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Norwegian Makes a Drink-Package Change Passengers Will Hate

Norwegian cruise line has followed Carnival, which made a similar move, while Royal Caribbean hasn't exactly followed.

Every business these days faces sharply rising costs. Those costs are especially challenging for companies that are heavily exposed to the global labor market. These include the cruise lines, which must feed people and pay for fuel to operate their ships.

Even as fuel prices drop, Royal Caribbean (RCL) , Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) , Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) , and every other cruise line face a sort of perfect storm. They must pay higher costs, but lingering pandemic-related concerns, as well as broad economic fears, have capped their ability to raise prices.

Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian have been able to get customers back onto their ships. After their capacities were constrained by covid, the ships can now accommodate, and are often sailing with, full customer loads. But ticket prices have generally been modest compared with 2019 rates.

That's not uniform -- newer ships still have some ability to sell tickets at higher prices -- but the cruise lines have been attracting customers largely by keeping cabin prices reasonable. They have, however, seen more onboard spending, which has kept revenues climbing toward, or even exceeding, historical norms.

For that to work, the cruise lines need to get people to make more onboard and precruise purchases or get them to pay more for the ones they make. And while it may be painful, cruise customers have shown that they're willing to pay (and pay dearly) for unlimited drink packages.

Cruise Line Drink Packages Are Expensive (but Maybe Worth the Cost) 

All three major cruise lines offer an unlimited drink package, including everything from soda and bottled water to alcoholic beverages. And while Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian all have slightly different approaches to selling drink packages, all three sell them on a per-cruise basis, not day-by-day.

In addition, with some exceptions all three major cruise lines require all adults staying in the same cabin to buy the same drink package. That's to prevent people from buying one package and sharing (which is not allowed but hard to police).

Drink packages are very popular on these three cruise lines because the basic fares cover only water, basic coffee and tea, and a few juices. Alcoholic beverages cost extra and the numbers pile up quickly, with the average mixed drink costing $12 to $15, a beer costing $6 to $10, and wine being $10 to $15.  

Alcoholic-drink packages also include soda, fancy coffee, fresh juice, and even, in some cases, milkshakes. That makes them a good economic choice for many cruise passengers even as prices continue to rise.

Carnival recently raised the price of its Cheers unlimited beverage package and now Norwegian Cruise Line is set to do the same thing. 

Norwegian Charges a Lot for Drink Packages

Norwegian already has the most expensive standard drink package, coming in at $99 per person per day. 

Carnival recently raised its drink package price to $59.95, per person per day plus an 18% service charge if you purchase before your trip. If you wait until you are onboard, Carnival customers will pay $64.95 per person per day plus an 18% service charge. 

Royal Caribbean doesn't use set pricing for its drink packages. Prices vary based on your cruise and they change frequently, but in most cases the cruise line charges less than what Norwegian does.

Now, Norwegian has decided to hike the price on its two top-tier drink packages -- the Unlimited Open Bar Package and the Premium Plus Beverage Package -- as of Jan. 1, Cruzely reported.

The Unlimited Open Bar Package, which includes all drinks up to $15, will cost $109 per person per day. The Premium Plus Beverage Package, which includes pretty much every drink the cruise line serves, will rise from $128 to $138 per person per day.

Norwegian did not raise the price of its $65 per day "Caps and Corks" package, which includes beers and wines. The new pricing takes effect on Jan. 1 but people can book at the old prices until that date.