What makes a vacation great? For some, it's a fresh ocean breeze blowing through palm trees. For others, a buffet overflowing with every delicacy imaginable. Whatever the scenario, add an icy cold beverage to one hand and we're living the vacay dream.
There are few vacations as relaxing or as indulgent as a cruise. Even more appealing, the all-inclusive nature takes the guesswork out of budgeting, preventing the dreaded end-of-trip sticker shock. But the one thing not included in the price of a cruise is the cost of specialty and alcoholic beverages.
This is where drink packages come into play. Who are cruise drink packages designed for? And should you book a drink package with your next cruise? Whether you're looking to make it a "booze cruise" or want to start your mornings with the fanciest coffee drinks available, there are now plenty of cruise drink package options available that allow you to plan in advance for whatever your favorite vacation drinks may be.
What is a cruise drink package?
Most major cruise lines offer a multitude of drink packages that allow guests to pre-pay for beverages for the duration of their cruise in advance, including gratuity. These beverage packages are catered towards all types of drinkers — from the soda lover to the wine connoisseur.
Soda packages typically run around $10 per day, while alcoholic beverages are in the $50-$60 range. The package must be purchased for every day of your vacation and usually every guest in the cabin over 21 years of age must also purchase the same package. Each cruise line has their own set of rules, such as maximum prices for drinks included in each package. Drinks from the in-room mini bar and room service are typically not included, but beverages from most of the ship's bars and restaurants are.
Are cruise drink packages worth it?
But with the price of a cruise being significant on its own, is it worthwhile to add in that beer and wine package or to pay for high-end morning coffee?
"The honest answer is: it depends," Jason Leppert, editor of Popular Cruising, tells Yahoo Life. "They definitely can be worth it, but you should do some math first to determine if it is indeed a good value for you. Basically, if your average drink purchases for any given day add up to cost more than a drink package per diem, then it's worth it. Otherwise, you might come out ahead without the package."
Jenn Greene, an experienced cruise vacation planner says if you're a fan of prepaying for a cruise and not worrying about what things cost once you've hopped on board, drink packages may be for you. And, if you're planning your trip through a vacation planner or travel agent, there may be extra deals to be had.
"Oftentimes the cruise lines will have a drink package special [available through your] cruise planner such as 'buy one guest's package, get one half off' or '30% off a beverage package,'" she says. "I absolutely say to get it if there is a sale."
We put a $500 cruise drink package to the test
I recently took a seven-night sailing aboard Holland America's cruise ship the Nieuw Amsterdam. As someone who enjoys specialty coffees, bottled water, quality cocktails and delicious wines during my vacation, I purchased Holland America's Elite Drink Package, which totaled $495 for length of my trip, breaking down to around $70 per day, including gratuity.
This particular package included beers, spirits, cocktails and wines by the glass that cost $15 or less, plus specialty coffees, mocktails, smoothies, soft drinks, energy drinks and bottled water. With all of Holland America's drink packages, there is a 15 drink per day cap per passenger.
Is a cruise drink package worth it?
In my experience, yes. During my entire sailing I tracked every single beverage I purchased using the drink package. This process was simple: A receipt is provided to you following each transaction showing the total price the drink would have cost if paid for out of pocket, plus gratuity. On average, I saved around $30 per day, even on port days.
I started each day with a large Caffé Americano espresso drink, which cost $3.50. Bottles of water, which cost $4 outright, were included in the package and vital during pool time. During the day, I would typically enjoy poolside piña coladas that averaged around $12 each.
At dinner, I opted for some of the pricier wines, including a rosé that would have cost $17 per glass if purchased outright. One of my favorite beverages on board, an espresso martini from the ship's coffee bar, was $13.
In addition to getting more than my money's worth, I was impressed by the convenience and ease of having a drink package. Bartenders simply swiped my card for each transaction. And, one of the biggest advantages was that there were no surprises when we received our bill at the end of the cruise. This proved to be a great way to have some peace of mind and kept my vacation entirely budgeted out in advance.
What I learned about cruise drink packages
While it felt strange to order cocktails or wine that were at the top of the spending tier, I learned to never be afraid to ask for the highest priced spirit or wine. Cruise lines stock a wide price range of liquors, from well to top shelf, and to make sure you're getting the most value from your package, it's completely acceptable to choose those higher-end sips. This was even more true when ordering wine, especially during seated dinners where a more in-depth wine list was available.
So is there a break-even point? In my record keeping, I found that after around five or six drinks, I was at the break-even point. I rarely hit that 15-drink max per day, so I was sure to up my water intake by using whatever remaining credits I had to stock my room with the bottled electrolyte water that was included in the package.
Which cruise lines offer drink packages?
Planning a cruise in the near future? These are some of the most popular cruise lines and what they offer as drink packages.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Cruise Line offers an unlimited soda plan called Bottomless Bubbles, which allows guests to enjoy all-you-can-drink soda and juice for the full length of their cruise. The package is priced at $5.95 for children and $8.50 for adults per day, plus 18% gratuity.
Carnival's Cheers! Beverage Program program costs $56.95 per person, per day, plus 18% gratuity. Pre-purchasing ahead of your cruise will save you 10%. 15 drinks are included in each 24-hour period with all spirit-based drinks, beer and wine by the glass priced at up to $20 counting towards your daily max. The plan also includes unlimited sodas, non-alcoholic frozen cocktails, smoothies, energy drinks, hot tea and specialty coffee.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line offers an unlimited soda plan that includes endless fountain beverages throughout the length of cruise for $7.95 per person, per day plus 20% gratuity.
The Corks and Caps wine and beer package costs $65 per person, per day, plus a 20% gratuity charge, and includes soft drinks, beers and wines by the glass up to $15 per drink.
Norwegian's Premium Beverage Service will run you $99 per person, per day plus a 20% gratuity charge, and allows guests to grab two drinks per transaction, something that can have value when bar lines are long. This plan includes soft drinks, cocktails, beers and wines by the glass up to $15 per drink.
Premium Plus Beverage Service is $128 per person, per day plus a 20% gratuity charge, with guests again being able to order two drinks per transaction. This plan includes unlimited soft drinks, beers, spirits, cocktails, wines by the glass, select bottles of wine with dinner, still and sparkling water, energy drinks and specialty coffee.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Classic Soda Package is priced between $12.99 and $15 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity and includes a souvenir cup. Unlimited carbonated beverages are available at all fountain soda locations as well as Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage machines found throughout the ship. A second non-alcoholic beverage program, the Refreshment Package, costs between $29 and $38 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity, and includes everything from the classic soda package plus mocktails, still and sparkling water, premium coffees and teas and fresh-squeezed juices.
Then there's the Deluxe Beverage Package, which costs between $63 and $89 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity if purchased on board, with a discount offered for advanced purchases. This program includes everything from the refreshment package plus cocktails, spirits, liquor, beer and wine by the glass priced at up to $13. There is a one drink per transaction max but there's no limit on the number of drinks you can order per 24-hour period.
Holland America Cruise Line
Holland America Cruise Line's Coca-Cola Drink Package is priced at $8 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity and includes a souvenir cup. Unlimited carbonated beverages are available at all fountain soda locations as well as Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage machines found throughout. Another non-alcoholic beverage program, the Quench Package, runs $17.95 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity. This package includes everything from the soda package plus premium coffee drinks, juices, mocktails, smoothies, energy drinks and bottled waters.
The Signature Drink Package costs $54.95 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity, and includes beers, spirits, cocktails and wines by the glass up to $11. The Elite Drink Package is priced at $59.95 per person, per day plus 18% gratuity, and includes beers, spirits, cocktails and wines by the glass up to $15 plus specialty coffees, mocktails, smoothies, soft drinks, energy drinks and bottled water. There is a daily 15-drink cap on both alcohol packages.
Disney Cruise Line
While Disney Cruise Line does not offer a traditional cruise drink package, the cruise line does offer nightly "wine packages," which passengers can purchase for the duration of their stay to enjoy during their seated dinners. Package prices vary between classic and premium wines and are based on how many nights you'll be on board. Passengers can expect to save about 25% off the price of bottled wine by utilizing this package.
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