How we decide on whether to purchase a drink package on a cruise

For us, it’s a 3-factor decision:

  1. How much do we anticipate drinking?
  2. What kind of drink packages are available?
  3. What kind of drinks are included in each package?
How much we will drink

The main factor is how much we anticipate drinking, and because we’re inclined to drink more when we’re traveling with friends or a group, that influences this estimate.

On our last cruise (Ultimate Disco Cruise 2023), we weren’t with people we knew, and our itemized bar bill showed that we drank 66 drinks over the course of 5 days. So, that was an average of just under 7 drinks per day. We got the Premium Drink Package for this trip, which was $109 x 2 (people) x 5 (days) = $1,090. Had we paid individually for those drinks, it would have come out close to $1188. So, it did pay off for us this time.

We will plan for at least 10 drinks per day for our next cruise (Northern Europe: Iceland & Norway to London), because we’ll be with a group of about 8-10 people we know.

What kind of drink packages are available

In general, there are two types of drink packages and they go by various names; examples:

  • Classic and Premium
  • Premium and Premium Plus
  • Premium and Ultimate
  • Unlimited and Premium Plus

And the prices of these packages vary (sometimes wildly, and they’re not cheap) depending on the cruise line. The cost is shown per person, per day—and you have to purchase one per person, because you can’t buy one package and get drinks for your traveling partner with it.

Norwegian Cruise Line drink packages prices for our upcoming cruise in June:

What kind of drinks are available in each package

The drink we drink the most is Canadian Club (which is a fairly low-price whisky), but we do like some of the more top-shelf bourbons and whiskeys, so we see what brands are available in each package. In our NCL example, here’s the list:

We like Bulleit and 1792 (have both at the house), and we love Buffalo Trace, so we’re probably not going to pay an extra $675 (each!) just to drink those higher top-shelf brands like Old Forester, Blanton, Woodford, and 1792 Full Proof.

Doing the math

Once we know—or estimate—all that, it’s just a matter of churning the numbers.

So for our NCL trip, we’d estimate 10 drinks per day, at $18 per drink ($15 + 20% gratuity), for 9 days, and the math plays out like this: spending $1620 ($18 x 90) per person.

That estimate is close enough to the Premium Plus package price ($1656) that I’d be comfortable going for it, but it far exceeds the price of the Unlimited Open Bar package price ($980), which includes at least 3 brands of bourbon/whiskey that we like just fine, so we’d definitely choose that package.

Final note about beverage cost/consumption on cruises

If you don’t have a drink package, you have to pay for soft drinks, juices, bottled waters, all Starbucks & specialty coffee/drinks, and energy drinks. Here are some average/typical prices and you have to add 20% gratuity to each of those costs.

The only free drinks are with meals and those usually include (non-bottled) water, apple juice, orange juice, lemonade, iced tea, and coffee (regular & decaf). Hot water is available and I’m pretty sure free tea bags are available.

This is all just our experience

With all this said, there are many articles debating the value of cruise ship drinking packages, and here are two that represent opposing viewpoints, so you can be more informed when making your decision.

You can use this search to find more articles, for and against, or with help calculating what’s best for your situation.

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