Updated: Jan 1
Drink packages can save some people big money, but they have traps that if not understood can end up costing you money.
Perhaps the biggest question we get asked here at FAB for mid-range cruise lines like Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean - can we get a drinks package included,
It is a complicated area and there is a lot of mystery about the cost, benefits, and savings.
Let’s clear up some of the confusion.
The first question to ask is how much do you expect to drink on your cruise?
A couple of drinks day, 4 to 6, 7 to 9, a dozen or more?
You need to be realistic here, a dozen or more drinks a day would mean you'd be fully plastered the entire cruise, that is if staff let you consume that many as all ships have pretty strict responsible service of alcohol policies.
Obviously, all operators and drink packages are slightly different, but as a general rule, you need to consume approximately 7-8 drinks per day. Dead easy you say.
But it's harder than it might seem as this rate of consumption includes the first and last day of each voyage.
If you fail to reach that level on just one single day, generally the maths are stacked against you. And that is what the cruise lines count on and like in a casino once you start losing it is harder and harder to come out in front.
Miss two days and the required 7-8 drinks become 8-10 each and every day.
Trust me on this, most who have purchased a drinks package for the first time tend to overindulge, "Heck I've paid for it, I might as well get my money's worth". And equally as common is the need to take a day or two off to dry out so that you don't miss fun days at sea or amazing shore excursions. I've done it myself and trust me on this, there is nothing worse on a holiday you've waited years for than to have to miss out on things because you are getting over a hangover.
And this is exactly what the accountants at the cruise lines are counting on.
Do you have a port-intensive itinerary?
Many cruises will see you in port each and every day and everyone wants to get ashore and explore and soak up the local culture restaurants and bars. A drink package can make you feel tied to the ship, why have a drink at a local pub when we have unlimited drinks onboard? To me, that defeats the whole purpose of why I travel to enjoy different cultures and cities. But if you resist that temptation to rush back to ship, you have a requirement when back onboard to consume those 6-8 drinks.
And again if you don't - if you miss one day the cruise line wins again.
Don't get me wrong, for many people 7-8 drinks every day is not just doable, but part of an enjoyable holiday. But if you are not a big drinker, if you generally only have a few glasses of wine each night, you are going to have trouble reaching that magic level of consumption.
What is the average cost, per day?
This is hard to pin down as all operators are different, but generally, they are all in the region of $69-89 per person per day, and most will add a gratuity at the time of purchase charge of 15-18% on top of that, meaning a good rule of thumb is $100 per person per day.
Therefore on a ten-day cruise, a drink package could potentially add $1000 per person per day. A good question to ask is, on a land-based holiday would you be content to spend $2000 a couple over ten days?
If not a drink package, what then?
Most ships will have wine packages of 3/6/9 bottles that in my experience end up being about $30 per bottle.
Otherwise, bottles of wine are not that dissimilar in cost to restaurants in Australia
2 bottles at dinner each night would cost about $60 per day
Even at 3 bottles each day, that would come to only $90 per day or $900 over a ten-night cruise
Whereas a drinks package would be closer to $2000
If you can stick to beer and wine predominately you will save a lot of money.
There are usually daily specials and happy hours that can also help keep the cost down.
Most ships will permit you to take a bottle or two per person on board.
Each operator differs but you can usually take two per person if you are strategic and split up at security scanning.
Pour these in your cabin and take them to venues in a glass to avoid corkage fees.
The worst that will happen if you add an extra bottle to each suitcase is if confiscated they will return on the last day.
Head ashore and drink with the locals at local bar prices.
Some lines are less strict about checking in out ports provided it's only a single bottle at a time.
Some cruise lines such as Windstar have an ALL IN package that includes a full open bar, wifi, and gratuities for $89. These should not be confused with stand-alone drink packages as the Wifi and Gratuities components increase the value of the deal, and reduce the number of drinks needed to be consumed in order to come out ahead.
Still confused, and not sure what is right for you, ask the FAB team to run the numbers for you.
Read the next post in this series.
FAB - Step by step guide to find your perfect cruise
FAB Last Minute and Interline Cruises