Indulging in many beverages can be so much fun when cruising. But as drink prices on cruises hover around $10, those poolside piña coladas will add up before you know it. Splurging every night on costly cruise cocktails can be a blast. But it’ll also blast your onboard account before you can even say “mar-ga-rita.”
During the past six years, we’ve been using budget travel tactics to cruise entirely around the world. So during all this time as passengers on cruise ships, we’ve been figuring out ways to keep our bar bill extremely low while aboard dozens of cruise ships. As such, we’ve developed a variety of alcohol hacks, tips, and tricks on how to get cheap drinks on a cruise. Part of this strategy includes getting free drinks on cruises!
As an example of our cheap cruise drink strategy, during a 14-day sailing on the Celebrity, we managed to keep our bar tab under $75 per person. That’s less than $6 per day and we still drank quite well …and a lot! During a transatlantic repositioning cruise with Royal Caribbean, we solely used a $100 onboard credit to drink throughout the cruise (for free) and we again drank very well during that 13-day voyage.
Meanwhile during a recent cruise, sailing on the NCL Bliss, we didn’t drop a dime on alcohol and still drank heavily most nights. But it was on a two week Norwegian Star cruise, that we scored unlimited drinks for free the entire cruise! How did we pull that off?
This post details tactics like how to get hooked up with a free beverage package and the the truth about sneaking booze onto a cruise. But lets play by the rules. As such, happy hours can make for happy cruisers! And knowing when the free cocktails are served is even better! Yes, many cruises regularly give passengers unlimited free drinks for short periods for those in-the-know. Cheers to that! 🍻
Creating your own mini-bar is another fun drinking cruise hack we regularly employ. And those who want better coffee without paying for inflated specialty coffee prices, we show how to be-your-own barista! Actually, there are plenty of free non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy on a cruise. Yet cruisers looking for booze, will find lots of alcohol hacks to get cheap cruise drinks all throughout this post.
That because we’re divulging our best tips to get free & cheap cruise drinks. So without further ado, here are 20 cruise tips to get cheap (and free) drinks on a cruise. Let the party begin! 🍹
1) Exploit Cruise Ship Happy Hours
Many cruise lines offer a happy hour at certain bars, at certain times, with reduced priced drinks. Sometimes these happy hours are planned and stated in the daily newsletter. Other instances they’ll be listed on the bar menus themselves.
Often such drink deals are only subtly advertised. So passengers must be observant and seek out these drink deals. Keep your eyes peeled for happy hour promotions on table-top signs at cruise bars. And do know that cruise happy hours vary by cruise line, ship, and even each sailing. Cruise happy hours change constantly.
Cruise happy hours even change from from bar to bar on the same ship. On some Celebrity cruise sailings, we’ve found $3 draft beers and $4 wine pours at most bars during their happy hour. But this Celebrity happy hour does not extend to every bar on the ship. Meanwhile, their martini bar can have an entirely different happy hour with select martinis at half price. Yet the martini bar doesn’t honor the beer & wine happy hour. So be sure to check around all the bars and find a happy hour that is best for you!
During a sailing on Royal Caribbean, we noticed that most bars actually do not have a happy hour at all. But the somewhat hidden On The Air Club had BOGO margaritas, daiquiris, and long island iced teas during their late afternoon happy hour that was exclusive to that bar only. Passengers never seemed to venture there from 4:00-6:00. So usually we were the only ones sipping on strong long island iced teas that came out to only $4. Now that’s a great bang for your buck!
Also, some cruises will have two happy hour periods: one before dinner and another into the late night. Princess happy hour had formally done this. Although in recent years happy hour has seemed to disappear from Princess ships.
Happy hour on Holland America is still doing it two times a day on most sailings, with a happy hour promotion usually running from 4:00-5:00 at one bar, then again from 10:00 at another. Holland America’s happy hour provides thrifty drinkers with a cheap drink deal of buying one drink and getting a second for $2. Celebrity Cruises does also does this dual happy hour on some ships, first from 4:00-6:00 and again at 10:00-midnight.
With two happy hours, if you can time your drinks right, you’ll be sipping on cocktails for about the same price as your local watering hole back home. Use cruise happy hours in combination with other strategies listed here during the non-happy hour periods.
And while most cruise happy hours are planned, some lines such as Carnival Cruises have been known to just announce drink deals spontaneously on party nights. Listen up and you may hear the DJ announce $1 beers! It’s happened to us before when sailing with Carnival and we stocked up.
💡 Pro tip: Stock Up During the Best Drink Promos
If beer prices are slashed for happy hour or during a promotion, consider ordering a round of unopened beers to stock up your mini fridge while prices are low. Then take those inexpensive beers back to your cabin, only to enjoy them poolside during the following day.
Occasionally a bartender will insist on opening the beer. If that’s so, order a 16 oz. aluminum bottles with twist off caps. Those bottles can be easily resealed!
But often bartenders have no issue with passengers buying several unopened beers during a promotion. In fact, on a Holland America cruise when a 2-for-1 craft beer promotion came up, a bartender offered to send an entire case of discounted beers to our stateroom! We did. This brought the price-per-beer down to $2.98, which is even cheaper than buying those same beers at a bar on land!
2) Attend Cruise Drink Tasting Events
Wine tastings, cocktail tastings, martini tastings, and even beer tastings can be some of the best drink deals at sea. Personally, it’s our favorite tip to partake in for cheap drinks on a cruise.
Specialty drinks, like fine martinis, typically cost $10-$15 (or more), plus gratuity. Five fancy cocktails could easily cost a cruiser $75. But when you attend a tasting event, you often get five full-sized drinks for $25 per person. These tasting events can be incredible drinks bargains on a cruise. Plus you get to try a variety of different cocktails you may have never thought to try before.
During some cruise tasting events that we’ve attended, the drinks are smaller portions coming in at about 4-6 ounces. Yet other tasting events, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by full-sized drinks!
We’ve found that drinks tastings on NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) to be of particularly good value, as they’ve poured some large and strong drinks during their tastings. Norwegian usually does a martini tasting, margarita tasting, a beer tasting, and a wine tasting during their regular cruises. If you don’t want to drink all five drinks, consider attending with a partner/friend and sharing the experience.
Drink tasting events are a lot of fun and a great way to make friends during a cruise. We’ve learned some drink recipes that we now use back home. Keep an eye out for alcohol tastings in the daily itineraries. When you see them, reserve a spot and you may discover your favorite new libation, all while being mindful of your drink budget.
💡 Tip: If you ever happen to cruise on the Norwegian Bliss, be sure to go the show “Happy Hour Prohibition – The Musical”. It costs $25, but that fee includes five prohibition-era cocktails throughout the entire performance. It’s great fun and great value!
3) Why to Never Order Wine By the Glass
Never ever order by the glass on a cruise, even if you’re only going to have one glass of wine with dinner. Here’s why: if you order a bottle of wine and don’t finish it, your server will gladly re-cork it for you so that you can enjoy the rest of that bottle on another night, at no additional charge. Also, most cruise ships even permit the server to send what’s left of the bottle to another bar or even to your stateroom.
As is the case with any land-based restaurant, wine by the bottle on cruise ships offers significant savings compared to ordering by the glass. So as long as you’re able to finish an entire bottle during the length of your entire cruise, there’s really no reason to ever order by the glass.
Those $7 glasses of wine may seem like a good deal, but it’ll add up to $42 (plus gratuities) over the course of six glasses. That’s over $50! On our last cruise the $7-per-glass wine was priced at $29-per-bottle. So ordering the bottle will ultimately get you that same wine for far less money. Just finish the bottle another night or whenever you’re ready.
💡Pro Tip: By a Wine Package Instead
Most all cruise lines offer wine packages in which you commit to a certain number of bottles throughout your sailing, at a reduced price. Typically the more wine you commit to, the greater the price reduction. So try to estimate how much wine you’ll go through on the front end of the cruise, which will lessen the blow to your onboard account by departure day.
You can often purchase these wine packages before you set sail which may provide even a little bit more of a discount. For example, Celebrity offers a Taste of the Vineyards package online with either 3, 5, or 7 bottles. The 3-bottle package starts at $109. Take a look online or ask your booking agent. Otherwise, once you’re on the ship, inquire about these wine packages at the ship’s wine bar.
If you’re going on a 7-day cruise and you think you may share one bottle of wine each night for dinner, then it would make perfect sense to order a 7-bottle package, for a nice savings!
Below is an example of the Holland America wine packages we found during a recent cruise. Packages start at $119 for a four bottle package, which saves about $30 in total if you were to buy those same four bottles separately, not as part of the wine package.
4) Find Cheap Drinks in Port
If you have an extra hour or two to burn while in port, skip the sugary overpriced drinks at Señor Frog’s and Fat Tuesday’s. Instead, find a cozy local bar a little further away from the port to throw back a few. Not only will you have a more authentic travel experience with local flavor, but you also may find local prices!
Drink your Buds, Millers, Coors, Coronas, and Heinekens once you’re back on the ship. Instead, take the opportunity on shore to explore a local beer or spirit. We’ve found there to be some surprisingly tasty brews popping up all around the world. Many popular Caribbean and Central American cruise destinations even have local brewpubs near cruise ports.
Also, be aware that many places around the world don’t have open container laws like in the US. This means you can go into a local convenience store, and get a cold beer to enjoy while relaxing on the beach, touring the city streets, or simply walking back to the ship while you sip.
Many countries officially do have open container laws, but they are completely unenforced in popular cruise ports. The easiest way to know whether drinking alcohol in public is tolerated is this: if the cashier of a convenience store has a bottle opener at the counter, then that’s a clear indication it’s acceptable to drink on the streets while in port. You may even be offered a cup! The best part is that all of these local beers while in port will be at a fraction of the cost compared to the cruise ship’s pricey drinks.
But go beyond the beer while ashore. Get to know the local drinks in an area you’re visiting! Local wine found ashore throughout a Mediterranean cruise is not only delicious but can be surprisingly cheap. That’s the same for rum throughout the Caribbean. And let’s not forget about all the yummy tropical cocktails found all throughout many of the world’s most popular island cruise ports. Our favorite is painkillers in the Virgin Islands!
💡 Pro Tip: Go on Inexpensive Shore Excursions that Include All Your Alcohol!
Instead of necking a bottle of beer in the streets, book a tasting tour, a booze cruise, or an all-inclusive beach pass while in port. Use a tour agency independent from the cruise line save money on shore excursions.
We always use and recommend Viator shore excursions since they tend to be nearly half the cost of the cruise line’s excursions. Their ports of call tours include a worry-free guarantee promise to get you back to the ship. And if your cruise has to cancel a port for any reason, it’s nice to know that they automatically provide a full refund.
Where are you cruising to? Here are just a few booze-filled shore excursions in some of the most popular Caribbean cruise ports:
🇲🇽 Cozumel, Mexico Drinking Excursions:
- Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club is the hottest drink ticket in Cozumel and is such incredible value! For the price of about five drinks on a cruise ship, this ticket gets you an all-day pass to this white-sand beach resort that includes a full open bar with unlimited drinks! The day pass also includes a complete lunch menu, beach loungers, and even ocean kayaking along Cozumel’s coastline! But best of all, there’s a swim-up bar, so you don’t even have to leave the pool to get your next margarita. Drink up!
⚠️ Beware: this one regularly sells out in advance. Check availability now for your travel dates.
- Catamaran Sail & Snorkel: After snorkeling on Cozumel’s reef, you’ll be treated to cervezas, rum punch, and even tequila shots as you sail around the island.
- Jose Cuervo Tequila Tasting: While docked in this Mexican port, you can become a certified tequila connoisseur during a 3-tequila tasting, then learn how to make a margarita the authentic way!
🇧🇸 Nassau, Bahamas Drinking Excursions:
- Rum & Food Walking Tour is our top pick for Nassau, as it includes 6 rum tastings, 2 cocktails, and more. The distillery visit is interesting and the rum produced is so good that we bought a bottle ourselves! See the latest reviews.
- Rum Reggae and Rhythms Tour looks like so much fun and has so many excellent reviews to vouch for it. This tour the also the least expensive booze-filled tour we’ve seen in the Bahamas, and you’ll have to “sip slow” while venturing out to a number of local Nassau drinking spots. Check availability.
🇧🇸 Freeport, Bahamas Drinking Excursions:
- Bahamian Brewery Tour: This $29 shore excursion may be the cheapest way to drink a lot while docked in the Bahamas. Why? Because the brewery is known to leave their taps open at the end of the brewery tour until you get your fill. More info.
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands Drinking Excursions:
- Distillery & Brewery Tour Plus Beach: This is our top pick for the Cayman Islands, as this 4-hour tour packs in a distillery, rum factory, craft brewery, and even time on the famous Seven Mile beach. The tour includes loads of rum, vodka, and beer along the way. It’s only the price of a few cruise drinks. But you definitely won’t return to the ship sober. Book now.
- Cayman Spirits Distillery Tour: At only $25, this may be the cheapest boozy shore excursion in the world!
🇻🇮 St Thomas, US Virgin Islands Drinking Excursions
- Rum & Food Tour: This tour explores St Thomas’s rum history, as it includes two rum drinks, but also puts focus on the island’s local food scene. Perhaps best of all, you’ll learn how to make the signature drink of the Virgin Islands – the Pain Killer. And than drink it, of course. Sooo good! Check prices.
🇸🇽 St Maarten Drinking Excursions
- Orient & Maho Beach: If you’re going to visit St Maarten’s two most famous beaches, be sure to choose a tour that includes cold beer and delicious rum punch along the way. This fun tour does and is only $40!
- Topper Rhum Distillery Tour: After touring this famed distillery, you visit the tasting bar for unlimited rum samples and even the opportunity to bottle your own rum!
Other Boozy Shore Excursions Around the World
The above-listed shore excursions are only a few of the vast variety of excursions Viator has available on their tour booking site. You can find these boozy shore excursions all over the world, from a whale watching & brewery tour in Alaska to a vineyard excursion in Northern Italy. Search Viator excursions for your ports of call.
5) How To Get Cheap Booze Delivered To Your Cabin on the Final Night
At some point during your cruise, go to the duty-free liquor store onboard and buy a bottle. This tax-free liquor is well-priced and you may even catch an additional sale on alcohol from time to time. Unfortunately, the duty-free shop will not allow you to take those bottles back to your cabin …that is, until the last night. On the final afternoon of your cruise, any bottles that you purchased will be delivered directly to your stateroom.
Also on the final evening of the cruise, the duty-free store will, in fact, allow you to walk out of the shop with any liquor you purchase. On one cruise, we noticed that an entire liter bottle of vodka at the duty-free shop was actually priced less than two shots of the exact same vodka if you were to purchase it at the bar.
Additionally, any alcohol purchased while in port will also be delivered to your stateroom on the final day of your cruise. So don’t hesitate to buy that delicious Jamaican rum or snag that bottle of tequila while docked in Cozumel. When you return to the cruise ship, you can easily check the bottle with security. Then once the last night of your cruise rolls around, any bottles that you’ve purchased ashore will be delivered to your room.
Also, if you happen to be in port on the final day of a cruise itinerary, most cruise ships will actually permit you to bring any liquor purchases right back on board with you. No sneaky tactics are required. Just walk right on and put that bottle through the x-ray machine. But again, this tends to only be allowed when bringing liquor back aboard a cruise that has a port call on the final day of a cruise itinerary.
So on your last night of a cruise, have a party in your stateroom and enjoy! Just be sure to schedule a late disembarkation time the next day. 🤪
6) Ordering Bottle Service in Your Stateroom is a Good Deal!
The previous cruise alcohol tip is great for a cheap bottle on the last cruise night. But what about the rest of the cruise?
Most cruise lines offer standard 750-ml bottles of liquor that they’ll send to your room for a modest price. They’ll set it all up nicely with glasses and ice for you to use throughout your cruise. Sometimes, they’ll even throw in some free mixers too! The price of these liquor bottles with set-up ranges around $40-$60, depending on the cruise line and your liquor preference.
While $50 for a bottle of liquor is much more than you’d pay for it at your local liquor store, the cost still comes out to being much less expensive than you would pay for several drinks at the bar on a cruise.
Let’s do the math on bottle service using a real-life example:
On a recent cruise aboard the Holland America Koningsdam, the cruise offered a Gin & Tonic package that includes a bottle of Bombay gin and three cans of tonic water for $46.25 + 15% service charge for a grand total of $53.19.
That $53 will yield at least 16 delicious gin & tonics that can be made and enjoyed right from the comfort of the stateroom throughout the entire cruise. This comes out to about $3.31 per drink.
Meanwhile at the Koningsdam’s bars, that same Bombay gin and tonic comes to $8.34, after the 15% service fee. So it would cost over $133 at the bar for 16 gin & tonics. So buying the bottle set-up for your stateroom ultimately results in a massive $80 savings! Here’s the breakdown:
$133 for 16 gin & tonics at the bar
-$53 for 16 gin & tonics with bottle service in stateroom
=$80 in savings
Best of all, this bottle set-up is a totally legal and acceptable way to have booze in your stateroom without having to sneak it on the ship! And with bottles starting at $40, it’s still semi-affordable too. If you’re a heavy cocktail drinker, it can really make financial sense to purchase a bottle of liquor for your room to help ease your onboard account, in between drinks at the bar.
Additionally, most cruise lines, aside from Carnival and NCL, do permit you to bring your own soda on board. So if you plan ahead, you can buy a $40 bottle of liquor on the ship and then use your own mixers that you’ve brought. There’s certainly no need to tap into the expensive minibar sodas!
7) Legally Bring Your Own Wine
Most cruise lines actually permit you to bring your own wine and champagne aboard the cruise ship. Usually, the wine allowance is one 750 ml bottles per person or two 750 ml bottles per stateroom. This wine that you can legally bring aboard the cruise must be placed in your carry-on luggage only and is only limited to bringing on embarkation day.
Each cruise line’s wine allowance policy is slightly different. So we outlined the alcohol policies of the most popular cruise lines below. As these beverage policies do change, be sure to check the up-to-date policy directly with the cruise line, which we’ve linked to in the chart.
|Norwegian||❌ Not allowed. $15 per bottle.||NCL Beverage Policy|
|Carnival||🍾 1 bottle per person||Carnival help (see Liquor & Beverage Policy)|
|Holland America||🍾 1 bottle per person||HAL Brochure (see page 6)|
|Princess||🍾 1 bottle per person||Alcohol Onboard Princess|
|Celebrity||🍾 2 bottles per stateroom||Celebrity Alcohol Policy|
|Royal Caribbean||🍾 2 bottles per stateroom||RCI Onboard Alcohol Policy|
|Disney||🍾 2 bottles per person||Carrying Alcohol Onboard Disney|
Here’s 4 more tips when bringing your own wine!
💡 7.1) How to Avoid the Corkage Fee in the Main Dining Room
You will be charged a corkage fee if pouring the wine you brought in the main dining room. These corkage fees vary by cruise line, but typically range between $15-$25 per bottle.
Meanwhile, you can enjoy your own wine from your cabin at no charge whatsoever. Your stateroom attendant will happily deliver wine glasses to your room and will even deliver an ice bucket to chill champagne or white wine. This is complimentary, with no corkage fee.
But what if you want to have that glass of wine with your dinner without the expensive corkage fee? Then you can simply pour a glass of wine in your cabin and then enjoy it anywhere else on the ship.
Usually, the wine glasses delivered to your room are the same glasses being used in the bars and dining room. As such, no one will know (or care) that you poured your own glass of wine. So fill up your wine glass in your cabin and then take it to dinner, thereby avoiding a corkage fee. Often the maître d’ will even carry your glass of wine for you as you’re walked to your table.
Go ahead and make it a big pour. You may even be able to make one big glass last all the way until the dessert course.
💡7.2) Bring strong wine
If you’re really trying to get the most bang for your buck, bring some strong wine on your cruise. Many popular wines have a lower alcohol percentage of 11%-12%. For example, one of our favorite wines, Pinot Grigio, tends to have an alcohol content of about 11.5%, which is fairly low.
Champagnes and sparkling wines often aren’t much higher. Those are traditionally great to sip while cruising, but they would be a bad choice to bring on a cruise if you’re trying to get your money’s worth in the few bottles of wine that you’re legally allowed to bring aboard the cruise.
Shiraz or Zinfandel is a better option for wine to bring on a cruise, as they are stronger wines, clocking in around 15% alcohol. Better yet, consider a dessert wine like port wine or sherry, each of which can run as high as about 20% alcohol by volume!
If you’re trying to drink cheap on a cruise, bringing these stronger wines will certainly help to stretch that precious alcohol further.
💡7.3) Bring even more wine!
While the official policies limit cruisers to two bottles per stateroom, we’ve found it can be possible to slip in an extra bottle. If divided into separate luggage, cruises might not to add up wine bottles that are in different bags being delivered to the same stateroom. So putting two bottles in one suitcase and two bottles in another could get four bottles of wine to slipped through to a stateroom undetected.
Just know this is officially against the rules. But it regularly works.
If you’re beer drinkers (like us), you may want to know how you can legally bring beer on a cruise instead of wine. A few cruise lines actually do permit you to bring your own beer onboard, although it is rare. Disney is one of the only major cruise lines that allow beer. Disney cruises official policy permits passengers to carry on six beers per person. Thanks Mickey!
For cruise lines that allow you to bring wine only, you can instead consider bringing a 750 ml bottle of craft beer on board. Such bottles often have the appearance of wine or champagne. So that has worked for us to bring a nice beer instead of an allowed wine bottle. (See image to the right: the bottle on the left is beer). It has always been allowed for us, even though beer is technically against the official alcohol policy for most cruise lines.
8) Cruise Drink Packages Can Be Worth It
Most cruise lines now offer all-you-can-drink beverages packages. These unlimited drink packages can seem expensive on the surface, but all-you-care-to-drink alcohol packages can actually be fantastic value for those who tend to tip back a few while cruising. Cruise drink packages are a trend in the cruising industry that began a bit more than five years ago. Now Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, most Norwegian ships, and many Carnival ships offer some sort of alcohol drink package.
Each cruise drink package varies on exactly what alcohol included. But most of these cruise drink packages tend to be generous in their offerings, even including top shelf liquors. Some of the cruise drink packages further include specialty coffees, soft drinks, and other non-alcoholic drinks to help you recover the next day.
Cruise beverage packages range in price from about $50-$100, per day, depending on the cruise line and the specific package. For example, Carnival currently promotes its CHEERS drink package for $51.95 per day + 15% gratuities. So for a 7-day Carnival cruise, such a package would add up to a total of $418.20. Again, this seems very pricey, but we’ll further show you how it might be worth it.
All the different cruise lines’ beverage packages differ in price and inclusions. Some are truly unlimited, where as others impose daily limits. So below is a comparison chart with prices for some of the most popular cruise lines for 2020. Also, cruise drink package policies and prices do change, so be sure to confirm details before your cruise.
|Cruise||Price per night + Gratuities||Inclusions & Limits||More info:|
|Royal Caribbean||$63-$89||Unlimited, drinks up to $12||Deluxe Beverage Package|
|Holland America||$51/$63 + 15%||15 drinks per day, drinks up to $9/$15||Login to HAL to view Signature / Elite|
|Celebrity||$59/$69 + 20%||Unlimited, drinks up to $9/$15||Standard / Classic / Premium Packages|
|Carnival||$51.95 + 18%||15 drinks w/in 24 hrs, drinks, up to $20||CHEERS! Package|
|Princess||$60 + 18%||15 drinks per day, up to $12||Premier Beverage Package|
|Norwegian||$99/ + 20%||Unlimited, drinks up to $15||Premium Beverage Package|
💡 Pro tip: Buy your beverage package online in advance. Most cruise lines offer a discounted rate, usually saving cruisers $5-$10 per day when the beverage package is purchased in advance. So buy online in advance of your cruise, or expect to pay a bit more if purchased once on the ship.
Is a cruise drink package worth it?
That depends on a variety of factors, such as
- how much you drink on vacation
- what you drink,
- how much time you’ll be on the ship (is the itinerary port-intensive or all sea days), and
- the price of the beverage package on the cruise you’re taking.
For some cruisers, beverage packages can be totally worth it. For others, it’s not at all.
Simply do the math. Take those considerations into account to determine if the cruise beverage package is worth it for you personally.
Typically those who may drink an average of at least 6 drinks or so each day, cruise beverage packages will likely save you. It’s also nice to not have to be concerned about your growing bar tab on a cruise.
If you don’t think you’ll be drinking an average of six drinks per day, then usually the beverage package is not worth purchasing.
Six drinks in a day may seem excessive. But these cruise beverage packages can pay for themselves many times over. Consider that you may enjoy a few beers by the pool, then a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, a cocktail at the show, and perhaps a nightcap at the bar. You’re in vacation! The many cruise bars are all-too-convenient, and there’s a party atmosphere. You may be surprised how quickly all those wonderful cruise drinks flow onto your onboard account.
Sharing a cruise drink package is not allowed. And all adults in the same stateroom must all be on the same drink package, so it’s not allowed for couples to share in one drink package. It may be possible to discretely slip a friend a drink. But if you cheat the drink package, it violates the terms and risks your beverage package being revoked.
Drink packages can provide even greater value on cruises with more sea days compared to cruises that are more port intensive. When you have many full days on the ship, you’ll have more opportunities and time to hit the bars. If you’re on an itinerary that calls on a port every day, with long hours, you’ll have less time at the ship’s bar to take advantage of a drink package.
Yet if cruising is just one big party to you, the investment of a beverage package can pay dividends. Just drink responsibly and stay afloat!
💡 Pro tip: Get a Cruise Beverage Package Included for Free!
Sometimes cruise lines will run special deals and offer these all you can drink packages for free as an incentive for you to book the cruise. That is how we drank for free when we sailed on aNorwegian cruise. It was fantastic! It was open bar the entire cruise and nearly the entire drink menu was included, even most top-shelf brands!
Also, there are a few cruise ships that are all-inclusive and even include unlimited alcohol. One cruise line that does this is Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise line owned by Royal Caribbean. When we cruised on the Pullmantur Monarch, it included a full open bar during the two-week sailing. (Read our full Pullmantur Review of a $159 Cruise).
Search around to find cruise deals that include the unlimited beverage package. We tend to see such promos offered by Norwegian and Celebrity the most. Call a good travel agent who can let you know which cruise lines may be currently running such a beverage package promotion.
Just beware that these “free drink packages” require passengers to pay an extra gratuity charge for the bar service. Depending on the cruise line, this may cost range from $9 (Carnival) to $20 (Norwegian) per person, per day. Even if paying an $20 per day for the gratuities on a “free” drink package, that’s still a heck of a deal for all-you-can-drink top shelf alcohol!
9) BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze: the Sneaky Way
Cruise passengers have been known to sneak their own booze aboard cruises. We like to play by the rules and don’t particularly recommend this. But we’d be remiss not mention this as a strategy for cheap drinks on a cruise. There are often-tried cruise alcohol tricks like putting liquor in mouthwash containers and using green or blue food coloring in attempts to hide that it’s actually alcohol.
Such tricks are well-known by security and you likely won’t be fooling anyone by pouring some blue colored vodka into a Listerine bottle. Plus, that vodka will probably end up with a faint minty taste that’s unavoidable.
If you are going to smuggle some liquor aboard your next sailing, consider a cruise ship flask kit that is specifically made for the purpose of being undetected when going through security. These nonmetallic pouches are purposely designed to let no air bubbles when pouring liquor into the devices, making it undetectable.
Many of these cruise flask kits have a good track record of success. For example, this Concealable and Reusable Cruise Flask Kit is currently the most popular alcohol smuggling device on Amazon and receives overwhelmingly positive reviews, with about 90%+ of reviewers, indicating it got past security. Check the most recent reviews.
So what happens if you get caught sneaking alcohol onto a cruise ship?
The biggest consequence is embarrassment and potential confiscation of your booze.
If you don’t buy a kit and do get caught sneaking booze onto the cruise, typically security will just remove the liquor and may even offer to hold it for you until the end of the cruise. If you’ve put a bottle of booze into your suitcase that security finds, the likely outcome is that they’ll hold it for you until the final night, although it does run the risk of being confiscated. If you took sneaky tactics like putting alcohol in a mouthwash bottle, security will almost certainly confiscate it.
Many cruise lines’ official policies do indicate that passengers can actually be removed from the ship for bringing aboard your own booze. But that never actually happens in practice. Realistically, the biggest risk is having the booze confiscated. Well, that and your luggage not arriving to your cabin on Day 1 of the cruise and hence having to get the “issue” straightened out.
10) Captain’s Toast = Free Drinks
If you notice any event in the daily itinerary titled something like “Captain’s Toast” or “Captain’s Reception,” this always means there will be servers running around with trays full of complimentary cocktails, wine, and/or champagne. Don’t miss it!
For longer soirées you may even be able to snag several gratis beverages. So hang out, find a nice cozy spot where the drink servers are coming out of, and then cheers to the captain with that Greek name you can’t pronounce.
11) Play to Win Free Alcohol on a Cruise
There are always a number of contests and competitions held on board cruise ships. You’ll find anything from karaoke to the newlywed game to craft competitions. Smaller activities like daily trivia may only reward winners with a trinket like a keychain. But the larger game-show style events dole out much better prizes, and almost always give away free bottles of champagne!
For example, the Newlywed gameshow (AKA, Love & Marriage) always rewards participants a free bottle of bubbly. This game is played across every cruise we’ve been on and even the losers have been rewarded with champagne. Really, they’re rewarding participants for embarrassing themselves on stage. And what better reward than a bottle of bubbly!
We’ve also seen champagne be rewarded for progressive trivia competitions and virtually every gameshow style event requiring participants to get up on stage. So participate, bring your A-game, and you just might get rewarded with oh-so-precious free booze on a cruise!
Once you’re gifted a bottle of sparkling wine from the cruise, you’re welcome to drink it anywhere on the ship without a corkage fee. Personally, we’ve won a few times and have brought our free bottles, into the main dining room and to drink poolside.
12) Be a Loyal Cruiser to Get Rewarded with Free Drinks
If you’ve come back on the same cruise line for a second cruise, you may be rewarded for your loyalty with a bottle of champagne, a few drink tickets, and perhaps a cocktail party. Cruise a few more times on that same cruise line and you may find complimentary happy hours every single night!
Cruise lines are quite fond of treating their loyal patrons with booze. Even if you’ve only cruised once prior with the ship, there is usually a loyalty party event that includes complimentary drinks. So if this is your second or greater instance of cruising with the same cruise line, then be sure to check what alcohol perks you may be entitled to.
We’ve found that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have some particularly enticing loyalty perks for cruisers who enjoy free drinks! In addition to exclusive parties with free drinks, Celebrity rewards their Elite Captain Club members with a daily cocktail hour with unlimited free drinks from 5:00-7:00 at most bars and lounges. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean rewards Diamond members of the Crown & Anchor society by loading free drink tickets onto their SeaPass card.
So it can really pay off for drinkers to be loyal to those lines!
Don’t have loyalty status? Make friends! Not everyone onboard the cruise may be as big of a drinker as you are. Some high-ranking loyalty members may have leftover drink tickets they’re just going to let go to waste. So they are often happy to give them away to anyone who can use them. Sometimes these drink tickets are non-transferable, but this tends to be widely unenforced on cruise line we’ve sailed on.
13) Free Liquor Tastings!
Most all cruises have a duty free liquor store. On at least one night (often multiple nights), the liquor store will sample some of their best liquors as a way to entice you to buy a bottle while on board.
Usually, these free liquor tastings tend to occur earlier on a cruise’s itinerary, such as the first or second night. Check the daily guide for times, then stroll on by for your free shot (err, I mean a sample of liquor).
14) Enjoy Free Champagne at the Art Auction
If you’d like to sip on a complimentary glass of champagne, then head on over to the art gallery. Nearly all ships will have multiple art auctions during the cruise, which usually extends a free glass of sparkling wine. You’re not required to bid. So just sit back, learn something about the art, and watch others fight for those limited release prints.
It can be an entertaining experience. But if you get bored, there’s no shame in making a quiet exit. So perhaps be sure to pick an aisle seat in case you do want to leave early.
15) Beer Drinkers Should Buy Buckets of Beer to Save
Are you heading to the pool and want to kick back a few beers? Buy a bucket of five beers, which most cruises usually offer for the cost of four. It’s a win-win by saving the server a few trips to deliver your beer while saving you a few bucks.
Beer buckets may not be the best drink deal out on the high seas, but it still saves the $6-$7 cost of a bottle of beer. Even if you’re not planning to drink all of those beers in one sitting, it can be worth buying the bucket and bring whatever is left back to your cabin to put on ice or in the mini fridge.
16) Order the Drink of the Day
Many cruise lines have a specialty “drink of the day” which will usually save you $1-$3 off the regular price. An additional bonus to the daily drink specials is that you may even get a souvenir cup which can entail even further discounts when getting a refill. The drink of the day is usually outlined in the daily cruise newsletter.
Waking up to find out the “daily drink” happens to be your favorite is like a Christmas morning surprise.
17) Enjoy Free Non-Alcoholic Drinks on a Cruise
Often the only free beverage offered in the main dining room is tap water. Non-alcoholic drinks, such as sodas or specialty coffees, come with an added expense on most cruise lines. Yet those who know to ask, or know where to look, can get more than just a glass of ice water!
So what drinks are free on a cruise? It should be obvious at the buffets that juices and other flat drinks are provided complimentary. But many cruisers don’t realize that they can also go to the main dining room and order complementary iced-tea and lemonade with their meals. It’s never offered. But unsweetened iced tea and lemonade is available for free in the main dining room on nearly all the major cruise lines.
Coffee, hot chocolate, and (hot) tea are also free drinks available on most cruise ships. In fact, cruises tend to have a very nice assortment of complimentary teas. They’re all there – Earl grey, English, herbal varieties, and more. Personally, we’ve found that an after dinner mint tea pairs quite nicely with decadent chocolate desserts. Also, we love sipping on some chamomile tea before bedtime.
So be sure to enjoy some of these non-alcoholic drinks for free.
Also, tap water is always free onboard cruises and is completely fine to drink. But some people complain about the taste. So bring flavored water drops such as Mio Water Enhancement to turn that water into a flavorful drink. A 4-pack that has enough for 96 uses will cost less than buying 6 sodas on a cruise. So bring some flavored drops to add a little squirt to your water during lunchtime or at the pool.
18) Be Your Own Barista!
Don’t want to splurge the $5 on specialty coffee, but still looking for a little more flavor? Here’s our recipe to make a delicious cafe mocha:
- Empty approximately ¾ packet of hot chocolate mix to a coffee mug.
- Add 2 creamers.
- Fill mug with coffee.
- Enjoy an instant café mocha!
Sure, it may not be quite as good as a barista-made espresso-based drink. But this simple little cruise hack can save coffee drinkers about $35 over the course of a weeklong cruise, while still jazzing up a boring cuppa joe.
19) Bring Your Own Drinks to Stock Your Minibar
Most cruise lines permit you to bring your own sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages. Beverage policies vary by cruise line on what drinks are permitted onboard. The chart below summarizes the onboard beverage allowances of the major cruise lines, as of Feb 2020.
|Carnival||⚠️ Cans only. No bottles. 12 per person.|
|Celebrity||⚠️ Celebrity officially says don't pack non-alcoholic beverages. (We've found this isn't enforced).|
|Disney||✅ Non-alcoholic drinks allowed, no limit.|
|Holland America||✅Non-alcoholic drinks allowed, no limit.|
|Norwegian||❌ No outside beverages allowed.|
|Princess||✅Non-alcoholic drinks allowed, no limit.|
|Royal Caribbean||⚠️ 12 cans or bottles per person.|
So bring aboard some sodas or whatever you prefer. Then just ask your friendly stateroom attendant to empty out all of those expensive minibar drinks so that you can make use of the fridge. Once the fridge is clear, you’re free to chill down all of the beverages that you’ve brought onboard. And if your cruise cabin isn’t equipped with a mini-fridge, just ask your stateroom attendant for an ice bucket to chill your drinks.
20) Attempt Bringing Beer Back while in Port
Most cruise line policies strictly forbid passengers from bringing any alcohol back to the ship from port. That means beer is not allowed back onboard, of course. But we’ve found that security on many ships will often overlook passengers bringing beer back onboard. To find out, we typically experiment with attempting to bring on a few cans during the first port day.
We’re never sneaky and don’t attempt to hide the beer. Rather, we run it through the x-ray machine in plain sight. Sometimes the beer will be flagged by security and stored until the final night of the cruise. In that case, we know it’s probably not worth attempting to bring beer back aboard when in subsequent ports.
But in many instances, security actually allows the beer to be carried on the cruise, no questions asked. For whatever reason, we’ve had more success with beer cans being accepted, rather than bottles.
So go ahead and give it a try! The worst case outcome is that security will hold onto your beers for you until the final night of the cruise. And you can still drink those beers on the final night. So you really don’t have anything to lose by attempting to bring a few beers back aboard the ship with you. And you don’t have to be sneaky about it.
During our last Caribbean cruise, security was lenient enough to allow us to bring beer back onto the ship from every port we visited. We gladly brought back our hauls to chill in our mini-fridge and hence have inexpensive local beers to enjoy back on the cruise ship.
Have Cheap Drinks on a Cruise but Don’t Miss Out on the Fun
Part of the fun of drinking on a cruise is the social element, hanging out the numerous bars, lounges, and clubs on these awesome ships. The nightly parties can be a blast. Drunken karaoke sessions are hilarious.
Yet some of the aforementioned cruise tips for cheap drinks may confine passengers to drinking in their staterooms. That’s boring. You’re on a cruise – go out and have fun!
So be sure to utilize those cruise happy hours, daily drink specials, tasting activities, and beverage package deals in order to truly make the most of your vacation, as you drink your way across the open seas!
Even More Ways to Save Before You Cruise
Bon voyage! We sure hope this post has giving you lots of ways to save money on drinks during your next cruise. But before you go, here are a few more links to our other money-saving cruise articles and to our travel affiliate partners that you may find helpful:
🚢 Be sure to check out our huge list of cruise tips here:
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⚠️ Never go on an international cruise without travel insurance. Avoid having to shell out for medical emergencies, flight delays, trip cancelation, or lost baggage by getting a quick quote from RoamRight, which we’ve found to offer the best coverage for the price during our cruises. Enter your dates for a quick quote to protect your trip.
👍 Lastly, to receive our latest travel tips and inspiration, as we continue this journey around the world, join us and the thousands of other drink-loving travelers over on our Roaming Around the World Facebook Page. Every #ThirstyThursday, we post about what we’re drinking from wherever in the world we currently are. So check out where in the world we are this week and what’s on the drink menu!
Then be sure to bookmark this page or pin image to your right onto your travel Pinterest boards.
Publishing note: This article with tips on How to Get Cheap Drinks on a Cruise Ship was first written in June 2014 and is continually updated, most recently in January 2019 with the latest information and prices.