Cruising is expensive, especially during these times. In order to make your cruise budget go a bit further I wanted to give you tips for how to lower the cost of cruise line drinks and drink packages.
If you consume alcohol when cruising, these tips could save you BIG TIME! It feels funny when you are doing something so luxurious as cruise to try to pinch pennies…but think of it this way: All those pennies saved enable you to go on your next cruise.
As drinks are one of the biggest onboard money makers, cruise lines are always coming up with a way to pander to your every drinking need. Below I suggest many ways to help you realize how to lower the cost of cruise line drinks and drink packages.
1.Reducing your costs takes knowledge. Do the work and save the money. Don’t say to yourself “Math is hard, I don’t want to figure it out.” Is saving $500-$1000 worth it to you? I would think for most people the answer is a resounding YES!
2. Know the individual prices of drinks before you go on the cruise or decide whether to purchase a drink package in order to make good decision in regards to drink packages before and during the cruise. Can’t find your cruises drink prices on their website? Google your ship’s drink prices or drink prices menu. Often, you can find it in a search via cruise forums. If not, call the cruise line, they will dance around the question but eventually give you the information you need. Pro Tip: Drink prices can vary between cruise lines, never assume that there is a standard price.
3. When you purchase a drink package, most cruise lines make you buy a drink package for everyone in the cabin. I’m kidding, right? Nope, not at all. Often there is a 15 drinks a day/person maximum. If you and your traveling companion normally drink 15 drinks a day then a drink package is worth it. If you don’t, then figure out how many drinks (specialty drinks+ wine+beer+ specialty coffees) that you do drink a day at the price they normally run, compare it to the drink package price. You will often be astounded how much you are overpaying for choosing the drink package.
4. Watch for drink package specials pre-cruise. Warning: make sure it’s really a special. This is where cruise lines really pull a lot of smoke and mirrors. Be armed with knowledge to reduce your costs. Always know the actual cost of specialty drinks+ wine+beer+ specialty coffees that you actually drink a day versus what they are charging/day. Often it’s three times what you could/would actually drink.
5. Many cruise lines let you bring 2 bottles of wine/cabin and one 12 pack of soda/water onboard certain lines. DO IT. Google the cruise line beverage policy for your ship or call the cruise line and have them link you to the specific policy. You can save yourself $100s by understanding what you can and cannot bring on to the ship. Example: Two bottles of average wine can cost you $10/bottle, you are allowed (on some lines) to bring two bottles of wine per cabin. Let’s assume you get 4 glasses per bottle. If you are paying onboard $10/glass of house wine+20% gratituity (they add it in automatically), that’s $12/glass or $48/bottle. To compare, $18 to bring two bottles of your own wine onboard versus $96 to order the equivalent in wine onboard. Yes, MATH is hard but do it and save yourself some $$.
6. If your budget is tight, just have one drink a day and one drink at night and be happy! You are on a lovely cruise, enjoy it. Drink like a fish when you get home where alcohol is cheap!
7. Cruise lines check your alcohol, water and pop allowances as you check-in but then you are often sent to a waiting area (ie. Carnival Miami) that has several fully stocked soda machines. Even though a large soda from the vending machines is $1.25-2.00, it sure beats the cost of soda on the ship. Some ships only have Pepsi products onboard, so if Coke products are offered in the vending machine in the waiting area, FILL UP.
8. Some cruise lines (notably Norwegian, Princess, Celebrity Cruise Line and Holland America) offer free drink packages as a booking perk. These cruise lines might just be for you if you love to imbibe.
On the Cruise
1. Ask the bartenders for a drink price list, if they don’t have one, ask them to tell you the prices for various beverages that you like to order. Ask them how to get the most value for your money when drinking on the ship. They have insider knowledge. USE IT!
2. Most evenings and during “at-sea” days, many cruise lines will sell full bottles of hard liquor. Inquire if you can take/have these sent to your room to drink during the cruise. Mixers are much cheaper than alcohol.
3. When ordering from the bar, ask for the house wine, it’s cheaper (sometimes by a significant amount).
4. Low end beers cost less than high end beers. If you have a favorite low end beer, order that often to save some cash.
5. Many cruise lines have a daily fun drink which is offered at a lower price for that day.
7. I have found that the “Fun drinks” brought around by servers by the pool are quite weak and not worth it and really what are you going to do with that huge “souvenir” glass that it comes in anyway?
8. Some high end cruise lines, provide wine with dinner, are entirely inclusive (oh for the good old days when many did!), or provide a portion of your alcohol. Once again, check your cruise lines drink policy to know what you are getting with your cruise itinerary.
9. Some cruise lines (like Disney), include soda in their fares but not alcohol (as the time of writing).
10. Some cruise lines have specialty coffee machines in public areas that are available at no charge to guests. Again, check your cruise lines drink policy to know what you are getting with your cruise itinerary.
10. Sign up for each cruise lines frequent sail program. For each level you achieve, you receive fun rewards. Some are pretty minor, like a free 2l bottle of water in your room. But as you escalate through the reward levels, especially on the medium and higher end cruise lines, the benefits REALLY start to flow. Drinks/drink package can often be at a 50% rate or there might be a nightly cocktail party for the really frequent cruisers who have attained a high level of cruise nights.
11. Stick with one cruise line to attain better drink packages, drink prices and more benefits. As you escalate higher in the levels on one cruise line, your benefits REALLY increase. It’s a tradeoff because you have to stick with that one or few cruise lines but worth it on some aspects. Take the time to Google different frequent sail programs to determine which is the best for you. For example: on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise that we were on, our dining companion was Diamond level. He got reduced drinks during a certain time of day and a daily cocktail party where he could drink as much as he wanted. Needless to say, he didn’t need a beverage package with those kinds of benefits.
12. Don’t be afraid to ask the bartenders for a wine glass, shot glass, beer glass, etc for your room. You can ask for a fresh one daily or just rinse it out in your room. If you don’t want your steward/housekeeping to take it each day, then put a note by it. If you want additional drinking glasses in your room, don’t hesitate to ask your steward.
13. Some lines have low bottled water costs for in-room consumption (Notably, Carnival lets you get a pack of spring water delivered to you room for under $5.) This is especially nice for shore excursions. DO IT!
14. Some lines have extremely high bottled water costs for in-room consumption (Notably, on our last Royal Caribbean cruise they wanted to charge $18 to have a pack of water delivered to the room). I found this offensive, personally, but then most beverage prices on a cruise ship are offensive.
15. Most cruise ships have refrigerators in the room. You can inquire ahead of time if your individual room has a refrigerator. Psst: there are also in room “Chillers” which may or may not keep your beverages very cold. If your room does not have a fridge, and you have medication that needs to be refrigerated you can often request them to put one in your room.
16. You may want to pack a collapsible cooler or use it to bring onboard your beverages that you are allowed by the cruise line beverage policy. The collapsible cooler comes in handy for off shore excursions. It can also be useful for camping by the on-ship pool.
17. Don’t be afraid to pack a plastic pitcher and/or cups from the dollar store for water.
18. You can always stop on the way back to your room at night at any bar and get a glass of ice water.
19. On most lines, the steward will deliver ice to your room on the daily.
20. Tip your bartender and return to the same one often. They will remember you and make your experience more fun and pleasurable (and make your drinks stronger as well) if they know you recognize their efforts.
21 . Some cruise lines will let you bring alcohol on board from the islands for consumption on the ship. Most cruise lines make you check this alcohol until the end of the cruise, when they deliver it on the last night.
22. The last time we were on a Royal Caribbean cruise, they offered beverage packages during the cruise (not available ahead of time) that offered 10 drinks for $80. Good if you often order pricey mixed drinks or higher class wines ($13 or under)
23. Check the cruise brochure/app daily for drink specials. Want to know what these specials are ahead of time? Google your ship’s daily brochure, past ones for your ship are often posted online and the itinerary is often (but not always) identical.
24. So what about “sharing” your drink package with someone not in your cabin? Let me first say, it’s not against the law, but it is against the cruise lines rules. I have “heard” of couples who will split the drink package between two cabins. One cabin is the “official” drink package couple, the other couple is the one who shares. The “official” couple gets drinks for the other couple (discreetly) in order to reduce their drink package cost. I want to repeat again, this is against cruise rules but…I am just detailing what I have seen done.
25. So what about “sneaking” on alcohol? Most ships catch people who sneak on extra alcohol, they have their ways. I have “heard” of some people who sneak on hard alcohol in special unmarked or alternatively marked (fake suntan lotion) containers. I have never personally done this but some people do and get away with it.