The Fine Print of Cruise Line Alcohol Prohibitions

Decanting the details behind what you can’t—and can—bring on board for your next cruise.

We confess. On our way to the port for a recent cruise, we stopped by Costco. To help celebrate a special occasion during our trip, we picked up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot brut yellow label and packed it into our suitcase. The velvety, non-vintage Champagne retails at Costco for about $45 a bottle (plus tax)—not high-end by French standards, but still a decent investment for cheapskates like us.

We chilled the bottle in our minibar, borrowed champagne flutes from a bartender and uncorked the Champagne on our balcony at dusk. What a romantic way to celebrate a fine sunset.

It should be no surprise that the cost of our bottle turned out to be quite a bit less than the price onboard. When we returned home we perused our file of cruise ship bar menus and discovered Veuve Clicquot’s brut yellow label ranges from $74 while sailing with Princess Cruises, to $82 aboard Cunard, $88 with Norwegian, $89 on Holland America and Royal Caribbean, and a whopping $112 aboard Celebrity cruise ships—plus the additional 15 percent service charge.

With markups like that, who wouldn’t want us to stow away a bottle of wine for every night of the cruise?

Well, the cruise lines, naturally. The industry sees a decent amount of income from drink sales and would really rather we not interfere with their profit margins. There’s also a legitimate concern that, were the cruise lines not to install some controls over alcohol consumption, an unbridled flow of liquor might well lead to a ship-wide bout of inebriation.

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But the security folks manning the X-ray scanners in use during embarkation allow a bit of wiggle room, and we’re happy to share the details of what the major cruise lines will let us get away with. As a rule, BYOB rules apply to wine only—beer and the hard stuff aren’t generally invited to the party (we used to wonder about the beer embargo, till we thought of all the empty bottles ships would have to process). A corkage fee—ranging $10 to $25—applies to anything consumed in restaurants, bars or other public areas. This seems fair, though Norwegian has a stricter policy, automatically billing the corkage fee during embarkation, regardless of where the bottle will be consumed.

You won’t find any of the luxury cruise lines below. Most of them continue to have fairly liberal policies for boarding alcohol. Of course, most of them already include wines with meals in their cruise fare. Several of the mainstream lines have instituted all-you-can-drink packages, where a per-day add-on—usually about $50 per person—allows unlimited beverages while sailing.

But if you’re celebrating a special occasion while on board, there’s no reason not to dust off something treasured from the cellar at home. Just remember to pack it in your checked luggage for the flight to the port, not in your carry-on gear.

Carnival Cruise Lines
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: Yes
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: One bottle of wine per person (age 21 and up), in carry-on luggage, and 12 bottles and/or cans of non-alcoholic beverages.
Corkage fee: $10 in the main dining room; $14 in steakhouses.
What you can’t bring onboard: Spirits, beer.

Celebrity Cruises
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: Yes
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: Two bottles of wine per cabin.
Corkage fee: $25
What you can’t bring onboard: Spirits, beer.

Cunard Line
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: No
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: There are no restrictions on alcohol brought onboard, but the number of bottles will be “at the port authorities discretion.”
Corkage fee: $20
What you can’t bring onboard: Nothing specified.

Disney Cruise Line
Drinking age: 21, but for round-trip cruises departing from European countries a parent or guardian may sign a consent form allowing an 18- to 20-year-old to purchase alcoholic beverages in their presence.
All-you-can-drink program: No
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: Alcohol is permitted but must be hand-carried in carry-on luggage. The alcohol may not be consumed in public areas but can be opened at Palo and Remy restaurants (with corkage fee).
Corkage fee: $20
What you can’t bring onboard: Nothing specified.

Holland America Line
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: Yes
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: Effective January 31, 2014, one bottle of wine per guest, age 21 and up. Additional bottles incur an automatic corkage fee, regardless of where they are intended to be consumed.
Corkage fee: $18
What you can’t bring onboard: Spirits and beer.

Norwegian Cruise Line
Drinking age: 21 but, except for Hawaii and Alaska itineraries, “young adults” may purchase and consume alcohol with the consent of an accompanying parent and by signing a waiver form. Passengers 18 years or older are permitted to consume alcohol when sailing on round-trip European voyages.
All-you-can-drink program: Yes
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: Wine—no limitation specified.
Corkage fee: $15, billed during embarkation and regardless of whether opened by a crewmember or passenger or not at all.
What you can’t bring onboard: Alcoholic beverages other than wine.

Princess Cruises
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: No
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: One bottle of wine per adult; additional bottles automatically incur corkage fee, regardless of where they are consumed.
Corkage fee: $15
What you can’t bring onboard: Spirits, beer.

Royal Caribbean International
Drinking age: 21
All-you-can-drink program: Yes
What you can bring onboard at embarkation: Two bottles of wine per cabin.
Corkage fee: $25
What you can’t bring onboard: Spirits, beer, non-alcoholic beverages.

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