--Updated by Louise Goldsbury, Managing Editor Australia
At-sea alcohol prices are anything but cheap, yet savvy cruisers know how to keep from drowning in their bar bill. We polled our editors and readers to compile these 15 great tips and tricks for scoring free or discounted drinks on cruise ships.
And to find out if you can BYO booze onboard (usually not!), check out our full rundown of cruise line alcohol policies for more information.
- Loyalty pays ... in booze
- Attend a party
- Make friends with the bartender
- Check out an art auction
- Look for 2-for-1s
- Cocktail soup and drunken desserts?
- Sit down at the game tables
- Use a travel agent who loves you
- Opt for in-cabin bottle service
- Buy yourself the gift of liquor
- Consider an all-you-can drink package
- Upgrade to luxury
- A river of beer and wine
- Suite guests stay lubricated
- Liquid courage?
Loyalty pays ... in booze
When it comes to freebies, cruise lines can be generous with their past passengers. Sail just once with Holland America and you can attend the complimentary Mariner Champagne Brunch. Amass 75 days at sea, and you'll also get 25 percent off wine packages and mini-bar purchases. Those with 200 days under their belts will enjoy half off the aforementioned offerings, plus a complimentary wine tasting. Royal Caribbean's Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle members receive exclusive Nightly Diamond Event access along with complimentary drink vouchers onboard each cruise. Read more about cruise line past passenger programs to find out what liquid perks you're entitled to on a variety of lines.
Attend a party
A cocktail party is the ideal place to scope out a free tipple or two. Regular cruisers and VIPs get invited to certain parties, but some cruise lines have a public Captain’s Reception with glasses of sparkling wine passed around. P&O Cruises hands out free bubbly at its Gatsby theme party. And if you're on a Princess Cruises ship, a farewell soiree is held on its longer voyages of 14 nights or longer. On most major cruise lines, anyone can sign up to join a Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle, where free drinks (usually soft drinks) are provided.
Make friends with the bartender
"My husband and I have always found that if we frequent the same bar staff during the majority of the cruise, and be sure to tip generously, we get excellent service," writes Cruise Critic reader Linda. "May not always be free, but the bar staff tend to be more generous." Linda also recommends asking your favourite bartender where he or she is going to be working and when. Tim agrees. "They will treat you right with strong pours and drinks that never find their way to your tab," he says.
Check out an art auction
At-sea art auctions serve complimentary sparkling wine, whether you bid, buy or watch. It's not the best quality and you might only get one, but a free alcohol is free alcohol. (Learn more about cruise ship art auctions.)
Look for 2-for-1s
Keep an eye out for bars advertising BOGO (buy one, get one) specials. While not many cruise line offer this deal anymore, many have happy hours or a cheaper 'cocktail of the day'. Always read the daily newsletter in your cabin for the time and place.
Cocktail soup and drunken desserts?
"On Princess they served a 'Pina Colada Soup' with some dinners," says Cruise Critic member Art. "This 'soup' is remarkably cold and full of alcohol. For those who still haven't caught on, IT'S A FREAKIN' FREE PINA COLADA!" Deidra K. offered a similarly boozy tip. "On HAL's Zaandam, we were delighted to find the ice cream dessert bar at the buffet was doling out (you need to request it) large, overflowing tablespoons of delicious liqueurs on top of the vanilla ice cream -- Wowza! They even offered coconut rum as well -- Gratis!"
Sit down at the game tables
When you're gambling in Vegas, the drinks are dished out. Not so at sea. Comped beverages generally aren't part of the action. But f you’re sailing aboard Norwegian Cruise Line, sign up for the Casinos at Sea Players Club, then make sure to have the pit boss swipe your card each time you play, and you could be on your way to getting free drinks. A representative for Norwegian's casino reservation centre said players need to accrue 1,500 Seabucks to get the coveted "drink card" -- which allots you house drinks while gaming at the casino on cruises that span at least five days. Without going into too much detail, Without going into too much detail, that requires a liberal amount of time and dollars. Don’t have that kind of dedication? No worries -- whichever cruise line you're sailing, pit bosses will sometimes buy a round of drinks on the house for players who have been hanging around a few hours.
Use a travel agent who loves you
There are few better welcomes than finding an ice bucket in your cabin. "Our travel agent buys us a bottle of wine for every cruise we book through her," writes reader Gloria.
Opt for in-cabin bottle service
"Some of the lines offer bottles of liquor via room service," writes Scott. "So we often will order a bottle of vodka, and a six pack of Sprite, and mix our own vodka cocktails. It actually can save a lot of money, and you can have a cocktail in your room instead of having to go find a bar and wait in line." Not all lines offer this bottle service option, but those that do include Oceania, Holland America and Princess. Prices do vary by line, and so, too, will savings.
Buy yourself the gift of liquor
"On Princess, we always buy ourselves a 'bon voyage' gift or two," writes Kim, referring to the pre-cruise order options, which can be delivered to your cabin. "Liquor is a particularly good deal. Extra bonus -- when the gift is set up in your room, it includes a nice set of glasses to use during the cruise. You are not supposed to take these drinks out of the cabin, but we have never been questioned when doing so."
Consider an all-you-can drink package
A number of lines such as Princess, P&O, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises offer beverage packages that let you pay one price for (almost) unlimited drinks. For example, P&O’s The Lot! Package comes in at $105 per passenger per day ($95 if you pre-book) and includes beer wine and cocktails up to $15. While many of our readers proclaim the merits of beverage packages, there's still some controversy. Some firmly believe that "all you can drink" contributes to creating a rowdy vibe. Learn more about drink packages here.
Upgrade to luxury
On upscale lines like Silversea and Seabourn, all alcohol is included in the fare, plus there's a stocked mini-bar in every suite. (Note: Ultra-premium wines typically cost extra.) Naturally, you pay more to sail on a luxury ship, but if you tend to spend a lot on extras while onboard, it might not be much more expensive.
A river of beer and wine
"Take a river cruise," suggests reader Drew G. "We are taking a Viking cruise in Europe, and were told we could bring anything we wanted onboard. Booze. Beer. Wine. They volunteered the information. Plus, wine and beer are complimentary at night." Indeed, most river cruise lines include wine and beer, often locally sourced, with your evening meal -- and most are liberal about passengers taking on local ales or vintages. River cruise fares are certainly higher than those found on a mega-ship ocean line, but the inclusivity and hassle-free attitude is a welcome touch. Read more about this type of sailing on our River Cruises page.
Suite guests stay lubricated
Book a suite (excluding a mini-suite) on Royal Caribbean ships such as Radiance of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas or Ovation of the Seas and you'll have access to the Concierge Lounge. Head here to escape the hustle and bustle and find an added bonus inside – access to complimentary alcoholic drinks every evening. Plus a snack or two for good measure.
While we can't condone alcohol smuggling, many of you claim to get away with it. But be warned: "I just got off a Carnival cruise," says Heidi. "I normally hide my rum in an iced tea bottle, but this year I put vodka in my water bottles. The port security got smart and took the bottles out of the plastic wrap from the store and shook each one to check out the bubbles. They snagged the only four bottles I put vodka in and let me go with the rest of the water."