Is the Signature Beverage Program on Holland America Cruises A Good Deal?

by Janis on January 31, 2014

NOTE: We have a made a new updated post on our Signature Beverage Package experience from March, 2015

On December 22nd we sailed on a 7-Day Holiday cruise to the Eastern Caribbean onboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam.

Holland America- Rasperberry Sea BreezeBeing in a festive mood, and since we were sailing in the sunny Caribbean, we decided to try the Signature Beverage Program, which essentially means paying one fee for all-the-beverages-you-can-drink on the cruise, with a few key footnotes and exceptions.

The Signature Beverage Program includes all coffees and other drinks from the Explorations Cafe, sodas, bottled water, and any alcoholic beverage from any of the ships bars or dining venues that cost less than $7.oo per drink.  The Signature Beverage Program costs $44.95 per day plus a 15 percent gratuity and must be purchased for the full cruise by all adults sharing a stateroom. If you have experience with buying drinks on a cruise, even coffees and sodas, you know that your bill can run up quickly. So $45/day doesn’t seem so bad.

Until you realize that this means that $361.83 per person, or $723.66 for two people will be charged to your onboard account for the 7-day cruise. With many drinks costing $6.95, you need to drink 7 of them a day to break even.

Holland America Signature Beverage ProgramWhen you sign up, you receive a special card that you need to carry with you whenever you want to enjoy a beverage on the ship.   Don’t lose it, it cannot be replaced. Nor transferred to someone else. Nor used to buy other people’s drinks.

Generally, when we cruise we mostly drink lattes, sparkling water like Perrier, and wine.

Since we bought the cards, we decided to work our way through the drink menu on this cruise to see what we liked.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaThe drink menu is an extensive book, with something for everyone.  All of these drinks are $6.95 when made with the house liquor unless the brand is specified on the menu.

lime margarita -HAL We enjoyed the fresh lime margarita on the rocks with salt poolside at the Sea View Bar.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaThe Tuscan Lemon Drop is unique and the Frosty Chocolate Mint Buzz is like a chocolate milk shake.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaMr. Jones enjoyed the Tanqueray 0010 Martini — it must remind him of a James Bond movie.

Sunsicle on HALThe Sunsicle lives up to its description of “sunshine in a glass.”

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaThe Raspberry Sea Breeze is cool and refreshing. (It’s the drink pictured at the top of this post.)

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaMy favorite holiday drink is on this page – the Strawberries and Bubbles — with fresh strawberries, vodka and champagne on top.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaThese traditional drinks are all included in the package, but only with the house liquor. If you want your Gin and Tonic made with Bombay Sapphire, that will make it over the $7 price limit.  And, no, you cannot get the $7 off of the price of the more expensive drink.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaThis is the price of various liquors and aperitifs. Those for $6.95 or less are included in the Signature Beverage Program.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaHow about a Limoncello or a Drambuie? There are even a couple of ports that qualify.

Beverage menu- Holland AmericaAll of the beers are included, as are all of the non-alcoholic drinks.

The Key Footnotes and Exceptions for the Holland America Signature Beverage Program

Of course, there were a number of rules and exceptions with this program to be aware of:

  • The total number of beverages served in one single day cannot exceed 15.  (Still, that’s a lot — i.e. 2 lattes, 2 sodas, a glass of house wine with lunch, 3 cocktails by the pool, 2 drinks during cocktail hour, 2 glasses of house wine during dinner, an after-dinner drink during the show and 2 late-night drinks in the Northern Lights disco — it’s really tough to exceed 15 drinks.
  • You can only order 1 drink at a time, and they must be at least 5 minutes apart.  We found this annoying as we like to have a sparkling water with our cocktail, and sip both, and we were nowhere near 15 drinks a day.
  • You must carry the beverage card, along with your room key to order a drink.
  • As mentioned earlier, it is for drinks that are priced $7.00 or less.  If the drink you want is $7.50, you have to pay the full $7.50.
  • Wines by the glass are limited to the house wines, which is very disappointing. (All of the others are more than $7 per glass.)
  • The bar staff, other than those who sell you the card, don’t seem to be fans of this program, which likely indicates they aren’t getting the auto tip amount you paid up front.
  • Sodas, waters and in drinks from the mini-bar in your stateroom are not included.
  • Drinks at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s Private Island, are not included even though they are charged to your stateroom and served by the same bar staff.

However, if you were lucky enough to book your 2014 cruise to Europe or Alaska last fall during the Explore 4 promotion, you may have qualified for a free Signature Beverage Card.  If you have this promotion on your booking, you will get the benefits of this package free of charge during your cruise.  (What a deal!)

Our Bottom Line on the Signature Beverage Program

While it’s nice to have an all-inclusive drink package, the price is too high for many to justify the purchase.  You need to drink 7 cocktails a day (or a whole lot more sodas and coffees) to break even on the expense.

We would only consider buying the package in the future if we were on a transatlantic cruise with lots of days at sea.

If we received it as a free cruise perk, however, we would consider that to be a great value.

Have you tried the Holland America Line Signature Beverage Program? If so, what did you think? Please share in comments below.

You may want to check out these other posts on the Nieuw Amsterdam and other Holland America Line cruise ships”;

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