It’s the worst-kept secret in cruising.
Everyone knows that the cruise lines offer mouthwatering fares (sometimes less than $50 per day) for a vacation that includes food, transportation, and lodging to some of the most beautiful ports in the world.
Trying to buy all these separately (including flights to gorgeous port cities) would oftentimes run much more money. So how can the cruise lines offer so much value for such a low price?
They make up for it by selling you things once you are on board the ship. You’ll notice it the second that you set foot on deck. From art auctions to shore excursions to gift shops and bingo tournaments. Everywhere you look will be an opportunity to spend money.
And nowhere is that more evident than at the ship’s bars.
Sure, back on shore a cold beer at the grocery store may only be a buck or two. But on the ship, expect to spend $6-8 for a brew. That’s not to mention the costs for margaritas, rum runners, hurricanes, and all the other fruity tropical drinks that will be calling your name the instant that the warm Caribbean sunshine hits your skin. These drinks can easily run $12 a piece.
There’s no way around it. If you want to drink on your cruise, then you’re going to pay for it. But that doesn’t mean you have to get fleeced just for wanting to hit the bar.
To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite tips to help you drink without breaking the bank…
1. Look for value
Remember when you were in your college days and you used to do the math to figure out how much alcohol you were getting for your dollar? You want to get back in that mode on the ship to save bucks on cruise ship drinking.
Maybe it means upgrading the size of your drink for just a couple of bucks — but getting a lot more to drink. Or you can decide to go for a cocktail with more booze that costs the same as a less-alcoholic drink.
No matter how you slice it, be on the lookout for ways to increase what you get without having to pay more for a second drink.
2. Sneak booze aboard
Some people get offended when we suggest sneaking your favorite drink on board, and it is decidedly against the rules. That said, we are all adults. If you want to risk getting caught bringing your favorite drink aboard, we won’t stop you.
These days there are tons of tutorials on YouTube about how to smuggle booze on the cruise ships. In about 15 minutes you can have everything you need to know to try your luck.
Keep in mind that the cruise lines are strict about trying to sneak on contraband. If you are caught, you could get in trouble. At the very least they will confiscate the alcohol. Still, there is no better way to drink on a budget than to bring it from home.
3. Share a drink
Would you rather buy two drinks for double the price, or simply get a larger one and share? It’s a great way to save money if you and your traveling partner don’t mind drinking after each other and have the same tastes.
Sharing a drink can be especially useful if one or both of you are lightweight drinkers. Why pay $12 for an entire drink when you would realistically only drink half of it?
4. Take advantage of cruise line alcohol policies
When it comes to beer and liquor, all the cruise lines are the same — they don’t allow you to bring it aboard. But when it comes to wine and champagne, they offer more relaxed policies.
Many cruise lines will let you bring on 1-2 bottles of wine/champagne per person or per cabin. Read up on your cruise line’s policy here and take full advantage. Even an entry-level bottle of wine on a ship could cost $30-50 a pop. Bringing your favorite vino could easily save you $100 on the trip.
5. Avoid the drink packages
All the cruise lines will offer something tempting — “all you can drink” alcohol packages. For anywhere from $60-100 a day, per person, you can drink what you want on the ship. Want to down beers from noon to midnight? There’s no worrying about the bill with these drink plans.
But what seems enticing may actually end up costing more. It’s important you do the math before you buy.
First, drink packages have to be purchased for the entirety of the cruise. So if you decide to take it easy on the drinks one day, then you’re still paying the same amount, even if you don’t get your money’s worth.
Second, these packages are priced to where you have to drink large amounts to breakeven on the day. Say a beer is $7 and you bought a plan for $60 per day. You’d have to drink nine beers every day before you came out ahead.
Finally, there is no sharing. You may think you can just buy drinks and share them with your partner in order to get your money’s worth. With drink packages, you aren’t allowed to buy drinks and then give them to someone else.
While there is no real way for the cruise lines to enforce this rule (unless you do it right in front of a crew member), some lines will make you buy the drink package for every adult in your cabin if any single member buys it. That’s a bummer if the other person in your group barely drinks.
If you want to see if the drink package works in your favor, you can input what you think you’ll drink into our drink package calculator.
6. Get the Drink Package
Did we just say to avoid the drink package? For many people, that’s a smart idea. But for others — including those who want to drink a lot of booze or simply like to have other drinks like specialty coffees or bottle water throughout the day — the drink package actually works in their favor.
If you plan to drink a lot, the package can put a cap on your costs and help you budget better. Still, it’s important to do the math behind the package before purchasing.
One thing to keep in mind: For many people, having the drink package on a shorter cruise can make sense. Longer trips make it harder to keep up the marathon for day after day.
7. There’s cheap booze on shore
Want to get your fill for super cheap? Head to land on port days and drink at a bar or restaurant on shore. The spots near the cruise ports cater to tourists and will often have cheap drink specials to lure you in. It’s way cheaper than drinking on the ship, and unlike when you’re sailing, you know that if the ground moves underneath your feet, then you’ve had too much to drink.