Last Updated on October 7, 2023

Cruise holidays are known for offering a wide range of amenities and experiences, and one of the most debated topics among cruisers is the choice of drink packages.

Is it worth pre-buying a drinks package for your cruise, or is it better to just pay at the end of the cruise, for what you consume?

Are cruise drinks packages worth buying?

Whether you’re a fan of sipping cocktails by the pool, enjoying fine wines with your dinner, or just looking for a caffeine fix, cruise lines offer a variety of drink packages to cater to your preferences.

Drinks Package vs Paying Separately: The Difference and the Advantages of Each

The main difference between purchasing a drinks package on a cruise and paying separately for drinks is in how you pay for and consume beverages during your cruise.

1. Drinks Package:

  • Fixed Price: With a drinks package, you pay a set fee upfront, typically per day or for the entire cruise. This fee covers a range of beverages.
  • Inclusions: The package usually includes a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine, cocktails, soft drinks, and sometimes specialty coffee or tea.
  • Unlimited Consumption: Once you have a drinks package, you can enjoy an unlimited number of drinks within the package’s scope without paying extra for each drink.
  • Predictable Costs: Your beverage expenses are predictable and easier to budget since you’ve paid in advance.
  • Costs: It can save you money if you plan to drink a lot.

2. Paying Separately:

  • A La Carte Pricing: When you pay separately, you’re charged for each individual drink you order. Prices can be quite different according to what you drink and the cruise line you are sailing with.
  • Variability: Your costs can fluctuate greatly depending on how many drinks you consume each day, the type of drinks you choose, and whether you partake in special promotions or happy hours.
  • Budget Management: It may require more effort to keep track of your expenses and manage your budget since you’re paying for each item individually.
  • Costs: BUT – it can be much more cost-effective if you do not plan to drink very much alcohol.

Classic Types of Onboard Drinks Packages

Cruise bar pub

a) Unlimited Beverage Packages

These packages offer unlimited consumption of a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout your cruise.

They often include cocktails, beer, wine, soft drinks, and specialty coffees.

b) Wine and Beer Packages

Ideal for wine and beer enthusiasts, these packages provide a selection of wines and beers at a fixed price per day or per cruise.

c) Soft Drink Packages

If you’re a non-drinker or prefer to stick to non-alcoholic beverages, soft drink packages offer unlimited access to soda, juice, and other non-alcoholic drinks.

d) Speciality Coffee and Tea Packages

For caffeine lovers, coffee and tea packages provide unlimited access to specialty coffees, teas, and hot chocolate.

This package will often include a wide range of specialty teas and coffees.

Choosing the Right Package for You – Main Considerations

Using my Royal Caribbean drinks package
Using my Royal Caribbean drinks package

Selecting the perfect drinks package depends on your drinking habits, preferences, and budget. Here are some things to consider:

1. Your Drinking Habits

Assess how much you typically drink on a cruise.

Will you be drinking all day by the pool or just having the odd glass of wine in the dining room each evening?

2. Beverage Preferences

Consider what types of drinks you prefer. If you’re a wine connoisseur, a wine package might be appealing.

Do you enjoy a cocktail by the pool, or are you someone who enjoys a bottle of wine and a glass of whiskey during the evening when on a cruise?

3. Port Days vs. Sea Days

Consider the mix of port days and sea days on your itinerary.

On days when you’re ashore, you might consume fewer drinks, making an unlimited package less cost-effective.

Calculating the Best Cost Option

>> You can download the FREE Drinks Comparison PDF here if you want.

1. Calculate Daily Beverage Consumption

How many drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) do you typically consume in a day

Don’t forget to include specialty coffees, bottled water, and soda if they’re included in the package.

2. Determine Cruise Line’s Drink Prices

Look up the average cost of your preferred beverages on the cruise line’s website or through online forums. Remember to include gratuities and taxes, which are often added to onboard drink purchases.

For quick reference, you can find the costs for these cruise lines here:

(Note: If you need to work out US dollars into GBP British Pounds you can use xe.com)

3. Calculate the Daily Drink Cost

Multiply the number of each type of drink you expect to consume per day by its cost.

Add up these amounts to get your total anticipated daily beverage cost.

4. Compare to Package Price

Compare your estimated daily cost to the daily price of the drinks package (remember to multiply the package price by the number of days on your cruise).

If the daily cost of your estimated consumption is higher than the daily cost of the drinks package, it may be worth buying. If not, you’re likely better off paying for drinks normally (i.e., without a package).

Keep in mind that this is a rough estimate – actual consumption may vary, and there are other factors to consider such as convenience and budgeting benefits.

Making the Most of Your Drinks Package

Once you’ve chosen your package, here are some tips to ensure you maximize its value:

1. Understand the Inclusions

Make sure you clearly understand what you can and cannot get for the drinks package you plan to buy.

I was caught out the first time because it included local and some popular beers but not some of the craft beers.

Are top-shelf liquors or premium wines part of the deal, or are they available at an additional cost?

2. Specialty Venues

Be aware that not all specialty dining venues may be included in your package. Check the cruise line’s policy and make reservations accordingly.

3. Stay Hydrated

Make sure that you stay hydrated when on a cruise, by drinking a lot of water, especially in hot climates. Note that many packages include bottled water.

4. You Cannot Share a Beverage Package

Unless you buy a family beverage package, you cannot share your package. Each person will need their own drinks package.

5. Keep Track

Keep tabs on your consumption to ensure you’re getting value from your package. Most cruise lines provide itemized receipts.

This will enable you to understand whether or not you got value for money in the end and whether to buy a package again on your next cruise.

6. Plan Ahead

If you’re sailing on a cruise line that offers discounted pre-cruise drink package purchases, consider buying in advance to save money.

Common Misconceptions and Caveats

To make the most informed decision about cruise line drink packages, it’s essential to address some common misconceptions and potential caveats:

Package Sharing: As mentioned earlier, drink packages are typically non-transferable. Don’t assume you can share your package with others.

Beverage Limits: While “unlimited” might imply endless drinking, most cruise lines have daily limits to prevent abuse of the system. These limits are usually quite generous, but be aware of them.

Package Necessity: You don’t necessarily need a drink package to enjoy your cruise. Many passengers opt to pay individually for drinks, allowing for more flexibility.

Age Restrictions: Depending on your cruise line and itinerary, age restrictions may apply to purchasing alcohol packages. Verify the rules before booking.

Price Fluctuations: Package prices can vary based on the cruise line, ship, itinerary, and demand. Be prepared for potential price fluctuations.

Gratuity Inclusions: Check whether gratuities are included in your package price. If not, you may be charged gratuities on each drink separately.

Beverage Quality: Keep in mind that not all drink packages cover top-shelf or premium brands. If you have specific preferences, inquire about upgrade options.

Non-Alcoholic Options: If you’re a non-drinker, assess whether a soft drink or coffee package provides better value than purchasing drinks individually.

Making Responsible Choices

Respect Fellow Passengers: Keep in mind that excessive drinking can lead to disruptive behavior that negatively impacts other passengers’ experiences.

Consider Alternating with Water: For every alcoholic drink, have a glass of water to stay hydrated and prevent overconsumption.

Avoid Excessive Day Drinking: Pace yourself, especially on sea days when the temptation to drink by the pool can be strong.

Paul and Valeria’s Own Thoughts

In a cruise ship pub
Valeria and I enjoying a cruise and a quick drink

Personally, these days we tend NOT to buy the drinks packages because the inclination can be to feel that you must get your money’s worth, and that then means drinking far too much alcohol.

Consider the P&O cruise drinks costs, for example.

At £44.95 (at time of writing) per passenger per day for the classic drinks package, I’d need to be drinking 4 or 5 cocktails a day or 2 bottles of wine.

And Valeria (even as an Italian) is a two-drinks-a-day maximum drinker (i.e., maybe one cocktail and one medium-sized glass of wine).

So we simply would not get our money’s worth.

I do not want to preach to you so it is up to you to decide the motivation for your cruise and as to how much you plan to drink.

Cheers to smooth sailing and unforgettable memories!

Paul Symonds