Cruise lines drink plans can be money savers

Depending on how much you expect to drink while onboard, an all-inclusive beverage plan can be a money saver for cruisers.

STEFANIE BOYAR | Times (2006)

Depending on how much you expect to drink while onboard, an all-inclusive beverage plan can be a money saver for cruisers.

It's easy to work up a thirst on a cruise. Some guests quench that feeling with soda, fruit juice, a latte or tea. Others may order a glass of wine or a beer with lunch, a cocktail or two before dinner and share a bottle of wine during the evening meal.

All this can add up to a substantial cruise tab. More cruise lines, however, are putting in place package plans for both soft and alcoholic drinks that provide convenience as well as shave guests' total costs.

Most of the plans include beer, certain wines and cocktails in the range of $40 to $50 per day. And with the big cruise deals of the past few years disappearing as the economy improves, it's good to find a way to save money. Depending on how much one imbibes, a drink package might work for you.

Carnival began testing a drinks program on certain ships in August. Norwegian is testing one on three ships. Royal Caribbean is testing a similar program on two ships that sail out of Fort Lauderdale.

Oceania, which includes sodas, bottled water and specialty coffee in its fare, launched an alcoholic drinks program this year, and Celebrity, which launched its first drinks package in 2009, bumped it up in 2010 to include all alcoholic beverages.

Why the rush this year to add drinks packages to the cruise menu? "The cruise lines wouldn't do this if it weren't profitable," said Colleen McDaniel of the CruiseCritic.com website. "They're all falling in line."

"The packages have been very popular and well received," said Scott Steenrod, Celebrity's vice president of food and beverage operations.

Norwegian's AnneMarie Matthews also said her line's program has been well received and that NCL should decide soon whether to make it permanent.

Of course, the value of such plans depends on how much the guest consumes.

As one passenger, Frederik Dolk of Ljusdal, Sweden, commented on a CruiseCritic.com message board: "If a drink costs $8, I have to drink at least six drinks each day just to break even. On an average sea day I might have two or three. On a port day, even fewer. On top of that my wife has to buy a package and she drinks even less than me. These packages are a no go for me."

On the other hand, Cruise Critic poster "misha1," praised the packages. "We tried the premium alcohol package on our last cruise for the first time. The convenience was great!''

The amount that guests consume is not the only reason they may choose an all-inclusive plan, as "misha1" wrote. Many guests simply don't like having to sign a receipt every time they order a beverage.

That kind of convenience also applies to a soft drinks package plan for kids who drink a lot of sodas or juices each day. Or for parents, for that matter.

Because of the possibility of abuse, cruise lines have several controls in place.

First, drinks are provided only for guests who bought the package. Some lines require that if a passenger purchases a drink package, all adults in that stateroom also must do so.

To forestall a kid with a soft-drink package doling out "free" drinks to his buddies, Royal Caribbean's machines require a special mug with an embedded chip to operate. Each mug, for which the guest pays $4.50 per day, has a "time out" period so they can't be refilled repeatedly in a short period.

More importantly, alcoholic drink packages are not all-you-can-drink, as some people perceive.

Vance Gulliksen, a Carnival spokesman, said that the line has "procedures in place to monitor guests' alcohol consumption, and bartenders … will discontinue serving guests who appear to be intoxicated."

Before purchasing any kind of all-inclusive plan, guests should determine if their consumption will justify its cost. Drink costs vary with each line. Carnival, for example, charges $3.75-$6.75 for beer, $5.50-$8.75 for mixed drinks and $5.75-$11.25 for a glass of wine. A soda purchased individually costs $1.95. A 15 percent gratuity is added to these costs.

Jay Clarke, the former longtime travel editor of the Miami Herald, is a freelance writer based in Coral Gables.

Beverage packages

Here's a rundown on drink packages offered by cruise lines. Costs are per person, are paid in advance for entire duration of cruise, except where otherwise noted. Most plans place a cap on the value of drinks that can be ordered under the package; for example, wine by the glass might be limited to those that individually would cost under $10. In most cases also, prices quoted here do not include a 15 percent gratuity.

All beverages, alcoholic or otherwise, are included in the fares on the five luxury cruise lines, Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, Regent and Sea Dream. Some of these lines, however, may offer package deals that cover more expensive wines and/or spirits.

Carnival

Sodas and juices: The line's Bottomless Bubbles program provides unlimited soft drinks and juices for the duration of the cruise. Cost is $6 per day for adults, $4.50 children 17 or younger.

Alcohol: Being tested on six ships is an all-inclusive program called Cheers that includes wines by the glass, beer and cocktails priced at $10 and lower. Cost is $42.95 per day.

Royal Caribbean

Sodas and juices: Age 18 and older, $6.50 per day; 3-17, $4.50.

With the line's Bottled Juice Package, juices are delivered to staterooms on first day of cruise, $20.15 for six 15-ounce bottles, $25.25 for eight bottles or $36.55 for 12 bottles.

Alcohol: The line is testing a two-level package on two ships making Caribbean voyages. The Classic Beverage plan, at $45 per day, covers beer, house wines by the glass, and fountain sodas and juices. The Premium Beverage plan, at $55 per day, adds well, call and premium cocktails to the Classic program. Three tiers of wine packages are offered, with choices of five, seven or 10 bottles. Prices range from $135 to $395. Prices are slightly higher on Europe and South America sailings. 

Norwegian

Sodas: Fountain sodas are $6.25 per day for ages 13 and older, $4 per day for 6 months-12 years of age.

Alcohol: The line is testing an all-inclusive program on three of its ships at $49 per person per day. The program includes house, call and premium beverages, wine by the glass priced up to $10 in restaurants, bottled beer priced $5.50 and under, draft beer to 26 ounces, fountain sodas and juices. Norwegian also has a new wine program, Viva Vino, that offers 25 percent discounts on three levels of wines. Costs are $99 to $110 for four bottles, $132 to $162 for six bottles and $176 to $216 for eight bottles.

Princess

Soft drinks: The Unlimited Soda Package is about $5 a day and for a few dollars more, you can have mocktails, juices, shakes, floats and complimentary hot chocolate throughout your cruise.

Alcohol: Offered on cruises of 10 days or longer are Silver Tier wines (up to $29 a bottle) priced at $161 for seven bottles, $210 for 10, $240 for 12. Gold tier wines are $217 for seven bottles, $290 for 10, $336 for 12.

Holland America

Soft drinks: Passengers can buy a Soda Card, good for $50 worth of soda, for $25. A Non-Alcoholic Beverage Card, good for soda, coffee, tea, mineral water, etc., costs $45 for a $50 card.

Alcohol: A Beverage Card, used to purchase any beverage, is priced at $45 for a $50 card; a $100 card costs $90.

Celebrity

Soft drinks: Soda package starts at $7 per day, premium bottled water at $12 per day. 

Alcohol: Premium and Classic Beverage package includes all cruise beverages, runs $44-$54 a day. Taste of the Vineyards wine package starts at $99.

Disney

All sodas, iced tea and coffee are complimentary.

Wine: Two choices are offered, each providing one bottle of wine each evening at dinner. Classic costs $84-$189, depending on cruise length, Premium runs $239-$292.

Cruise lines drink plans can be money savers 12/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 17, 2012 4:37pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...