Why Is Wine on Cruise Ships So Expensive?

February 17, 2011

Editor's note: The following report by Cruise Critic contributing editor Sue Bryant originally appeared on the Cruise Critic U.K. blog.

Either I have expensive tastes, or drinks on cruise ships are getting really costly.

Although the equivalent of my recent cruise on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas is now selling at a bargain £449 ($725) for a week -- that's £64.14 ($103. 71) a night (excluding the flight) for a fabulous trip around the Arabian Gulf -- what you save in the basic fare is soon wiped out by the bar bill, if you drink.

We're not talking excess here. Three of us would have one drink before dinner and then wine with our meal, with the occasional digestif afterwards. But going back through my bill for the week, every round seems to have cost more than $30 -- around £22.

For example: One Jack Daniels: $6.25. One glass of Clos du Bois Chardonnay: $11. One glass of Clos du Bois Sauvignon Blanc (which its recipient said was not particularly good): $11. Subtotal of $28.25, automatic 15 percent gratuity of $4.24 (and let's not pretend that this is optional, as it would be a huge hassle to have it taken off), and you're looking at a total of $32.49.

I have no complaints about the variety of wines; I particularly liked a section of the wine list called "adventurous whites." But it was all too easy to choose a moderate quality wine and splash out more than $50 for a bottle, with the 15 percent added. No wonder, when we sat in the upstairs section of the dining room and looked down into the main area, more than half the tables we counted had water, Coke or beer on them.

Royal Caribbean isn't alone in charging high prices for booze. Colleagues who were at the inaugural events for Disney Dream last month were in awe of a $14 price tag on a glass of wine in the wine bar.

Cruise lines targeting Brits seem to take a different view. As we reported recently, P&O Cruises prides itself on charging British pub prices or less for drinks onboard, matched, as it turned out, by most of the other U.K. lines. But why the different approach? Maybe we boozy Brits just wouldn't tolerate a five-star bar bill. But surely we're not the only cruisers who enjoy wine?

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributor

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