By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
First it was a trend — now it’s here to stay: Mainstream cruise lines have embraced all-inclusive drinks packages. Found somewhere between the ubiquitous soda packages and the included-in-your-fare booze of luxury lines, these programs let cruisers pay one base price that covers most of their nonalcoholic and alcoholic drinks onboard. But will high prices and annoying fine print persuade travelers to go it a la carte, or will the freedom to sample brightly colored cocktails and wines of unknown provenance be too appealing to ignore?
See below for a line-by-line guide to available packages, followed by some Cruise Critic member reactions to the new and not-so-new programs.
Editor’s Note: For cruises departing from Australia, please see Drink Packages on Australian Cruise Ships.
Azamara Club Cruises
Ships: Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest
Package Details: Although Azamara Club Cruises includes select standard spirits, beers and a changing daily selection of red and white wines by the glass in its cruise fares, the line also has nine for-fee all-inclusive beverage packages. Options include the Premium Water Package ($8.95 per person, per day), Beer Package (26 brands, $14.95 per person, per day), Premium Liquor Package (90 brands, $15.95 per person, per day), Top Shelf Liquor Package (120 brands, $18.95 per person, per day) and Ultimate Liquor Package (140 brands, $21.95 per person, per day). Beer and liquor packages also include a 25 percent savings on premium wines by the glass, as well as all the beer selections that come with the beer package. There are also three wine packages: Wine by the Glass (13 wines, $29.95 per person, per day), Wine Lover Package (all bottles of wine valued at $50 or less, $180 to $350 for five-, seven-, 10- and 12-bottle packages) and Wine Connoisseur Package (all bottles of wine valued at $51 to $75, $315 to $630 for five-, seven-, 10- and 12-bottle packages). All packages feature more choices and more premium brands than the complimentary offerings.
Fine Print: Packages can be pre-purchased (through Azamara Club Cruises or your travel agent) or bought onboard throughout the length of your cruise. Charges begin the day you purchase the package. Packages are not refundable once purchased and cannot be downgraded to a lower-tier package. You can only order one drink at a time. You can order drinks through room service as part of your package.
Ships: All ships, except Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend
Package Details: The Cheers! program has been rolled out to all ships in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, with the exception of those sailing in Australia. The cost for the program is $49.95, per person, per day, if purchased in advance and $54.95 per person, per day, if purchased once onboard. The package allows cruisers to select from mixed drinks, beer, wine and spirits valued at $50 or less each, up to a 15-drink maximum per day. Additionally, the package includes soda, nonalcoholic cocktails, energy drinks, specialty coffees and teas, most bottled water, PowerAde, Vitamin Water, coconut water and Honest Tea. The program also includes a 25 percent discount on bottles of wine and Champagne, beverage classes and seminars, and cocktails that cost more than $50.
Fine Print: If one adult in a cabin purchases the package, all adults over 21 years old in that cabin must also purchase it. Participants can order only one drink at a time, there is a five-minute wait time required between drink purchases, and all bottles and cans are served opened. The package does not apply to drinks in souvenir glasses. A 15-percent gratuity is added to the cost of the package, and due to state laws, the package is not available until the second day of all sailings leaving from ports in New York, Alabama and Texas. Cheers! applies to onboard beverages only; it cannot be used on Carnival’s private island, Half Moon Cay. The package is not available on two-night sailings or chartered sailings, and it must be booked for the entire duration of the voyage.
Ships: All ships except for Celebrity Xpedition
Package Details: Celebrity Cruises was a forerunner when it comes to packages; it first introduced its alcohol packages in 2009. The line has gone package crazy with classic and premium nonalcoholic packages ($18 and $22 per person, per day, respectively), as well as packages for wine, soda, bottled water and even in-room bar setups. The line now offers three all-inclusive drink packages. The Standard Package ($45 per person, per day) includes any drink (beer, wine, cocktails) up to $6 per serving. This includes soda and bottled water. Additionally, the package includes a 10 percent discount on wines purchased by the bottle.
The Classic Package, starting from $55 per person, per night, includes soda, fresh-squeezed and bottled juices, premium coffees and teas, non-premium bottled water; all beers (priced up to $6 each); spirits, cocktails and frozen drinks up to $8 per serving; and wine by the glass up to $9 each. The package also includes a 15 percent discount on wines by the bottle.
The Premium Package, priced from $65 per person, per day, includes soda, premium bottled water (Evian, Perrier and San Pellegrino), specialty coffees and teas, nonalcoholic frozen drinks and smoothies, Red Bull, specialty water from Vitamin Water, all beers, and spirits, cocktails and wine by the glass up to $13 per serving. The package also includes a 20 percent discount on wines by the bottle.
Fine Print: An 18-percent service charge is added to package prices. Packages must be bought for the entire sailing and refunds are not allowed; however, packages can be purchased onboard up until two nights are left in the cruise, at prorated prices. Packages do not include drinks purchased from the mini-bar, room service or Enomatic wine dispensing machines. Ordered packages can be modified or canceled online or by phone up to four days prior to the sailing date.
Package Details: Costa Cruises’ All-Inclusive Beverages package includes a selection of alcoholic beverages (including beer and wine), soft drinks by the glass and coffee. The cost is 24.99 euros per person, per day, including service charges, and is available to adults 18+. A youth version of the package (for ages 4 to 17 years — see the fine print) costs 15.99 euros per day, including service charges, and includes soft drinks by the glass. It must be booked in combination with the All-Inclusive adult package.
Fine Print: Mini-bar products and premium brands are excluded from the package. All passengers, even kids (ages 4 and up), traveling together with the same booking number or who choose to dine together, must purchase the package.
Holland America Line
Package Details: For $44.95 per day, Holland America’s Signature Beverage package allows cruisers to indulge in up to 15 beverages a day — choosing from a variety of wine, beer, spirits, cocktails (including nonalcoholic), sodas and coffee for an entire sailing. Each drink must cost less than $8. If one passenger in a cabin opts for the package, anyone who is 21-plus years old in the same cabin is required to purchase it as well. Items from the mini-bar, in-room dining and beverages on Half Moon Cay are excluded from the package.
Fine Print: An additional 15-percent service charge is not included in the base price.
Ships: All ships sailing in the Mediterranean and Caribbean
Package Details: MSC Cruises offers multiple beverage packages, including:
Premium Packages: The More-For-Less Premium Adult All-Inclusive (Caribbean sailings, $61 per person, per day) and Allegrissimo Premium Adult All-Inclusive (Mediterranean sailings, $53 per person, per day) packages each include the entire bar list, all beers, wine by the glass, premium spirits and cocktails, in-cabin mineral water and mini-bar access, energy drinks, soda, fruit juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate, as well as items from the onboard Gelateria and Pastry Shop. This package is valid in all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants. (Drinks are not included in specialty restaurants as part of these packages, but a 20-percent discount is offered to package-holders.) Children’s packages are priced at $31 and $25 per person, per day, respectively, and they include all nonalcoholic beverages — including milkshakes, smoothies and mocktails — and items from the Gelateria and Pastry Shop.
Note: In summer 2017, these packages will be combined into one, called the All-Inclusive Premium Drink Package.
Standard Packages: The More-For-Less Classic Adult All-Inclusive (Caribbean, $45 per person, per day) and Allegrissimo Adult All-Inclusive (Mediterranean, $31 per person, per day) packages offer wine by the glass, all beers, soda, fruit juice, mineral water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, spirits and cocktails (excluding premium brands), and ice cream (cone or cup). This package is valid in all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants. (Drinks are not included in specialty restaurants as part of these packages, but a 20-percent discount is offered to package-holders.) These packages do not include energy drinks, premium liquors, in-cabin mineral water and mini-bars, or items from the Gelateria and Pastry Shop. The kids’ versions of these packages cost $23 and $14.50 per person, per day, respectively. They feature ice cream and all nonalcoholic beverages, including milkshakes, smoothies and mocktails. They exclude in-cabin mineral water and mini-bar soft drinks. Drinks ordered as part of the standard packages in this category must cost less than $7.50 each.
Note: In summer 2017, these packages will be combined into one, called the All-Inclusive Classic Drink Package.
Cheers: Offered on all sailings, Cheers packages for adults ($20 to $22.50 per person, per day) and kids ($11 to $12.50 per person, per day) allow for unlimited beverages during lunch and dinner in the main dining rooms and self-serve buffets. Featured items for adults are house wine selections, draft beer, mineral water and soft drinks. The children’s version includes soft drinks and mineral water. These packages are not valid for drinks or discounts on drinks in alternative restaurants.
Note: In summer 2017, Cheers will be renamed the Mealtime Restaurant Drink Package.
Fine Print: If one person in a cabin purchases a package, all others in the cabin must purchase a package. If 21 or older (18 or older on cruises not departing from the United States), an alcohol package must be purchased; for passengers younger than 21 (younger than 18 on non-U.S.-based sailings), the equivalent children’s package must be purchased. Packages must be purchased for the entire duration of each voyage. Advance package purchases must be completed no later than seven days prior to sailing; packages can also be purchased onboard on the first and second days of each voyage. There is no per-day limit to the number of drinks a package-holder can order. The above listed packages do not include cigars, bottles of wine or Champagne, or drinks in souvenir glasses.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ships: All ships except for Pride of America. Norwegian Sky includes a free Ultimate Beverage Package for all passengers.
Package Details: Norwegian has two beverage packages, available on all ships. The “Corks and Caps Package” costs $59 per person, per day, (plus an 18-percent gratuity) and includes a selection of fountain soda and juices, beer and wines by the glass ($15 or less). The “Ultimate Beverage Package” costs $79 per person, per day, (plus an 18-percent gratuity) and includes everything in the “Corks and Caps Package” plus liquor and cocktails (all drinks $15 or less). You can use your beverage package at all onboard bars, lounges and restaurants, and on the line’s private island.
Fine Print: The Ultimate Beverage Package is only available for purchase ahead of time on sailings of five days or more, and for purchase onboard for sailings of three or four days; the package is not available for sailings of two days or less. An 18-percent gratuity is added to your package price. Only one drink is allowed per passenger per order. All passengers sharing a cabin or using the same payment method (i.e., kids you stuck in the inside cabin across the hall) must purchase the beverage package. For kids two and up, that means buying the soda package instead. The package does not include room service, buckets of beer, super and ultra premium brands, wine or liquor by the bottle, mini-bar purchases, freshly squeezed juice, canned soda or energy drinks, specialty coffee or bottled water. Passengers looking to purchase this package onboard during the dates of March 1 through April 15 will only be able to purchase on embarkation day.
Package Details: Oceania Cruises offers two all-inclusive beverage package options. House Select, which costs $39.95 per person, per day, includes unlimited Champagne, house wine and beer with dinner and lunch. (Interestingly, it’s available when ordering room service, but it does not cover mini-bar drinks.) The second package, Prestige Select, is pricier — $59.95 per person, per day — and includes beer and premium house wine (from a selection of red and white vintages that change daily), most beverages on the bar menu and room service beverages during regular operating bar hours. Mini-bar selections are not included. Oceania already includes in cruise fares items like soft drinks, bottled water and specialty coffees.
Fine Print: Package prices include gratuities and can be prebooked online or through a reservations representative. They can also be purchased onboard at any time during the cruise (with prices prorated for days remaining). You can upgrade from Package A to B during the voyage, but you can’t downgrade. Refunds aren’t allowed.
Ships: Fleetwide (different packages are available on Australia-based ships)
Package Details: Princess Cruises’ package costs $56.35 per day, per day plus a 15-percent gratuity, and includes all cocktails, spirits, beer and glasses of wine up to $10. All nonalcoholic drinks served in cans or bottles, as well as mocktails and shakes are included, as are all coffee, tea, espresso and specialty drinks and any food items such as crepes and gelato included with the coffee card. Each purchaser of the package also receives a 40-percent discount on all bottled wine less than $100.
Additionally, Princess offers beer packages, by brand, that includes five bottles for the price of four: Dos Equis ($22.27), Heinekin ($24.15), Budweiser ($26.45) and Bud Light ($26.45). The price includes the service charge. Beer packages are not available on Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess or Golden Princess when itineraries begin/end in Australia or New Zealand.
Fine Print: Princess cruisers may purchase the package on seven-night or longer cruises. All passengers traveling in the same stateroom do not have to purchase the package.
Ships: All ships with three-night or longer itineraries offer the all-inclusive package.
Package Details: Royal Caribbean has one alcohol-inclusive beverage package on offer. The $55 per person, per day Deluxe Beverage package includes premium coffee and tea, bottled still and sparkling water, fresh-squeezed orange juice, house and premium cocktails (up to $12 value), frozen cocktails, beers, premium wine by the glass (up to $12 value), nonalcoholic cocktails, fountain sodas with a souvenir Coca-Cola cup, a 40 percent discount on wine bottle purchases up to $100 and a 20 percent discount on wine bottle purchases more than $100. For drinks over $12, a $12 credit will be applied to the price of the drink.
Prices do not include an 18-percent gratuity that will be applied to each individual drink order.
Fine Print: The drinks package is available on all two-night or longer sailings and must be purchased a minimum of four days before the cruise ends. Only passengers who intend to use a package need to buy it. Package users may only order one item at a time for individual consumption. There is no daily limit on how many items a person may order.
Package Details: Windstar’s package is only sold by the cabin and costs $116 per cabin, per day, plus a 15-percent gratuity. The price includes taxes. The package entitles passengers to unlimited cocktails (including some top-shelf brands), regular and sparkling wines by the glass (priced at $12 or less), beer, mini-bar selections and room service drink orders. (Windstar includes nonalcoholic beverages, such as coffee drinks and soda, for everyone in its cruise fares.) Bottles of wine and Champagne are not included.
Fine Print: The package is valid for all passengers sharing a cabin or suite. It must be purchased in advance or on the first day of the cruise, for the entire length of the sailing. Package holders are entitled to purchase certain ultra-premium liquor brands for $1.15 per cocktail.
Are drink packages a good addition to cruising or a bad one? Cruise Critic readers — not surprisingly — have a wide range of opinions on the subject. Proponents are all about the value proposition these packages offer, especially for people who buy a lot of beverages onboard. Says Docalbe, “I try to cruise once a year and bar tab is always over $1,500. $50 is ok with me ($450)…. Not that I’m a lush….” And disan points out that “the main thing is it just makes the experience a little more mindless and isn’t that what a cruise is all about? More fun and less to think about.”
Opponents either don’t see the value or worry about the consequences of unlimited booze. Judi Stein O’Brien posted this Facebook comment: “I can’t see how that’s worth it…we must be cheap drunks! This past cruise we drank and partied pretty hard, rented a tux, paid for a specialty restaurant for 2, various small souvenirs, internet, etc., and our total bill for 2 people for 7 days was less than what this package would cost us.” Others take a more extreme view, like Fred Couch, who says on Facebook, “Some people will drink themselves silly just to get their money’s worth. Just a terrible idea.”
Reader Paula Winchester rebuts that argument. “Those of you saying it would cause too many drunks? Really? Those people are already drinking on the ship with or without the package.”
Still others are on the fence, acknowledging that whether the packages are a good deal have much to do with your ordering habits and the cruise itself. Kathy says, “I do like the idea…and yes on days at sea a great idea…but on port days…could be a waste. I would definitely do this if it could be done on a day by day basis.” Member chillyw concurs, “There’s just no way I’m going to drink 8-9 drinks EVERY DAY.” (Unfortunately for them, a daily package isn’t on offer. Yet.)
And several readers have had some enlightening comments about how to get the most out of the packages.
“Not only did we get our money’s worth and more, there were other perks that we didn’t anticipate,” posts boyerd about Celebrity’s package. “Aside from no slips to sign etc., often around the pool when a frozen drink started melting the staff would ask if they could just make a new one. We tried many different types of drinks esp. martinis that we might not have bought otherwise. If we tried a new drink and didn’t like it, it was replaced with another drink of our choice without question…. We told our assistant waiter the first night about the specialty coffee and we had it served with our dessert every night…no hassles. It really added to the vacation atmosphere that we enjoy!”
Cadburysmom had a strategic plan for her Celebrity drinks package. “I waited until halfway through my Eclipse Baltic cruise to get the package,” she reveals. “More sea days towards the end and the Solstice-class ships offer a much more interesting variety to taste with the Martini and Molecular bars as well as the coffee/tea bar.”