For cruise travelers who want to toast their vacation, taking alcohol on cruise ships can be a tricky proposition that may leave them standing on the dock.
Alcohol and Cruise Vacations
It is no secret that alcohol is an integral part of many cruise vacations, and cruise lines make a heavy profit from alcohol sales on board their vessels. Aside from recreational drinking, alcohol can be a part of many cruise activities, such as:
- A bon voyage toast as the vessel sets sail
- A congratulatory toast for a wedding cruise or honeymoon cruise
- A libation at the Captain's Cocktail reception event
- Drink-of-the-day indulgences in elaborate tropical cocktails
- Wine tastings or liquor tastings to entice passengers to purchase unique vintages
- Party boat cruises, winery tours, or bar hopping shore excursions
- An accompaniment to the gourmet dining available on the ship
- Themed bars for wine, martinis, rum, or other alcoholic beverages
Most ships offer a wide range of cocktails as well as extensive wine lists to cater to guests' thirsts, with prices ranging from less than $3 for a draft beer to hundreds of dollars for a rare and decadent wine. With many travelers interested in saving money on their cruise vacation, however, more passengers are interested in taking alcohol on cruise ships to suit their needs.
General Cruise Ship Alcohol Policies
Every cruise line has a slightly different policy about how alcohol may be distributed, purchased, and drunk. For the exact restrictions for their specific cruise, passengers should consult a cruise travel agent or directly contact the cruise line for updated information. Policies may include:
- Different Drinking Ages. Most ships enforce a 21-year-old age minimum, though vessels that routinely sail from countries with lower age requirements may permit parents whose children are between 18 and 21 to sign waivers permitting them to purchase alcoholic beverages. On Oceania Cruises, any passenger over the age of 18 may order and consume drinks, and on Seabourn Cruises the drinking age is 18 except while in port, when local laws and drinking ages apply.
- Different Confiscation Levels. Most lines confiscate alcohol being brought on board at embarkation and it may be discarded or held until the end of the cruise. A few lines, such as Crystal Cruises and the Disney Cruise Line do permit guests to bring alcohol on board when they check in but it can only be consumed in private staterooms, not public areas.
- Different Port Policies. Most lines allow guests to purchase alcoholic beverages while visiting different cruise destinations, but it will be held until the last night of their cruise, when it will then be delivered to the passenger's stateroom. Celebrity Cruises, however, does not permit passengers to bring alcohol on board the ship at any time.
- Onboard Duty Free Shop Regulations. Passengers who purchase liquor from the ship's duty free shops must usually wait for it to be delivered to their stateroom on the last night of the cruise.
Attempting to circumvent cruise lines' regulations by smuggling alcohol on board, falsifying ages, or purchasing alcohol for an underage passenger may have dire consequences. How each cruise line reacts to infractions differs, but penalties range from reprimands to fines and even to a non-refundable cancelled cruise vacation.
When Taking Alcohol on Cruise Ship is Permitted
While most cruise lines do heavily restrict hard liquors that passengers may bring on board, they are often more lenient concerning wine and champagne. Wine connoisseurs may prefer a particular vintage, or the beverage may be intended to celebrate a special occasion, and cruise lines often permit bottles to be brought on board to be opened only in the dining rooms. Corkage fees from $10 to $25 usually apply, and the wait staff will be happy to store the beverage properly until it is all consumed. Depending on the price of the bottle, it may be less expensive for passengers to purchase their preferred vintages and pay the corkage fees than to pay the prices for similar bottles on board.
Taking Alcohol Home from a Cruise
While taking alcohol on cruise ships may be a challenge, many passengers delight in the opportunity to buy rare or exotic alcohols from different cruise ports to enjoy once they return home. There is no limit on the amount of alcohol a passenger can bring into the United States, but the duty free allowance is only one liter for each person of legal drinking age; excessive amounts are subject to import taxes and other fees.
Cruise lines limit alcohol brought on board cruise ships for many reasons, including to reduce excessive alcohol consumption, limit underage drinking, and to secure their own profits. Passengers who understand the line's alcohol policies and abide by the restrictions are sure to have an enjoyable, worry-free vacation with no shortage of liquid libations to enjoy on board.