It’s easier to make a cruise line beverage package decision than you think.
An all-inclusive beverage package that gives you access to beer, wine, liquor, bottled water, soda, specialty coffee, and even shake/smoothies may cost more than your cruise fare.
That's especially true right now when many cruise cabins are being sold at discounted rates while drink-package prices have inched up.
Deciding whether to buy a drink package is a challenge because you must estimate whether you'll drink enough to cover the cost. Or more important, whether you'd end up spending more if you decide not to buy a drink package.
It's a complicated decision for passengers on a Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Free Report or Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get Free Report cruise, but those cruise lines at least offer set pricing.
For some people the answer is clear — you're going to spend more if you don't get the package — but for many people it's a bit murky.
You can, however, do some advance homework so you can have a good idea what the right decision is. And there's even a tool that can make your work easier.
Know What a Cruise-Ship Beverage Package Costs
Deciding whether to buy a beverage package requires knowing what each cruise line charges, how much individual drinks cost, what's included in the package, and what you might drink. The first part is easy except for Royal Caribbean:
- Carnival: $50.95 per day, $70.74 with gratuity
- Norwegian: $109 per day, $130.80 with gratuity
- Celebrity: $89 per day, $106.80 with gratuity
- Royal Caribbean: $63-$90 per day, gratuity of 18%
- MSC: $49 per day
These numbers aren't hard and fast as there are sales and MSC offers multiple packages, but these are good guidelines.
And it's important to remember that all adults sailing in the same room must buy the drink package if anyone is going to buy it. (If you call the cruise line, they may make exceptions to that rule.)
In a broad sense, what's included is generally water, soda, beer, wine, mixed drinks or hard liquor, specialty coffee, and shakes/smoothies. There's a price cap on drinks (around $14) and you generally get a discount when ordering wine by the bottle. In most cases, if you order a drink that's over the cap, you simply pay the difference.
The last piece of the puzzle is figuring out what you might drink and doing the math.
How Much Do Drinks Cost on a Cruise?
Prices vary within categories, by cruise line, and even by sailing but broadly speaking, if you order a la carte, here's what you will pay:
- Beer: $8
- Wine: $10
- Cocktails: $13
- Soda/Water: $3
Those numbers come from Cruzely.com, which offers a handy calculator to help you figure out whether you should buy a drink package. The calculator is useful, but it does leave out specialty coffee and shakes/smoothies, which can set you back $5 to $8 each.
Still, the calculator is helpful. My next cruise on Royal Caribbean is a six-night sailing on Harmony of the Seas. The drink package is currently on sale for $72.99 a day.
Using the calculator, I estimate I would have two beers (probably hard seltzers, actually), one glass of wine, four cocktails, and six non-alcoholic drinks (I counted on latte as two).
That's a conservative estimate on the non-alcoholic side (and maybe on the adult side as well) and my total comes to $96 for the day. At that estimate, it's very clear that buying the drink package is actually the responsible fiscal choice.
In most cases, if it's close, it's worth buying the drink package. That brings you peace of mind since you never have to check your bill.
And yes, aside from Carnival, which has a hard limit of 15 alcoholic beverage per customer per day, these packages are truly unlimited and you will be served as long as you are not visibly intoxicated.