The cruise industry is sailing ahead at full speed after a rough few years.
Boats are at full capacity and cruise passengers are flying to ports across the country to travel to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, scenic inland rivers and more.
But one question remains before you board that long-awaited cruise and unwind with a fancy umbrella drink: Are you paying too much for that drink? And if you bought a drink package, will you get your money’s worth? Every veteran cruiser has weighed those questions, and the short answer is that it depends on how much — and what — you drink.
About 40% of cruise passengers spend at least $100 on alcoholic drinks and 89% spend some money on drinks, according to a study by Cruzely. But drink packages also cover a variety of non-alcoholic drinks and most include gratuities, which may tip the math in your favor.
If you want lots of options, a drinks package may be right for you and could help you save money on a cruise. You might also see some savings if you select a drink package before you set sail.
What Is a Cruise Drink Package?
When it comes to drinks on a cruise, not everything is included in your fare. Most cruise lines offer complimentary tap water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk and some basic juices.
Outside of that, you’re paying (with the exception of Disney, which offers free soft drinks). If you’d like a little more variety, you can purchase basic beverage packages that include soft drinks for a fairly cheap price. Things start to get more expensive if you’re eyeing cruise line drink packages that include alcohol.
How Much Is a Cruise Drink Package?
While some luxury cruise lines include drinks in the ticket price, most do not. How much you pay for your drink package will depend on which cruise line and package you choose. Here are your options on five of the largest cruise lines.
Classic Soda Package: Royal Caribbean offers a soda package that includes fountain drinks and refills at any venue on the ship, drinks from the Coca-Cola freestyle machine and a Coca-Cola souvenir cup. Current pricing is $12.99 per day (excluding gratuity) for 2023 cruises.
Refreshment Package: If you want to up your alcohol-free beverage game, the refreshment package might be your choice. This option includes everything in the soda package plus non-alcoholic cocktails, still and sparkling water, premium coffees and teas and fresh-squeezed juices. Current pricing is $29 per day (excluding gratuity) for 2023 cruises.
Deluxe Beverage Package: If you want access to every drink a Royal Caribbean cruise ship offers, consider this package. The deluxe beverage package includes everything in the cheaper packages plus cocktails, spirits, liquor, beer and wine by the glass. You’ll also receive a 40% discount on bottled wines priced up to $100 and 20% discount on wines above $100. Current pricing varies by cruise ship. The range is between $63 – $89 per day (excluding gratuity) for 2023 cruises. You can often save by purchasing a package prior to your trip.
Bottomless Bubbles: No, that’s not endless champagne. The Bottomless Bubbles package from Carnival includes unlimited soft drinks during your cruise. Current pricing starts at $6.95 per day for kids and $9.50 per day for adults.
Cheers! Carnival’s Cheers! premium beverage package includes all soft drinks plus all spirits, cocktails, beer and wine by the glass with a $20 or lower menu price. It also includes zero-proof frozen cocktails, energy drinks, specialty coffee, hot tea, bottled water and other non-alcoholic beverages. You’ll receive a 25% discount on spirits or wines by the glass over $20, wine and champagne by the bottle and beverage seminars and classes. You can also save 10% by purchasing before you sail. Current pricing is $59.95 per adult over 21.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a wider range of drink packages than some of its competitors. All of Norwegian’s drink packages also include a 20% gratuity.
Soda Package: Norwegian’s soda package covers an array of Coke products, including Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, tonic water, Fanta and soda water. Current pricing is $9.95 per day.
Unlimited Starbucks Package: This package includes everything from Starbucks classic coffees and teas to the Frappuccino favorites and other specialty beverages Current pricing is $12.95 per day.
Unlimited Open Bar Package: This package includes soft drinks, juices, bottled and draft beer, wine by the glass, spirits and cocktails. This package only covers drinks that cost $15 or less. You’ll also receive 20% off bottles of champagne and wine. Current pricing is $109 per day.
Premium Plus Beverage Package: This package offers the widest selection of beverages by the glass — including top shelf options like “Patron Añejo, Macallan Quest and more,” according to Norwegian’s website. The drink package also covers unlimited soft drinks, beers, spirits, cocktails, wine by the glass and select bottles of wine with dinner, still and sparkling water, energy drinks and specialty coffee. You can also receive 40% off premium bottles of wine and champagne at dinner. Current pricing is $138 per day.
Disney Cruises offers complimentary coffee, tea and soft drinks on board and basic wine and beer packages. Liquor is available on Disney cruises but there isn’t a drink package for spirits or mixed drinks, which can be purchased individually.
Classic Wine Package: Disney offers some standard bottles of red and white wines in its classic package. You can purchase:
3 bottles for $95
4 bottles for $124
5 bottles for $149
7 bottles for $199
Premium Wine Package: If you enjoy higher end wines, you might consider this package. You can purchase:
3 bottles for $145
4 bottles for $192
5 bottles for $234
7 bottles for $309
Beer Package: The Disney beer package is $30 for a six pack. Imported beer options include Pub Ale, Corona, Heineken or Guinness. Domestic options include Miller Light, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Budweiser and Coors Light.
There are several options for drink packages on MSC Cruises.
Minors Package: For travelers under the age of 21, MSC offers this alcohol-free drink package that includes sodas, energy drinks, juices, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Current pricing is $17 per day.
Alcohol-Free Drink Package: This alcohol-free package mirrors the Minors Package and includes non-alcoholic cocktails, sodas, energy drinks, juices, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Current pricing is $25 per day.
Easy Package: This basic beverage package covers alcoholic drinks that cost up to $6. It includes draft Heineken, bottled Miller Lite, well cocktails, alcohol-free cocktails, soft drinks, energy drinks, juice, bottled water, coffee and hot chocolate. This package cannot be used in MSC’s specialty restaurants. Current pricing is $38 per day.
Easy Plus Package: With this option, you get everything included in the Easy Package plus drinks up to $9. You’ll have 20 beers to choose from, a wider variety of cocktails, wine by the glass, liquors, specialty coffees, energy drinks and canned soft drinks. This package can be used in specialty restaurants. Current pricing is $49 per day.
Premium Extra Package: This is MSC’s premium drink package, covering drinks up to $15 — almost every possible drink you could have on the ship. You can choose from any beer on the cruise, almost all liquor brands, all cocktails, specialty coffees, juices, soft drinks and any beverage offered in the less expensive packages. Current pricing is $69 per day.
Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth the Price?
Let’s play with some numbers using Royal Carribean’s Deluxe Drink Package as an example. This package costs $63 to $89 depending on the cruise, so we’ll split the difference and say it’s $76.
Before we jump in, here are the individual prices for drinks on the fleetwide drink menu in 2023.
Wines by the glass $10-$14
Single pour of liquor $10-$14
Zero-proof cocktails $7
Soft drinks and juices $3.50
Day 1, you wake up for some orange juice ($3.50) with your breakfast. At lunch, you have a beer ($8) with fish tacos. You enjoy a cocktail ($14) mid-afternoon by the pool and a Diet Coke ($3.50) over the course of the day. At dinner, you have a glass of wine ($12 average) with your ribeye and a small pour of bourbon ($12 average) to finish off the night.
You spent $53— $63.60 with a 20% for gratuity — for drinks. You saved around $12 over the $76 drink package, which includes gratuity.
What if you change it up on day 2? Let’s keep everything the same except for a bloody Mary ($14) instead of juice at breakfast and a second glass of wine with dinner ($12). Your total jumps to $79 or $94.80 with gratuity. You would have saved more than $18 by purchasing the drink package.
For your own cruise, think about how much and what you like to drink on vacation and look at the individual drink prices on cruise lines. Then run the numbers to see how your estimated daily cost compares against the drink package price.
Cruzely also offers a cruise drink calculator to help you decide if a beverage package could save you money. If your daily total comes in close to the drink package, Cruzely recommends going with the drink package will probably be right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What else do you need to know about cruise drink packages? Well, it’s in the fine print. Rules and restrictions vary by cruise line. But, for the most part, the major lines adhere to the same restrictions. As always, check with your specific cruise line before traveling
No, you can’t share drink packages. In fact, most cruise lines require all adults in the same cabin to purchase the same drink package to prevent sharing. There’s a slim chance that you might be able to dodge this rule if someone in your party doesn’t drink alcohol and the others do. Try calling customer service to explain and ask if there’s a way you can purchase separate beverage packages. Otherwise, consider buying alcohol by the drink or add the higher drink package cost into your calculations
There might be some exceptions but room service and in-room mini bars usually are not covered by cruise line drink packages.
Typically, yes. Gratuity usually runs 15% to 20% depending on the cruise line.
You can usually save by paying for your drink package before you board your cruise. You may pay extra if you purchase a drink package after setting sail. For example, Carnival’s drink packages are 10% cheaper if you purchase them ahead of time.
Some cruise lines let you bring alcohol on board. This varies but you may be allowed to bring 1-2 bottles (750ml) or a six-pack of beer on board. Check with your specific cruise line though. Some cruise lines don’t allow any alcohol to be brought on board (Costa, Windstar, MSC) and some allow unlimited (Crystal, Regent, Silversea), but most fall somewhere in between. Depending on the cruise line, any alcohol purchased in port will be held by staff until the end of the cruise.
No, you can’t buy a drink package for just a few days of your cruise. It’s typically all or nothing for the duration of your cruise. However, you can usually wait for a day or two after boarding to purchase the drink package, depending on the cruise line.
Robert Bruce is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering earning, saving and managing money. He has written about personal finance for more than a decade.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.