Both cruise lines offer “unlimited” alcoholic drink packages, but there are some major differences.
When you book a cruise on Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report or Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, you’re only paying for your room, many onboard activities, most entertainment, basic dining options, and a very limited selection of beverages.
You can, of course, cruise without buying any extras, but most passengers opt to pay for things like internet access, specialty dining and soda, higher-end coffee, and adult beverages.
When it comes to any of these items you can book them before your cruise (which is almost always cheaper), onboard, or a la carte as you go. When it comes to specialty restaurants, you can sometimes get a deal bundling multiple reservations (or Royal Caribbean’s “Ultimate Dining” which basically gives you unlimited access to added-fee restaurants).
With drinks, however, you have a lot of choices to make and there are some major differences between Royal Caribbean and Carnival’s “unlimited” beverage packages. And while you may not pick a cruise based on the drink package, with both cruise lines sailing similar itineraries with many of their ships, it’s at least a small factor in which line you book.
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A Look at the Royal Caribbean Beverage Packages
Royal Caribbean offers a variety of beverage packages up to its all-you-can-drink Deluxe Beverage package. Prices for these packages, especially the alcohol-inclusive Deluxe Beverage Package can vary quite a bit based on demand, the length of your cruise, and other factors the cruise line does not share.
It can be a challenge to find the best price for the deluxe beverage package as it can literally dip below $60 per day, per person, and rise to around $100. If you book the package and see it offered for less you can cancel your original purchase for a refund and buy it again at the lower price.
And, if you buy the Deluxe Beverage Package, you technically need to buy it for everyone in your cabin of legal drinking age. On a practical level, if you call the cruise line, you will be able to buy a Deluxe Beverage Package for one adult, but any other adults in the room will have to buy a refreshment package.
Here’s a look at Royal Caribbean’s drink packages:
Classic Soda Package: This entitles you to unlimited fountain soda at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines using an included cup as well as refills at any venue onboard.Refreshment Package: You get the soda package plus basically any non-alcoholic beverage (including mocktails) served onboard. This includes bottled water, fresh juices, specialty coffees, and Johnny Rockets Shakes on ships that have that venue.Deluxe Beverage Package: While there are price limits per drink (you can pay the difference in most cases) this is a truly unlimited drink package. You get everything the other two packages offer as well as all the alcohol you can responsibly drink.
Royal Caribbean will shut visibly intoxicated patrons off, but if you’re not making a scene or obviously in rough shape, the package is truly unlimited.
All drink packages also charge a pre-paid 18% gratuity.
Meet the Carnival Cheers! Drink Package
Carnival’s Cheers! drink package has two major differences from its rival, pricing and adult beverage limits. Carnival charges set pre-cruise and onboard prices for its all-inclusive beverage package based on the length of your cruise. TheStreet covered a price increase the company made to these packages in May:
Effective May 1, 2022, the pre-cruise price will be $59.95, per person, per day plus 18% service charge and the onboard price will be $64.95 per person, per day plus 18% service charge for all cruise departures.
Basically, Carnival raised its prices and eliminated the slight break per day it used to give people sailing on itineraries longer than four days.
The other difference, and it’s a big one, is that Carnival’s “unlimited” drink package actually cuts customers off at 15 alcoholic drinks. When you order your 15th alcoholic beverage, the cruise line won’t serve you more (even if you’re willing to pay extra).
“Sodas and other applicable non-alcoholic beverages remain unlimited and will not be counted toward the 15 alcoholic beverages limit, and all other policies and procedures remain the same,” the cruise line shared on its website.
Carnival also offers “Bottomless Bubbles,” an unlimited soda package, but it does not have a package that equal’s Royal Caribbean’s Refreshment Package.