The introduction of an all-inclusive drinks package on Carnival Cruise Lines ships would be a convenience to some passengers but also carries a risk for Carnival, agents said.
A pilot program under way on the Carnival Victory since Aug. 5 lets passengers pay $42.95 a day for an open-bar pass. It includes wine, beer and mixed drinks priced under $10 a glass as well as nonalcoholic beverages.
Dubbed the "My Awesome Bar Program," the package also includes a 25% discount on drinks and wine bottles priced above $10.
In the past, Carnival has upgraded the food and made other improvements designed to get families and more affluent travelers to reconsider its brand. But some agents suggested an unlimited-drinks option might encourage rowdy behavior and prove a setback to those moves.
"Carnival has spent many years in getting its reputation intact as not being the party ship," said Peggy Byron, owner of Cruise Vacations in Birmingham, Ala. "This is going to do nothing but ruin it."
Carnival is hardly the first or the only line to provide an all-inclusive package. Royal Caribbean International offers a drinks package on three ships that sail mostly on itineraries outside North America.
Celebrity Cruises has a Classic package, at $44 a day, and a Premium plan that includes higher-priced drinks, at $54 a day. Celebrity spokeswoman Elizabeth Jakeway said about 15% of passengers bought a beverage package last year, including plans that cover nonalcoholic drinks.
Carnival's plan must be purchased for the duration of a cruise. A 15% gratuity is also charged, putting the total price tag at $346 per person on a seven-night cruise. In addition, Carnival requires that every adult in a cabin buy the package if one does.
The lion's share of drinks on Carnival ships are priced between $5.75 and $8.95.
So, for example, a passenger could buy a Kiss on the Lips (peach schnapps, grenadine, $4.75), a Bud Light Lime (16 oz., $6.25), a Carnival Cosmo (vodka, limoncello, $8.95), a Baileys Irish Cream ($6.50), an Ultimate Margarita (tequila, triple sec, $8.75) and a glass of chardonnay (Bogle, $7.25) and just about equal the daily cost of the package.
A few wines and premium liqueurs, such as Hennessy XO cognac, cost more than $10.
Bob Gourley, owner of Salty Dog Cruises in West Haven, Conn., said he's already heard from several clients interested in the package.
"The folks who normally roll up significant bar bills will be thrilled," he said. "I do have clients who come back and say, 'We average $100 to $150 a day.' At the end of the cruise, they don't want to be faced with an exorbitant bar bill."
But Gourley also has heard some concerns from some of his older clients who prefer Carnival. "Their initial concern was that this is really going to encourage some of the younger people to drink too much," he said.
That concern is shared by Kendall Carver, head of the passenger rights group International Cruise Victims Association, based in Sammamish, Wash. "If you've bought the package, it's got to encourage the consumption of alcohol," he said.
In a statement, Carnival said that bartenders will "monitor guests' alcohol consumption and encourage responsible use of the program" and discontinue serving guests who appear to be intoxicated.
Carnival said the plan "not only represents an outstanding value but also a tremendous convenience" because of its flat fee structure.
Guests can sign up for the My Awesome Bar Program at the Victory's atrium and casino bars as well as a bar within the main pool area. Carnival has not indicated how long the pilot program will last.
When Celebrity tested an all-inclusive plan in 2009, it dropped an unlimited beer feature, a frozen drinks package and a premium liquor package from the final product, which is now available on all 10 Celebrity ships.
Celebrity discourages passengers from "sharing" a package between several people but does not require every adult in a cabin to buy into the program if one does.
Royal Caribbean's drinks package is available on the Independence of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas and Legend of the Seas, which are oriented to international passengers accustomed to all-inclusive pricing.
MSC Cruises' drinks package includes the requirement that all adults in a cabin participate in the plan.