Soda Cards on Cruise Ships: What You Need to Know

Cruise lines are still spreading the myth that everything is included in an “all inclusive” fare. First-time cruisers, however, are often shocked when they learn that soda is NOT included in the cost and must be purchased separately.

In general, sodas are sold individually (usually $2 to $4 per glass). Alternatively, you can purchase a soda card. Passengers purchasing a soda card receive unlimited amounts of soda for the duration of the cruise. At as much as $60 to $80 per card, though, the price tag could send you into sticker shock! How do these soda cards work — and are they worth the hefty price?

How does a soda card work?
Soda cards go on sale as soon as you board the ship and usually include a souvenir cup. Save some money and avoid paying sales tax just by waiting to purchase a card until the ship splashes into international waters (50 miles 12 miles from shore). Soda cards must be purchased for the full duration of the cruise. In other words, you can’t buy a soda card for one or two days.

Soda cards are sold per person and cannot be shared. Most cruise lines place the guest’s name on the soda card when purchased. Sodas are available at the bars, and bartenders serve one soda per visit. (Pro tip: Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from giving that soda to another family member to enjoy. Cruise lines don’t have security officers patrolling the decks, looking for soda card abusers, so it’s up to you on how ethically you use the card.)

Note that that $60 to $80 price tag doesn’t buy you a very wide selection. Cruise lines offer a limited range of soda flavors. Check with your individual cruise line for details, but typically cruise lines only serve Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite, along with ginger ale, fruit juice, and club soda. If these options don’t appeal to you, don’t purchase the card.
What drinks are free?
Cruise lines offer unlimited amounts of lemonade, water, and iced tea. Free juice and coffee are only available at breakfast. Some people drink soda because they want something tasty and sweet, so if lemonade will do the job, don’t bother with the card. Keep in mind that these free beverages are sweetened, so if you loathe syrupy drinks, water is your only free option.

How much do you need to drink to make the soda card worthwhile?

Unless you guzzle soda all day long, a soda card will not pay for itself. If you only plan on having an occasional soda, purchase it by the can.

There’s nothing stopping you from giving that soda to a family member to enjoy. Cruise lines don’t have security officers patrolling the decks, looking for soda card abusers, so it’s up to you on how ethically you use the card.

If you are purchasing the soda card for a child, remember that children rarely finish an entire glass or can. Kids take a few gulps and put the soda down. By the time they want more, their sodas are warm and watered down — and guess what?

Right. They want a new one.

Getting a soda can be a hassle
Since soda is only served at the bars, you’ll find yourself running around the ship, trying to find an open bar. Once you find a bar, you’ll likely be waiting in a long line. Conversely, free drinks are self-serve and there’s almost never a line.

Bring your own soda.
Cruise lines won’t let you bring alcohol, but some do allow you to bring your own soda on board. If you have time before boarding the ship, stop at a grocery store and pick up a few cases of soda. Crystal Light individual drink mix packets are a great option if you don’t like sugary beverages and need to pack light. Get a glass of ice (or ice water) from the bartender, and you’re all set! [Ed’s note: you may want to call the cruise line before trying this, as not all companies allow this.]

Soda cards on a cruise ship are expensive, but if you’re a soda addict, it makes sense to purchase the card if you don’t feel like schlepping soft drinks on board. For the occasional soda drinker, however, it’s best to purchase soda by the glass. Or, if you don’t really go nuts for soda anyway, skip all the paid beverages and rediscover your love for iced tea!