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Is a cruise drinks package worth it?

A tipple on an ocean voyage never comes cheap. We reveal the cruise lines with the best value drinks packages and the rip-offs to be wary of

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Alcoholic drinks come at a premium price when you're a captive audience in the middle of the ocean. But don't assume a cruise line's ‘unlimited’ drinks package will automatically offer better value for money. 

Most companies sell these add-ons at a fixed price: the idea being that you can enjoy an unlimited selection of beers, wines and spirits, without the worry of running up a huge bar bill.

However, the cost of these can vary wildly: anything from £19 to £55 per person, per day. At these prices, you’ll have to drink like a fish to get your money’s worth. On top of this there could be a list of rules and exclusions as long as your arm, meaning premium drinks - and dry companions - are off limits.

Which? Travel is always investigating how to get the best price on your holiday. Find out more about Which? Travel.

The priciest cruise lines for drinks packages

We looked at five ocean cruise lines and found that it rarely makes sense to splash out on a pricey drinks package.

For example, Cunard’s offering costs £55 a day – the equivalent of 10 pints of beer (£4.70 each) plus four soft drinks at the bar. Or opt for its wallet-draining fine wine package (£240 per person) and get just six bottles to savour over the course of your cruise.

Here’s how much you’d need to drink to make these costly packages worth your while:

Avoid nasty surprises

Along with the price, you’ll have to check the small print. Typically, cruise lines dictate that every person in the cabin must buy the package (to prevent sharing) for every single day you’re at sea – so there’s no refund if you decide to go teetotal halfway through your voyage.

There’s also price and ordering restrictions. For example, P&O's package only allows glasses of wine up to £6.95 in value (no bottles) and makes you wait 15 minutes between orders. You also can’t have double measures, order room service or use the mini bar.

Even bottles of wine that you’ve bought from the duty-free shop on board are off limits with some cruise lines. Instead, staff will hold your purchases until you disembark.

If you do have your heart set on a drinks package, negotiate the price while booking your cruise - rather than waiting until you set sail - to avoid being ripped off.

How to save on a drinks package

Most cruise lines list their bar prices online, so do the maths beforehand to see if you will get your money's worth from a drinks package. Don’t forget to factor in service charges, which are as much as 20% per drink on Celebrity – making a glass of wine £8.50.

Drinks packages are often heavily discounted or even thrown in for free to entice early bookings, so start planning your cruise as far in advance as possible.

Another option is to choose an all-inclusive cruise line, like Which? Recommended Provider Azamara, where drinks (excluding ‘premium' brands) are part of the package. While you may pay more at the start, you can rest assured there won’t be any nasty surprises later on.

Otherwise check if you can bring your own alcohol on board. P&O, Disney and Royal Caribbean all allow you to do this, but for limited amounts on embarkation day only.

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