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How to get free or cheap drinks on a cruise

April 15, 2022
13 min read
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With the price of drinks on cruise ships rivaling those at your favorite bar and restaurant in the big city, drinking on the cheap on a cruise isn’t easy.

Low cruise-only fares can be enticing, but those extras add up quickly, especially when the frozen umbrella drinks by the pool and icy pre-dinner martinis can run you as much as $16 each.

If you’re ready to cut loose and go full-on party mode — or just want to be able to imbibe and not stress over the bar bill — here are 18 tips for how to score discounted and even free alcoholic beverages while at sea.

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Choose an all-inclusive or very-inclusive cruise line

If you want to drink freely and not feel like you’re being nickeled and dimed every time you order an adult beverage, book with a cruise line that includes open bar privileges at all the bars and restaurants around the ship, such as Regent Seven Seas or Silversea Cruises. (However, the high cruise fares for these inclusive sailings may make you think twice.)

Azamara is another line that provides select wines, international beers and standard spirits in their fares. Celebrity Cruises now offers an included Classic drinks package to passengers who book its “Always Included” fares. Viking’s fares include complimentary house wines and beers at lunch and dinner.

Katz Castle and the Middle Rhine River Valley with a Viking Longship in view. (Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises)

Most river cruise lines also offer complimentary beer and wine at lunch and dinner. Avalon Waterways even serves up sparkling wine at breakfast so you can enjoy a mimosa to start your day. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises includes premium wines and spirits in its pricing.

Book a suite with added perks

Select suites may come with free drink perks, either across the ship or at specific times in designated places.

If you’ve booked a suite in MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club, you can either imbibe at the private spaces within the Yacht Club or head out to have drinks and dinner at other venues on the ship where your beverages (up to $15) will be included.

Sky and Star Class suite guests on Royal Caribbean can enjoy free drinks in the Suite Lounge every evening; Star Class guests also receive a complimentary beverage package with their booking.

Guests of Princess Cruises’ Club Class full suites receive a complimentary welcome glass of bubbly and a minibar set up on embarkation day. There’s also a daily mimosa breakfast in Club Class Dining in the main dining room. For Club Class mini-suites, the line offers a complimentary one-time wine set-up in your suite with a half bottle of both white and red wine.

Meanwhile, if you’ve booked either a Neptune or Pinnacle suite on one of Holland America’s ships, you’ll be welcomed on board with a glass of sparkling wine during dinner the first evening and have complimentary mimosas with in-suite breakfasts. Suite guests can also attend a cocktail party with the Neptune Lounge concierge.

Drink during happy hour

Some cruise ship bars offer happy hours where you’ll find discounted drinks or BOGOs. These might be advertised in the ship’s daily newsletter, at the bar or even on the cruise line’s app. Specials may include lower-priced beer, wine, cocktails or even buckets of beer or discounts on the drink of the day. Be on the lookout so you can take advantage of these deals during your voyage.

Use your loyalty status to get comped cocktails

Loyalty programs offer benefits beyond reduced fares. Cruise enough and you can get access to cocktail parties where you can drink for free.

If you’re loyal to your travel agent, she may thank you for your continued support with a bottle of wine or bubbly for you to enjoy upon arrival to your stateroom.

Befriend your bartender

Bartender at the Bamboo Room on Navigator of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Loyalty matters when it comes to bartenders, too. The more you visit the same bar and get to know the bartenders and servers, the more they’ll get to know you and pour a stiffer drink or give a bigger pour on that glass of sauvignon blanc. They might even sneak you a free taste during a quiet hour.

Don’t miss the party

Even if you prefer to watch the ship sail away from your private balcony or don’t especially wish to meet the captain, you might want to check out anything called a party in your daily planner because you might find a comped cocktail or glass of Champagne awaiting you.

For example, Princess Cruises is one of the lines that still hosts a Captain’s Party with complimentary glasses of bubbly. (Other lines present opportunities to meet the captain without free drinks.) Oceania Cruises invites guests for a complimentary Champagne toast, usually on the pool deck on the first day, to kick off the voyage.

Buy a drink package

If you drink a lot, it can often be a good deal to purchase a beverage package for your sailing. Drink packages come with varying inclusions and price tags, depending on the cruise line and particular package purchased.

Some packages have limits on the price of drinks or wine you can order, so if you have your heart set on those top-shelf margaritas, you may have to pay the price difference. Also, some packages only include select wines, beers and alcohol and not the premium options or brands, so make sure you’re buying the package that will ultimately make you the happiest.

To save even further, look for pre-cruise specials to buy a drink package at a discount.

Better yet, get a drink package as an added perk

Many lines offer free beverage packages as incentives when booking a cruise. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea program includes several freebies, including an open bar program. Or, your travel agent may throw in a drink package as one of their special incentives for clients. You can also use onboard credits to pay your bar bill at the end of the cruise.

Bring your own wine and booze

(Photo by Linda Raymond/Getty Images)

Some cruise lines limit the amount of wine or alcohol you can bring on the ship, while others, like Viking, don’t mind if you purchase bottles on shore and carry them back to the ship to consume. Viking doesn’t even charge a corkage fee in its restaurants if you want to bring a special bottle of wine to enjoy at dinner.

However, the rules vary significantly between the cruise lines – with some saying yes to wine, but no to hard liquor – so it’s best to check before you start stashing bottles in your luggage to bring on your cruise. You’ll often save more by drinking in your cabin, as some lines will charge a corkage fee if you bring your own bottle to an onboard bar or restaurant.

Fill up that glass

If you’re on a ship that serves complimentary wine and beer at dinner but makes you pay outside of mealtime (like many of the river cruise lines), you can save on post-dinner drinks by getting a glass to go.

Ask for one more pour of your dinnertime beverage at the end of the meal before heading out to the lounge or your cabin for the evening. While it’s not always pretty to leave with a drink in hand, this simple trick will keep your bar tab in check over the length of your cruise.

Seek out classes and tastings

If you want to learn to craft the perfect martini, sample wines from around the world or taste fine whiskeys, then sign up for a cocktail class or wine or whiskey tasting, like those offered on Celebrity Cruises. These classes and tastings have fees, but you can often get good value for the money, depending on the amount of alcohol served. Plus, you’ll learn something fun in the process.

You may also find complimentary tastings on other ships, such as those offered by the duty-free shops.

Hit the bars and restaurants in port

In some cases, finding a cheap drink is as easy as hopping off the ship and walking a street or two off the main tourist route. Local bars and restaurants are a great way to try regional cocktails, wines, beers and other beverages that aren’t available on the ship – and they’ll be at a lower price. If you make friends with the staff, they may even treat you to something special like housemade limoncello if you’re in Italy or ouzo in the Greek islands.

Book booze cruises or excursions with tastings

Caribbean cruises usually offer shore excursions on party boats or catamarans that include copious amounts of rum punch or local brews that guests can imbibe while listening to reggae music and sailing around the islands. These tours may also have time for snorkeling or lunch on the boat or on shore — with even more rum punch. Just be careful not to overdo it.

In other cruise ports, look for culinary tours or cooking classes that include wine or cocktail tastings or samples of local liqueurs, mezcals, tequila or other spirits. Beach club day passes often come with comped drinks or an open bar.

Attend the art auctions

Even if you’re not interested in purchasing artwork as a souvenir from your adventure on the high seas, it’s still fun to attend the art auctions when they’re available on the ship. Princess Cruises hosts events with land-based Park West Gallery that include live auctions, prizes — and free sparkling wine.

If you’re interested in purchasing a piece of artwork for your home collection, you can browse Park West’s online gallery before your cruise — but no one will bat an eye if you stop in for the free bubbly and head out when the bidding starts.

Look for wine discounts at specialty dining venues

(Photo by Lorraine Boogich/Getty Images)

Sometimes paying more for dinner can net you savings on wine.

If you book a reservation at Carnival Cruise Line’s Steakhouse on the first or second night of your cruise, you’ll receive either a choice of a bottle of house wine or a premium bottle at a discount.

Some other options for specialty dining also have beverage perks. Royal Caribbean’s Unlimited Dining Package allows you to have dinner at multiple specialty restaurants during your voyage. It also includes lunch at specialty venues on sea days and 40% discounts on bottles of wine priced up to $100 and 20% on wines priced over $100 per bottle.

Check your daily planner for other deals. For example, MSC Cruises advertises daily dining specials that include sunset dinners for two with a bottle of wine at specialty venues like Butcher’s Cut restaurant.

Purchase bottles or packages of wine

It’s always more cost effective to order a bottle of wine over a single glass. If you don’t finish the bottle, you can take it back to your room and enjoy an afternoon vino while relaxing on your balcony the next day, or have the ship’s dining room save the bottle for you to finish the following evening at dinner.

You can also order wine packages that include several bottles or more at an attractive discount.

For example, Oceania Cruises has a Cellar Master’s Selection package that offers guests their choice of seven different bottles of wine from around the world at one-half to one-third of their original listed price.

MSC Cruises features wine specials in its daily newsletter that include discounts of up to 30% on select bottles in any of the restaurants or the Wine Cellar. You can purchase wine packages in advance or on the ship that offer a selection of wines by the glass and discounts on full bottles of wine and Champagne.

Order bottle service

On some ships, you can even opt for bottle service that delivers a bottle of liquor and mixers to your cabin.

If you’re sailing with Carnival, you can pre-order individual bottles of your favorite liquor or packages that include mixers through its online Fun Shops. Carnival also permits guests to bring a limited number of sodas and sparkling waters — no more than a dozen 12-ounce cans per person — packed in checked luggage on embarkation day. That means you could bring your own mixers and just order a bottle of liquor to go with them. You could also take complimentary beverages like orange juice or lemonade back to your cabin and use them to mix drinks, which is a much cheaper option than ordering individual mixed drinks around the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s Royal Gifts website also offers liquor packages complete with mixers for making cocktails like rum and cokes or vodka with Sprite to sip on your veranda or while wandering around the ship.

Party hard on the last night

Duty-free shops typically have great deals (along with free tastings). For example, they offer promotions like 20% off two bottles of whiskey, or two bottles of limoncello for $20.

The catch is that the ship will hold your purchases until the last day of the cruise. In that case, save the best party for the last night. Put your luggage in the hallway then invite your newfound friends over for cocktails and pop the tops on any bottles that you don’t want to take home. (Just don’t stay out too late and sleep through disembarkation.)

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Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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