NCL Drinks Packages: Worth it Or Not?

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one, I may earn a commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s drink packages are some of the most confusing of all the cruise lines! It can be really tricky to work out if a drink package will offer good value or not.

The drinks packages are also some of the most expensive at sea – They can cost upwards of $150 per person, per day!

Even if you get the option of a ‘free’ drink package with the Free at Sea promotion, you should know that this will increase the overall cost of your cruise – so you might actually be better off declining the deal.

Drinking beer on Norwegian Encore
Here I am with a beer on Norwegian Encore

To help you work out whether you should get an NCL drink package, and which one, I’ve written this detailed guide. Here, you can discover what drinks are included in the packages, which drinks aren’t, and which drinks are always free.

I’ll also explain the drink gratuities and other hidden charges that you need to be aware of when you decide to buy an NCL drinks package…

NCL Drink Package List

There are five different adult beverage packages available on Norwegian Cruise Line cruises. These are:

  • Premium Beverage Package (AKA Open Bar) – $99 per day
  • Premium Plus Beverage Package – $128 per day
  • Corks & Caps Wine and Beer Package – $65 per day
  • Adult & Teen Soda Program – $7.95 per day
  • Hawaii Beverage Package – $99 per day

Wherever you live in the world, you will always pay for your NCL beverage package in US dollars. Read on to see what’s included in each package…

NCL Premium Beverage Package (Open Bar)

Formerly known as the Ultimate Beverage Package, NCL’s main drinks package is now called the Premium Beverage Package. In the UK, it’s called Open Bar.

The Premium Beverage Package entitles guests to a wide selection of beers, wines by the glass, cocktails, spirits and soft drinks up to $15 value.

Cost: $99 per person, per day.

The Premium Beverage Package Includes:

  • Cocktails – 100s of different ones
  • Beers and Ciders – Bottled and draft
  • Wine – Over 20 wines by the glass
  • Gin & Vodka – 16 brands
  • Rum – 16 brands
  • Whiskey, brandy and other spirits – 33 brands
  • Liqueurs and cordials – 24 brands
  • Sodas, tonics and juices – A large selection

It does NOT include:

  • Super premium brands
  • Bottled water
  • Freshly squeezed juices
  • Lavazza or Starbucks coffees
  • Energy drinks
  • Beer buckets
  • Bottles of wine
  • Drinks over $15 each
  • Vending machines or wine dispensers
  • Mini bar or room service
  • Tastings, flights and experiences
NCL drink package
NCL cocktails

NCL Premium Plus Beverage Package

Next up is the Premium Plus Package. For those that enjoy specific drinks which aren’t included in the standard drinks package, an upgraded drinks package is available for an extra $29 per person, per day compared to the Premium Package.

Cost: $128 per person, per day.

The Premium Plus Beverage Package Includes:

  • Everything in the Premium Beverage Package
  • Bottled water
  • Speciality coffee inc. Lavazza and Starbucks
  • Energy drinks
  • Ultra-premium spirits
  • Selected wines by the bottle when dining

It does NOT include:

  • Beer buckets
  • All bottles of wine or those served outside of dinner
  • Vending machines or wine dispensers
  • Mini bar or room service
  • Tastings, flights and experiences
Self-service wine station
The self-service wine station is not included in any drink package

NCL Corks and Caps Wine and Beer Package

Another option is NCL’s beer and wine package, which also includes soft drinks. If you’re not a fan of cocktails, spirits or hot drinks, then this could be the best value drink package for you.

Cost: $65 per person, per day.

The Beer & Wine Package Includes:

  • Draft beer
  • Bottles beer
  • Glasses of wine
  • Fountain soda
  • Fruit juices
NCL beers
The huge selection of beers on NCL

NCL Soda Package

The soda package is great for kids or people who choose to avoid alcohol. It offers unlimited fountain soda. There’s one price for adults and teenagers and another for kids.

Cost: $7.95 per day for adults and teenagers (age 13+) and $5.95 per day for children.

The Soda Package Includes:

  • Pepsi & Diet Pepsi
  • Sierra Mist
  • Mountain Dew
  • Ginger Ale
  • Tonic Water
  • Club Soda

NCL Hawaii Beverage Package

For those cruising to Hawaii onboard the Pride of America cruise ship, the drinks package is slightly different. Similar to the Premium Beverage Package, it includes a wide selection of drinks priced up to $15 each.

Costs: $99 per person, per day.

The Hawaii Beverage Package Includes:

  • Cocktails
  • Beers and Ciders
  • Wine by the glass
  • Spirits, Liqueurs, Cordials and Tonics
  • Fountain Sodas,
  • Freshly Squeezed Juices
  • Bottles Water (Still & Sparkling)
  • Speciality Coffee (in dining rooms only)

It does NOT include:

  • Super premium brands
  • Speciality coffees outside of restaurants
  • Energy drinks
  • Beer buckets
  • Bottles of wine
  • Drinks over $15 each
  • Vending machines or wine dispensers
  • Mini bar or room service
  • Tastings, flights and experiences

NCL Beverage Service Charge

When considering the price of the NCL drink packages, it’s important to also think about the service charge or gratuity that’s added.

Norwegian Cruise Line automatically adds a 20% service charge to each drink package at the checkout.

NCL Drink Package Prices Including Service Charge:

  • Premium = $99 + 20% = $118.80
  • Premium Plus = $128 + 20% = $153.60
  • Wine & Beer = $65 +20% = $78
  • Soda = $7.95 +20% = $9.54
  • Hawaii = $99 + 20% = $118.80

On the face of it, Norwegian Cruise Line drinks packages seen pretty expensive. For two people on a seven-night cruise, if you purchase the Premium Plus package you can expect to pay $2,150.

You can’t deny that’s expensive, especially as it doesn’t include things like your mini bar or room service.

However, the reality is that most people DO NOT buy an NCL drink package. They get it for free with a special offer. Read on for more info on that…

NCL Free at Sea Promotion

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion gives guests access to up to between two and five free offers, depending on the stateroom category that they book.

  1. Premium Drinks Package
  2. Speciality Dining Package
  3. Internet Package
  4. Shore Excursion Credit
  5. Free or $99 Kids Places

Depending on the current promotion available, the Free at Sea may be included in your booking at no cost, or you may have to pay an extra fee of around $99 to access it.

The number of Free at Sea inclusions also varies. Sometimes you may only get to choose two of the five with an inside cabin, at other times you may get access to all five perks.

Why the Free at Sea Promotion isn’t really free…

If you live in the United States and choose the free drink package as part of the NCL Free at Sea promo, you will get the package for free but you will still be charged for the gratuity. The cost of that is $19.80 per person, per day.

So for two adults on a seven-night cruise, you will pay $277.20 for your ‘free’ drinks.

If you’re cruising with kids and they get the Soda Package as part of the Free at Sea promotion, you’ll be charged $1.59 per child, per day for the soda.

The same logic applies if you go for the free speciality dining package. You’ll be charged between $8.99 and $25.80 per person, depending on the length of the cruise.

If you live in the United Kingdom and you get the Free at Sea promo, you will not be charged the 20% gratuity.

So why the difference between the US and the UK?

In the UK, we’re usually asked to pay around £99 per person for the Free at Sea (based on a 7-night cruise), but in the US it’s usually free.

This actually works out at around the same. You’d pay $137 in gratuities in the US or £99 as an ‘upgrade’ in the UK. The cost is virtually identical.

The difference is purely for marketing purposes. Most Brits get turned off by the idea of gratuities as we’re not used to paying them. We’re generally happy if the amount is called an ‘upgrade’ as we feel like we’re getting something for our money.

The amount to ‘upgrade’ to Free at Sea in the UK varies from £49 for cruises of 6 days or less up to £249 for cruises of 18 days or more.

So is the Free at Sea Promotion a good deal?

When considering whether the open bar that you get with the Free at Sea promo is worth it, you’ll need to consider how much drinks would cost without the open bar.

Then, you can work out whether you would spend more with or without the package.

  • Premium Drink Package = $118.80 per person, per day (including gratuity)
  • Premium Drink Package with Free at Sea = $19.80 per person, per day

The price of the Premium Drink Package without Free at Sea is kind of irrelevant as barely anybody buys it. The Free at Sea promo is almost always on.

What it comes down to is, if you would spend more than $20 per person, per day on drinks, then the Free at Sea Open Bar is worth it.

So, that leads us on to the question of how much are drinks on Norwegian Cruise Line. And importantly, which drinks are free, even with no drink package.

Bar on NCL cruise ship
A nice spot to enjoy a drink

NCL Drink Prices

I cruised on Norwegian Encore in November 2019 and noted the following drinks prices:

  • Cocktail: $10 – $13
  • Glass of wine: $8 – $10
  • Pint of beer: $9
  • Bottle of beer: $6 – $7
  • Liqueur: $10 – $15
  • Soft drink: $3
  • Energy drink: $5
  • Coffee: $3 – $4
  • Large water: $6

So, as you can see, it’s really easy to spend $20 per day on drinks if you purchase them individually. Even one glass of wine, one beer and a couple of soft drinks per day would be enough to make choosing the free drinks on the Free at Sea offer worthwhile.

However, you must remember that most coffees and bottled water are not included in the package. You’d need to pay for those separately.

Next, let’s take a look at what drinks you can get free of charge on Norwegian Cruise Line ships, whether you have a package or not…

What drinks are free on Norwegian Cruise Line?

The following drinks are available free of charge on NCL ships:

  • Tea and coffee
  • Lemonade
  • Iced tea
  • Water and flavoured water by the glass
  • Fresh fruit juices (at breakfast)

It’s important to note that these free drinks are only available in the buffet and restaurants. You won’t be able to get any free drinks at the bars aside from tap water.

Free drinks machine in the buffet
Free drinks machine in the buffet
Tea and coffee is available free of charge on Norwegian Cruise Line
Tea and coffee is available free of charge

NCL Drinks Package Calculator

Working out whether the NCL drinks package of Free at Sea deal is worth it can be tricky.

To help you out, I’ve built a cruise drinks package calculator that will work out how much your Norwegian Cruise Line bar bill would be without the drinks package. Then, you can see if the drinks package is worth it.

Just enter your email address in this form and the calculator will be sent straight to your inbox…

Get the best price when you book your NCL cruise

The price you pay for your cruise will be different depending on who you book it with, even though what you get will be exactly the same.

It’s generally always cheaper to use a specialist cruise travel agent that can access discounted rates.

Click here to see who’s offering discounted rates on NCL Cruises.

Of course, not all travel agents are equal in terms of the service that they provide. If you live in the UK and you’d like to get a quote from a trusted travel agent that I’ve used to book multiple cruises myself, click here to get a quote.

Norwegian Cruise Line Drinks FAQs

If you still have any questions in your mind about drinks on NCL cruises, then I have answered lots of them below for you…

Can 18-year-olds drink on Norwegian Cruise Line cruises?

Being an American cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line drinking age policy states that the minimum age for drinking alcohol is 21 years. However, when the ship is at least 3 miles from the coast, guests aged 18 and over can consume beer or wine.

International waters

Guests who are 18 to 20 years of age can purchase and consume beer or wine when the ship is in international waters (3 miles from land). The parent or legal guardian must be on board the sailing with the young adult and present themselves at the Front Desk so they can sign the form allowing the consumption of beer and wine only.

Please note, that this only applies to beer and wine and that temporary guardianship for the purposes of sailing isn’t allowed; only a permanent legal guardian can sign the form.

Mediterranean cruises

On NCL cruises embarking in a country where the legal drinking age is lower than 21, those aged 18, 19 or 20 are generally not permitted to consume alcohol. However, there may be exceptions to this rule.

It all depends on the laws of each country and the agreements in place with the cruise line. Specific information for each cruise can be obtained from Norwegian Cruise Line.

Suggested read: How old do you have to be to drink on a cruise?

Can you bring your own alcohol on NCL cruises?

Norwegian Cruise Line permits guests to bring unlimited bottles of wine onboard. This is subject to a corkage fee of $15. You may drink your wine wherever you like on the ship. No other drinks are permitted to be brought on board, with the exception of purified water for medical use.

Suggested read: Can you take drinks on a cruise ship?

Are NCL drinks packages available on short cruises?

Norwegian Cruise Line drinks packages are only available on cruises of three days or more.

Can we share a drinks package?

NCL does not allow sharing of drink packages. If one person has a drinks package, all adults in the stateroom must have the same package and children must have a soda package.

If one guest cannot drink alcohol for any reason such as pregnancy, health or addiction, you should contact NCL to ask if the

Is water safe to drink on Norwegian Cruise Line?

The tap water on NCL ships is perfectly safe to drink and tastes fine. The only real downside of drinking the water from the tap in your room is that it’s not cold. You can get iced water for free from any bar or restaurant on the ship.

Is bottled water included in the NCL drink package?

Bottled water is included in NCL’s Premium Plus Beverage Package, but not in the Premium Beverage Package. Water by the glass is always available free of charge.

Is coffee included in the NCL drink package?

NCL doesn’t have a separate coffee package and coffee is not included in the standard drink package, only included in the Premium Plus Beverage package (the most expensive package). You can get coffee free of charge in the buffet and on many ships, there’s a coffee machine in your stateroom.

Is Starbucks included in the NCL drink package?

All food and drinks from Starbucks in chargeable on Norwegian Cruise Line cruises.

Starbucks on Norwegian Encore

Is there a limit on the NCL drink package?

The NCL drink package does not have a daily limit on the number of drinks that can be ordered, although guests who are visibly intoxicated may not be served. The maximum value per drink is $15 and each person can order two drinks in each transaction.

What happens if I order a drink that costs more than $15?

With The NCL Premium Beverage Package, if you order a drink that costs over $15 you will be charged the difference. So if your drink costs $16, you will be charges $1 to your onboard account.

Where can you use the drinks package?

You can use your drinks package in all bars, lounges, restaurants and on one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s private islands, Great Stirrup Cay, but not on the other island, Harvest Caye.

Can I get bottles of wine with the drinks package?

Bottles of wine are included in the NCL Premium Plus Beverage Package, but not in the Premium Beverage Package.

The Premium Beverage Package gives a 20% discount on all bottles of wine purchased on board. But honestly, you’d be better just to ask for it by the glass.

Can you take drinks in the pools and hot tubs?

On NCL cruise ships you are generally allowed to take drinks into the swimming pools and hot tubs as long as they’re in plastic glasses.

cocktails in the hot tub on Norwegian Encore
Drinking in the hot tub with my friends on Norwegian Encore

Final thoughts

Individual drinks and drinks packages are pretty expensive on Norwegian Cruise Line.

However, this is mostly irrelevant, as the Free at Sea programme allows you to get a free drinks package (plus other benefits like dining or free kids places) for around $125 or £99 per person based on a seven-night cruise.

If you don’t drink much alcohol and prefer bottled water, tea, coffee and lemonade, you may be better off declining the drink package or open bar that comes with the Free At Sea promotion.

Before you go!

I'd love to help you to...

1. Find a cruise - See today's best cruise deals (wherever you are in the world)

2. Get a discount - Request a free quote from one of my trusted UK-based travel agents

3. Save money on your cruise - Follow me on Instagram or join my email list

18 thoughts on “NCL Drinks Packages: Worth it Or Not?”

  1. Hi, if a book an NCL cruise with the free at sea drinks package and prepay my gratuities will i still be charged 20% beverage gratuities on every drink i order?

    • Hi Christopher. That depends on where you live. If you book in the UK or Australia, gratuities on the drinks package are included: https://www.ncl.com/uk/en/terms-and-conditions/promotions. However, if you book in the US, you will have to pay a 20% gratuity on the retail value of the Premium Beverage Package. This equates to $19.80 USD per person per day. https://www.ncl.com/termsandconditions/promotions. (I’ve put the links to the info in here, but you may only be able to view the link for the country you’re in currently.) Jenni

  2. Hi, we have booked aboard NCL EPIC, for early next year (2021). My wife and I are travelling with my sister, so there’ll be three adults in a mini suite. When we booked our agent told us he was only able to allocate the premium drinks package, via “Free at sea” to the first two guests. Will we be able to add my sister to the Free at sea for $99 either onboard or before we sail. Many thanks. Paul.

    • Hi Paul. I would expect that you would have to pay the full drinks package price for your third guest rather than the $99 price. Your travel agent will be able to confirm that for you. Jenni

  3. I’m going on my first cruise for my son’s wedding next May on the Joy. We all got the premium beverage package and 3rd/4th guests free package. I noticed when I logged in there is an option to pay in advance a $210 service fee. It says if you don’t pay in advance, this amount will be added to your room account on board the ship. I don’t quite understand this fee – it sounds like a mandatory fee but an option to pay it up front? I know my son and his fiance have many young friends going, some with young children and some barely scraping enough for the cruise. Are they going to be surprised by this fee? Are there any other surprises other than what is above for first time cruisers?

    • Hi Mary. Norwegian Cruise Line add a 20% service charge to beverage packages. There’s also a daily charge for gratuities which is currently $14.50 per person, per day. I haven’t cruised on-board Norwegian Joy myself, but I have been on the sister ship, Norwegian Encore and I found that some of the activities on-board such as the go-kart track, virtual reality arcade and laser tag had an extra charge. NCL is, unfortunately, one of the cruise lines that charges the most for these kinds of things. Jenni

  4. As of Jan 2020, Premium Beverage Package seems to have been renamed to Adult Beverage Package – can someone confirm they are the same?

    • Yes, they are the same. They sometimes use the words ‘Adult Beverage Package’ on documents but it’s the same as Premium Beverage Package and Ultimate Beverage Package.

  5. Your post was very helpful. I am booked for Pride of America in August 2020 and purchased the Free at Sea drink package for my husband and myself. However, I am now skeptical because I cannot seem to find what’s included. Do you have any idea? Thank you!

  6. Hi I have a quick question about the free at sea packages. the name implies that it is only free when at sea. does that mean that you only get the packaged whilst sailing at sea or does it include the time in port. I ask as we often back on the ship by lunchtime and enjoy an afternoon drink by the pool.

    • Great question! Yes, drinks are also free when you’re in port. You’re probably not the only one to be confused by that.

  7. Hi Jenni,
    Thank you for your information. I have a question. We (4 adults) booked a cruise at NCL for 12 days. Because we booked a suite we were automatically upgraded for the free at sea getting the 5 perks.
    Person 1&2 got the premium beverage package. Are persons 3&4 obliged to buy the same premium beverage package? It makes no sense for us to buy it since the whole party doesn’t drink alcohol. Whereas the drinks we prefer (fresh juice, coffeespecialties, bottled water) are not included. Furthermore we are only 5 days at sea, and 7 on the islands for the whole day.
    What advice do you have for us?
    The cruise: NCL Pearl from Miami to NYC
    Looking forward to your advice.
    Kind regards San

    • Hi San. Thanks for your question. Seeing as you got the 5 perks included for only two people, I wouldn’t think that they would be able to make you buy it for the other two. Did you book with a travel agent? They will be able to confirm that for you. Jenni

  8. I have never been to a cruise and your article is very useful for me!
    We usually drink water, cocktails and wine! Do you think NCL Premium Plus Beverage Package is what we need?

    • It totally depends on how much you drink. I like to work out how many drinks I’d need per day to break even and then decide. Jenni

  9. Thanks for the information. Traveling on the Encore on January 5, glad to see all the vodkas and rims with the free at Sea program. Just will need to pay for water. What are the sizes of water? Can you order a jug for your room?

    • Hi. The large water is about 600ml. We were given bottles of water in our room in plastic-free packaging. I’m not sure if this is the same on every cruise. The tap water is fine to drink too. Jenni

Leave a comment