above $100.
Royal also offers a Refreshment Package that includes all non-alcoholic beverages, freshly-squeezed juices, still and sparkling water, specialty coffees and teas. And soft drink lovers can choose the Classic Soda Package which includes unlimited fountain sodas. Both packages include a refillable Coca-Cola souvenir cup.
Cost: Royal Caribbean employs dynamic pricing for its beverage packages, meaning costs can be more, or less, depending on voyage sailing, length and departure date. On average: Deluxe Beverage Package: $84 per person, per day / Refreshment Package $34 per person, per day / Classic Soda Package: $13.50 per person, per day. An 18% service charge will be added to all beverage packages.
Pros: Generous discounts towards bottles of wine; pre-cruise purchase discounts can be attractively priced.
Cons: Royal Caribbean's dynamic pricing means drink package costs can fluctuate dramatically from sailing to sailing.
Viking makes it on our comparison list because its Silver Spirits Beverage Package is the most economical of all the cruise lines. Viking’s cruise fare already includes beer, wine, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, so upgrading to the Silver Spirits Package will offer guests premium wines by the glass, cocktails, house champagne, beers, liquors, and soft drinks up to $18 per serving at all times during the cruise, as well as a 30% discount on premium beverages and 50% discount for premium tasting events.
Cost: $19.95 per person, per day
**Pros: **The least expensive beverage package of all cruise lines.
Cons: Viking doesn't offer a a lower-priced, non-alcoholic beverage package.
Having a beverage package offers peace of mind and convenience, but is it worth the price? The answer depends on your drinking habits and the types of drinks you usually consume.
A good way to calculate the value is to divide the per-day cost by the cost of a drink ($10-14 for wine or cocktails, for example). Depending on the package, you may need to have at least 6 to 7 drinks per day, every day, to make it worthwhile. If you are a light drinker, consider paying as you go.
Keep in mind that beverage packages also include non-alcoholic drinks. So, in addition to alcohol, if you enjoy lattes in the morning, a few sodas with your lunch, and take bottled water on your excursions, you will quickly add up to -- or even surpass -- the cost of the drink package.
Even better news, many cruise lines are throwing in a complimentary beverage package as a limited-time promotion to attract customers. Others - like Norwegian Cruise Line – have built the beverage package and other amenities into their prices as permanent perks. It takes the decision out of the equation, and all you have to do is to enjoy your time onboard. Cheers, and bottoms up!