Celebrity Cruise Lines — sailing solo with “All-you-can-drink packages”

by Janice Hough on October 22, 2010


Every time a travel company comes up with a new way to make money, rivals quickly join in. But in one notable area, Celebrity Cruise Lines stands, or rather sails, all alone — with the “All you can drink” packages.

The most deluxe cruise lines, Seabourn, Silversea, and Regent Seven Seas, include most alcoholic drinks in their fares, but those fares are considerably higher than those of the “mass-market” to “premium” ships.

Most of these “mass-market” to “premium” cruise lines have soda cards, with varying restrictions on whether travelers are allowed canned sodas or only fountain drinks. I’ve heard different stories as to whether or not cruisers can get “mocktails” for the same price — Shirley Temples, Roy Rogers and juice concoctions. (It usually helps to add a little extra for the bartender.)

Celebrity Cruise Lines, however, has been fine-tuning a wide array of beverage packages.

These are in addition to the standard $5-a-day soda card. They start out with $13- to $16-a-day packages that include all kinds of non-alcoholic drinks such as specialty coffees and fresh-squeezed juices. They top out at $49 a day for all the beverages you want, including premium liquors, including anything on the bar menu up to $12 a drink. (So no, you can’t use it for the REALLY top scotch and cognac, but Grey Goose vodka, for example, is included.)

Now $49 a day seems like a lot of money, but as a couple clients have indicated, if you like lattes in the morning, a couple beers or frozen drinks by the pool, decent wine with dinner, along with an pre-dinner cocktail and/or nightcap, the value adds up pretty fast.

One curious thing, however, Celebrity Cruise Lines’ parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, doesn’t have such a package. Upon a bit of reflection it makes sense, Royal Caribbean caters to more of a party crowd, and presumably the line thinks they would lose money and/or deal with a ship full of drunk people.

None of the other big mass-market premium lines, NCL, Carnival, Holland America and Princess, have such a package either. Nor have they announced any plans to add them. (They do offer some wine packages, but that’s generally just a slight discount for pre-purchasing a number of bottles in advance.)

It no doubt makes sense from a financial standpoint if nothing else. Bar tabs are a major revenue source for many cruise lines. (We have heard from travelers on at least one major line that the ships authorize a significant amount on your credit card upon boarding, apparently because they have had problems with cruisers who couldn’t pay their bills at the end of the sailing.)

Besides the super deluxe lines, many river cruises do include wine with dinner, but again, like Celebrity, presumably they are not worried about their guests getting out of hand or they just don’t view alcohol as a major profit center.

Which brings up another point. Celebrity Cruise Lines doesn’t particularly cater to an older crowd. Their average age is 35-64, about the same as Princess Cruises and Holland America, while Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean average only about 10 years younger.

While you might not choose Celebrity for their bar packages, depending on your idea of onboard fun, the cruise line management feels they won’t lose money with their all-you-can-drink package is a kind of confirmation that their ships don’t normally cater to the serious party crowd.

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  • Jeff L

    The key here to me is that assuming they operate like soda cards, you need to purchase them for the entire cruise (Say $350 for a 7 day cruise plus 15%). So, while you might drink a lot on sea days, on port days its likely you will be off the ship for quite a while, thus diminishing the value overall. So if considering one, look at your onboard consumption over the entire trip, not just sea days.

    As a side note, at least with the soda cards, they don’t seem to check too hard if you occasionally get a drink for someone else in your party (as long as you go up twice), but they might be more strict with this.

  • Shannon Murphy

    Erin and I totally left the ship with more bank than we have in the past and it is not because we won big at the Casino, it is the premium beverage package we purchased. There we so many options on the Solstice for using this from coffee bars to wine bars and martini bars and a fabulous new Molecular Bar where drink creations are very earthy and different. The wines by the glass were great and you were offered a selection of wines, not just the house wine. I have sincerely left ships with a 4 figure check out bill including bar tabs, coffee and wine with dinner (which also includes a shore excursion and a spa treatment), but for the first time in ages, my tab was so much less thanks to the premium beverage plan on the Solstice.

  • http://www.cruiseresource.com Amber Blecker

    I recently sailed on Celebrity and tried out the premium non-alcoholic beverage package. I was a bit skeptical about it when it debuted, at least for myself, as I wasn’t sure I’d get value out of it. However, I loved the freedom.

    I could order my favorite Pelligrino at any meal, either a small or large bottle. I could ask for an unopened large bottle to take back to my cabin. Specialty coffees before going ashore? No problem! One of the fru-fru special sparkling drinks at the buffet? Most definitely!

    These are all things I truly enjoy as a treat to myself, but which I sometimes hesitate about purchasing individually because of the cost. I definitely drank far more of the offerings all around the ship because I’d purchased the card. I’m also quite sure I probably could have done the same for less without the pre-purchased package, but ot having to worry about signing slips, when or where I ordered something, or all the other niggles which make one feel nickled and dimed on a non-luxury ship disappeared and made this a truly wonderful experience.

    I’m also sure that, while Celebrity may have come out ahead on the non-alcoholic package in terms of cost, I also spent less during the week on alcohol. Because I often purchase a martini for the taste rather than for the alcohol, I was frequently satisfied with Pelligrino at dinner, or had one martini instead of two. Same with wine.

    I colleague I was traveling with purchased the alcohol package and loved starting her day with a bloody mary (or two) and going from there. We both agreed that the packages were a great idea and perfect indulgence for vacation.

    It was a good overall value for me, and I now can enthusiastically recommend it. I know I have clients who will do quite well with the premium alcohol package (which also includes premium non-alcoholic beverages), and others like myself who will love the non-alcoholic options. It was a good move in my mind by Celebrity. It personalized my vacation and had me feeling indulged all week – and that fits perfectly with their brand image and positioning.

  • http://www.teamcocktail.com Lyndsey

    We just returned from cruising on the Celebrity Summit and I have to say the classic and premium beverage packages were the best deal we have ever had on any cruise ship. It was so easy, affordable and made perfect sense for our group. We have a group of over 30 people that cruise every January and we all agreed this was the best year ever. Many of us saved on our usually hefty bar bills by using the drink packages. Celebrity makes it easy and so affordable. At $50 for the premium package we could drink all the Grey Goose, Kettle One and Stoli Elite we wanted…such a great deal! We were sure to tip all the excellent bar staff extra on the last day because they took such great care of us! We are already looking in to planning our trip next year and honestly we may return to the same ship because of the package. We really hope that RCL, Carnival & Princess follow Celebrity’s lead…if not, they will most likely lose out on our group.

  • Jpmccarthy

    I am amale senior  and at that stage of life where I do wish to enjoy fine wines, under fifty a bottle, and cognacs and single malt scotches, premium beers, etc., while cruising.  My question:  Which is the best beverage package for me to purchase when cruising with Celebrity Cruise Line?   That you much for a reply.

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