Random Drink Package Math

We’re doing the final planning for our Carnival Dream cruise later this year, and one of our friends asked about the drink packages. I usually don’t look, because I don’t drink enough to make it cost-effective, and my wife drinks even less than I do.

However, the drink packages on Norwegian are often “included”, but you have to pay the gratuities. (Conspiracy thinkers are sure the base price is jacked up to make the gratuities higher, since it is a percentage of the base cost.)

The past couple of cruises, we just left the drink package as a perk because then you don’t have to pay attention to the cost (it’s not “free”, it’s pre-paid) and it meant we could try different wines at dinner and different drinks in the afternoon.

Norwegian can say they are including a package that costs $99 per day for the cost of 20% gratuities. ($99 per day base price on a seven-day cruise means instead of $693, you “only” pay $138.60 for a “free” package. Actually, you pay $277.20 because you have to purchase the drink package for everyone in the room.)

We were talking with some friends, and I decided to look at the Carnival drink package, just for the education. It is only $59.95 per day, which seems a lot less than Norwegian. However, there is no “free” package on Carnival, so you will be paying full list price (well, a 10% discount if you book pre-boarding.)

The rules between the packages are pretty similar, except for one major difference – on Norwegian, “unlimited” means “unlimited” and on Carnival, it means 15 drinks per day. The clock resets at 6am each morning, just in time for Bloody Marys.

The advantage of a drink cap is that you can calculate a per-drink cost to see what you actually pay.

The base cost for the drinks package our 14-day cruise is $1558.70, which is $59.95 per day, per person – everyone in the cabin has to purchase the drink package (if you just buy the soda package, only one person can buy it.)

There is $280.58 added in gratuities, so you can’t stiff your bartenders. I think that’s 18% which isn’t unreasonable, but it’s also not optional.

So, that’s $1,839.28 to drink every day without considering how much it will cost, as long as you keep it under 15 drinks. That seemed really excessive, until I realized this is a cruise that is twice as long as usual for us.

With the limitation, you can calculate a per-drink cost.

$1839.28 / 2 people is $919.64 per person. (I realize $59.95 x 14 is $839.30, but then there’s the gratuity.)

$919.64 / 14 days is $65.69, except we’re sailing from Texas so the package doesn’t start until the first full day at 6am, and I’m not sure it will work the last morning, so it’s not really 14 days, but we’ll pretend.)

$65.59 / 15 drinks per day is $4.38 per drink.

Then, I had to figure out how to do 15 drinks in a day, when I don’t actually drink as much as my wife thinks.

  • Bloody Mary for breakfast
  • Irish Coffee mid-morning
  • Beer / Wine at lunch
  • Two or three frozen drinks in the afternoon
  • Aperitif (“before-dinner drink” for those who don’t speak French)
  • Two glasses of wine with dinner
  • After-dinner drink
  • Late-night brandy

That’s ten or eleven drinks, and that’s a lot, for me. I really don’t drink at breakfast, for instance, unless it’s brunch.

Now, I do know people who could do 15 drinks before lunch, but they are special cases.

Specifically, I know some baseball players and managers that could make money on the package, and would get cut off on Carnival. Perhaps by lunchtime.

But, again, I don’t want to keep count of anything on vacation. That’s the advantage of “unlimited.” If there is an upper limit, eventually I will be focused on getting “my money’s worth” of a drink package, and having 15 drinks a day, I’m going to miss out on actually having fun. Drinking for the limit is dangerously close to work, unless you really like to drink.

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