The Ultimate Guide to Cruise Drink Packages

The Ultimate Guide to Cruise Drink Packages

Every time you book a cruise you have one very important decision to make: “Should I get the cruise drinks package or not?”

Cruise drinks packages can cost anywhere between £19 and £106 ($23 to $129) per day for all-inclusive alcoholic drinks. The price depends on which cruise line you sail with and which package you choose.

What makes me the expert on cruise drink packages?

I’ve worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and I’ve taken a lot of cruises. Whilst I do love a drink (or seven), I’m also pretty frugal, so every time I book a cruise I do the maths and work out whether to buy the drinks package or not. So far, I’ve bought one 50% of the time.

This article will help you to work out whether the drinks package is worth it for your cruise, with information on drinks prices, beverage package prices and what drink packages include (and don’t include)

I’ve also built a free Cruise Drink Package Calculator to help you work out whether to buy one or not.

Plus, find out how I saved over £400 by bringing my own drinks on-board (and no, I didn’t break any rules).

drinking beer on Norwegian Cruise Line

Are cruise drink packages worth it?

If you like to drink a lot on holiday, then drinks packages are almost always worth it.

But, if like me, you plan on spending a not inconsiderable amount of time with one eye on each child, making sure that the little angels don’t take off their arm bands and jump in the deep end, then you might not be able to drink as much as you want to. So, what’s a mum to do?

Of course, with late-night kids’ clubs and babysitting, it can be fabulous to unwind with a few glasses of vino or a cocktail in the sun. And if you’re lucky enough to have a balcony, a nightcap would be a lovely way to end the night once everyone’s tucked up in bed.

Even if you’re teetotal, there are soft drinks packages which can be great value for money. So, don’t write off the idea of a beverage package just yet.

How to decide if your cruise drinks package is worth it

To do the maths on your drinks package, you’ll want to know four things:

  1. What different drinks packages are available on your cruise? – Some cruise lines offer up to five different packages with different things included
  2. How much are drinks packages? – Some cruise lines have fixed prices, for others, it varies by sailing and can go up and down before the departure date
  3. How much are drinks on your ship? – Some cruise lines charge pub prices, but others charge more than double that
  4. How many drinks do you plan to have each day? – You’ll drink more on sea days than days spent ashore, so factor this in

Now, if all this seems like a bit too much maths, don’t worry, that’s where the Drinks Package Calculator will come in handy.

However, there are a couple more things you also need to consider:

  1. What drinks are free on your cruise?
  2. What drinks aren’t included in the drinks package?

If you like to drink tea, coffee, fruit juice, squash, ice tea, water and milk, then it’s possible that you won’t spend a penny on drinks even without a package as certain drinks are always free of charge.

Beverage packages don’t cover everything. Don’t get caught out by ordering bottles of wine if your package only covers glasses. And don’t raid the minibar unless you know it’s included.

Cocktail on Celebrity cruise

Cruise line beverage packages

The details of drinks packages are different for each cruise line. For that reason, I’ve written detailed guides to beverage packages for each of the cruise lines that I’ve sailed with.

For the other cruise lines, you’ll find all the drinks package information on this page.

Cruise drink package price comparison

The following table shows the price of the standard drinks package (when booked pre-cruise) for each cruise line.

Note that many cruise lines offer a choice of packages, so there may be cheaper packages (such as wine and beer only packages) as well as more expensive packages (which include premium drinks).

Cruise lineDrinks package price (per day)
Carnival$52 / £43
Celebrity Cruises$59 / £48
Costa Cruises$37 / £30
Cruise & Maritime Voyages$41 / £29
Cunard$69 / £57
Fred. Olsen Cruise Line$23 / £19
MSC Cruises$42 – $55 / £33 – £45
Norwegian Cruise Line$99 / £81
P&O Cruises$49 / £40
Princess Cruises$60 / £49
Royal Caribbean$63 – $89 / £47 – £66

Disney Cruise Lines are one of the few cruise lines that doesn’t have a drinks package.

MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean have variable pricing. MSC Cruises pricing varies with the destination and Royal Caribbean’s prices vary depending on many factors and prices also go up and down in the period between booking and sailing.

P&O Cruises drink package

Which cruise line has the best drink packages?

If you like to drink alcohol on holiday, perhaps you’re even lucky enough to enjoy an adults-only cruise, then you might want to know which cruise line has the best drinks packages. Of course, that depends on your definition of ‘the best’.

The cheapest drinks package

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line offers the cheapest cruise drinks package at just £19 per person per day. That’s less than a quarter of the price of Norwegian Cruise Line’s package. So, why is it so cheap?

For one thing, Fred. Olsen and Norwegian Cruise Line attract very different crowds.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line attracts British pensioners who tend to enjoy half a bitter, a small sherry and then head off to bed at 9 pm. (Yes, these are stereotypes, but that’s how it often is.)

At the other end of the scale is NCL. This trendy cruise line is popular with millennial cruisers who love to drink cocktails all day and stay up late in the on-board bars and nightclubs.

As well as attracting different clientele, these polar opposite cruise lines also have large differences in the prices of individual drinks. On Fred. Olsen cruise ships, drinks when bought individually are around half the price as on NCL ships. You’re looking at £4.35 for a glass of wine rather than $10.

What this means is that whilst some drinks packages are cheaper than others, to work out which drinks package is the best value, you also have to think about how many drinks you need to ‘break even’.

The most inclusive drinks package

Most cruise beverage packages have limits, whether that’s a limited number of drinks per day or a limit on the types of drinks you can have. For example, it’s common to exclude bottles of wine and instead request that guests order wine by the glass.

The table below shows the drinks package limitations for each cruise line.

Cruise lineMax. drinks per dayMax. drink priceMini bar included?
Carnival15$20no
Celebrity Cruisesn/a$15no
Costa Cruisesn/a€9Only with Connoisseur
Cruise & Maritime Voyagesn/an/ano
Cunard15n/ano
Fred. Olsen Cruise Linen/an/ano
MSC Cruisesn/a€6 with Easy, €10 with Premium or no limit with Premium PlusOnly with Premium Plus
Norwegian Cruise Linen/anoneno
P&O Cruises15£6.95no
Princess Cruises15$12no
Royal Caribbeann/a$12no

From the data in the table above, you can see that MSC Cruises Premium Plus beverage package is the most inclusive. This package includes unlimited drinks with no price limit, including drinks from the mini-bar.

What if you order a drink that costs more than the maximum drink price?

In most cases, you’ll pay the extra. So if your package covers drinks up to $12 but your order a glass of champagne for $15, then you’ll pay $3.

However, in this scenario, MSC Cruises would charge you for the entire drink, so you would pay $15.

When does the 24-hour period reset?

For cruise lines which have a limit on the number of drinks per day, the new day starts at 6 am. Non-alcoholic beverages aren’t included in the 15-drink limit.

Whilst most cruise lines don’t set limits. If you’re visibly drunk, then you’re unlikely to get served more alcohol.

How much are drinks on cruise ships?

Cruise ship drinks prices vary depending on the cruise line. Some cruise lines also vary the prices between ships.

As a general rule, the drinks on British cruise ships (P&O Cruises, Cruise & Maritime Voyages and Fred. Olsen Cruise Line) and European cruise ships (Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises) are cheaper than on American-owned ships.

Cruise line drinks price comparison

The following table shows the prices of drinks on all cruise lines in 2020 in both US Dollars ($) and British Pounds Sterling (£).

Cruise linePrice of a beerPrice of a glass of winePrice of a cocktail
Carnival$6 – $8
(£5 – £6.50)
$8 – $14
(£6.50 – £11.50)
$9 – $13 
(£7.50 – £10.50)
Celebrity Cruises$7 – $10
(£5.50 – £8)
$8 – $14
(£6.50 – £11.50)
$9 – $20
(£7.50 – £16)
Costa Cruises$6
(£5)
$6
(£5)
$7 – $9
(£5.50 – £7.50)
Cruise & Maritime Voyages$3.50 – $7.50
(£3 – £6)
$3.50 – $5.50
(£3 – £4.50)
$5 – $6
(£4 – £5)
Cunard$5 – $6.50
(£4 – £5.50)
$7- $14
(£5.50 – £11.50)
$8 – $16
(£6.50 – £13)
Fred. Olsen Cruise Line$3.50 – $5
(£3 – £4)
$5.50 – $8.50
(£4.50 – £7)
$6 – $10
(£5 – £8)
MSC Cruises$5 – $6
(£4 – £5)
$5.50 – $9
(£4.50 – £7.50)
$6 – $13
(£5 – £10.50)
Norwegian Cruise Line$8 – $10
(£6.50 – £8)
$8 – $10
(£6.50 – £8)
$10 – $13
(£8 – £10.50)
P&O Cruises$3.50 – $5
(£3 – £4)
$5 – $9
(£4 – £7.50)
$7.50 – $8.50
(£6 – £7)
Princess Cruises$6 – $7
(£5 – £5.50)
$8 – $12
(£6.50 – £10)
$7 – $10
(£5.50 – £8)
Royal Caribbean$7 – $8
(£5.50 – ££6.50)
$6 – $16
(£5 – £13)
$8 – $13
(£6.50 – £10.50)

Cruise drinks menus

Whenever I go on a cruise I take photos of the bar menus because I know that people often like to look at these to see the bar prices as well as to note which drinks are available.

So far, this blog has detailed info on bar prices for the following cruise lines.

I will add more cruise ship drinks menu photos as I take more cruises.

Royal Caribbean coffee

Should you buy the drinks package?

Now, the million-dollar question…

To decide if you should buy the cruise drinks package or not, you’ll need to do a bit of maths to estimate how much you would spend on drinks if you didn’t have the package.

If you would spend more on drinks without a beverage package, then the package is worth it. However, it could be the case that you drink as much as you like and still don’t break even on the drinks package cost.

I created a handy drinks package calculator tool which will help you to work out how much you would spend on drinks per day with no drinks package. You can then compare that with the cost of the all-inclusive package to see if it’s worth it or not.

Cruise drinks package calculator

First, choose your cruise line. Then estimate how many drinks you might drink per day.

MSC Cruises
NCL
P&O Cruises
Royal Caribbean




Cockatail with drinks package

Which cruise lines offer free drink packages?

A cruise with a free drinks package can seem like a great deal. Always remember though, there’s truth in the old saying ‘nothing is for free in this world’.

Cruise lines and travel agents regularly have promotions offering cruises with free drinks packages. Whilst it’s quite possible to book an all-inclusive cruise with drinks included, these drinks are by no means free.

The package price for a cruise with drinks will always be higher than it would be if you booked just the cruise. It’s all just clever marketing.

That’s not to say that if you see an offer of cruises with free drinks you should avoid it. Far from it. It could still be a great deal and it’s likely to be a better price than if you were to pay for the cruise and the drinks package separately.

Cruises offering free drink packages include:

  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Holland America Line
  • MSC Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess Cruises

Eligibility for free drinks packages

For some of these offers, you need to book an oceanview or a balcony stateroom, rather than the cheapest inside cabins, to get the free drinks. These cruises are often cold-weather cruises where people are less bothered about having a balcony. Cruise lines use ‘free drinks with balcony cabins’ as a way to entice people to go for the cabin upgrade.

For others you can book an upgraded ‘experience’ which gives you perks such as the best cabin locations, first choice of dining times and free room service, as well as free drinks.

Cruise promotions change all the time, sometimes as often as every few days, but certainly every couple of months. For this reason, I won’t list the exact free drinks promos that each cruise line is offering in 2020.

cruise drinks

Can you bring your own drinks on a cruise?

There are many reasons you might want to bring your own drinks on a cruise ship.

The first is money saving. If you’re on a budget, you could decide to bring your own drinks instead of getting a drinks package. We brought a litre of gin, a litre of rum and a lot of lemonade in our luggage on-board P&O Britannia which saved us around £400 compared to buying these drinks at the bar.

P&O Cruises are very generous in allowing each guest to bring a litre of any alcohol and unlimited soft drinks. Many other cruise lines allow you to bring bottles of wine. This varies by cruise line so click the link below to see exactly what you’re allowed on each ship.

Read more: Can you take drinks on a cruise ship

If you have a drinks package, should you bring your own drinks too? Ordinarily, no. But there are times when you might want to do this. Perhaps you have a special bottle of champagne that you’ve been saving for your anniversary? Maybe the ship doesn’t stock your favourite tipple? Or maybe you have dietary requirements and are concerned about whether you can get vegan wine or gluten-free beer on the ship.

How to sneak alcohol on a cruise ship

Whilst many cruise lines are very generous in allowing guests to bring a certain amount of alcohol on-board with them, many people still want to know how to sneak booze on a cruise.

Smuggling alcohol on a cruise ship is not allowed and cruise lines use scanners to x-ray your luggage to look for prohibited items. Cruisers have been coming up with seemingly ingenious ways to sneak alcohol onto cruise ships, but nothing is fool proof.

What will happen if you’re caught? The best-case scenario is that you have your alcohol confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise. However, some cruise lines retain the right to refuse boarding to anyone attempting to smuggle drinks on-board. Would you take the risk?

Read more: How to sneak alcohol on a cruise ship

cruise cocktails

Pros and cons of cruise line drink packages

Still unsure whether you should buy the cruise drinks package or not? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons…

Pros

No unexpected bill at the end of your cruise

With a drinks package, you pay for it before you cruise. It’s a great feeling to know that everything’s already paid for and you’re free to enjoy yourself.

Without a drinks package, you’ll receive a bill at the end. You can check your bar tab mid-way through your cruise, either by using your stateroom TV (on most cruise lines) or by asking at guest services. It can be pretty depressing to see, so I wouldn’t recommend checking unless you have to!

If you don’t like your cocktail you can get another

If I spent $12 on a cocktail and didn’t like it, I’d be furious with myself. So without a package, I’d probably only stick to tried and trusted drinks.

Having a beverage package gives you the freedom to try new things. If you don’t like it, you can always order something else.

It’s so convenient

When you have a drinks package, you can relax without caring about the drinks prices on the menu. You don’t have to faff around with packing your own wine in your suitcase and worrying about it breaking all over your clothes. In fact, all you have to worry about is your hangover.

Drinks packages work on some private islands

In most cases, drinks packages only work on the ship. However, some cruise lines own private islands in the Bahamas and allow you to use your drinks package whilst on the island.

Drinks packages work on the following islands:

  • Royal Caribbean – Perfect Day at CocoCay
  • Royal Caribbean – Labadee
  • MSC Cruises – Ocean Cay
  • Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Caye
  • Princess Cruises – Princess Cays

Drinks packages don’t work on these islands:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line – Harvest Caye
  • Holland America Line – Half Moon Cay

Cons

Some drinks are free without a package

The free drinks vary by cruise line, but you can generally expect water, tea, coffee, milk and flavoured water (cordial or squash) to be on offer with no charge. Fruit juice is also available at breakfast time.

On river cruises, you may also get wine and beer included at lunch and dinner and luxury cruise lines like Azamara also include a range of alcoholic drinks with no extra charge.

The flavoured water and lemonade which is available free of charge on Royal Caribbean cruises are actually really nice and I would prefer this to fizzy drinks most of the time.

As you’re leaving the ship, you’ll often see bottles of water available to take ashore with you. These can be handy to grab if you have a package. If you don’t, then save your pennies (and the environment) and use your own refillable water bottle.

You have to get a package for everyone in your cabin

In most cases, everyone in the cabin has to have the same package. Sometimes, this can even extend to separate cabins on the same booking.

This means that if one person doesn’t drink alcohol, even if they’re pregnant or have a good medical or religious reason to avoid alcohol, then they would still have to get the package. It’s very rare that an alcoholic drinks package would be worth it if you don’t drink alcohol at all.

Some cruise lines also make you buy a drinks package for children as young as two or three years old if the adults have a package. My three year old drinks nothing but water (his choice, not mine), so a drinks package would be completely wasted on him.

P&O Cruises give a free children’s drinks package when you book an adult drinks package. This deal can offer great value if you have older children who like to drink a lot of fizzy drinks and mocktails.

Not all drinks are included

If you’re an aficionado who will only have Hendrick’s with your tonic and wouldn’t ever consider a house wine, then a package might not be for you. If you order a drink that’s not included in the package and you might have to make up the difference or even pay full price for it.

Many cruise lines do offer premium packages or wine packages which include more than the standard package. So, if you’re somewhat of a connoisseur in the wine and spirits department, you may want to buy a deluxe package if one’s available.

Other drinks to watch out for which are unlikely to be included in your drinks package include:

  • Drinks served in souvenir glasses
  • Wine by the bottle
  • Buckets or pitchers of beer
  • Room service drinks
  • Mini-bar drinks
  • Duty-free shops
  • Drinks which cost more than a certain price

You must buy the package for every day of your cruise

Some days, you’ll be off the ship from early in the morning until the evening. On those days, you might not have any drinks at all until your evening meal (as most breakfast drinks are free anyway).

It’s much easier to break-even on your drinks package price on sea days than it is on port days. So if you plan on exploring ashore most days, you’ll want to be sure to factor that in when making your decision.

cocktails

How to buy a cruise drinks package

There are three ways to book a drinks package:

  1. Over the phone with your travel agent or direct with the cruise line
  2. Using the cruise line’s ‘cruise planner’ website or app
  3. At guest services on-board the ship

Unless your cruise includes drinks when you book it, the easiest way to add on a drinks package is to do it on the cruise planner. You should be logging on to your cruise planner before you cruise anyway to add passenger details and submit any preferences such as dining times or bed configuration.

When to buy your drinks package

Should you buy your drinks package when you book your cruise, before you sail or on-board the ship? You’ll probably see that different prices are available depending on when you purchase the package.

The best time to buy your drinks package is after you book your cruise but before you sail. Buying it on the ship is almost always more expensive.

After you book your cruise, you may receive emails with special offers on drinks packages which can include a discount of up to 30%. Cruise lines may also offer drink package promotions to encourage you to get one, particularly at times such as Black Friday.

When you board the ship, you may see offers such as ‘buy one get one half price’ on drinks packages. But look closely at the original price. You’ll see that it’s much higher than it is if you pre-book before you cruise. So, even with these offers, you’ll still get a better price if you buy the package before you set sail.

More cruise information:

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