One important factor to consider when booking a river cruise is the price of drinks. Even if you’re not a big drinker, paying for tea or coffee throughout the day, as well as multiple soft drinks on the sun deck and the odd tipple in an evening can soon add up – and nobody likes a large, unexpected bill at the end of their holiday!

A great thing about river cruising is that many river cruise lines include drinks in the ticket price of the holiday. However, the drinks which are included can vary hugely depending on which river cruise line you choose.

With some luxury lines, absolutely everything is included, whereas budget lines include nothing at all. Some are only offered at meal times, and some packages can be upgraded to all-inclusive if you choose.

The details around drinks packages on a river cruise aren’t exactly straightforward, so it’s worth finding out exactly what is included when you book. Read on to find out what you can expect on-board each of the main river cruise lines.

All-inclusive river cruises

Wine on-board Crystal Cruises

On-board an all-inclusive river cruise ship, you can enjoy a wide range of drinks including beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, soft drinks, and mineral water throughout your time on-board the ship. This often includes an in-room mini bar which is also replenished daily.

All drinks are included at all times on the following cruise lines:

Selected drinks are included at all times on the following cruise line:

Most all-inclusive river cruises include all drinks except for certain speciality wines or spirits, which cost extra. On CroisiEurope, free drinks are limited to water, wine, beer, fruit juice, and coffee.

It’s worth noting that river cruises with the luxury lines (Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld and Crystal) drinks can cost a considerable amount more than on some of the more budget-friendly lines (like CroisiEurope). So if you’re looking for a cheap river cruise holiday with drinks included, CroisiEurope is our recommendation.

However, with a luxury river cruise, it’s not just the extra choice of free drinks which you’ll benefit from, you’ll find lots of other value-added extras included too, as well as a much higher standard of comfort and service.

Fully-inclusive river cruises

Bottles stored in a wine rack

Fully inclusive means that selected drinks such as beer and wine are included at meal times only. Tea and coffee are generally included throughout the day and many ships also provide bottled water free of charge.

Selected drinks are included at meal times on the following cruise lines:

River cruises without drinks included

On certain river cruise lines, all drinks are chargeable. This can be a great option for passengers who are tee-total, as you can avoid paying for something you’re not going to have.

No drinks are included on the following cruise lines:

What drinks packages are available on river cruises?

If you’re used to ocean cruising, you’ll be familiar with drinks packages where you pay a certain amount per day to have drinks included in your cruise. These are available with Riviera Travel, Emerald Waterways and Viking River Cruises.

Riviera Travel

Riviera Travel - River cruise ship

Riviera Travel doesn’t include any drinks in its standard cruise fare, and the drinks package includes wine, beer and soft drinks served with lunch and dinner.

Purchasing a Riviera Travel drinks package would make your cruise fully-inclusive, in-line with the standard offering from others such as Viking, Emerald Waterways, Ama Waterways, Amadeus, Avalon Waterways and APT Touring.

The price of the drinks package varies depending on the length of the cruise, with a five-day cruise package starting at £69 per person. While that sounds great, it’s important to consider that the drinks at the bar on Riviera Travel cruises are very cheap, with a small 150ml glass of white wine costing only €2.75. A quick calculation shows that you’d have to drink seven glasses of wine per day before your drinks package pays for itself.

You can see example prices on the Riviera Travel bar menu here.

Viking River Cruises

Viking River - Guests enjoying dinner on-board

Viking River Cruises already include beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, free tea and speciality coffees and any time and bottled water in your stateroom. Guests wanting an all-inclusive river cruise can upgrade to Viking’s Silver Spirits beverage package which enables guests to enjoy unlimited drinks. The package covers any drinks (excluding champagne) up to the value of $15 each.

The price of the all-inclusive drinks package varies depending on the length of your cruise, with a five-night package starting at $110. That works out at around £17 per person, per night. Which, considering that beer and wine are free with lunch and dinner, can sound like a lot. However, cocktails are £8-£10 each so really you only need a couple of after-dinner tipples to break even.

Emerald Waterways

Couple on-board Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways is another river cruise line which includes beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, but has an option to purchase an all-inclusive drinks package. A number of different drinks packages are available with various prices and these can be purchased on-board.

Should I book a drinks package on my river cruise?

Whether or not to add a drinks package to your river cruise depends entirely on you – not just on how much you tend to drink, but on your attitude. One great thing about having an unlimited drinks package is that you can relax, without caring about the cost of any drinks you have, which can be very liberating.

On the whole, river cruise drinks packages are not that popular, nowhere near as popular as the drinks packages on ocean cruises. This is because, for many people, a couple of glasses of wine with dinner is plenty, and also because bar prices are usually very reasonable, and certainly much cheaper than you’ll find on the average ocean cruise.

Group clinking glasses of wine

What this means for the select few who do opt for a drinks package, is that you can probably expect special treatment. River cruises only have around 150 passengers on-board, so if you’re one of the few passengers with a drinks package, you’ll probably become good friends with the bar staff. One cruiser described it as ‘like having the keys to the bar.’ He said: “Everyone else was having their drinks measured out, but for us, the barman just said ‘say when’”.

If you’d like any more information about river cruise drinks packages, or indeed any aspect of planning and booking your river cruise, here at River Voyages we have a dedicated team of expert river Cruise Concierge who will be delighted to help. So please, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0800 197 0854.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.