Cruise TipsPacking10 Worst Drink Package Mistakes to Avoid on a Cruise

10 Worst Drink Package Mistakes to Avoid on a Cruise

A drink package on a cruise ship can save you money.  It could also end up costing more than just buying beverages individually.

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A lot of cruisers make assumptions about a cruise line’s drink package and what is actually included.

Here are the 10 biggest mistakes cruisers make with drink packages and how you can avoid the same issues.

Drinks on the railing of a cruise ship
Photo 25891023 © Oleksandr Lysenko |

Even if you don’t drink alcohol, there are custom drink packages many cruise lines offer to save money on non-alcoholic drinks like soda, coffee, smoothies, energy drinks, and specialty drinks throughout your voyage.

Cruise lines typically offer a variety of drink packages to suit different preferences and budgets.

These can range from soda to non-alcoholic to all-inclusive beverage packages that allow for unlimited enjoyment of all drinks throughout the cruise for a flat fee.

Related: Prices of drink packages compared between 7 cruise lines

These packages can be a great way to quench your thirst while saving money, but there are several mistakes to avoid when buying them. In this article, we will explore some of the most common mistakes people make when purchasing drink packages on a cruise and provide tips to help you make the most of your investment and time on board.


1. Not purchasing the drink package before your cruise

One of the biggest mistakes cruise passengers make before boarding a cruise is not purchasing the drinks package before embarkation. Packages are sold on the ship but are often 10-30% cheaper if you buy them before you board. With the generally rising prices of cruising and travel, saving money on drinks ahead of time can make a huge impact on your vacation budget.

Sometimes cruise lines even offer drink promotions while booking your trip; so, before you board, be sure to check out your cruise line’s website or contact your travel agent to see what discounts are available.

It is important to note that purchasing a drink package for your cruise may not be the best option for everyone. If you’re a light drinker or prefer to pay for drinks individually, a package may not be the most cost-effective option.

It’s always a good idea to consider your drinking habits and preferences before deciding whether to purchase a drink package before your cruise.


2. Not understanding tipping

Cruise line gratuity can be confusing. Tipping while on board is generally a customary practice, but when you purchase a drink package, 18-20% gratuity is already added.

Therefore, tips are supplied to your wait staff on the value of the package, not on the value of each drink.

You are of course still welcome to add additional tips but bear in mind that this value is already added when you initially purchase the package. Tipping practices can vary by cruise line and itinerary, so be sure to check with your specific cruise line for their policies and recommendations on tipping.


3. Not considering port days

Cruise line drink packages can be a great deal, but not every cruise itinerary lends itself to purchasing an entire package. If your cruise has many stops and not many days at sea, you are less likely to drink enough to make the package worth it.

While on shore, you may stop at local bars or restaurants which, of course, do not honor your cruise line’s drink program. Or you might be at an excursion that requires sobriety (jet skiing, anyone?!). This not only means that you are not drinking board during the day, but long days filled with fun excursions also make it less likely that you will be up drinking all night.

One thing to consider, however, is whether your cruise line’s drink package will be accepted on the cruise line’s own island. For example, if you are going to Royal Caribbean’s private island Perfect Day at CocoCay, or Princess Cruises’ Princess Cays, you can use your beverage package onshore.

However, not all cruise line’s packages are applicable on their islands. For example, Carnival’s CHEERS! Package cannot be used at Half Moon Cay.

Montage of glasses with beverages on a cruise ship


4. Not doing the math

If you are a party animal and plan on staying up late on those excursion days, or if you will be at sea for many days on your cruise, it might be well worth it to purchase a package. The best way to determine whether it is advantageous is to do some simple math:

(cost per drink) x (likely drinks per day) x (days spent drinking) = more/less than the cost of the package

This means that you will need to know three pieces of information—the cost per drink, likely drinks per day, and days spent drinking. To find the cost per drink, check with your individual cruise lines. These prices can vary between packages and level of quality, so be sure to look at all the options available and select your cost per drink based on what you are most likely to enjoy drinking (and feel comfortable paying for).

When calculating likely drinks per day and days spent drinking, think about the days you’ll spend on board and how much you’ll do each day. You probably won’t be able to gauge how much you will drink onboard completely accurately, but thinking about your drinking habits on past vacations might be a good way to do some evaluative math.

For example, if drinks are, on average, $10.00 each, and you are likely to drink 9 alcoholic beverages per day on a cruise where you are at sea for five days, you are likely to total around $450.00. If the drinks package is less than $450, it will be worth it for you; if it is more, it likely will not be.


5. Overestimating consumption

When doing the math, try to be realistic. You do not want to overestimate how much you will drink and spend money on drinks you never even drank! This is a common mistake, especially when cruise lines offer unlimited beverages. However, if you do not drink enough to make unlimited beverages worth it, there’s really no need to buy it.

Also, some drink packages are not unlimited. Carnival Cruise Line’s CHEERS! program limits you to 15 alcoholic drinks a day with no limit on non-alcoholic drinks.

6. Not considering the types of drink packages available

In addition to different tiers of drink packages available, there are also frequently different categories for sale. When determining which package is best for you, it would be useful to consider what types of drinks you most frequently enjoy.

If you mostly drink wine, a beer and liquor package is probably not the best fit; however, if there is a wine-lovers package on offer, it might be a great deal! Some common drink package types are:


  • All-Inclusive Beverage Packages: These packages allow you to enjoy unlimited drinks throughout your cruise for a flat fee. They typically include alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, cocktails, soft drinks, and specialty coffees.
  • Premium Beverage Packages: These packages offer a wider range of drinks compared to the all-inclusive packages, including premium spirits, wine, and champagne. They may also include access to exclusive bars and lounges.
  • Beer and Wine Packages: As the name suggests, these packages offer unlimited beer and wine throughout your cruise for a set price.
  • Non-Alcoholic Packages: These packages are designed for non-alcoholic drinkers and offer unlimited soda and other non-alcoholic beverages like mocktails and juices for a flat fee.
  • Specialty Coffee Packages: If you’re a coffee lover, you can opt for a package that offers unlimited specialty coffees, such as cappuccinos and lattes, for a set fee.
  • Soda Packages: Most cruise lines offer a soda package that includes unlimited fountain soft drinks.


7. Not reading the fine print

Be sure to read the terms and conditions of your drink package carefully. Some packages have limitations on the type of drinks you can order (e.g., higher-shelf wines, liquors, and beers might come at an extra cost if you do not buy the premium package). If you don’t read the fine print ahead of time, you may be disappointed to find that your favorite drink is not covered.

For cruise ships that have a Starbucks, they are often not included in drink packages.

Nowadays, a few cruise lines have free drinks promotions and all-inclusive packages with complimentary drinks included. However, these packages are not actually free. In fact, promotions like Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea, do have an additional cost that is not necessarily compatible with the lowest price available.

It would be wise to read the fine print and calculate the total cost before determining if this option is right for you.


8. Not staying hydrated or taking advantage of the non-alcoholic beverages included

Drinking alcohol aboard a cruise ship in the blazing sunshine will almost certainly dehydrate cruisers who are not regularly drinking water. Be sure to break up your drinks with a bit of water and electrolytes so that you can make the most out of your time on board without getting sick or thirsty.

To help break up the booze, drink packages frequently include many of non-alcoholic beverages including water bottles, smoothies, mocktails, and coffee. Be sure to check what is included so that you don’t miss out on any extra refreshments.

If your package does include water bottles, it would be wise to bring these back to your stateroom. If you do this, the drinks will be readily available for bringing to off-shore excursions or curbing thirst in the middle of the night.


9. Not asking for “premium” beverages by name

Cruise drink packages often come in tiered systems—some variation of basic and premium will determine both the price and the quality of the alcohol included in your drink package. Typically, the more expensive your package, the more upscale the alcohol. In each tier, there will be a variety of brands included.

If you have paid for the premium package, be especially sure to ask for your liquor, beer, or wine of choice by name. Bars on ships can be busy, and your bartender may not serve you the higher-shelf alcohol brand by default. Even if you have not purchased the premium package, do not feel limited to the bar menu. If you have a favorite drink, ask the bartender, and they just might be able to make it work!


10. Not realizing that all adults in a cabin have to purchase it

If one person in a stateroom wants to purchase a drink package, all adults in a cabin must also purchase it. Cruise lines have this rule to cut down on the sharing of drinks which is strictly prohibited.

This rule only applies to drink packages that include alcohol and not to soda packages or non-alcoholic packages.

However, some cruise lines do make exceptions from time to time for women who are pregnant or others with a medical condition.

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Ben Souza
Ben Souza
Ben is a world traveler who has visited 40+ countries, taken over 70 cruises. He is one of USA TODAY's experts for their 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. His writings have appeared and been cited in various media outlets such as Yahoo News, MSN, NPR, CNN, Fox, and ABC News. Ben currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow Ben on Instagram. Visit Ben Souza on Linkedin. You may email Ben at [email protected].
Cruise TipsPacking10 Worst Drink Package Mistakes to Avoid on a Cruise

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