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A few people have recently emailed me about alcohol policies on board cruise ships, and to say it’s a bit of a maze is an understatement! While some cruise lines allow you to BYO, some only allow limited amounts of alcohol, while others forbid bringing it on board entirely. And with legal drinking ages differing in various parts of the world, it’s entirely possible for someone of 18 years old to buy a drink on board one cruise ship in a particular cruising destination, but not on another.

Being too young to buy a drink on a cruise ship has never been an issue for me, but I was first alerted to the delicate intricacies of cruise booze policies on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Hawaii several years ago. On arrival in Honolulu, a old friend generously gifted my husband and I a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, which in Australia comes with a fairly hefty price tag. Celebrating our first night in the Hawaiian Islands, we decided to crack it open for a nightcap in our hotel before bed – something which proved to be a big mistake.

On checking in for the cruise, the open bottle was spotted, and promptly confiscated. Naturally I protested (it was Grey Goose after all!), claiming a genuine lack of awareness of about the line’s alcohol policy. Even my polite request that the bottle was held safely, and returned to us at the end of the cruise was firmly rejected. Evidently had the bottle not been open it would have okay, but as it was open NCL would be “breaking maritime law” if they did.

A few days into the cruise, coming back onto the ship in Kauai, I spotted security guards shaking what appeared to be water bottles before putting them through the x-ray machine. When I politely enquired what they were doing, I was told that because of the strict alcohol policy, passengers sometimes buy vodka on shore and put it into water bottles to smuggle back on board – shaking the bottle apparently gave the game away, and got the passengers in question into a bit of trouble.

There are good reasons why alcohol consumption on board ships needs to be monitored; all you have to do is watch TV images of people binge drinking and the problems it can cause to know why. But for many people, bringing your own is a way to save money on board, and avoid the nasty surprise of a huge bar bill at the end of a cruise. And with a simple beer sometimes costing US$8 or US$9 a pop, you can understand why!

Here’s a snapshot of alcohol policies just to demonstrate how the rules differ between lines:

Cunard: you can drink if you are 18 and over, except if a ship is in US territorial waters, where you have to be 21 and over.  You can bring alcohol on board to drink in your stateroom, but if this includes wine or champagne for consumption in the dining room, a corkage fee applies.

Seabourn: you have to be 21 or over to drink onboard, and alcohol is allowed to be brought on board…but why bother as everything is included?

P&O Australia: you have to be 18 or over to drink on board, and any alcohol purchased ashore will be kept for you until the end of the cruise.

And finally…..

NCL: you have to be 21 and over to drink, but passengers aged 18-20 can drink beer and wine in international waters. You cannot bring alcohol on board; if you do, or you buy it in port or in the duty free shops, it will be kept for you until the end of the cruise.

If you are travelling with anyone between the age of 18 and 21, check the cruise line’s policy before booking, or check where the cruise is going. And don’t make the same mistake we did…..if you want to bring something on board, make sure you are able to do so as you could be up for a major disappointment! Happy Cruising!