Cruising: Keeping a lid on bar tabs


Drink 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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  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.


  Extra: This package includes a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks by the glass, mineral water, draft beer and wine at $26 per day.

EXTRACHD: Soft drinks by the glass, $14 per day.

X1: This Happy Individual Beverage Package includes wines or draft beer and mineral all served by the glass in the dining rooms during lunch and dinner only; $17.55 per day.

X1CHD: For children 4-17, includes soft drinks and mineral water; $10.79 per day.

Guests on Europe-based sailings are charged in euros; prices below have been converted to dollars at current exchange rate.

Sodas and water: Soft drinks $14.20 a day for ages 4-17. Mineral water: 13 bottles for $29.15. Also, 20 non-alcoholic drinks for boys and girls, $54.25.

Alcohol: On Europe sailings, cost is $25.20 per day for adults 18 years and older. Wines: Three tiers providing seven bottles of mineral water and four to six bottles of Italian wine range in price from $100 to $167.30. Beer package of 20 craft beers runs $106.50.


  Soft drinks and alcohol: Allegrissimo Premium package provides wines by the glass, draft beer, cocktails and non-alcoholic items such as sodas, mineral waters, smoothies, milkshakes and take-away ice cream. Cost is $61 per day for adults. Same package for teens and children, minus the alcohol, is $31 per day.


  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.


  All sodas, bottled water and specialty coffees are complimentary.

Alcohol: House Select package, at $29.95 per day, includes house wine by the glass and beer with lunch and dinner. The Premium package, at $49.95, includes beer and premium wine by the glass and most beverages on the bar menu. Packages can be purchased on board at any time during cruise, with prices pro-rated.


  Boutique wines at lunch and dinner, bottled water and specialty coffees and teas are complimentary.

Alcohol: Three packages are offered: Beer package, which includes all brands, and discounts on wines, spirits and premium bottled water, is priced at $19.95 per day. Classic package includes call-brand spirits and beer, $29.95 per day, plus 25 percent discount on wines, specialty spirits and mineral water. Premium package includes premium-brand spirits, all beer brands, glasses of wine priced at $10 or less and premium bottled water, costs $39.95 plus 25 percent discount on all wines and specialty spirits.


  Soft drinks: Package provides unlimited fountain sodas by the glass in restaurants and cocktail bars. Cost is $4.95 per day.

Special to The Miami Herald

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 with their companion during the evening meal.

All this can add up to a substantial sum on your 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.

Just this year, four cruise lines have started offering drinks packages or are testing them on a limited scale. Most of the plans include beer, certain wines and cocktails in the range of $40 to $50 per day. Carnival began testing an all-inclusive drinks program on certain ships in August. Norwegian is testing one on three of its ships. Royal Caribbean last year placed a drinks program on three of its ships that sail in Europe and this year is testing a similar program on its Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, which sail out of Fort Lauderdale.

Oceania, which already includes sodas, bottled water and specialty coffee, 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 website. ‘They’re all falling in line.”

So far, passenger reaction to the new packages has been favorable.

“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 that that line’s program has been well received and said Norwegian should decide soon whether to make it permanent.

Of course, the value of such plans depends on how much the guest consumes. A package would not be economical for someone who has perhaps a single cocktail before dinner. In such cases, guests are better off paying for each drink as they go.

As one passenger, Frederik Dolk of Ljusdal, Sweden, commented on a 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, another Cruise Critic posting, from “misha1,” praised the packages. “We tried the premium alcohol package on our last cruise for the first time. The convenience was great! Many times we were not charged the overage [over the package allowance]. Overall, we were very pleased.’’

The amount that guests consume is not the only reason they may choose an all-inclusive plan, as “misha1,” who cited its convenience, indicated. Many guests simply don’t like having to sign a chit every time they order a soft drink or cocktail.

“It speaks to the general lifestyle people want,” said Celebrity’s Steenrod. “They like paying one price.”

That kind of convenience applies not only to alcoholic drinks but also to sodas. Parents may find it easier to purchase a soft drinks package plan for kids who drink a lot of sodas or juices each day. Or for themselves, for that matter.

One consideration in offering all-inclusive programs is the possibility of abuse, so the cruise lines have several controls in place.

First, drinks are provided only for guests who bought the package. Some lines, Carnival among them, require that if a passenger purchases a drinks package, all adults in that stateroom also must do so. That prevents unpaid sharing.

Certain restrictions also apply to soda packages. To forestall a kid with a soft-drink package doling out “free” drinks to his buddies, for instance, Royal Caribbean’s new Coca Cola machines (which offer more than 100 flavors of soft drinks) 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 a number of procedures in place to monitor guests’ alcohol consumption, and bartenders … will discontinue serving guests who appear to be intoxicated.”

Steenrod said the same is true on Celebrity. The crew is trained to cut people off when they’ve had too much, whether they’re paying by the drink or have bought a package.

Before purchasing any kind of all-inclusive plan, guests should determine if their consumption will justify its cost or whether it simply would be better to pay as they go. Costs of individual drinks are posted on bar menus and sometimes on cruise line web sites.

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.

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