Too-much-fun ships? Carnival tests all-you-can-drink program


These days, potential cruisers don’t lack for options, as it’s possible to sail on everything from a tiny yacht-like vessel, to a ship that might be expected to have its own zip code.

Similarly, based on the ship, the onboard experience can be very different, with everything from a quiet country club atmosphere to a serious Las Vegas party vibe.

As a general rule, the more sedate lines, which are also often the most deluxe, are more likely to offer unlimited alcohol policies.

In my admittedly limited personal experience as well, the Seabourn cruise I took, where everything was included, featured a lot fewer loud drunks than other cruise lines where drinks averaged $10 a pop.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which owns Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, has for the past few years offered an “all-you-can-drink” option, but only on the Celebrity ships. (They have been trying this recently on a few cruises within Europe.)

Many travel professionals I know figure the company’s policy makes sense. Offer the package, which runs about $60 a day, for the more restrained Celebrity passengers, but keep it away from the more potentially serious party-goers on Royal Caribbean.

Now, Carnival Cruise Lines, long known as the “Fun Ships,” is dipping a toe into the water (or perhaps I should say, into the “Bahama Mama” glass) as they test an “all-you-can-drink” package of their own.

Dubbed “My Awesome Bar Program,” the package is only offered on the Carnival Victory, sailing out of San Juan. It’s about US$50 a day, including gratuities, and includes alcohol beverages up to $10 a glass; plus, sodas and non-alcohol beverages. More expensive drinks and bottles of wine are available for a 25 percent discount.

As an interesting wrinkle, all passengers over 21 in the same cabin must purchase the package, which makes some sense, as it would theoretically be possible for a couple to share their drinks otherwise.

On the other hand, what happens with a couple where one person doesn’t drink? Or drinks considerably less than their cabin mate? For that matter, what happens if one adult in a cabin is pregnant?

Now, I can imagine that bartenders on board may have some leeway in cutting passengers off if they get out of hand. Even so, having watched some passengers clearly determined to get their money’s worth at the buffets, I have to wonder what happens when that is applied to a booze package.

In addition, it’s not always obvious just how inebriated someone might be at the time they order a drink. Add to that the creativity of travelers who like to party, and it seems like this might easily get out of hand.

For examples, even if both people in a cabin have to pay for the package, what’s to prevent one traveler from topping off someone else’s drink or, for that matter, giving the drinks to a minor?

With cruise ship crime increasingly making headlines, including sexual assaults, it seems like unlimited alcohol, even for a price, could raise liability issues.

Since this is only a test of the “My Awesome Bar Program,” no doubt Carnival is watching carefully to see how the potential additional revenue is offset by the developing headaches.

What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Would a $50 a day all-you-can-drink program make you more, or less, likely to try a “Fun Ship” vacation?

  • John Baker

    Adding to the long list of reasons why my first Carnival cruise was my last. Our cruise resembled Spring Break in the middle of summer with everything going on. I can’t imagine what would happen when you mix in low cost alcohol too.

  • Paulette Baker

    This is as good an idea as an open bar at a wedding. People who normally have one or two drinks suddenly find the need to have five or six. When it was announced that the open bar was going to be closed during dinner at a recent wedding I attended, you should have seen the mass rush, with people ordering multiple drinks to tide them over. Some guests had as many as five drinks sitting in front of them. Considering the basic clientele of Carnival to begin with, this is a recipe for disaster.

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  • Phil

    Friends of Bill will have their work cut out for them. As a strictly social drinker I couldn’t consume $50 worth of alcohol in a day unless they are raising the prices of mixed drinks to $12-15 each and I would just forget about drinking altogether then.

  • Paula Pile

    I have been on seven Carnival Cruises and after my experience with their Cruise to Nowherevout of Charleston SC if they go to that I will never cruise with Carnival again! On that cruise which was my fourth with Carnival all of the alcohol was included. Among these things that we observed were people fighting and getting thrown in the brig. There were numerous people who vomited ion the carpet. There were people beer banging in the pool.. My husband and I were glad that we had cruised before or that would have been our first and last cruise. We both remarked that we would rather pay $10 for a drink than experience that again! I would never bring children on a cruise where there would be a risk of that happening again.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t going to be traveling on this cruise line anyway, so to say that I would never go on this booze cruise is not the point. I’m not their market. I think it’s really important that they make it clear in their advertising so that people who don’t want to be surrounded by thousands of drunks will know to book elsewhere.

  • karla katz

    le sigh… wish I were 22 again; sure would book this cruise!

  • Helga

    Carnival used to have an “all you can drink” packge for groups. The catch was that EVERYONE in the group had to purchase the package. I don’t remember what the restrictions were, but the cost for a 7-day cruise was something like $260 per person. They stopped it a few years ago. I was told it was because passengers and crew were abusing it, but don’t know specifics. So I am surpised that they are thinking of doing it for individual cabins. I could not use it for my group because not everyone drinks, but the ones that do are very well behaved. They take care of eachother so as to not cause problems. My groups have been as large as 300 people and I’ve never had a problem cause by drinking – and some of them have had bar bills higher than their cruise fare. Maybe people’s upbringing is the problem, not the cruiseline.

  • bryce

    Embassy Suites just released this infographic discussing how much beer is consumed per day in their Evening Manager’s Receptions. Pretty interesting stats!