It seems the cruise industry is intoxicated by the idea of ‘all-you-can-drink’. Alcohol packages, aimed at reflecting an ‘open bar’ environment, are on the cards for Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Azamara Club Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Various ships from these fleets will be joining Oceania Cruises, which introduced unlimited drinks packages across their fleet in January this year.

“They’re quite okay paying for something up front, and they prefer the notion in the upscale market of not being nickel-and-dimed,” says Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel. Is all-you-can-drink really about class, prestige and not being ‘nickel-and-dimed’, or is it an appeal to a younger generation of cruisers (notorious for binge drinking)? Either way, the ‘all-you-can-drink’ trial is having mixed responses.

“If that was an option I would have to choose another vacation. I think that would be abused and the result be drunken fools all over the place,” one cruiser commented on in response to the new alcohol packages.

Conversely, another said, “Forty dollars. That’s just a Bloody Mary at breakfast, two ‘drinks of the day,’ a cocktail before dinner and wine with dinner. And I could easily do that.”

Irrespective of personal opinion, it is important for cruisers to be aware of the proverbial fine print when it comes to all-you-can-drink. There is slight variance in the definition of ‘unlimited’ between cruise lines, which is worth investigating before you chuck back a few bottles of Moet. Not to mention the irony that some cruises ‘offer’ compulsory alcohol packages to anyone over 21 (or 18 depending on the specific rules of that ship), which may leave a bitter taste in the mouth of individuals who don’t drink, or drink very little.

Which brings us to the next contentious issue, alcohol consumption in international waters. The ‘lawless’ international waters could very easily go hand-in-hand with lax alcohol regulation, but people on the cusp of the legal drinking age are best to do their homework before embarking on a cruise.

It would be very disheartening to hop aboard a US-based cruise ship (eg Carnival Cruise Lines or Royal Caribbean) at 18, 19, or 20, only to discover that you have to abide by a drinking age of 21. This is irrespective of the legal drinking age of the country whose waters in which you are travelling. All fleets have slightly different rules however, with some requiring parental consent for teens between 18 and 20, and others stipulating 18 as the legal age for beer and wine, but 21 for ‘hard liquor’.