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Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller section received a letter from an unhappy cruiser. Tiit Tonuri of Cowra, NSW, is booked on a 34-night cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line and wanted to purchase a drinks package. NCL requires passengers to purchase a drink package for the entire length of the cruise. Mr Tonuri argues that this is unreasonable, because 18 nights of the voyage will be spent in port, effectively doubling the per-night price of the package. He asked NCL about purchasing a package for the 16 sea nights only and paying regular bar prices on port nights, but was denied.

It’s a common question among cruisers – will you consume enough drinks each night to make the package good value? And if you’re spending long nights in port, will you have enough time to make up your daily quota in the bar at night?

The fine print surrounding drinks packages can be confusing and varies from line to line. In Mr Tonuri’s case, Norwegian Cruise Line isn’t alone – all the major lines only allow passengers to purchase packages for the duration of their cruise, not for specific days. The packages are also non-transferrable, non-refundable and can only be used for one passenger (so no sharing). Most only let you buy one drink at a time to avoid any cheating. Purchases from the in-cabin mini bar or room service generally won’t be included in the package price. Also be aware that some lines add gratuities of around 18 per cent on top of the package price while some include it – which can add up to a big difference.

We asked our Facebook fans what they thought. Suzie Bayley was recently on a Princess cruise and thought the package was good value. “It was definitely worth it (especially on sea days), but even the full days on shore were made up for on the long sea days. Not having to keep a tally of how much we were spending on drinks was nice too.” Deb Redfern is a big fan. “Never leave shore without a drinks package and won’t sail on any lines that don’t offer them. Fantastic value.” But many people agreed that the lines should give passengers more flexibility with the packages. Rachael Evans-Hardy said “I don’t think you should be forced to take it out for the full cruise. I think you should be able too choose your days eg: sea days only.” Colin Stockwell thinks you need to choose carefully. “OK to have drink package on a cruise with a lot of sea days. Too expensive on a cruise with a lot of port days.” Join the conversation now on Facebook!

Not sure what to think? Cruise Passenger has done the hard work for you. Here is our quick guide to getting your drink on onboard a cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean
Royal Replenish (non-alcoholic)
Price: US$22 per person per night
Includes: Premium tea and coffee, bottled water, fresh squeezed orange juice, non-alcoholic cocktails and soft drinks.

Select Package
Price: US$42 per person per night
Includes: Beer, wine by the glass up to $9, non-alcoholic cocktails and soft drinks.

Premium Package
Price: US$57 per person per night
Includes: House spirits, premium and frozen cocktails, beer, wine by the glass up to $14, non-alcoholic cocktails, bottled water and soft drinks.

Ultimate Package
Price: US$67 per person per night
Includes: Virtually anything you would like to drink.

P&O Cruises
Soft drink package
Price: A$7 per person per night
Includes: Unlimited soft drinks

Premium beverage package
Price: A$79 per person per night
Includes: Individual beverage items up to A$12 including selected spirits, wine, beer, cocktails, coffee, soft drinks and small bottles of water

Terms: Available on all voyages of seven nights or longer

Celebrity Cruises
Classic (non-alcoholic)
Price: A$25.20 per person per night plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Soft drink, fresh and bottled juices, premium tea and coffee, and bottled water.

Premium (non-alcoholic)
Price: A$30.80 per person per night plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Soft drink, premium bottled water, specialty tea and coffee, non-alcoholic frozen drinks and smoothies, Red Bull and Vitamin Water.

Classic
Price: A$77 per person per night plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Beer up to $6; spirits, cocktails, liqueurs and frozen drinks up to $8; and wine by the glass up to $9.

Premium
Price: A$91 per person per night plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Beers, top shelf spirits, cocktails and wine by the glass up to $13.

Princess Cruises
All-inclusive Beverage Package
Price: A$59 per person per night
Includes: Any cocktail, beer or wine up to A$14, plus bottled water, soft drink and specialty coffees.

Terms: Available on all voyages of eight nights or longer

Norwegian Cruise Line
Unlimited Soda Program
Price: US$5.50 per person per day for children under 12, $7.50 per person per day for adults plus 18% gratuity

Corks & Caps Wine & Beer Package
Price: US$54 per person per day plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Beer, wine and soft drinks by the glass.

Ultimate Beverage Package
Price: US$69 per person per day plus 18% gratuity
Includes: Bottled and draft beer, wine, spirits and cocktails valued up to $15, and soft drinks.

Terms: All guests staying in a stateroom must purchase a beverage package.

Carnival Cruise Line
At this stage, Carnival doesn’t offer any alcoholic beverage packages on its ships out of Australia (though they are available on the international fleet). The Bottomless Bubbles package includes unlimited soft drinks and juice for A$7.25 per night for adults and A$5.50 per night for children.