Outside of organized and corporate group functions, it's pretty rare to find an unlimited beer or alcohol option on mainstream cruises, though most lines do offer wine programs, bundled drinks packages -- say, six bottles of beer for the price of five -- and soda cards. Celebrity's packages are probably the closest alternative to an "open bar" outside of the luxury niche, with liquor packages starting from $51.50 per night ($76 for premium spirits) and beer packages from $34.50 per night. (Full details about these and other packages, including a bottled water offering, are available on the line's Web site).
Scott Steenrod, director of food and beverage operations for Celebrity, tells us the new packages are the result of feedback from guests and the success the line has already had with its fountain soda cards and Taste of the Vineyards wine packages, which have also been beefed up. "We knew that, number one, they were interested in packages," Steenrod says, "They like the opportunity to bundle things together ... [and] the added convenience of getting onboard with one less thing to worry about."
Convenient they are, but what about the cost? Let's look at the beer package as an example, which costs $34.50 per day (including the service charge); the package entitles you to unlimited consumption of a variety of domestic and imported brews (one drink per package holder, per order), which are ordinarily priced from $4.50 to $6.50 each based on a recent Solstice bar menu. Once you factor in a service charge on the a la carte prices, you'd need to drink between five and seven beers a day to get your money's worth -- which raises the question: Will this encourage risky binging?
Cruise Critic member zebra36 posts on the Celebrity Cruises forum, "I need a good drink after seeing the prices ... I do not think my kidneys or bladder would survive the amount of liquids I would need to consume to justify those prices." On the other hand, COASTERBOB writes, "I like the choices of imports and microbrews and figure one of them would cost about $6 each. That's approx 50 beers for 9 days, or 5 to 6 beers per day. That might work for a guy like meself, especially on the sea days."
Steenrod says that the package prices were set based on passenger data -- what folks are drinking and how much they are spending on it, on average. "When we started doing this, we had to be very measured ... and set the pricing in a way that provides us with flexibility," Steenrod says, acknowledging that the daily beer charge, for example, covers more Budweisers than it would a more up-market brew, like Stella Artois. "We're learning as we go. As we see what the feedback is, and what they're purchasing, we can continue to improve." The bottom line: Celebrity is testing the waters with a price point that will accommodate a range of products and people, and will adjust the program -- and costs -- accordingly.
The packages will be rolled out within the next two weeks on all ships except for Celebrity Xpedition (also, Solstice-class ships do not feature the Taste of the Vineyards wine packages, as they have their own unique wine program).
Would you pay for an unlimited drinks package if it were offered on your cruise? Do they offer added convenience -- or encourage too much spending (and drinking)? Speak out in our poll!
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor
VOTE: What do you think about unlimited beer and alcohol packages?