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Royal Caribbean drink packages: Everything you need to know

May 24, 2023

Royal Caribbean drink packages allow you to drink what you want and when you want without feeling like you are being nickeled and dimed. Isn't that most cruisers' dream? The all-inclusive, extra-fee beverage plans aren't necessarily for everyone, but they are a nice way to enhance your cruise and take some of the stress out of in-the-moment vacation decisions.

Royal Caribbean ships offer a variety of packages, from a simple Water Package that keeps you and your crew hydrated during your cruise to a comprehensive plan that includes most alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Other than the Water Package, which is priced based on the quantity you order, drink packages on Royal Caribbean are priced per person, per day.

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The most common questions about Royal Caribbean's drink packages revolve around what each package includes, whether they are worth the price, and when is the best time to buy your package. I've tried all of Royal Caribbean's drink packages, but I've also cruised without any package. Here's what you need to know to decide if a beverage plan is right for you.

Royal Caribbean offers several different drink packages, and the inclusions vary based on your choice. All options include gratuities, and no Royal Caribbean drink package includes room service or minibar drinks. Also, unlimited alcoholic beverage packages may not be available while the ship sails in some locations, so package details may change based on itinerary.

Related: Cruise ship drinks packages: A line-by-line guide

Royal Caribbean's Water Packages are available in 12- and 24-packs of one-liter bottles of Evian water. The bottles will be delivered to your cabin on embarkation day.

If you don't want to pay for a Water Package, you can find drinking water at complimentary drink stations in the buffet area and often in other locations on Royal Caribbean ships. You can bring your own reusable bottle and fill it from these stations or straight from the faucet in your cabin. The water throughout the ships is not only drinkable but also better than what's available in many cities. You can also purchase bottles of water a la carte.

So why might you consider a Water Package? If you drink bottled water at home, you may prefer the taste. The package also allows you to have plenty of water on hand in your cabin or to take on excursions.

The downside is that one-liter bottles are not the ideal size for lugging off the ship with you. You must either bring a reusable bottle or purchase single-serving bottles for port days. You can get these at bars or at the gangway as you disembark in each port.

Royal Caribbean's Soda Package is for the serious soda drinker. On select ships, the package comes with a souvenir Coca-Cola cup with a chip on the bottom to allow the holder to use the Freestyle soda dispensing machines throughout the ship. The "magic" cup gets you all the refills you want 24 hours a day, with your pick of sodas with add-in flavorings. (Orange Coke is my fave.) Freestyle machines are available on 18 ships in the fleet.

You can also order a glass of soda at any restaurant or bar on board. Some venues only serve fountain sodas, but others have cans. One big bonus of the package is that sodas on Royal Caribbean's private island destinations (Perfect Day at Coco Cay and Labadee) are included in the Soda Package. The only places you can't get a free soda with this package is room service (because room service other than continental breakfast comes with a $7.95 service fee, no matter what you order) or from your cabin's minibar.

Related: 8 best drinks to order with a cruise ship beverage package (and 3 to avoid)

You can bring up to 12 cans of soda (or bottles up to 17 ounces) per person on board with you in your carry-on luggage when you board the ship. So why would you want a Soda Package?

It's a question of convenience. I've been known to take a couple of 16-ounce bottles of soda on board with me, but carrying on much more than that is a big hassle. With a Soda Package, you can easily access your beverage of choice anywhere you are on board — including ordering sodas from roaming bar servers at the pool, in the casino or at events and shows — or on Royal Caribbean's private islands. You don't have to return to your room to grab a soda. It's also great for older kids and teens who might be roaming the ship with friends.

This is my favorite Royal Caribbean drink package. It includes still and sparkling water, sodas (with the included Freestyle magic cup), mocktails, premium coffees and teas (but not those from Starbucks stand-alone stores or kiosks) and freshly squeezed juices.

With this package, you can order almost anything non-alcoholic at bars and most restaurants on board. The Refreshment Package does not include shakes at Johnny Rockets, which are only included with the Deluxe Beverage Package.

Even the smoothies and protein shakes at Vitality Café are included in this package, as is the sweet tea at Portside BBQ on Oasis of the Seas. Want a strawberry slushy? Order a virgin strawberry daiquiri. Want hot cocoa? Covered. How about a virgin mudslide? A bartender will happily blend up vanilla ice cream, coffee, hazelnut syrup and chocolate syrup blended into a perfect mocha shake.

As with the Soda Package, you can order your non-alcoholic beverages, from sparkling water to fancy mocktails, from your pool lounger or blackjack table.

Plus, with the Refreshment Package, you've solved the problem of needing water to take off the ship with you for excursions and what to drink while on the private islands. It's all included in this package.

This package takes all that's available in the Refreshment Package (sodas, water, mocktails, premium coffee and tea, fresh-squeezed juice) and adds cocktails, spirits and liquors, as well as beer by the bottle or can and wine by the glass.

There are some limits on brands available with the package, but the list includes imported, domestic and craft beer, an extensive wine list and commonly ordered spirit brands on drinks up to $14. Any bar server can tell you what's available on your cruise.

You also get a hefty 40% discount on bottles of wine up to $100 and a 20% discount on bottles over $100. It's handy for sharing a bottle with your travel partner at dinner.

As with the soda and Refreshment Packages, the Deluxe Beverage Package can be used anywhere onboard (except stand-alone Starbucks locations). Use it in restaurants, bars and at any venue where a bar server is present, as well as at either of Royal Caribbean's private island destinations. The Deluxe Beverage Package also throws in one more bonus — milkshakes at Johnny Rockets.

This package comes with a few caveats. If one person in a stateroom buys this package, everyone of legal drinking age in the stateroom must buy the same package, according to cruise line policy. If someone in your room does not drink alcohol, don't worry. I've encountered many people who have called customer service and downgraded one or more non-drinking adults to a Refreshment Package.

Related: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise

The package also does not include drinks that come with souvenir glasses. (Don't worry, you can always order the same drink in a regular glass.)

If your vacation plans include alcoholic beverages, buying this package is a nice way to pay your cruise bar tab in advance rather than deal with the shock of a high bill at the end of the cruise.

The cruise line uses dynamic pricing on beverage packages the same way it does on cruise fares. That means you won't know the prices for each package before you book a cruise. Demand, destination and promotions play a big part in the pricing, especially for the Deluxe Beverage Package, causing them to fluctuate slightly.

Here's what you can expect a Royal Caribbean drink package to cost:

The prices listed above do not include an automatic 18% gratuity. You'll want to factor that amount into your travel budget if you decide to purchase a package.

You will notice that the Deluxe Beverage Package price range listed above is a bit wider than what is posted on Royal Caribbean's site. Posted price ranges include the disclaimer that prices on individual sailings may vary. We used a realistic range of prices from Royal Caribbean guests who have booked cruises and paid for drink packages in the past 12 months.

You can purchase a beverage package as soon as you book your cruise. But should you? A lot depends on how soon your ship will depart. If you're sailing within a few months, go ahead and get any packages you plan to buy — unless Black Friday happens before you sail. Black Friday deals on drink packages are generally the lowest you'll find all year.

The package that varies most in price is the Deluxe Beverage Package. Its price is higher during peak travel times and on cruises with stops at private islands. Buying this package ahead of time is always cheaper than on board.

Royal Caribbean does advertise price drops and deals for pre-cruise purchases. If you're waiting and hoping for a deal, frequent cruisers report that you should look at the actual price per person per day, not at the percentage off or BOGO deals to determine if the package price is where you want it.

Related: How to get free or cheap drinks on a cruise

Now that you know your choices and why you might want each package, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of whether these packages are a deal for you or not.

The one-liter bottles in the Water Package cost roughly the same as a 12-ounce bottle from a bar. That makes this package a deal, but only if you prefer bottled water over taps or dispensers. It's also convenient to have the water delivered to your cabin, eliminating the need to bring a case of bottles on board or search for a bottle when you want water on the ship.

When ordering an individual soda on the ship, your charge will be what you'd expect to pay at a land-based restaurant, plus an 18% gratuity added automatically. When you ask a bar server for a soda on the ship, you'll be charged just over $4 per soda with the tip, regardless of whether it comes in a can or from a fountain.

As the starting point for the Soda Package is just over $15 per person per day with the gratuity, you'll need to count on drinking a minimum of four sodas a day for it to be a good value.

If you prefer nonalcoholic beverages, you can expect to pay around $7 for mocktails and protein shakes, $5 for lattes at non-Starbucks locations and close to $9 for smoothies. These prices are before the automatic 18% gratuity.

Here's what your daily consumption might look like on the Refreshment Package: You could start with a morning latte ($6 after you add gratuity), grab water for your excursion ($3.84), a soda at lunch ($4), a couple mocktails during the afternoon ($8.25 each), another soda with dinner ($4), and another mocktail for the show or in the casino ($8.25).

That puts you over $40 for the day, making the Refreshment Package a deal at $34 (with tip) per person, per day. Drink much less than that, and it won't be. The Refreshment Package price varies only slightly between sailings.

For alcoholic drinks, prices vary a lot based on your order. Beer and hard cider average $7-$9. Wine by the glass is $9-$25. Cocktails are $10-$14, except for the drink of the day, which is $8. These prices do not include the 18% gratuity.

When deciding if Royal Caribbean's Deluxe Beverage Package is worth it, be sure to factor in non-alcoholic drinks you are likely to have, not just those with alcohol. How many premium coffees do you drink each day, including one with your dessert at dinner? How many waters and sodas?

The value of those often adds up to $25 or more per day. That leaves you with somewhere between $30 and $80 per day to spend on alcoholic drinks to break even.

If you're lucky and can purchase your package at the lowest possible price, almost anyone who drinks a combination of non-alcoholic drinks and a couple of cocktails daily would break even. But if your purchase price is somewhere in the middle of the price range (where most people land), you would need to consume a minimum of $55 per day beyond the average non-alcoholic beverages to break even. That equals six beers or four or five glasses of wine or cocktails.

Related: Are cruise line drinks packages worth the price? What to know before you buy

Whichever package you choose, your value may also depend on your itinerary and activities. On a Caribbean cruise that includes a sea day or two and a stop at CocoCay, you'll likely drink more – simply because you're relaxing more than touring, and the hot temperatures will make you thirsty.

But what about a port-intensive cruise in Europe where you are off the ship for long hours and likely to be sampling local beverages? In those cases, the ship's beverage package might not come through for you.

Before you decide if a Royal Caribbean drink package is worth it, there are two more things to consider: Your Crown and Anchor loyalty status and your Casino Royale player status.

If you are a Diamond C&A member, your SeaPass card will be loaded with four free drinks per day. Diamond Plus members get five drinks, and Pinnacle members get six. Those can be water, specialty coffee or tea other than at Starbucks, sodas from bar servers, beer, wine or cocktails up to $14 (except at Bionic Bar).

As for casino perks, if your status is Prime or higher, you can drink free from the casino bar anytime it is open.

Those free perks could make the difference in which package you choose, if any. For example, a Diamond member might use her free drink allotment on cocktails and wine and save money with a Refreshment or Soda Package for her other daily drinks. Or, perhaps, the free drinks are enough that it's cheaper to buy a few nonalcoholic beverages a la carte.

Diamond Plus members also have a discount of 30% on Deluxe Beverage Packages when purchased on board. That's rarely a good deal unless you simply forget to buy in advance, as pre-purchase in the cruise planner or app is almost always at least 30% lower than the onboard price.

Now that you have all the facts, there are several ways to look at Royal Caribbean's drink packages to determine if you should get one.

First, consider every kind of drink you will likely pay for on board. Are you happy with beverages that are included in the cruise fare? Those include tap water, drip coffee, tea, milk, lemonade and juice from a dispenser at breakfast. Or will your vacation only be complete with morning lattes, smoothies, fruity drinks by the pool and wine with dinner?

For some people, it's easy. If you're likely to drink four or five cocktails most days, plus specialty coffee, waters for excursions, soda and a glass of wine at dinner, your total, if purchased individually would easily exceed $80 per day. Unless your sailing has a higher-than-average price for the package, go for it.

But if you typically only drink a couple of glasses of wine at dinner, you aren't likely to break even — at least not on the Deluxe Beverage Package. In that case, skip the package that includes alcohol and do the math on the Refreshment Package.

If you drink soda, the difference in price between the Soda Package and the Refreshment Package is $16. Almost any combination of two other drinks — lattes, mocktails, smoothies or bottled water — makes the Refreshment Package a deal for you. If you can live without the extras, stick with the soda-only package.

If none of those looks like a bargain, pay as you go. Some people set a daily drink budget and check themselves (or their kids) against their folio in the Royal Caribbean app or on the interactive television in their stateroom. I've even met people who bring cash along to pay their drink balance daily at guest services to stay on track.

The other side of the equation is to factor the price of the drink package into the total vacation cost to make the cruise more of an all-inclusive vacation experience. Think about it like you would an all-inclusive land-based resort. When you vacation at one of those, you not only wouldn't know the price of the drinks you consume, but you also would not care.

If you're more interested in a stress-free vacation where you don't have to agonize about the cost of every drink you consume than paying the least amount of money possible for your vacation, a Royal Caribbean drink package is totally worth it.

The bottom line is that drink packages on Royal Caribbean expand your choices. You can use packages to make your cruise as all-inclusive as you'd like (and maybe save some money in the process), or you can opt to cruise and drink in pay-as-you-go mode. Either way, you'll find plenty of fun cocktails and mocktails, as well as your favorite wine and beer, to enhance your vacation at sea.

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