Our next vacation is coming up in two week and we are trying, for the second time, to reach Bermuda from New York. The beauty of a ‘home port’ cruise is that you are able to avoid all of the Airport travel and security, and on day of departure you can wake up when you are ready, hop in a cab and be sipping Champagne from your Balcony by 3pm.
Vacationing like this makes bringing wine on a cruise with you an easy task, but before you pack up your favorite bottles make sure you know the rules, as each line is different. The two things that are positive about bringing wine is that it both saves you money, and allows you access to wines that they do not have onboard. As such, should you decide to bring a slightly less well known bottle, even at a moderate price point you can feel comfortable in saying that you are no just being cheap, but are bringing your own because the heathens onboard have not discovered the value of this bottle yet and simply do not stock it.
Understanding Intrinsic Value and Markup
Wine is a prime example of how you can have a consistent product that is overly marked up for profit on behalf of the restaurant. It actually was one of the things that changed my mind about how I shop, as I would often spend $40-$70 a bottle in a restaurant, and be drinking a $10-$25 bottle, never getting to experience great wine, and yet spending the same money on it. I started buying $40-$70 bottles in retail instead and realized that the experience was so much different. The bottles we enjoyed would be pushed into the $200-$300 range in a restaurant which is ridiculous, as is tipping as a percentage of that.
We have been bringing wine on a cruise since our first one (as passengers) back in 2010 and actually do this in both categories, we buy cheaper ones, typically Whites for sipping during the day, and expensive bottles that we frequent collect from Vineyards for a fancy dinner.
Overview of Limits and Rules for bringing wine on a cruise
What is a Corkage Fee and How can I avoid it?
Corkage is the term given to the fee an establishment charges you for bringing your own bottle of wine, the cost would be to cover the use of glasses and the service to keep the glasses refilled. Corkage Fees are not avoided with screw top bottles, but you could avoid them by not bringing the bottle with you to the dining room. On a cruise you will often walk from bar to bar with a drink in hand, so if you pour a glass in your room and walk it to dinner you would not be charged corkage for that.
Also, you would only receive one corkage fee per bottle. If you are unable to finish your bottle over dinner the restaurants will label it and store it for you to retrieve the following evening, for which you will not be charged a second corkage fee. We are cruising on Norwegian so for us it doesn’t matter if we bring the bottle or bring a glass with us from a price perspective, as they charge regardless of where you drink.
Wine Lists from the Major Cruise Lines
- Norwegian Cruise Lines Wine List http://www.ncl.com/csimages/907/558/NCLWinelist09.pdf
- Celebrity Cruise Lines Wine List http://cruiseforums.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1566983
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Wine List http://www.shipcruise.org/royal-caribbean-wine-package-policy-list-prices/
- Carnival Cruise Lines Wine List http://zydecocruiser.net/menus/winemenu.pdf
- Princess Cruise Lines Wine List http://cruiseforums.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1814677
- Holland America Gifts Menu (couldn’t find the wine list, but this has bottles for an indication of costs) https://book.hollandamerica.com/pdfs/onboard/Gift_Order_Polar.pdf
- Disney Cruise Line Bar Menus (couldn’t find the wine list) http://disneycruiselineblog.com/2012/08/a-guide-to-drinking-on-a-disney-cruise/
Where does the value lie when bringing your own bottle?
First and foremost, the answer to this question is one of taste. If you enjoy drinking a $5 Chardonnay then that is your price point, and looking for value within the $20 retail bottle will not gel with your taste and price requirements. If we were to explore this price level, those who enjoy wine at the entry we could compare straight from the wine lists above to ascertain value:
From the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Menu there is a bottle of Chardonnay called Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County, at $28 per bottle this is the most accessible Chard on the NCL, and one that most casual drinkers would opt for. The retail price for this bottle is averages $4.99, and as such you are looking at near a 500% markup on this bottle!
If instead you brought your own bottle of wine and paid the $15 Corkage fee on Norwegian,$4.99 plus $15 for $19.99, saving $8 per bottle. This would reduce your overall wine expenses by around 29% per bottle bought.
Using their price points, but changing the profit line
This is the approach I prefer. If I was ready to spend $28 on a bottle of Chardonnay and I know corkage is $15 per bottle I would look to increase the base price at retail to $13 per bottle, and improve my drinking experience.
Getting a ‘free upgrade’ on a great bottle of Red
If you were a Pinot Noir drinker, you might look at the onboard selection and decide between picking one of the three options priced just under the $50 mark, such as the Schug, Louis Jardot or Wild Horse Pinot.
NCL also offers an Argyle Pinot Noir from the Williamette valley in Oregon which has a great reputation for these wines, but at $75 per bottle it might be too much when you can pick from a solid bottle at 1/3 of that cost. However, here is a prime example of their profit markup restricting your experience.
Instead, if you were to purchase that bottle of Argyle prior to boarding, you could pick it up for $26.99 online (and likely around $29.99 from your local merchant) add on the $15 corkage and you are suddenly enjoying the most expensive Pinot they offer, for less than the cost of their cheapest!
What about a Wine Package?
All of the Cruise lines do also offer Wine Packages which should not be ignored when comparing prices, these tend to offer between 20-25% off the price of the bottle, but even if we used that at the higher end of 25% and look at that Pinot, it would be reduced from $75 to $60 which is still around 50% more expensive than buying it at $26.99 and adding on $15 in corkage.
My Strategy for Value
I use two online vendors for my wine, Wineshopper.com and Lot18.com.
Wineshopper.com has a mix of affordable ($7.99 upwards) bottles and has free shipping on $99 or above. Wines from this company are typically discounted by 30-50%, plus the free shipping makes it a great place to stock up on solid wines and low costs. I use this for my everyday drinking wine. On a cruise I would go here for my White Wines for consumption during the day time. Signup here for free, and get $10 off your first order
Lot18.com is where I go for more unusual and higher end wines, they typically start at around the $16.99 mark and go upwards of there, they have more of a boutique feel to them, and I use these for the ‘special’ wines that I would want to experience over dinner in the evening. Lot18.com has free shipping on orders above $149. Signup here for free, and get $10 off your first order
When buying wine online shipping is always the the killer, since they are heavy and bulky to ship, so these two companies offering free shipping are a real saving grace to the market, and I have had nothing but great service.
Both require a quick membership signup, just like somewhere like Groupon might (no fees and no subscriptions) and if you would like to join using my links here then we both get a signup credit, you would get $10 off your first order, and I would get a credit of $25 to spend on wine, which would help keep the creative juices flowing! Once you join, you can also invite your friends, and when they signup you get the $25 credit directly.
Bringing your own wine is a winning strategy regardless of your approach to drinking it, if you enjoy a cheaper bottle you can save money per bottle, and if you enjoy at the higher end you can substitute for much better bottles or vintages, and often still save on the overall cost. A great option here is when you know of a better option that just isn’t so obvious to the market.
There are also people who might feel uncomfortable bringing wine with them, especially at the lower price points as they appear ‘cheap’ well, you shouldn’t, it is perfectly OK to do this, but if you really do feel self conscious a great solution is to bring foreign wines, such as French, Italian and Spanish bottles. These are less known and as such you can easily pass off a cheap bottle as a very good one if you think that you are ‘being judged’ by this.
Also, one annoying note is that almost every cruise line will store wine bought mid cruise – not allowing you to drink it and give it to you at the end. When we recently cruised through Europe and picked up several bottles of Dalmation wines from Croatia (fabulous if you ever get the chance) we had to wait a whole 3 days before we could tuck into them!