Want your cruise to feel as all-inclusive as possible? Choosing a beverage package that bundles your drinks can give you the comfort of knowing what you're paying up-front. However, the fine print -- dollar amount cap per drink; maximum number of drinks allowed per day; exclusions such as drinks served in a specialty cup, drinks from room service, buckets of beer or vino from self-serve wine bars -- can make it difficult to get the most value from your package purchase.
If you do decide to take the dive, there are a variety of ways to make sure you get the most beverage bang for your buck. Read on for the eight best types of drinks to order on your next cruise -- advice that's sure to maximize the value of your package.
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1. Top-shelf Tipples
This might seem like an obvious move to make when you've prepaid for drinks but be sure to ask the bartender to make your drink with premium liquor. If you don't have a favorite brand in mind, asking the bartender's opinion is always a smart move -- and you're more likely to get a heavy pour! Plus, by letting your bartender know which beverage package you have, they can identify the best label that won't blow your per-drink budget.
2. Bottled Bevvies
Bottled nonalcoholic drinks, such as Honest Tea and Vitamin Water, are one of the best values with a drink package because they won't count against your drink limit. These drinks can help you stay hydrated by the pool, after a workout or even when you're feeling hungover. Just be advised that sometimes those drinks sold on the gangway before heading ashore carry an additional fee.
3. Frozen Drinks on a Private Island
Perhaps one of the most surprising perks of some cruise line beverage packages is the extension from ship to shore. Of course, this is only possible when visiting a cruise line-owned private island, and not every cruise line participates. If yours does, it can feel truly decadent to order a pina colada while lounging by the surf and not have to pay. Norwegian Cruise Line's private island Great Stirrup Cay accepts onboard drink packages. And that line is not the only one: The Royal Caribbean Deluxe Beverage Package extends to Royal's private Bahamian island, CocoCay, so you can sip the island's signature drink -- the Coco Loco -- without a care in the world.
4. Fancy Bubbly
Due to a cap on the price of drinks covered by a beverage package, most cruisers play it safe and stick within the limits of that maximum. But, if it’s that $25 glass of Champagne you crave, the maximum included in your drink package can be applied, making that bubbly a mere $12. Some might find this approach extravagant, but it's a chance to sip something special for less than what it would normally cost. Champagne isn't the only splurge to consider: You can toss back a lavender daiquiri from Royal Caribbean's Schooner Bar, listed on the menu for $15, for the bargain price of $3.
5. DIY Ice Cream Floats
Want to channel your inner child? Use the soda included in your package to create an ice cream float. Most cruise ships offer complimentary soft-serve machines or hard ice cream at the buffet. Fill a cup with your favorite flavor and then top it off with Coke, root beer or Sprite. You can even order a shot of Baileys or amaretto to add for an extra kick. Best of all, some cruise lines include scoops from their gelato counters in their beverage package programs, so you can upgrade that scoop of vanilla to something more decadent.
6. Custom Tastings
Even with a beverage package, you'll have to pay more for wine tastings or martini-making events onboard. Depending on your mood, head to the wine bar, the brewery or the cocktail lounge onboard to organize your own sampler. Since most cruise lines will only let you order one drink at a time, you won't have all the options laid out before you at once but ask the bartender to help you pick a handful of similar wines or brews to try in succession. Then, ask questions and take notes on each. Our advice: Request half-pours so you can compare a variety.
7. Unopened Drinks
Some cruise lines will give you a can of beer unopened, which allows you to save it in your cabin’s fridge for later -- like when you want a beer on your balcony as you watch the sun set -- or to slowly put together your own bucket of beer (which are not eligible for purchase with most beverage packages) for that last sea day.
8. Coffee and Espresso Drinks
If you're looking for a buzz that won't come back to bite you, drink packages freely deal out caffeine -- and it's the good stuff. Specialty coffees and espresso drinks are included in most beverage packages and, for many cruisers, it's the only way to start the day. Enjoy a piping hot cappuccino with a biscotti in the morning (pastries are included at most onboard coffee shops), or an iced latte in the afternoon. Spiked coffees are also a popular offering in many bars and lounges and those made with decaf make the perfect nightcap.
These tips are for the North American cruiser -- drink packages vary widely for international audiences.