Secrets To Saving On Your Cruise Bar Tab

Cruise Bar Tab

Alcoholic beverages on board are not cheap, (think $10 and more per drink, plus an automatic gratuity), and a daily libation -- or two -- can run up a hefty bar tab by the end of your trip. (Richard Drew / Associated Press / June 20, 2014)

I just returned from a Caribbean cruise and take it from me, there's nothing like watching the sun set over the ocean while sipping an afternoon cocktail to make you forget New England winters.

But alcoholic beverages on board are not cheap, (think $10 and more per drink, plus an automatic gratuity), and a daily libation — or two — can run up a hefty bar tab by the end of your trip.

In the interest of research, I looked for alternatives and discovered that there are ways to score inexpensive and even free drinks on the high seas.

I started by checking with cruise expert Jean Mallory of White Travel in New Britain, (www.whitetravel.com), who noted that lines occasionally offer special deals that include free on-board beverage packages.

"Most cruise companies offer a variety of beverage packages, which include unlimited beer, wine and/or cocktails," says Mallory. "Packages regularly start at $50 per day per person and go up from there. Get a booking that includes a beverage package and you'll be drinking for free."

Another way to save is to BYO. While most lines don't allow passengers to bring hard liquor aboard, (Disney being a surprising exception), just about all let you carry on a bottle or two of your favorite wine or champagne. Corkage fees vary depending on whether you consume your stash in your cabin or bring a bottle to the dining room. (Check your cruise line's website for specific policies.)

Loyalty pays off in free drinks. If you favor a particular line, be sure to sign up for their loyalty club. You'll be invited to members-only cocktail receptions, which usually feature complimentary drinks.

Become an art lover. Cruises hold art auctions and most serve free champagne to get the bidding started. Keep your credit card in your pocket and enjoy the bubbly.

Read your dinner menu carefully. On my recent cruise, the line served chilled banana rum soup, a dinner appetizer that was, well, a cocktail in a bowl.

Get the VIP treatment. Certain cabin levels get special perks. On Royal Caribbean, for example, guests who've booked suites get access to a special lounge where complimentary beverages are served each day during cocktail hour.

Check your daily newsletter. Each night, your cabin attendant will leave you a schedule of the next day's activities. Our cruise offered martini tastings, bourbon tastings and wine tastings for a nominal fee.

Your newsletter will also alert you to happy-hour offerings — such as two-for-one deals — in the ship's bars.

Watch for daily drink specials. Most lines offer a different, discounted cocktail each day.

Wish yourself bon voyage. Some lines let you order liquor packages for your cabin — a bottle of gin and mixers, say — before you board. Others let you opt for a Bon Voyage gift of champagne or other spirits that you can give to yourself. While prices are higher than your local package store, it's still a savings. Check your line's website to see what's available.

Rum running. Google "alcohol" and "cruise" and you'll find all sorts of creative ways people try to smuggle alcohol onboard — refilling mouthwash bottles with vodka or tucking plastic flasks into suitcases are just a few. Cruise lines, however, prohibit the practice and are very good at catching booze bandits. They'll confiscate your stash if they find it and you'll have to do the walk of shame to the "naughty room" to get your luggage back.

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