NCL drink packages: Should you take Norwegian Cruise Line’s free drinks offer?

For many cruisers, stepping aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship means it’s time to let loose and have at least a few drinks each day of vacation. But those beers and cocktails can add up quickly if you’re not paying attention.

Like many cruise lines, NCL takes the cost anxiety away by allowing passengers to pre-purchase beverage packages ahead of their cruise. This means that the per-day price has already been set, and passengers can order as many drinks as they want without worrying about their bills adding up.

Here, we go over what’s included in the various NCL drink packages, how much they cost, and whether they’re worth the price depending on your drinking habits.

What’s Included in Norwegian Cruise Line’s Drink Packages?

Before we go over which drinks are included in Norwegian Cruise Line’s beverage packages, you should first know which options are included in the cruise fare. Lemonade, iced tea, a limited selection of juices, chocolate and regular milk, tap water, and standard coffee and tea are free of charge. You can get these complimentary beverages in onboard restaurants (including the buffet) and in some bars and lounges.

Alcohol, soda, specialty coffees and drinks, and other premium beverages cost extra. Norwegian Cruise Line offers four drink packages that let passengers pay a flat daily fee and get an unlimited amount of the included beverages.

Here is what each NCL drink package includes:

1. Unlimited Soda Package: This package includes unlimited fountain soda throughout the cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line serves Coca-Cola products, so expect to find Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. Ginger ale, tonic water, and soda water are also included in this package. Soda packages are available to guests 3 years old and up.

2. Unlimited Starbucks Package: Norwegian’s Starbucks package includes coffee and tea from Starbucks, as well as specialty beverages, Frappuccinos, and Refreshers by the cup sold at the branded outlets on board select ships. Canned and bottled drinks, food, and Starbucks merchandise are not included. To purchase the package, guests must be at least 18 years old. If one person purchases the package, all qualifying guests under the same method of payment for the cruise must also purchase it.

3. Unlimited Open Bar Package: The Unlimited Open Bar Package is the standard Norwegian drink package that includes alcohol. It covers cocktails and spirits priced under $15, beer and wine by the glass up to $15, a selection of premium juices, and unlimited soda. It also gives guests 20% off all bottles of wine and Champagne. Passengers must be at least 21 years old to purchase this package. If one person purchases it, all other 21+ guests on the same reservation must buy it as well. Guests under 21 must purchase the soda package.

4. Premium Plus Beverage Package: If the Unlimited Open Bar does not cover your favorite drinks, Norwegian Cruise Line offers the Premium Plus beverage package. The line’s most inclusive alcohol package covers everything the Unlimited Open Bar package includes, plus top-shelf cocktails and spirits, all beer, red wine, white wine, and NCL’s exclusive rose by the glass, unlimited still and sparkling bottled water, all Starbucks coffee and specialty drinks, energy drinks, and select premium bottles of wine and NCL’s rose with dinner. The package also includes 40% off all other bottles of wine and Champagne. The same rules apply for this package as they do for the Unlimited Open Bar package; all guests must be 21+ to purchase, and if one guest purchases the package, all other passengers on the same reservation must purchase it as well — with those under 21 required to buy the soda package.

Note: All of Norwegian Cruise Line’s beverage packages extend to its private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. They do not include room service or the in-stateroom minibar.

How Much Do Norwegian’s Drink Packages Cost?

Norwegian Cruise Line’s beverage packages are priced by the day but must be purchased for the duration of the sailing, either online before your sailing or on embarkation day. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose the days you want the package; it’s all or nothing. Here’s the breakdown:

1. Unlimited Soda Package: $9.95 per person, per day
2. Unlimited Starbucks Package: $12.95 per person, per day
3. Unlimited Open Bar Package: $109 per person, per day
4. Premium Plus Beverage Package: $138 per person, per day

A 20% gratuity and beverage service charge are added to all packages at checkout.

What About NCL’s Free at Sea Program?

Unless you’re booking a guarantee cabin (where you pay less to let NCL pick your specific cabin in your selected category), chances are your cruise booking comes with included Free at Sea perks. One of the inclusions is the Unlimited Open Bar package.

If you choose to keep the package as a perk (you can decline any perks you don’t want), you will get a free beverage package — sort of. You won’t have to pay the drink package’s daily fee, but you will have to pay the package’s automatic 20% gratuity charge ($21.80 per person, per day, at current prices).

This means that almost no one pays the $109 per day for the Unlimited Open Bar package. Even those who might have considered booking a guarantee cabin will likely choose to pay a bit for their room if they would have purchased any extras included in Free at Sea.

The bottom line is this: Most people who sail on NCL and plan to drink alcohol or other specialty beverages are going to end up with the Unlimited Open Bar package through Free at Sea.

But what if you want top-shelf liquor and wines, Starbucks beverages, or bottled water? Those are all included in the Premium Plus Beverage package, but not the Unlimited Open Bar package.

It turns out most people don’t pay the full price for the Premium Plus package either. Instead, they take advantage of the Free at Sea Plus upgrade option. For $49 per person, per day, the standard Free at Sea package can be upgraded to include the Premium Plus Beverage Package. The extra money gets you additional upgrades as well, including more specialty dining meals, more shore excursion credit, and unlimited Wi-Fi.

Is There a Limit on How Many Drinks You Can Have per Day on Norwegian Cruise Line?

Unlike some other cruise brands, Norwegian Cruise Line does not put a daily limit on the number of alcoholic drinks you can order when you have a drink package. Bartenders, however, are trained not to serve passengers who appear visibly intoxicated and have the right to cut anyone off who has over-indulged.

Still, don’t try to order five drinks at once. To prevent people from sneaking drinks to friends who don’t have the package or ordering more than they can drink, Norwegian puts a limit of two beverages per person, per transaction, for anyone signed up for its drink package. Guests with the Starbucks package are entitled to just one beverage per person, per transaction.

Are Norwegian Cruise Line’s Drink Packages Worth It?

To help determine if Norwegian Cruise Line’s alcoholic beverage packages are worth the cost, we must first get an idea of what drinks cost. For beer, you can expect to pay around $7 a glass, while most glasses of wine range from $8 to $20. You’ll find that most cocktails using non-premium spirits cost $11 to $13, and soda costs $3 to $3.50. Most specialty coffees at Starbucks are at least $5, and a large carton of water (NCL doesn’t sell plastic bottled water) is $6.50.

With this being said, if $10 to $12 is the average cost you’ll pay for a cocktail or glass of wine onboard, you’d need to drink at least 10-11 drinks per day to break even on the Unlimited Open Bar package at face value ($109).

However, as mentioned above, most guests aren’t going to be paying face value for Unlimited Open Bar. Keeping this perk as part of Free at Sea means you’re only paying $22 in gratuities each day — to break even you’d need just two cocktails or one cocktail and three or four sodas.

If you’re someone who enjoys having a few drinks each day and would typically spend around $100 or more on beverages, then Norwegian Cruise Line’s drink packages can be worth it. They provide peace of mind and allow you to indulge without worrying about your bill adding up.

Additionally, if you’re someone who enjoys specialty coffees, bottled water, and top-shelf liquors and wines, upgrading to the Premium Plus Beverage Package through the Free at Sea Plus option can be a good value.

Ultimately, whether the drink packages are worth it depends on your drinking habits and preferences. If you’re someone who prefers to have a few drinks each day and enjoys the convenience and unlimited options, then the drink packages can provide excellent value and help you relax and enjoy your cruise without constantly worrying about your spending.

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