After yesterday’s post about free lunches, we now turn to free drinks. Or not, as the case may be, because unlimited alcohol is proving a problem for one cruise line.
Only last month, Royal Caribbean announced with some fanfare a range of drinks packages to be provided on board three of their ships, most notably Independence of the Seas which sails from Southampton.
Not free, admittedly, and in some people’s eyes not particularly cheap – $29 per person per day (onboard prices are in US dollars, remember) for all beers and house wine by the glass; $39 for the Classic Package which includes beer, wine and basic spirits and cocktails; and $49 for the Premium Package which includes spirits such as Bombay Sapphire gin and Jonny Walker whisky. All the deals provide a 25 per cent discount on drinks not included in the package.
Royal’s own currency conversion says the packages are equivalent to £25, £31 and £37 – that’s up to £434 per person for a two-week cruise.
“We have developed these new packages to enable our guests to make their holiday more relaxing and enjoyable by paying one set price for a wide variety of drink choices,” Jo Rzymowska, associate vice president and general manager, UK and Ireland announced.
Perhaps a little too relaxing and enjoyable … after only three weeks in operation the packages have been withdrawn from Independence, although not from Grandeur of the Seas, which is in the Caribbean, or from Legend of the Seas in the Far East. Must be a British thing.
A spokesperson told me: “Royal Caribbean International is temporarily suspending its recently-introduced drinks packages which the ship has been trialling in order to make some changes based on guest feedback to date.
“The drinks package has been suspended on the April 5 11-night Spain and Canary Islands sailing of Independence of the Seas. Royal Caribbean International expects to reinstate the drinks packages very soon with revised terms.”
In fact the company’s website has announced that the packages will be available again for the cruise which departs from Southampton on Saturday April 16, but will not be offered on the short three and four-night cruises on April 27 and 30. I expect the prices will be increased by $10 a day.
Royal Caribbean appear reluctant to explain further, but I suspect the system has more to do with passengers “over-using” the system rather than “guest feedback.”
That becomes apparent in the revised FAQ, which states “a package must be purchased by all eligible guests in a stateroom.” Surely they must have anticipated only one half of a couple signing up and then attempting to buy drinks for his or her partner? They will also be requiring passengers to produce photo ID when ordering drinks, to prevent cards from being passed around.
One contributor to the Cruises.co.uk forum related her experience on the Independence cruise which returned to Southampton on April 5, on which she signed up for the $29-a-day package.
“It cost us $319 each. Bearing in mind that bottled beer was $5.50, pint-and-a-half cans of Fosters were $7.95 and wine was about $6-8 a glass, you would need a good five drinks everyday to get your money’s worth.” she wrote. I thought I could handle this, and I’m not moaning about drinks prices, (we knew these before we booked) but on some days I only had one or two alcoholic drinks so I kind of begrudged knowing that I was being charged $29.
“At no point when we ordered drinks did any of the bar tenders swipe our cards to verify the package; you just held up your card and they’d nod when they saw the little sticker. This did make us wonder how they can have control over drinks sales, stock levels and wastage.
“It was very clear that some fellow cruisers were abusing it. One afternoon a lady went into the Pyramid Bar with her beach bag and asked for six cans of Fosters to be put into her bag. She had one card with the beer package on it and the bar tender did as she asked. We also saw couples and groups where only one person had the package, and others were benefiting from free drinks by sending that person to the bar.”
- Have you sailed on Independence of the Seas recently? What were your experiences of the drinks packages? Please let me know by adding your comments.