A bar aboard Carnival's Freedom. The ongoing recession notwithstanding, passengers are still drinking – not necessarily more, as one might expect during hard times, but they are not depriving themselves either. Whether they’re leaning more toward beer than pricier options or splurging on their favorite grape, passengers are continuing to imbibe. Cruise line beverage managers are innovating in response, with everything from Asian-themed cocktails to strategically placed signage.

  Both Royal Caribbean International and Holland America Line have noted a shift toward more beer consumption and are responding accordingly.

“Due to the economy, one trend we are noticing is that many guests are opting for beer as their beverage of choice rather than wine, champagne and mixed cocktails,” said Oliver Hammerer, director of beverage and signature services at Holland America. “We still see a high consumption of wine and mixed drinks, but not as much as in the recent past.”

To compensate, Holland America has increased happy hours fleet-wide every day in two bar locations, lowering prices and offering daily specials at various times during the day and evening. The line has also added more packages and programs, such as the Girl’s Night Out or Guy’s Night Out packages, and has increased its number of mixing classes and tastings, Hammerer said.

Royal Caribbean has “seen a shift to more beer consumption when guests’ decision processes are unaided,” said Beverage Manager Bob Midyette. “So we have further strengthened our onboard beverage marketing to help drive guest awareness of other beverage items we wish to target.”

Likewise, Carnival Cruise Lines has seen a decrease in consumption of super premium wines and spirits, “but overall consumption remains consistent,” said Paul Shea, director of bar operations at Carnival. “So people are trading down a bit.”

Carnival has responded with the introduction last year of larger, premium-branded cocktails, which Shea said have met with “tremendous success.” Nevertheless the old standby, beer by the bucket, is still very popular, he added.

At Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) the shift has led guests away from the mainstream. “Over the past couple of years more and more guests are moving away from the norm and trying something different and unique,” said Corporate Beverage Specialist Eric Brown. “Two years ago you would only see strawberry daiquiris and pina coladas on the pool deck. Now you see mangopolitans, fresh lime margaritas and sparkling fresh fruit spritzers.”

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2009