It’s almost impossible to discuss your cruise plans without considering the drinks package. Should we or shouldn’t we? Are they worth it?
Everyone you talk to has an opinion about cruise beverage packages. There is no right or wrong answer to whether you should buy one. You do need to know what they offer, and then you can decide what is right for you. This can change from cruise to cruise, too, depending on what you are looking to get out of your voyage.
To help you decide whether to buy a drink plan for your voyage, we lay out the pros and cons of cruise beverage packages.
It’s Hassle Free
Cruise vacations are a time to relax, and beverage packages make the process for ordering your drinks as smooth as can be. Just place an order, have a server swipe your card, and you’re all set. You don’t have to sign a slip and can quickly be on your way with your drink. You will find multiple tiers for cruise beverage packages. So, you can get a soda package only, or a basic “Classic” package with bottled waters, sodas, beers, wines, coffees and cocktails, or even a “Premium” plan that includes more-expensive wines and top-shelf spirits.
If you are a soda fiend like me, you’ll love the ease of being able get it all day with no worries about running up a ridiculous tab, can by the can. Getting bottled water is also a prime convenience for taking water ashore or back to your room each night to ensure you always stay hydrated.
You Can Share
This is where the controversy begins, and many cruisers have strong feelings about this. Cruise ship policy prohibits “sharing” drinks packages and works to police the activity. Some regard it as a crime worthy of making the offender walk the plank. Others think sharing is fair because “cruise lines make enough money nickel and diming us.”
But let’s be realistic. If you do not abuse the policy and happen to get a beer, wine or coffee for yourself that you consequently pass on to your friend or family as you roam the ship, no one is going to care. It’s a natural inclination and does happen. The idea is not to abuse the package, or the cruise line can decide to revoke it without a refund.
Sample All You Like
You can order up with no regrets. Always wanted to try that fruity umbrella drink? Go for it. If you don’t like it, you can set it down and try something else instead. You wouldn’t be so adventurous with your beverage choice if you were going to drop $12 on each one. With a drinks package, it’s already paid for.
They Are Pricey
Most mass-market cruise lines – like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Celebrity, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line — charge about $50 per day and up for alcohol-included drinks packages (a service charge may be added, too). The soda packages are much cheaper, starting about $8 a day, but all you get is soda, nothing else.
If you are not an avid drinker, you will have to work the numbers to figure whether you are better off paying per drink ($6 or $7 per beer; $9 or $10 for wine/cocktails) than going for the beverage plan. If you just drink beer and coffee, for example, you would have to consume eight to 10 drinks to break even.
Also, remember that you don’t have access to your drinks package when you are ashore on a port excursion. If you don’t have many sea days during your itinerary, that can considerably cut into your time to utilize your cruise beverage package.
Almost every cruise line now requires each member in the same cabin to buy the same alcohol-inclusive beverage package if one member decides he or she wants it. This almost assuredly makes the all-inclusive plan a no-go if one of you is not a drinker.
You May Push Your Limit
If you purchase the drinks package, you probably will be tempted to take full advantage of it. This may happen subconsciously as you drink more than you are used to because “it’s free” — it’s already paid for. Or you made deliberately attempt to make the plan worth the money you spent, leading you to make sure you down enough to justify the fact that you shelled out $400 on a drinks package for a weeklong cruise.
For some people, this can be unhealthy or dangerous. For others, it will just make them feel crappy for having drunk too much. Also, worth noting for you professional drinkers out there: Carnival’s “unlimited” drinks package limits passengers to 15 alcoholic drinks per day.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.