Booze Cruise: How Much Alcohol Do People Drink on Cruise Ships?

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It’s no secret, people drink a lot of alcohol on cruise ships. So much so, that some would even go so far to argue that a cruise isn’t really complete without the inclusion of alcohol. But what exactly does this “booze cruise” phenomenon indicate about alcohol consumption? Is this cruise ship staple a troubling sign of the rising rates of alcohol consumption? Or does it lend to a more relaxed and enjoyable cruise-ship experience, benefitting both the customer and cruise industry? To answer these questions, we first need to take a look at some of the statistics in regards to alcohol consumption or cruise ships.

According to this infographic by Shipmate, 62,000 drinks are consumed on a typical 7-day sailing trip. That’s an average of 33 drinks per week, or 4.7 alcoholic drinks every day, per passenger. Typically, the average American consumes about 4 drinks per week through his/her normal daily life. What this means is that cruise consumption of alcohol is almost 8 times more than normal consumption! In terms of revenue, experts at Shipmate writeIf we look at the total dollar amount of booze sales for ALL passengers for the ENTIRE week, we’re talking close to $500k. Annualized, this means that over $20 million dollars per year is spent on alcohol, per ship!”

One of the reasons for this increased alcohol consumption on cruise ships is the “all-you-can-drink” beverage option that takes a slightly different form on various cruise liners. Traditionally, cruise prices only include the cost of a cabin, meals via buffet spreads, and some form of entertainment. Guests are usually required to pay extra for most beverages. However, the idea of paying for each drink at a price that is well above market rate tends to turn off both newbies and experienced cruisers.

With this in mind, cruise companies have started offering various drink consumption packages that appeal to customers and often lead to heavy alcoholic beverage consumption. One such example is Norwegian Cruise Line’s “all-inclusive” package, that throws in unlimited booze alongside the regular inclusions. While at this time the package is only limited to short cruises, Norwegian president Andy Stuart believes that this new structure and pricing will “strongly differentiate us from our competitors.”

Obviously, when something is virtually unlimited and already paid for, people tend to not restrict themselves. Think about the famed Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffets, where most people tend to overeat. In a similar fashion, it’s no surprise that cruisers would consume more alcohol when it’s availability is unrestricted, as well as already included in the overall price.

Carnival Cruise Line offers a similar program, though it is charged on a daily basis. At $49.95 per day (plus 15 percent for tips), the Carnival’s Cheers program includes unlimited beer and wine, as well as non-alcoholic cocktails and sodas. It also requires anyone who shares a cabin with someone who has opted in for the program to buy it.

Personal injury lawyer Spencer Aronfeld, who regularly sues cruise ships, is not a fan of these all-you-can-drink packages offered by various cruise line companies. He writes, “I am concerned when I see cruise lines put their profits ahead of passenger safety. One of the most disturbing examples of this is the prepaid alcohol beverage programs that most major cruise lines offer their guests” Aronfeld’s concerns are echoed by many, mostly due to the ill-effects of over consuming alcohol. Since drinking can alter perceptions, increase reaction times, and hamper one’s ability to make sound decisions, Aronfeld claims that alcohol is often a contributing factor to a “slip, trip, or fall aboard a cruise ship, resulting in a broken leg or arm, or a head or spinal injury.”

Cruise CompeteWith regards to Carnival’s Cheers program in particular, Aronfeld states that the requirement for cabin-sharers to opt-in together increases risk. For example, writes Aronfeld, “a 250-lb. husband and his 125-lb. wife will both be drinking up to 15 drinks in a 24 day–presumably making the lighter person’s blood alcohol level higher because of the decrease in weight and body mass, thereby placing the lighter person at an even higher risk for a trip, slip, or fall injury.”

Being on a cruise ship requires a certain level of presence of mind, due to wet or slippery surfaces, railings, staircases etc., and alcohol consumption can often lead to unwanted accidents in this unfamiliar environment. Additionally, “binge-drinking,” as is often practiced on cruise ships, can signify or even lead to the more complex issue of alcohol abuse, with drink packages on cruise ships acting as unknowing enablers.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are a multitude of consumers support the provision of unlimited alcohol on cruise ships. This is seen through the thousands of articles online that outline how to avail yourself of the best alcohol deals when aboard a cruise, and hacks on how to score drinks aboard cruise liners for cheap. Beer drinkers, in particular, rejoice with deals like the Cheers program, contributing to the 1443 beers consumed on average every day on a cruise. And really, with the newfound health benefits of beer, including increased vitamin B and antioxidant levels, who wouldn’t? Cruise companies themselves are obviously in support of these packages, claiming that they are catering to the consumer’s needs while also benefiting financially. As stated by a Norwegian PR spokesperson, “We expect that this will increase demand, which—as you know—will drive bookings and ultimately price.”

So what does this all mean for the average cruiser? Well, while the opinions on unlimited alcohol provision and consumption on cruise ships are divergent, it doesn’t seem like this will be disappearing anytime soon. Ultimately, it is up to you, the consumer, to drink responsibly and make sound decisions, no matter what drink package you choose.


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