15+ Questions and Answers About Alcohol & Drinks on a Cruise

When it comes to cruising, there is nothing quite like sitting by the pool with a fruity cocktail or an ice-cold beer in your hand. And it’s not just the pool. Drinks are available everywhere around the ship. Whether you are hanging out at the casino, taking in a show, having a meal, or just walking the deck, there’s always a bar nearby.

Coconut drink on a cruise

On a cruise, alcoholic drinks are a big business and bars are among the most popular places onboard. In many ways, the drinks and bars on the ship are familiar, but there are also lots of rules and special quirks that come with alcohol and cruising.

That’s why we’ve covered details of every aspect of drinking on a cruise ship, from how much it costs to rules about drinking, gratuity, and much more.

Can I Bring Alcohol on a Cruise Ship?

In general, no — but there are exceptions.

First, the major cruise lines don’t allow you to bring on things like beer or liquor. If it is found in your luggage, it will be removed and either destroyed or held until the end of the trip and returned. So if you want to bring a six-pack or some vodka with you, that’s against the rules.

Cruise lines normally make an exception for wine and champagne. Lines will let you bring on a bottle with you as you cruise. This limit is normally one bottle per adult, but it can be one per cabin on some lines. Considering the drink prices on the ship, if you are a wine drinker, it’s a good idea to take advantage and save some money.

For more details about bringing alcohol on a cruise, see our article here.

Can I Get a Drink the Moment I Step on the Ship?

Carnival Horizon Atrium Bar

Absolutely. Bars are open from the moment boarding starts. In fact, you might even see staff walking around with drinks available to buy. If you bought a drink package before boarding, that will also be available to use.

There are some exceptions to drink package usage in Texas and New York due to local laws. Packages may not be available until the ship leaves the dock and is out of state waters. Even so, drinks will be served onboard for purchase, even while the ship is still docked. So feel free to have that “welcome to vacation” beverage the moment you get on the cruise.

How Much Do Drinks Cost on the Cruise?

Just like a bar at home, different drinks will cost different amounts. A can of cheap beer is going to be less than a high-end cocktail. That said, expect the prices to be high — similar to attending a sporting event.

While prices vary, you can expect to spend $6-8 for a beer. Cocktails often run in the $10-14 range. Wine will vary widely based on what you prefer to drink. That’s not to say that you can’t find some drinks that are less expensive on the ship, but many fall into this sort of range.

In addition, you can expect to spend $2-3 for non-alcoholic drinks like soda or bottled water.

The good news? At sea, there is no tax on alcoholic drinks. The bad news is that drink purchases come with an automatic gratuity.

How Much Is Gratuity on Drink Purchases?

On every drink you buy on the ship, you’ll be charged the menu price and then an automatic gratuity on top of that amount. The only exception is if you have a drink package. In this case, you are charged the gratuity on the package price, but pay nothing when you actually order the drink from the bar.

Gratuity amounts vary by cruise line, but is normally in the 18-20% range. So if your cruise ship charges a 20% gratuity like what’s seen on Norwegian Cruise Line, then a cocktail with a $10 menu price will actually cost you $12.

You’ll see the gratuity added on when you sign the bill. There will also be another line for an additional tip, but that’s not required like the automatic gratuity.

What Is The Process for Buying Drinks on the Cruise Ship?

For the most part the mechanics of getting a drink is just like it is at any other bar. Get the bartender’s attention, let them know what you want, and then get your drink. There is one big difference, however: how you pay.

Everything on the cruise ship is paid for with your shipboard account linked to your keycard. This keycard acts like a credit card for your account. When you buy a drink, the bartender will take the card, swipe it, and then give you a receipt to sign. The amount will then be posted to your onboard account, which is paid for at the end of your cruise.

How Many Bars Are on the Ship?

Skyline Bar

There is no limit to the number of bars on a cruise ship. The larger your ship, the more places there will be to get a drink. In general you should consider a baseline of roughly a dozen different spots to be served, and that’s for a modest-sized ship. Larger ships can have more bars.

In general you can expect a bar anywhere that people congregate. This includes near the pool, casino, and restaurants. In addition there are other bars sprinkled around that are hangouts in of themselves. These spots typically have lounge spaces where you can relax, listen to music, talk, or just hang out.

Each bar will have its own personality as well. Bars near the pool are usually tropical-themed, servings lots of fruity concoctions. Inside the ship you might find more sophisticated spots where you can have quiet conversation on the ship’s formal night. No matter what sort of atmosphere you like, there are enough bars that you’ll find somewhere that feels right at home.

What Time Do Bars on the Ship Open & Close?

Worried about finding a drink? You don’t have to. Since cruise ships are in international waters, there aren’t restrictive laws about when bars can open. No matter the time of day (outside of possibly the early morning hours), you’ll be able to find somewhere open.

For example, bars on a recent Norwegian cruise show an opening time as early at 6:00 a.m. and no set closing time. That’s not to say all bars will be open all the time. Many keep shorter hours, such as lounges open only in the evening. But with tons of bars around the ship, you can find something open almost around the clock. In the evenings every bar should be open, but during the morning and afternoon, check spots like the poolside bars if you’re looking for something to drink.

What’s the Drinking Age on a Cruise?

Just as in the United States, the drinking age on cruise ships that depart the country is 21 years old. There are some lines that will let those as young as 18 drink with a waiver from their parents, but just consider 21 years as the drinking age.

However, once you are off the ship, then the drinking age can be different. Many ports have legal drinking ages of 18 years old. So theoretically a passenger would not be able to drink on the ship, but can have a beer at a bar in port.

What Sort of Alcoholic Drinks Are Served?

Drinks on a bar top

With so many bars onboard, there is no limit to what is served. If you’re just a regular Joe that wants a cold beer, that’s widely available. So are cocktails of all sorts, wine, champagne, frozen drinks, and more.

As mentioned, each bar will have its own personality, and that means its own menu. For instance, Carnival’s Alchemy Bar features “mixologists” that create unique cocktails such as the “Curative Peach Cosmopolitan” that you won’t find anywhere else on the ship (and likely on land!).

Other bars, like those near the pool, serve up tropical favorites. You can get a can of Bud Light, but also rum runners, margaritas, and hurricanes. Then there are other bars on the ship that might focus on wines or high-end liquors.

Bottom line: If it’s liquid, then you are almost surely going to find it at one bar or another on the ship. In fact, you’ll likely run across some brands and concoctions you didn’t even know existed.

What About Drink Packages on a Cruise?

As you’ve seen, alcohol on a cruise is expensive. It doesn’t take much for a bar tab to reach more than $100 in charges in a single day. Multiply that over the course of a cruise, and the bill could be staggering.

That’s why cruise lines have drink packages. With these packages, you pay a set daily price (you are charged the daily fee each day of the cruise), and then you get to enjoy drinks from bars around the ship without having to worry about the cost adding up. Instead, you simply drink what you want, and it’s all paid for.

Now there are some finer details with drink packages, such as they only cover beverages up to a certain amount, and if one person in a cabin buys it, then you everyone will have to do so. But for many people, the packages can save them considerable money on drinking on a cruise.

For all the details, see our article on drink packages here.

Are Drink Packages Worth the Money?

It depends on your specific circumstances. Some people will save a ton of money buying the drink package. Others will be much better off buying drinks individually.

The key to drink packages is that you pay for them every day of the cruise — even days that you are in port or don’t drink anything at all. You also usually have to buy them for everyone in the cabin if one person buys it.

That could mean you are paying for a package, even if one person doesn’t use it much or you are off the ship.

To get your money’s worth, assume roughly 6-10 drinks per day to break even, depending on menu price and the package price. Don’t forget to add non-alcoholic beverages like water and soda as well, as these are also included in the deal.

You can use our Drink Package Calculator here to see if the package is worth the money for you.

Can I Bring on Drinks From Ports of Call?

Want to buy some Mexican tequila? Or a six-pack of Bahamian beer? You absolutely can buy these things in port and bring them back on the ship with you. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to consume them on the ship.

Whatever alcohol you purchase in port will be taken for storage as you get back on the ship. There it will be kept and delivered to your stateroom on the last night of the cruise to take off when you debark.

Can I Buy Alcohol From Duty-Free Stores to Drink on the Ship?

Discounted alcohol in a duty-free cruise shop

Given their international nature, cruise ships offer the ability to save some cash by having duty-free shops onboard. So instead of having to pay for duty and taxes on things like cigarettes and bottles of liquor, you can save a decent chunk of money compared to buying back home.

It’s tempting to think about skipping the expensive bar prices, buying the relatively cheaper bottles of liquor in the duty-free shop and using those to drink during the cruise. However, that’s not allowed.

Instead, when you purchase something from the duty-free ship, it’s packaged up and held in the ship’s storage until the last night of the cruise. Then, it is delivered to your stateroom. So if you planned to save money by drinking the bottle on the ship, that’s not allowed.

What Happens If I’m Caught Sneaking on Alcohol?

With the pricey drinks on a cruise, many people wonder about sneaking on booze to save some cash. Look online and you’ll find all sorts of tutorials and supplies. This includes things like fake shampoo/sunscreen bottles and flexible “rum runners” that can be filled with alcohol and then stuffed into your luggage.

To be sure, cruise security is on the lookout for smuggled alcohol. This includes checking things like water bottles brought onto the ship for tampering and x-raying luggage. So what happens if you try to sneak some on and it’s found?

Cruise lines have passenger ticket contracts that outline policies, which can include everything up to not letting you take the cruise. From what we’ve seen, however, it seems that it’s most likely to just be taken from your luggage and either destroyed or returned to you at the end of the cruise.

Is There a Mini-Bar in the Cabin?

Often, but not always. Every cabin will have a small refrigerator, which often doubles as a mini-bar with a number of beers, liquors, sodas, and waters. (We have been on cruises where the refrigerator is empty.)

Want something to drink? Help yourself, but just know you’ll be charged. The menu prices are typically posted on the fridge or nearby. Even if you have a drink package, mini-bar items are excluded.

How Can I Save Money on Drinks?

Cruise ship bar menu

Everyone likes to save cash, and there’s no argument that drinking on a cruise ship can get expensive. But there are some ways that you can still enjoy yourself while saving some cash.

Drink in Port: Most cruise ports feature a welcoming area with shops, restaurants, and bars right at the end of the pier. You’ll find drinks much less expensive here. For example, you might find $2 beers at a small local bar instead of paying $6-8 on the cruise ship. Your dollar will definitely go further in port than it does on the ship.

Drink Packages: Buy a drink package if you plan to do a lot of drinking on the cruise. They aren’t for everyone, but those that only feel like they are on vacation with a drink in their hand can potentially have hundreds of dollars. Without the package each drink is paid for individually, with costs that add up. The drink package can limit that cost and keep you from getting a surprise bill.

Look for Discounts: Finally, you can look for discounts. For example, some lines have daily drink specials that can save you a few bucks. Royal Caribbean sometimes offers a discount card on some cruises that can get you 10 drinks at a discounted rate. Keep your eyes peeled for deals.

Have more questions about drinking alcohol on a cruise? We’ve tried to cover everything, but if there is something you’d like to know, let us know in the comments below.

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