So you thought the only way to get cheap or free drinks onboard your cruise involved sneaking your own bottles in your luggage? Think again! We’ve made a crafty list of all the wild and wonderful ways you can keep your drinks topped up, and your expenses down.
Cruise ships count on passengers kicking back and ordering up big when it comes to onboard spend and drinks. In fact, the average cost of a drink onboard a cruise is $10. But you don’t have to pay top dollar on your next cruise holiday when there are smart ways to drink all day – without having to pay.
Some of the best tricks in the business can be done before you even step on board, so put on your beer goggles and study up.
1. It pays to be loyal
Many cruise lines have loyalty clubs that offer member incentives, including free drinks. Members gain all sorts of rewards, tailored to your individual likes and interests. When joining, you can even nominate your chosen rewards, such as drinks packages, onboard spending money, access to private lounges (with free drinks).
Some lines actually automatically nominate you for member rewards after you’ve completed your first sailing – an incentive to keep you as a loyal cruise passenger.
2. Get your agent on side
If you’re smart and you book your cruise through a trusted travel agent, you’ll be surprised to learn just how ‘in the know’ they are. And, potentially, ‘who they know’. Be sure to let them know if you have a special birthday or anniversary coming up on your cruise and that your preference would be for any drinks incentives while you’re on board celebrating. Agents are just as keen to show you all the perks as the cruise lines are – again, keeping you coming back for more.
3. Put in your pre-cruise order
You can order your alcohol prior to your cruise in most cases. This could be anything from a special bottle of bubbly to some delicious wines or even a quality bottle of spirits. The cruise line arranges for the bottle/s to be arranged in your room, complete with ice bucket where appropriate and glasses.
It’s a lovely way to start your journey – and there are discounted prices for the ‘pre-ordered’ bottle. It also means you can top up your drinks in your room, and avoid the bar prices by the pool.
4. Pre book your unlimited drinks package
Just like the in-cabin bottle service, you can save a pretty penny by booking a drinks package for a discounted bundle rate on board.
Even better, if you pre-book the package before you board, you can get an even bigger discount. For example, a typical drinks package is $105 per person per day for 24 hours free drinks, if you book once you’re on board. However, if you book your drinks package before you cruise, then it’s just $95 per day per person. It pays to plan ahead.
Drinks packages can vary – from the amount of drinks you would like to have access to each day, to the types of drinks you would like, from standard beers and wines, to high end premium drinks and specialty cocktails.
For an indication of what each cruise line is offering for drinks packages, see the link to the article below.
Generally speaking, the cruise lines that offer an all-inclusive policy onboard are the higher end, luxury cruise lines. This means that your upfront cruise cost will be higher than when you book a contemporary cruise line and then add on all the extras as you go.
But, there’s something to be said for the value for money that an all-inclusive cruise can give. 24 hour drinks, anywhere on the ship, served with a smile. And you don’t need to keep a constant eye on your tally, your wallet or your secret stash in your cabin mini bar!!
6. Consider a river cruise
There are a bunch of benefits to river cruising instead of ocean cruising. Mostly, due to the smaller sizes of the ships, the quality of service is higher and the guest to staff ratio is too. Loads of river cruise lines are all-inclusive, like Scenic, Avalon, Crystal and Uniworld, so the drinks keep flowing along with the rivers you sail on.
The other benefit of a river cruise is that you’re so close to land, with shore excursions in different ports almost every day. This means you’re more likely to be able to duck into a bottle shop or a bar and restock your favourite drinks (and even try some wonderful new ones from the regions you’re visiting) and bring them back to ship with you to enjoy once you’ve set sail again. River cruise lines are much more flexible with allowing you to bring drinks on board with you after a day out and about.
7. Upgrade to a suite
If you do prefer to cruise on a contemporary cruise ship, with the smaller price tag, you still have the option of upgrading your cabin class to a suite, which comes with a handful of extra benefits – like drink inclusions and access to private lounges and bars with free drinks.
Some suites also offer a lovely bottle of wine or champagne as a welcome gift when you arrive in your suite.
8. Welcome to the welcome party
Many cruise ships host a welcome function – “Captain’s welcome party” or “welcome cocktails” on your first night at sea. This is a great way to meet your fellow guests, meet your captain, and get the party started with free drinks.
The amount of drinks – and the standard of drinks can vary depending on the cruise ship you’re sailing with, but it’s a great idea to keep an eye out for the invitation in your cabin, or on notices around the ship when you board. You won’t want to miss it.
9. Be nice to the bartender
This one should be obvious, but it’s a good reminder to be on your best behaviour with your friendly bar staff. After all, unlike any bars when you’re out and about on shore, these bar tenders are going to be the same people for each day of your cruise.
Get to know them by name. Ask them how their life is onboard. Give them a tip. These men and women have the ability to pour generously, remember your favourite cocktail, and potentially give you discounts or freebies!
10. Hit the gaming tables
Whether you’re a player or not, the gaming rooms and casinos onboard cruise ships can be great places to escape the crowds and score free drinks. It makes sense that cruise lines want to attract people to these areas and as such, they can offer certain incentives to get you in, and keep you there longer.
Again, you don’t have to be playing or gambling yourself, but you can sit back and watch others have a go on the tables and with any luck, the drinks tray will be around before you know it.
11. Head to the art auction
Yes, you read that correctly, cruise ships often have art auctions onboard. Not only are cruise ships decked out with impressive artworks across the ship itself, but on the larger cruise ships they usually also have impressive art galleries. These galleries host regular art auctions where passengers can turn up, admire the works, enjoy some complimentary drinks and watch the action unfold.
Just be careful how many drinks you have because you don’t want to wake up the next day wondering how on earth you managed to become the proud new owner of a Picasso.
12. Keep an eye out for the daily deals
Cruise ship bar staff like to get creative – and like any chef, they have fun making up a specialty of the day. This usually means that the drink or cocktail of the day is advertised around the ship – and promoted with a discount. This can be a two for one offer, or a bargain price, or selected happy hours when they are heavily discounted. Oh, and they usually pack a punch.
13. Double check the buffet
This is a lesser known gem. Just when you thought that your cruise ship buffet only offered free juice, milk, tea and coffee or water, look again.
It’s not unusual for some of the dishes in the buffet to contain alcohol, and we’re not talking about a basic red wine jus with your steak. Top tip – head to the dessert bar first where some cakes and ice creams are served with large pours of frangelico, kahlua, creme de menthe and more. A good one for the sweet tooths at sea!
14. Bring bottles back from shore
While most cruise lines say they don’t permit BYO drinks being brought on board (other than the one bottle passengers are allowed to bring with them at the start of the cruise) rumour has it that once you’ve set sail and you begin doing shore excursions in foreign lands, the screening process for re-boarding the ships is a lot more relaxed.
Generally speaking, you’re more likely to be allowed to bring back canned drinks (hello local beers!) rather than bottles.
15. Choose a liquid shore excursion
Shore excursions don’t always have to involve zip lines and snorkels. Have a good look at the list of what your cruise line is offering and opt for the winery tours or the cooking classes where you get to sit and wine and dine for the day.
Failing this, don’t forget you can always do your own shore excursion. Maybe a pub crawl, hit up the local bars and day clubs… or find a lovely restaurant with a view and an attractive wine list and watch the world go by.
16. Make friends with members
If you’re not yet a member of your cruise’s loyalty membership club, then it’s not the end of the world. Like first class or business class lounges in airports, cruise loyalty members are allowed to bring with them a plus one for the all-inclusive experience.
The trick to making new friends who are members of the loyalty programs however, is to not make it too obvious what your ulterior motive is!
The second problem with this option is that once you have experienced what’s behind the shiny glass doors and polished ferns, it’ very, very hard to go back!
17. Do your duty at the shops
The largest cruise ships at sea have a selection of duty free shops onboard. Now while you’re not actually allowed to access your purchased duty free drinks until the last night of sailing, the shops themselves often have ‘tastings’ throughout the cruise.
Pop your head in and ask the staff when the next tasting will be and head on down for some lovely sipping samples of some of the best drinks at sea.
18. Enjoy the shows
Productions and entertainment at sea are on a whole new level. It’s not just the dizzying new heights that the aerialists are reaching, but many behind the scenes incentives are on offer when you book tickets for the shows. Pre show drinks, intermission and open bars are popping up more often now. It’s easy to check with your guest services manager on board when you are booking for the show.
19. Buy up big at happy hour
Unlike bars at home that need to maintain a responsible service of alcohol policy, and as such have to limit how many drinks you can buy per person, happy hours on board your cruise are a little more free flowing. You can even ask your friendly bartender if they can leave the caps on your bottled wine – or let you keep the cap, or leave the beers unopened.
Handy hint – if you are buying a handful of beers at a time at happy hour rices, ask for a ‘bucket of beers’ so they’re easier to carry back to your mini bar in your cabin for drinking later on.
20. Bring your own booze
And, if all else fails – and you’re prepared to break the rules, then you can always sneak a few bottles into your luggage when you’re boarding. Technically you’re only allowed one bottle per person to bring on board with you (check the link below for more information and how each cruise line can vary)… but it’s not uncommon for passengers to try and bend this rule. And if you do get caught out, security simply stashes the offensive bottles and holds them for you until the end of the cruise when they will be promptly returned (unopened).