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I’ve been thinking about the drinks packages that more and more lines are introducing, and I’ve reached the view that they are definitely not a good thing.

First, let’s review how they work; I’ll use the Celebrity arrangements as an example purely because it’s one for which there is a lot of information available. Celebrity sell their ‘Classic Alcohol’ package for $50.60 per day. For this, you can get unlimited supplies of many soft drinks (which is good) plus beers up to a price of $5 per serving, and spirits, cocktails and wines up to $8 a serving. The kicker is that you can’t share a package; you can only order one drink at a time with the card, so you can’t order two glasses of wine and pass one to your partner. If you both want to use a package then both of you have to order one, which comes to $111.20 a day. That’s a lot of cash – well over $1000 for a typical Celebrity 10 or 11 night Mediterranean cruise such as we’ve done a few times.

Then you’ve got to look at how much alcohol that actually is. Let’s assume that you spent it all on glasses of wine. At the very least you’d need to drink six glasses of wine to come close to getting your money’s worth: 6 * $8 = $48. Of course, the point of the package is that you’re not limited to that amount, so you could drink seven glasses, eight glasses, nine glasses…. We’ve felt that the glasses of wine on Celebrity weren’t very generous, but six glasses must be at least a bottle and a half of wine. (I’m assuming that ‘a glass’ approximates to 175ml.) Typically that’s around 2.5 units of alcohol, so 6 glasses would be 15 units. If you decided to really go for it and drank eight glasses (two bottles….) that would be about 20 units, in a day.

And that’s every day, of course. In the course of an 11-night cruise (Celebrity do a lot of cruises of this length in the Mediterranean), you could consume 165 units of alcohol assuming six glasses of wine a day or 220 units assuming eight glasses a day. In a week you’d drink at least 105 units. As we all know the government recommended limits are 28 units a week for men, and 21 units a week for women. Surely, drinking 100+ units a week has got to be seriously dangerous?

So is it irresponsible of the cruise lines to offer these packages? Well, I suppose they would say that they’re just offering a choice to their passengers, and it’s the passengers’ decision as to whether they take it up or not. But I think there are a couple of other factors at work here, which would tend to make passengers more likely first to buy the package, and then to use it as much as they could. The first reason is that there’s the offer of a saving, and everyone likes to think that they’re saving money. Then secondly, with each drink the purchaser has they can feel that they’re maximising their savings. I think these are significant factors in whether or not people decide to buy a package: I’m not sure that many people would work out how much they are actually likely to drink, or would feel comfortable drinking, during the cruise before deciding whether or not to buy one.

Finally, of course, it needs to be remembered that the cruise lines are not making these packages available as a favour to their passengers. There must be a business reason, which means that they must be profitable. Either the profit is coming from increased sales of alcohol (with whatever that means for passengers’ health somewhere off to one side), or that in fact the cost of the alcohol bought on packages is lower than the revenue obtained from them. So I wonder if most passengers who buy them don’t drink up to the cost of the package.

What do my readers think? – I’d love to hear your comments on this subject, on both the business  and health topics.

4 Responses to “Are drinks packages a good thing?”

  1. Stuart says:

    Completely agree, I think many folks buy them as a “seemed like a good idea at the time” but come nowhere close to making a saving, just the opposite.

    Many people would struggle to drink that much on a sea day, let alone when you are in port perhaps also drinking elsewhere.

    There will of course be a few who do manage to make a profit but I bet there’s less of them than those who would have been better off using their OBC or paying by the drink.

    I would be interested to see what price P&O would charge for an all inclusive package but thats another story.


  2. Audrey-Ann says:

    If you can only “buy” one drink at a time,,what is to stop you from buying one drink for yourselves and then buying another one,in a different bar if needs be and giving that one to your partner?
    They can hardly sell you an unlimited drink package and then try to impose a limit to the amount you can buy over a period of time.Some people drink more quickly than others so I can’t see how they could monitor who actually drinks every drink they serve.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      But apparently, ‘monitor it’ is exactly what they do, via their software, and specifically it checks for a pattern of two drinks being bought from different bars in quick succession, then a pause, then two more drinks from different bars, and so on. In that situation the passenger will find that a transaction will be refused, and they may be asked to pay for the second drink. (This is gleaned from comments on the Celebrity forum on Cruise critic.)

  3. I also completely agree. The problem with many of these “All-Inclusive Drinks Packages” are that the prices are so high, that it is near-enough impossible to get your money’s worth, unless you had say six to eight drinks a day (and who wants to do that).

    It is the same with just the standard Soda Packages that you may find aboard Celebrity of Royal Caribbean. I sailed on a twelve night mediterranean cruise last summer and bought the soda package for more than $170. The problem was, that because you can get fresh lemonade, fruit punch, water etc for free in the Oceanview Cafe, I was only having one or two sodas a day, which was not getting my moneys worth. On the last day of the cruise, I ended up having several soft-drinks just to try and get a bit more of my money’s worth, didn’t work though.

    On the other hand, I sailed aboard the P&O Ventura in 2010 for a weeks cruise and purchased a kids soda and ice-cream package, where I think I could have got 20 sodas and 20 soft-service ice creams for a good value. During the cruise it rained for a few days, and by the end of it I was literally giving away free ice-cream just to use up the card.

    The problem is cruise lines now monitor how many drinks etc you have and check whether they are bought in a short-space of time. Yes, many cruise lines will crack down on this but what I have noticed is some of the crew members didn’t even take my cruise card to swipe it when I asked for a softdrink, they just saw the soda sticker and poured me a drink. It really depends on what cruise line you sail with and more importantly the crew member.

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