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When is the best time to buy a cruise drink package?


Many cruisers wonder when they should buy a drink package to get the best deal. Nobody wants to spend extra money on add-ons they could potentially score for less. 

Once you have booked your cruise, whether it's on Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, etc., you'll gain access to the respective line's online planning tool. This feature allows you to browse all of their add-ons, from spa treatments to specialty restaurants, Wi-Fi packages, shore excursions, and, of course, drink packages. 

Your base cruise fare does include a lot, such as meals in the Main Dining Room, your accommodations, entertainment, and transportation between ports of call; however, select non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages cost extra. 

Drink packages allow you to freely order drinks throughout your sailing without worrying about racking up a large onboard bill. That convenience, however, comes at a premium. 

The best time to buy a drink package is before you get onboard, preferably as soon as possible 


Many cruise lines entice passengers to buy drink packages early with lucrative pre-cruise sales. Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, offers a standard 10% discount off their CHEERS! alcoholic drink package up to 11:59pm the day before embarkation on the website or 9:00pm through the call center.  

By buying the drink package in advance, you'll save roughly $10 per day. While not enough to book another cruise, you may be able to allocate that money towards another add-on, such as an excursion or specialty meal. 

Even though you may be tempted to wait until closer to your sailing, by purchasing the package as soon as possible, you're grandfathered into the current rates. In October 2023, Carnival increased the price of CHEERS! package on sailings between 3 and 5 nights from $64.95 to $74.95 per person, per day.

Read more: Are cruise drink packages worth it? 


While they allowed guests a few days to reserve the package before subjecting them to the new rate, those who had already taken care of booking their package didn't have to worry about rushing at the last minute. 

Securing your drink package early is the best way to ensure that you save money, as you lock in the current rate on any cruise line. Royal Caribbean, for instance, uses a dynamic approach to their drink package prices, meaning that they vary based on factors like ship, sail date, itinerary, and more. If you see that the Deluxe Beverage Package is $65.99 per person one day, it's not guaranteed to be the same price the following. 

By being proactive and booking the package at the current rate, you won't be disappointed if you see an increase. If you happen to notice that the price of the package decreased, you can simply request a full refund and book the lower rate. There are no cancellation penalties.

Read more: Pros and Cons of a Royal Caribbean Cruise


If, however, you decide to wait and see that the price increases, you won't be able to backtrack and get the previously advertised fare, which is why it's so important to book your drink package when you see a price you're content paying. 

Depending on when your cruise is, purchasing a package now may let you break up paying for different parts of your vacation. If, for instance, your cruise is in October 2025, you have a couple of months until you're able to purchase airfare. Getting the drink package out of the way will allow you to focus on other pre-cruise add-ons in the months leading up to your sailing. 

Some cruise lines allow you to bundle drink and Wi-Fi packages at the time of booking for even more savings


While some people utilize the time after booking to contemplate whether they'll benefit from a package or not, others know that it's an add-on that they want to enhance their cruise experience. 

Cruise lines such as Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, MSC, and Norwegian, allow you to purchase a drink package at the time of booking, often at a much cheaper rate than if you were to do so through their respective portals later on. 

When going to book a cruise on MSC Cruises' website, for instance, I can book a base fare for $289 or bundle the fare with Wi-Fi and an Easy Drink Package for $499. Spending the extra $210, or $52.50 for a 4-night cruise, at the time of booking is well worth it for those who are set on having a drink package, as the Easy Package alone costs around $49.


Norwegian Cruise Line's "bundle" operates slightly differently. You're able to select their Unlimited Open Bar Package as part of one of your "Free at Sea" offers. While the package itself is free, you have to pay gratuities. On a 7-night cruise, this amounts to around $150 per person. 

It's important to read into the terms and conditions of these packages, though, as they are rarely the cruise line's most inclusive offering. NCL's Unlimited Open Bar Package, for instance, only includes premium spirit brands, cocktails, beer, soda, juices, and wines by the glass up to $15. If you want access to all alcoholic drinks onboard, you'll have to upgrade to the Premium Plus Beverage Package.

In addition to making the planning process even simpler, bundling your Wi-Fi and drink packages allows you to pay for the add-ons over time rather than upfront, as they're added to your total cruise fare which is due on the final payment date. 

Are drink packages worth it?

alchemy bar onboard carnival celebration

Cruise drink packages allow you to drink either a fixed number or unlimited beverages daily during your sailing without paying as you go; however, they aren't a cheap investment. Even on short 3- and 4-night cruises, it's likely you'll pay over $200 to enjoy the convenience of not having to pay for each drink individually. 

Before you hit "add to cart," there are some factors you should consider to help you decide whether you'll benefit from a drink package or not. 

Those who plan on drinking a considerable amount will enjoy utilizing all of the package's benefits, particularly on days at sea or when docked at private islands, such as Perfect Day at CocoCay or Great Stirrup Cay


If, for instance, you're going on a 4-night Carnival Cruise, a drink package will cost you around $350, after all gratuities are added. To break even, you'd need to consume at least 23 cocktails. Initally, that may seem like a lot; however, if you know that you're capable of drinking a minimum of 6 beverages per day, you'll thank your past self for investing in a package.

Of course, if you're someone who enjoys the occasional beverage, you are better off paying for each drink as you go. Plus, many cruise lines will allow you to bring on a select amount of wine on embarkation day. Paying $30 for a bottle at the local grocery store before getting onboard is much more economical than paying $10+ per glass! 

Moreover, drink packages won't benefit those in a group of non-drinkers, as everyone over the legal drinking age is required to purchase a package if one person in their stateroom does, regardless of whether they want one or not. 


However, cruisers who value trying new things on vacation, from dishes in the Main Dining Room to inventive cocktails and fine wines, will appreciate drink packages, as they allow them to step outside of their comfort zone without fearing much of a financial loss. If you have one of the premium packages, you won't have to limit yourself to lower-quality alcohol, either. 

Similarly, many drink packages often include non-alcoholic drinks, so you can start your day with a specialty coffee, refuel with an energy drink in the afternoon, and even enjoy a refreshing soda after returning from port for no extra charge; they truly make your cruise feel more inclusive and provide peace of mind, as you won't have to worry about sticking to the included beverages. 

If you're planning on spending a ton of time ashore on a port-intensive cruise, it's even more important to debate whether you're getting the full value of a package or not, especially if you're paying full price for it. After long days exploring unique destinations, you may not have the energy to stay up into the late hours of the evening. Instead, you may feel like having a glass of wine at dinner, listening to some live music, and then retiring to your cabin to rest up for the next day. 

Read more: Is a drink package worth it on MSC? I tried it to see whether it was worth the money

Common drink package mistakes that you want to avoid 


Did you know that if you're caught sharing your drink package with others, you risk getting it revoked without a refund

Moreover, as talked about in the article, if you're certain about purchasing a drink package, waiting to get it until you're onboard is a huge mistake, as it's easy to save money on the overall cost by either reserving it ahead of time or bundling it with your cruise fare at the time of booking. 

When you reserve a drink package, you'll automatically be charged the gratuities for the package's total cost. This means that you don't have to leave a tip for every drink you order onboard. If you feel as though the service warrants an extra trip, you can definitely show your appreciation to the crew! Leaving a tip will add up over time, though, and you'll find that you're spending more than you thought while onboard!

And, of course, if you know you won't drink enough to maximize the package's value, purchasing one for your cruise would be a mistake. 

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