Indulging in many beverages can be so much fun when cruising. But in 2022, 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-ri-ta.”
During the past eight years, we used extreme budget travel tactics to drink our way across 100 countries and even cruise entirely around the world. After spending 237 days (8 months) as paying passengers on 21 different cruises, we’ve figured out the best strategies to drink lots on cruises while keeping our bar bill very low.
We’re now back on land to share all of our alcohol hacks, tips, and tricks on how to get cheap drinks on cruise lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, and more. Many of these strategies will even get you free drinks on a cruise!
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.
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 article details tactics like how to get hooked up with a free beverage package and the truth about sneaking booze onto a cruise. But let’s 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 plenty of alcohol hacks to get cheap cruise drinks all throughout this post.
So without further ado, here are 25 of our best cruise tips and hacks 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 and at certain times, so passengers can enjoy reduced-priced drinks. Sometimes these cruise happy hours are stated in the daily newsletter. In other instances, cruise happy hours are simply listed on the bar menus themselves or on tabletops.
Sometimes cruise happy hours are only subtly advertised. Passengers must be observant and seek out these money-saving cruise drink deals. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for happy hour promotions on tabletop signs at cruise bars.
💡 Tip: find cruise happy hours on Day 1. Whenever we board a cruise ship, we tend to scout out each bar to sleuth around which bars on our ship do indeed have a happy hour. After getting on a ship, take some time to go on a little bar crawl to determine if any of the ships’ bars have happy hours. It can be a fun way to figure out the happy hours at the start of your voyage. Then you can then plan your drinking accordingly to save!
Know that cruise happy hours vary greatly by cruise line, ship, and even each sailing. Cruise happy hours change constantly. Cruise happy hours even change from bar to bar on the same ship.
Despite ongoing changes, here are each cruise line’s happy hours:
- Carnival: Known to offer happy hour with half-off cocktails and beer at specific times at particular bars (e.g., Red Frog Pub, casino bar) on certain days only (often embarkation days and port days).
- Celebrity: Previously offered two happy hours with greatly reduced-priced cocktails, wine, and beer. Although Celebrity’s happy hour is now focused on free drinks for Elite Captain’s Club members 5:00-7:00, occasional happy hours can still be found throughout some ships.
- Disney Cruise Line: Typically has several happy hours nightly at specific bars with up to half-off drinks.
- Holland America: Typically has two happy hours (e.g., 4:00-6:00, 10:00-midnight) with buy one drink, get one half-off (has replaced buy-one-get-one for $1/$2 happy hour)
- Norwegian: No regular happy hour on NCL, but sporadic BOGO happy hours have been found at specific bars, only on some ships.
- MSC: No regular happy hours across MSC cruise line, but in the past BOGO drink deals have been spotted at specific bars (e.g., Sports Bar) on certain ships.
- Princess Cruises: Formerly offered BOGO happy hours but this has been discontinued.
- Royal Caribbean: No regular happy hours on most bars, but specific bars on some RCL ships do offer happy hours such as Buy-One-Get-One drinks in late afternoons at low-traffic bars.
- Virgin Voyages: No known happy hours.
💡 Tip: Plan around two happy hours. When you find cruise bars that have two nightly happy hours, plan your drinking wisely to maximize your onboard budget during these two happy hour periods. For example, it is fairly common to find happy hours during 4:00-6:00 and again from 10:00-midnight. So be sure to hit the bar and drink up during these cruise happy hours, particularly if it’s BOGO or half-off drinks. Then use our subsequent cruise drinking tips to drink economically during the four-hour gap between 6:00-10:00.
In addition to the planned cruise happy hours, some lines, such as Carnival, 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 and we stocked up, which leads us to our next cheap cruise drink tip!
2) Stock Up for Later During the Best Drink Promos
If beer prices are slashed for happy hour, during a big promotion, or at a free drink event, then consider ordering some unopened beers to stash them for a later time. Take those inexpensive beers back to your cabin and put them in the mini-fridge. Doing so will enable you to enjoy those discounted (or free) beers poolside the next day!
When ordering, kindly ask the bartender not to open the beer. Occasionally a bartender may insist on opening it. If that’s so, order a 16 oz. aluminum bottles with twist-off caps. Those beer bottles can be easily resealed. So during price drops and or complimentary drink soirées, stock up!
But typically 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!
Cruise loyalty members may also be invited to events with complementary drinks and high-tiered members even get access to nightly complimentary happy hours on some cruise lines. But since the timing is limited, this can be another situation to take a beer or two to-go, to enjoy later.
Lastly, rare circumstances may call for free drinks onboard, which can be another consideration to snag some free beers for later. For example, on another HAL cruise we took, weather had canceled a planned port call. So the captain actually gave all passengers a complimentary happy hour as a nice gesture to disappointed passengers. If something like this ever happens during your sailing, it can be an excellent time to stock up on a few free beers!
3) 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.
These aren’t free tastings (we’ll show you where to get those later). Drink tasting events are typically paid activities to try several cocktails during a fun and informative demonstration that can last about a half hour or so. And they often yield excellent value!
🤓 Let’s do the math! Specialty drinks, like creative martinis, typically cost $15 (or more), plus gratuity. So five fancy cocktails could easily cost a cruiser $90. Cruise tasting events vary in cost, but are often priced around $25, giving half-pours or sometimes even full-sized pours.
Often with cocktail or martini tasting they give about 4-6 ounces tasting, which is a half-sized cocktail. So that’s an okay-ish value, equating to 2.5 cocktails for $25. For comparison, three of these same cocktails would otherwise cost $53 when priced at $15 +gratuities.
Yet occasionally at tasting events, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by receiving full-sized drinks! We’ve found that drink tastings on NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) are of particularly good value, as they’ve poured some large and strong drinks. Norwegian usually does a martini tasting, margarita tasting, a beer tasting, and a wine tasting during their regular cruises.
Five good cocktails on an NCL would easily set you back around $100. So enjoying them at a tasting event for $25 is excellent value.
If you don’t want to drink all five drinks, consider attending with a partner/friend and sharing the experience. These events are usually charged by the pour, not by the person.
These tasting events aren’t just good value, you get to try a variety of different cocktails you may have never thought to try before. Drink-tasting events are also a lot of fun and a great way to make friends during a cruise. We’ve even 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 or Encore, 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!
4) 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 order by the glass.
🤓 Let’s do the math! Glasses of wine priced at $7 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.
5) Wine Drinkers Should Buy a Package to Save
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. Buying these packages online before your cruise usually gives a slightly bigger 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. Look online or ask your booking agent. Alternatively, 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 sense to order a 7-bottle package for a nice savings!
🤓 Let’s do the math! Below is an example of the Holland America wine packages we found during a recent cruise. Their rates start at $119 for a four-bottle package. Those particular bottles were priced $35-$40 individually. So you would save $20-$40 by purchasing this package instead of buying the wines individually. If you know, you’re definitely going to be drinking these wines, it certainly would prove advantageous to buy the wine package.
6) 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 Budwiesers and Heinekens once you’re back home or 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.
Whatever you’re able to sip on while ashore will almost certainly be better priced than on the ship and likely more interesting too. So drink up!
💡 Tip: How to know if open containers are tolerated in port. Many countries officially 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 if the cashier of a convenience store has a bottle opener at the counter. If you see a bottle opener, it’s a clear indication it’s acceptable to drink on the streets while in port. So use it to pop open a beer. 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.
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 inexpensive. 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 local drink to get is painkillers in the Virgin Islands! Although we’ll always seek out sky juice whenever porting in Nassau. Rum punch is a must in Jamacia, just as margaritas are obligatory in Mexico. Yet don’t overlook the panty ripper in Belize. There are so many delicious cocktails to explore throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere!
7) 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 to 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.
- Cozumel Coral Reef Snorkeling by Glass Bottom Boat: Although drinking is not the main activity, this snorkeling tour provides complimentary beers after getting out of the water. This high-rated tour is well-priced to pack in a boat ride, snorkeling, and cervezas! Check availability.
🇧🇸 Nassau, Bahamas Drinking Excursions:
- 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 slowly while venturing out to a number of local Nassau drinking spots. Check availability.
- Nassau Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour focuses more on local Bahamian food. Yet it also includes some rum cocktails along the way. This tour gets great reviews and would be a fun way to taste Nassau while enjoying a few drinks along the way. Check prices.
🇰🇾 Cayman Islands Drinking Excursions:
- Rum & Beer Tour with Lunch: This is our top pick for the Cayman Islands, as this 3-hour tour packs a rum distillery, a rum cake factory, and a local lunch with local craft beers. It seems that there’s plenty of rum and beer to try all along the way so you definitely won’t return to the ship sober. Book now.
🇻🇮 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 then 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! It’s another bargain-priced tour that gets rave reviews.
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 its 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.
8) 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. 🤪
9) 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 on a cruise
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. So 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. 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 your stateroom
=$80 in savings
Best of all, this bottle service 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, ordering bottles of liquor to your cabin can really make financial sense. Use this tactic to help ease your onboard account in between drinks at the bar.
Additionally, most cruise lines (excluding 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!
10) Look for the Captain’s Toast to Get 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!
Typically these events will last at least a half hour. So arrive promptly to get your fill of free drinks!
Hang out, find a nice cozy spot where the drink servers are coming out of, and then cheers to the the captain!
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 gameshow-style events dole out much better prizes, and almost always give away free bottles of champagne!
For example, the Newlywed game show (AKA, Love & Marriage) always rewards participants with 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 free bottle of champagne on a cruise?
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 director, 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, cruise lines often reward you with alcohol! But that’s only if you’ve joined their loyalty club, which is totally free to do! So always be sure to join the loyalty program with every cruise line you ever go on.
Even with the lowest loyalty tier, most cruise lines will at least invite passengers to a complimentary cocktail party full of free drinks. Cruise a few more times on that same cruise line and you may find complimentary happy hours every single night for higher-tier loyalty members!
Cruise lines are quite fond of treating their loyal patrons with booze. 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 and take full advantage of your loyalty freebies.
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 a 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 lines 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 to 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. Sure, it’s not as great of a deal as a Buy-One-Get-One happy hour, but the drink of the day deals last the entire day.
Waking up to find out the “daily drink” happens to be your favorite can be a wonderful surprise to take full advantage of.
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.
17) Legally Bring Your Own Wine
Many cruise lines actually permit you to bring your own wine and champagne aboard the cruise ship. So take advantage of these bring-your-own-wine allowances!
But wine allowances can vary greatly by cruise lines. Some cruise lines forbid it altogether. Other cruise lines will allow you to bring wine but charge a fee per bottle, even if it’s opened in a private space like your stateroom. Yet thankfully most major cruise lines are gracious enough to allow passengers to bring a bottle of wine or two. But you need to know the rules.
Usually, the wine allowance is one 750 ml bottle per person or two 750 ml bottles per stateroom. Most cruise lines’ alcohol policies indicate that these wine bottles must be placed in your carry-on luggage only and can only be brought onto the ship on embarkation day.
Each cruise line’s wine allowance policy is slightly different and these beverage policies do change occasionally. So before you pack a few bottles of wine, be sure to check your cruise line’s official alcohol policy to confirm.
Wine allowance policy by cruise line:
- Carnival: 🍾 1 bottle per person (source: Carnival Liquor & Beverage)
- Celebrity: 🍾 2 bottles per guest (source: Celebrity Alcohol Policy)
- Disney: 🍾 2 bottles per person (source: Disney: Carrying Alcohol Onboard)
- Holland America: 💲 Fee of $20 per bottle (source: Holland America FAQs)
- MSC: ❌ Not allowed (source: MSC Conditions of Carriage)
- Norwegian: 💲 Fee of $15 per bottle (source: NCL Beverage Policy)
- Princess: 🍾 1 bottle per person (source: Princess Pre-Cruise FAQ)
- Royal Carribean: 🍾 2 bottles per stateroom (source: RCI Onboard Alcohol Policy)
- Virgin Voyages: 🍾 2 bottles per person (source: Virgin Help Articles)
Here are 4 more tips when bringing your own wine!
💡 17a) How to Avoid the Corkage Fee in the Main Dining Room
Most cruise lines that permit you to bring wine onboard still charge a corkage fee if pouring that wine 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 to 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.
💡17b) Bring strong wine on a cruise
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, often 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 your alcohol a bit further.
💡17.3c) 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. Maybe you miscalculated and brought three bottles instead of two. Oops! Don’t worry about it, as there’s a fair chance it will go unnoticed.
If you bring an extra bottle or two, consider dividing your allowance into separate luggage. divided into separate luggage. The cruise line attendants likely will not add up wine bottles that are in different bags being delivered to the same stateroom. So putting two bottles of wine in one suitcase and two bottles in another could get four bottles of wine to slip through to a stateroom.
Just know this is officially against the rules. But it regularly works.
If you’re a beer drinker, you may want to know how you can legally bring beer on a cruise instead of wine. A few cruise lines 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 Cruise’s official policy permits passengers to carry on six beers per person. Thanks Mickey!
But most other cruise lines ban beer, even though they allow wine. So here’s a hack for beer lovers to take along a brew or two instead of wine.
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 adjacent image: the bottle on the left is beer). These 750 ml bottles of beer have always been permitted on wine-allowing cruise ships we’ve sailed on, even though beer is technically against their official alcohol policy.
18) BYOB – Bring Your Own Booze: the Sneaky Way
So what if you’d prefer to bring hard liquor on a cruise instead of wine?
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 to mention it 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 cruise, 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 them 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.
What happens if you get caught sneaking alcohol onto a cruise ship?
The biggest consequence is (1) embarrassment and (2) 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 your luggage won’t arrive to your room and you’ll have to go to security to get it straightened out. Security may even offer to hold onto a bottle of liquor for a passenger who didn’t know the rules.
But bringing a bottle of liquor does run the risk of being confiscated. So if you’re going to try to sneak a bottle on a cruise, don’t bring anything valuable. Meanwhile, 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 their own booze. But we’ve never heard of that actually occurring in practice. A far more realistic consequence is delayed baggage and possibly confiscated liquor.
19) Enjoy these 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 measly 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. Yet many cruisers don’t realize that they can also go to the main dining room and order complimentary iced tea and lemonade with their meals. It’s never offered. But unsweetened iced tea and lemonade are 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 if we’re taking a night off from drinking.
So be sure to enjoy some of these non-alcoholic drinks for free.
Also, tap water is always free on 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.
20) 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.
21) 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.
|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. The mini bar offerings are usually overpriced and sometimes old. So just remove any temptation for overspending here and ask for these items to be removed. It’s not an uncommon request.
Once the fridge is clear, you’re free to chill down all of the beverages that you’ve brought onboard. You can use the empty minifridge to cool down:
- on-sale (or free) beers you’ve snagged on the ship (refer to tip #2),
- champagne you’ve won on the ship (refer to tip #11),
- white wine you’ve legally brought on the ship (refer to tip #17),
- booze you’ve snuck onto the ship (refer to tip #18), or
- beer you’ve been permitted to bring back from port, which leads us to our next tip (refer to tip #22)!
22) 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, as per most cruise lines’ alcohol policy. And you can still drink those beers on the final night of the cruise. 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.
23) How to Determine if Drink Package Is Worth It for You
All of the above cheap cruise drink hacks and tips will help to keep your bar bill low on your next sailing. But you’ll certainly need to put in some effort and strategizing to accomplish that. If you instead just want to enjoy your vacation and not have to worry about sneaky tactics or a growing bar bill, then a drink package may be the way to go. And they are often great value!
So this cheap cruise drink tip helps to carefully break it down whether the drink package may be worth it for you.
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 cruise lines like to promote. 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 is 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.
But cruise drink packages can be costly. So how much?
Drink package prices vary greatly among the cruise lines and the specific package. Cruise beverage packages range in price from about $38 (MSC Easy) to $165.60 (NCL Premium) per day. Yet drink package pricing often tends to fall somewhere between $60-$80 per day.
Cruise drink package daily prices and policies:
- Carnival CHEERS!: $59.95 +18% for 15 drinks per day, up to $20 each (more info)
- Celebrity Classic / Premium package: $69 / $84 +20% for unlimited drinks, up to $9 / $15 (more info)
- Disney Cruise Line: No drink package is offered
- Holland America Signature / Elite: $54.95 / $59.99 +18% for 15 drinks, up to $11 / $15 (more info)
- Princess Plus / Premiere: $59.99 / 79.99 +18% for 15 drinks, up to $12 / $18 (more info)
- MSC Easy / Easy Plus / Premium: $38 / $51 / $71 for unlimited drinks, select / $9 / $15 (more info)
- Norwegian Unlimited / Premium: $109 / $138 +20% for unlimited drinks, up to $15 / nearly all (more info)
- Royal Caribbean Deluxe: $63-$89 for unlimited drinks, up to $13 (more info)
- Virgin Voyages: No traditional beverage package, but has run promos that include generous bar tabs (more info)
Note: above prices are current as of October 2022 and reflect online prices purchased prior to sailing.
When deciding on a drink package, understand that cruise beverage packages do tend to have restrictions. For instance, while some drink packages are truly unlimited; Carnival, HAL, and Princess limit their drink packages to 15 drinks per day.
Also, understand that you must purchase a drink package for the entire length of the cruise. No cruise lines allow purchasing a drink package for certain days only.
Also, it’s standard across all the lines that sharing a drink package is not allowed. Typically all adults in the same stateroom must all be on a drink package. To be clear, it’s not allowed for couples in the same cabin to share one drink package.
It may be possible to discretely slip a friend a drink. But if you do this, it violates the terms and risks your beverage package being revoked. So doing so may not be worth the risk.
Is a cruise drink package worth it?
Often the hefty cost of a drink package is not worth the expense. But it certainly can be!
We recommend splurging on drink packages in the following instances:
- moderate and heavy drinkers: your bar bill will be higher than the cost of a drink package.
- shorter cruise itineraries: fewer nights = less total expense.
- cruises with many sea days and/or short port calls: more time on the ship, more time you’re using the drink package.
- when ports include private island: some cruise lines allow drink packages to be at bars on their private islands.
- when the cost of a drink package is within your budget and think you might enjoy 6+ drinks daily.
Simply consider how much you may drink on the cruise and then do the math.
Typically those who may drink an average of at least 6+ drinks or so each day, cruise beverage packages will likely result in significant savings. An associated benefit not having to be concerned about your growing bar tab on a cruise.
🤓 Let’s do the math! Let’s use Carnival for example, which currently (2022) promotes its CHEERS drink package for:
$59.95 per day + 18% gratuities = $70.74 daily
*7 days of the cruise = $495.19
*2 people per stateroom = $990.38 total cost of CHEERS! drink package on a 7-day Carnival cruise.
Spending nearly $1,000 for the privilege of 15 daily drinks may seem quite pricey, particularly for budget-conscious passengers. And it is! For those who are only going to have a few drinks per day, stay away from drink packages. It won’t be worth it.
Yet for those who want to enjoy 6-8 (or more) drinks each day throughout the voyage, a cruise drink package can really make financial sense. You’ll likely save yourself from spending even more than if you were to purchase those drinks a la carte.
Let’s consider what an average of eight drinks per day would cost on a 7-day Carnival without the drink package:
$15 drinks + 18% gratuity = $17.70 per drink
*8 drinks per day = $141.60 per day
*7 days of the cruise = $991.20
*2 people in the stateroom = disembarking with a $1,982.40 bar tab!
In the above example, a couple could have saved about $1,000 by opting for a beverage package before the cruise began.
Considering that Carnival’s CHEERS! beverage package allows passengers to purchase drinks up to $20, you can actually break even just by simply drinking 3-4 higher-priced drinks each day.
Shorter Cruises Have a More Reasonable Drink Package Total Costs
While a $1,000 beverage package may still seem out of reach, it must be realized this is over the course of a hypothetical seven-day cruise. Shorter cruises will incur a far more reasonable expense.
For instance, a beverage package during a quick 3-day Bahamas cruise on Carnival would come out to a grand total of $212.22 per person for a fun 3-day booze cruise. That’s a lot easier to swallow!
Beware How Unexpected Cruise Drinks Quickly Add Up
Moderate drinkers may think that having 6+ drinks in a day is excessive. But new cruisers may not realize how quickly those drinks add up. 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 then a few more at the dance party on the lido deck. You’re on vacation!
The many cruise bars can be all-too-convenient. The party atmosphere may be more tempting than anticipated to knock back a few drinks. You may be surprised how quickly all those wonderful cruise drinks flow onto your onboard account.
More Time at Sea Means More Time to Drink
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.
Conversely, 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. In this case, enjoy local drinks in port and perhaps forgo the cruise’s drink package.
The exception to this is if you’re visiting a cruise line’s private island.
Drinks Packages Can Provide Great Value When Allowed on Cruise Lines’ Private Islands
Sometimes a cruise’s drink package extends its use to the cruise line’s private island. Having all your drinks included on the private island can be a huge incentive to get the drink package. Just check to see if your cruise allows this (below).
Cruise line drink package policy at private islands:
- ✅ MSC allows their drink package to be used across Ocean Cay Marine Reserve
- ✅ Norwegian allows their drink package to be used throughout Great Stirrup Cay
- ✅ Princess does allows their drink packages to be used at Princess Cays
- ✅ Royal Carribean and Celebrity allows their drink package to be used at Perfect Day at Coco Cay and Labadee, Haiti
- ❌ Carnival and Holland America do NOT allow their drink package to be used at Half Moon Cay
24) Buy Your Beverage Package Online Before Your Sailing to Save More
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.
If cruising is just one big party to you, the investment of a beverage package can pay dividends. Do the math. Consider the splurge. If you decide to buy a drink package, enjoy it to the fullest! Just drink responsibly and stay afloat!
25) 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 a Norwegian cruise on two different occasions. It was fantastic! It was open bar the entire cruise and nearly the entire drink menu was included, even most top-shelf brands!
Search around to find cruise deals that include the unlimited beverage package. We tend to see such promos offered by Norwegian and Celebrity most often 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” sometimes require passengers to pay an extra gratuity charge for the bar service. Depending on the cruise line, this may cost range from $11 (Carnival) to $20 (Norwegian) per person, per day. Even if paying $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!
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 at the numerous bars, lounges, and clubs on these awesome ships. The nightly parties can be a blast. Drunken karaoke sessions are hilarious. Late night clubs can get interesting.
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!
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 given you many tips and tricks 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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