Drink packages couldn’t be simpler at first glance. You pay a set daily fee, and then you get your choice of drinks on the ship. It makes things very easy.
But cruise passengers should understand there’s a lot of fine print with these packages that many people simply don’t know about. This includes where you can use them, how to get discounts, and more.
As well, with the rules and fine print, there are plenty of tips and tricks that you can use to help get your money’s worth.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a complete list of tips and things to know about cruise line drink packages…
Buy the Package Before Boarding for a Big Discount
The easiest way to save on a drink package? Buy it early. Just about every cruise line will offer the ability to book the package at a discount before boarding. You can either call the line or purchase through your online account after booking the cruise.
In return for booking early, you can save a decent chunk. For instance, we’ve seen Royal Caribbean offer 30-50% off a second drink package when one is bought ahead of time. And Carnival charges $57 per person, per day for their CHEERS! Package. But if you buy it before boarding, then the price is just $52.
If you know that you’re going to be buying a drink package, then it’s a no-brainer to save some cash by simply buying beforehand.
Everyone in the Cabin Has to Buy a Package if One Person Does
Think you can just buy one drink package? Think again.
Say a husband and wife are on a cruise. The husband wants the package, but the wife doesn’t drink. In this case, they would either have to both get the drink package or neither get it. That’s because in general (there are always some exceptions), cruise lines require that if one person in a cabin buys a drink package, then everyone must buy it.
You’ll need to keep this in mind in deciding if the package is a good deal for you. If one person uses the package and the other one doesn’t, it’s essentially paying double for one package. That’s throwing money down the drain.
One other thing to know is that this applies to kids in the cabin as well. In that case, the cruise lines usually require the child to have a non-alcoholic package be purchased.
Have a Cabinmate That Doesn’t Drink? Give the Cruise Line a Call
As mentioned, one of the important things to know about packages is that everyone in the cabin needs to purchase it if one person does. If you are sailing with someone who doesn’t drink much, that can be a lot of money to spend.
There is some hope, however. If you are in a situation like this — especially if someone can’t drink due to a medical issue — then definitely give the cruise line a call. It’s possible that you can be given some leeway, such as having a less-expensive non-alcoholic package instead of the typical drink package.
We’ve heard of cruise lines working with people before, so it’s definitely worth a shot.
If You Pre-Purchase, Packages Work the Moment You Get on the Ship
One advantage of buying your drink package early isn’t just that you can get a discount, but it’s also ready to go once you are on the ship. You can walk on with your suitcase, hit the bar, and get a drink. There’s no waiting in line to sign-up for the package.
This isn’t the case in all places. Namely, Texas and New York have some laws regarding alcohol that can limit cruise lines from making drink packages available while still in port. Even so, most ports allow you to start using the package as soon as you board. That can mean you’re ready to let loose even before you’ve even unpacked.
Drink Packages Often (But Not Always) Extend to Private Islands
One of the biggest things to understand about drink packages is that they don’t extend to most ports of call. So if you are on a week long trip and out in port for three of those days, that’s a lot of time that your package won’t be in use.
The one exception to know is that often — though not always — the drink package will extend to the private islands the cruise ship visits. So for instance if you are on Royal Caribbean and visit CocoCay, you can use the package just like on the ship. Same thing for Great Stirrup Cay for NCL. Carnival, notably, doesn’t have packages that extend to its private destinations.
Visiting the island and having the drink package in use is essentially like having an extra day added back on the package. Instead of paying for a full day and not being able to use it when you’re off the ship, you are able to still get your money’s worth.
Don’t Forget Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Deciding Whether to Buy
Before you buy a drink package, it’s always smart to do the math to figure out if it’s worth it. (See Cruzely’s drink package calculator here.) How much will you drink compared to how much does the package cost? But while everybody thinks of beers and cocktails when figuring what they might enjoy on the cruise, non-alcoholic drinks can play a factor as well.
Things like bottles of water, sodas, energy drinks, specialty coffees, and juices are included in packages as well. And while they are considerably cheaper than alcoholic drinks on the ship, the prices still add up. For instance, if you have a cup of coffee in the morning and a couple of bottles of water during the day, that can easily be $8-10.
Over the course of the entire cruise, that can be serious money. If you aren’t factoring in these amounts, then you may be selling the drink package short.
Take Advantage of the Package to Try New Drinks
A good tip if you have the drink package is to use it to try drinks that you might not otherwise order. Normally people are creatures of habit — we order what we know that we will like. After all, who wants to spend $12 on a cocktail, only to take a single sip and realize you don’t like it at all?
With a drink package, however, you don’t have to worry about that. If you order the drink and it’s terrible, you’re not out any money. You can simply toss it and try something else. That’s a big advantage to having the package if you’re the sort of person that likes to mix things up and try something new. There’s zero risk to trying something you’d otherwise not order.
Remember: Not Having to Watch a Budget Has Value
Even if you don’t technically get your money’s worth each day with the drink package, there is a hidden value that you should consider. That’s the fact that you don’t have to budget your drink. When on vacation, the last thing many people want to think about is every nickel and dime that’s hitting their onboard account. With the drink package, you don’t. You already know exactly what you’ll pay.
So instead of watching what you’re spending, you can just let loose. Want to tie another one on in the evening? You don’t have to let the math spoil the fun.
Sure, it may be that some days you don’t spend enough to make the package worth it, but there’s something nice about being able to let loose without thinking about a budget.
Be Aware of Any Drink Limits
As we said, there is some fine print that you should be aware of when it comes to the drink package. Case in point are limits on how many drinks you can order and at what price.
Cruise lines place limits on the menu price of what you can order with the packages. It’s usually around $15 and it will cover most drinks on the ship. So normally you don’t have to worry too much about the limit. That said, if you order something more than the drink limit, you’ll have to pay the difference in price.
There are also limits on the number of drinks you can order with some lines. Now, expect any cruise line to cut you off if you look like you have had way too much. But Carnival and Princess, for instance, have a 15-drink limit per 24 hours. You can order all the non-alcoholic drinks you want, but you’re limited on the daily number of alcoholic beverages.
There May Be a Waiting Periods Between Ordering Drinks
One thing to know about your drink package is that it can sometimes have a waiting period between drinks. For example, Carnival has a five-minute waiting period between orders.
So if you are wanting to order a drink for yourself and someone else, then it’s not going to work. As well, if you’re wanting to get two drinks at once so that you don’t have to go back and wait in line for another so quickly, that may not be the case either.
Each line is a little different and some don’t mention a waiting period at all. Still, it’s something that you should be aware of that could come up.
Gratuity Is Already Included With the Package
Normally when you go to a bar on the ship and order a drink, there is an automatic gratuity included. So a $10 drink would actually be closer to $12 when it’s all said and done.
With drink packages, you pay this gratuity on the daily cost of the package. So a package advertised at $70 per day is actually around $82 if you add in an 18% gratuity. But when you go to get your drink from the bar, the drink and the gratuity is already covered.
So you don’t have to worry about having the drinks be free but having a bunch of small gratuity charges to pay at the end of the trip. It’s all included.
You Can Get a Drink Package Included With Some Cruise Sales
What’s better than getting a discount on a drink package? What about getting it included with your cruise?
A number of lines like Norwegian, Celebrity, and Princess offer fares that include drink packages for passengers. This way you can get your cruise and have your drinks as well, without the extra charge. In addition, things like wi-fi and gratuities can also be included.
It’s definitely nice to snag one of these packages and have everything included. Just be careful before you buy and do the math. There will also be a “bare bones” fare without drinks included that costs less. You want to make sure that the cost of the cruise fare with drinks included isn’t more than what you’d pay if you bought the cruise and the drink package separately.
More on Drink Packages:
- Worth It? Everything About Cruise Line Drink Packages
- Cruise Line Drink Package Calculator
- 15+ Questions & Answers About the Carnival CHEERS! Package
- Complete Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Drink Package