When you bring up the idea of bringing alcohol onto a cruise ship, that is, above the amount allowed by cruise line policy, you’re sure to run into two types of people.
There are those who say the practice is despicable – that cruise lines enact rules and guidelines for a reason and they should be followed. Any talk of circumventing these rules will often lead to questions pertaining to the offender’s moral character (an informal survey on CruiseCritic found 4% of travelers are hard-line rule followers, and another 15% say the rules are fair).
Then there are those who believe that the cruise line’s rules are well-intentioned, but choose to bring illicit alcohol on board for a number of reasons. These may include on-board alcohol prices, convenience, or even selection of alcohol offered on-board (the same survey found that 80% of travelers said the policies on alcohol were annoying or needed to change).
In fact – the only subject that brings more controversy when talking about cruise ship guest rights are the smoking policies, but that is a discussion for another day.
So for the moment, we’ll assume that if you’ve never even considered bootlegging booze onto a ship, you might be curious as to the techniques and their success rates.
By far the most popular and talked-about method of taking alcohol onto a cruise ship as of late is the use of small, strong, plastic bladders or bags. One brand in particular, Rum Runner Flasks, is the most widely-known brand for such products – and they even make a Rum Runner Cruise Kit and a Spring Break Cruise Kit. Both kits cost around $25 and shipping is reasonable.
For research purposes, we purchased the Cruise Kit, which comes with three large and three small flasks.
We filled the flasks with various types of liquor and distributed them throughout our checked bags that would be screened by security and then placed outside our staterooms.
One large flask was placed in with other large toiletry liquids, the other large flask was packed completely out in the open around some clothes. The smaller flasks were placed in several places around a garment bag.
The wait for our bags seemed endless – and every time we heard the rustle of the bags being delivered we’d open the door hoping ours would be there. Eventually our bags arrived (truthfully no later than anyone else’s, it just seemed that way) and the results were in.
All of the flasks had made it through without being confiscated. However, it wouldn’t be fair to say they weren’t detected.
Some fellow guests had also brought alcohol in their checked luggage – and made no attempt to hide it – other than putting the large (original) bottle of Knob Creek in some bubble-wrap and a kids-size life preserver, but that was mainly to protect the glass from breaking.
What we’ve found is that the season, time of year, and overall cruise clientele/age have more to predicting whether or not your alcohol makes it passed security rather than the vessel containing it.
You’ll notice that no cruise line’s alcohol policy mentions profitability of the cruise, even though alcohol sales can play a large role in profitability. Lines typically say their policies exist for purposes of controlling over-consumption which can lead to individuals being disruptive to other guests. Our research has shown that it looks like they’re telling the truth.
We’ve found the enforcement of the alcohol policies gets stricter during peak seasons for college spring breaks and even summer cruises. Enforcement will also be stepped up for theme cruises, such as a popular music act that may attract a rowdier-than-usual crowd.
So, if you’re going to try to bring alcohol onto a ship, using something like the Rum Runner Flasks hidden with similar-sized liquid toiletries is probably your best bet – but it’s not a guarantee – especially during ‘high enforcement’ cruises. Typically the worst thing that happens is it gets confiscated and you never see your booze or your flasks again, which depending on what you bring, could be a sizable gamble.
These are some of the other methods we’ve heard of people using – some crazier than others.
Poor-man’s Rum Runner Can’t afford a rum-runner and want a couple liters of wine? Grab a box of wine and remove the box – Bingo! A bag-o-wine that’s designed to take a beating.
Fill a Listerine bottle with clear alcohol, add food coloring. This will get your booze on board, but no matter how much you wash it, the bottle will still impart the taste of mouthwash to your liquor. There are only so many drinks you can make with mint vodka.
Wine-bottle switcheroo Most cruise lines allow you to bring some wine in your carry-on bags. Not a wine drinker? Find an empty wine bottle, fill it with your favorite liquor, re-cork it (you can cut off the top if you can’t get it all the way), then buy some heat-shrink-foil tops to reseal the top and give it the appearance it hasn’t been opened. People brew their own wine, so these can be found online or in some liquor stores (Google shopping search: wine heat shrink capsules). This is probably the most guaranteed way as it gives the appearance of something the cruise lines condone, but may also require the most preparation and forethought.
Water-bottle switcheroo This used to be a decent method, but lately cruise lines have been known to shake the water bottles to see if they bubble or not. This approach is more often attempted (and failed) when getting back on the ship after a day in port.
Iced-Tea Sitcheroo This is one step up from the water-bottle switcherro – since ice tea bubbles when shaken, and dark liquors often give the appearance of tea, the line would have to conduct a smell-test, which we’ve never seen. Getting the plastic bottles to appear like they’ve never been opened is much trickier on these bottles.
Old-school flask/Traveler Bottle They’ve made plastic flasks for a long time, and traveler liquor bottles are made from plastic to be lighter weight. You can carry either on your person through security as metal detectors won’t uncover them. This method has long been perfected in the concert and sports arena world, and methods include sticking them in cargo shorts to actually taping them to your person. This method is actually where the term ‘bootlegging’ originated during prohibition.
If we missed one – let us know in the comments section!
We’ve included the newest alcohol policies (as of 2012) from some of the major cruise lines after the jump
Cruise Line Alcohol Policies 2012
Carnival Cruise Line Alcohol Policy (from Carnival.com)
A liquor and beverage consumption policy was created in order for Carnival to be able to control the liquor consumption of minors and the quantities consumed that lead to the disruptive behavior of others on board.
Liquor and Beverage Policy
Bringing Alcohol On Board – Embarkation Day:
Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages on board. However, at the beginning of the cruise during embarkation day, guests (21 years of age and older) may bring on board one bottle (750ml) of wine or champagne, per person, only in their carry-on luggage. A $10 corkage fee per bottle will be charged should you wish to consume this wine in the main dining room; $14 corkage fee per bottle in the steakhouse. (A corkage fee is a charge exacted at a restaurant for every bottle of liquor served that was not bought on the premises)
On embarkation day, each guest may bring a small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages on board and only in their carry-on luggage. A small quantity is considered a maximum of 12 bottles and/or cans, 20 ounces each or less.
All alcohol/hard liquor/beer (sealed, unopened bottles/cans), wine/champagne over the allowable 1-bottle per guest (sealed, unopened bottles) or excessive quantities of non-alcoholic beverages (over 12 per person, sealed, unopened bottles/cans) will be confiscated and stored for safekeeping until the end of the voyage. The retained item(s) will be available for collection onboard in a designated location on the morning of debarkation. Unsealed liquids that are prohibited will be discarded, as well as any unclaimed items left after the voyage, and no compensation will be given in either case.
Large cooler restrictions:
Carnival Cruise Lines does not allow guests to bring large coolers on board its ships. However small, personal-sized coolers, no larger than 12”H x 12”L x 12”W for the purpose of housing small quantities of non-alcoholic beverages and/or medications are permitted as carry-on luggage. Screening and movement of large coolers through embarkation is an impediment to the boarding and security screening process. Therefore, large coolers are not permitted as carry-on or checked luggage.
Alcoholic beverages of any kind purchased in any Port-of-Call will be retained at the gangway, stored on board and held by Carnival until the end of the voyage.
Gift Shops On Board:
Alcoholic beverages of any kind purchased in the ship’s gift shop will be stored on board and be retained by Carnival until the end of the voyage.
Drinking Alcohol On Board:
The minimum age for the purchase and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the bars, lounges and gift shops is 21 years of age. In the event that Bar/Restaurant/Gift Shop staff are in question that a guest is less than 21 years old, they shall request picture identification, prior to serving the drink or selling the bottle of liquor.
Carnival reserves the right to refuse the sale of alcoholic beverages to anyone.
Royal Caribbean Alcohol Policy (From royalcaribbean.com code of conduct)
Royal Caribbean International guests are expected to be responsible for their
actions at all times, including during transfers to and from ships, inside terminals,
while onboard, at our ports-of-call, during shore excursions and at our private
destinations. Consuming alcohol to excess impairs one’s judgment and reduces
one’s ability to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Guests who
choose to consume alcohol must do so responsibly. The ship’s staff may refuse
to serve alcoholic beverages to any guest who does not consume alcohol
responsibly. Ship’s personnel may request verification of a guest’s age to verify
they are of age to consume alcohol pursuant to this policy. Any guest that
violates this alcohol policy, will be considered for disciplinary action pursuant to
the “Consequences Section” of this Guest Conduct Policy, and may lose their
privileges to use the disco or other areas or facilities of the ship.
Guests are not permitted to bring alcoholic beverages onboard and Security may
inspect containers (water bottles, soda bottles, mouthwash, luggage, etc.) at any
time. Alcoholic beverages that are purchased from onboard shops or in ports-ofcall (which must be presented to security upon re-boarding), will be secured by
ship’s personnel and delivered to the guest’s stateroom just prior to the
conclusion of their cruise vacation. Guests who are under the permitted drinking
age will not have alcohol returned to them.
The minimum drinking age for all alcoholic beverages on Royal Caribbean
International ships is 21. In certain circumstances, where local laws permit or
require, Royal Caribbean International may modify this policy to permit the
minimum drinking age on a ship to be less than age 21, but never less than age
18. Pursuant to such a modification, Royal Caribbean International may also
require parent/guardian request/authorization. A decision to modify policy and permit guests below the age of 21 to consume
alcohol onboard during a sailing will be made by Royal Caribbean International at
the corporate level (and not by an individual ship). Such a decision will be
communicated to the ship prior to guest boarding. Guests may contact Guest
Services or refer to the Cruise Compass for specific minimum drinking age
information on their cruise vacation.
For purposes of complying with the minimum drinking age requirements, a
guest’s age is established upon boarding at the beginning of the cruise vacation.
If a guest celebrates their birthday during the cruise vacation, and thereby
becomes of age to consume alcohol, the guest may thereafter ask the Guest
Services Manager to modify ship’s records to permit their consumption of alcohol
during the remainder of the vacation. The guest will be required to appear at
Guest Services to present a government issued form of identification to permit
verification of their age.
In certain situations, Royal Caribbean International may permit a parent or
guardian who is sailing with his or her 18 to 20 year old young adult son or
daughter, (or other young adult under their legal supervision) to sign a waiver
allowing the young adult to consume alcoholic beverages onboard. In such
situations, the authorizing parent or guardian and the young adult must agree to
be responsible for ensuring the young adult will consume alcohol responsibly and
otherwise comply with the Guest Conduct Policy, including among other things,
not providing alcoholic beverages to any other person, regardless of age.
On cruise vacations boarding in a country where the legal drinking age is lower
than 21 and where a young adult (age 18, 19 or 20) is not traveling with a parent
or legal guardian, they will generally not be permitted to consume alcohol. There
may be exceptions made to this restriction in areas of the world where local laws
require and Royal Caribbean International concurs. Details on such exceptions
can be obtained from Guest Services.
No guest under age 18 may possess or consume alcohol at any time, while
onboard or at our private destinations. No guest under age 21 may possess or
consume alcohol at our private destinations. Any guest who goes ashore and
consumes alcohol (whether under the supervision of a parent/guardian or not, is
responsible for ensuring they consume responsibly and retain their ability to
recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations when they return to the
ship. Parents/guardians are reminded they are responsible for the actions of
their child/young adult at all times while on a Royal Caribbean International
Guests who violate any alcohol policy, including but not limited to underage
drinking; providing alcohol to minors or young adults; possessing, concealing or
attempting to conceal alcoholic items in their luggage, when boarding, or while
onboard; engaging in alcohol drinking games; or failing to consume alcohol
responsibly, will be considered for discipline under the provisions of this policy.
Norwegian Cruise Line Alcohol Policy (from ncl.com)
Please note that with the exception of Wine and Champagne, all guests are prohibited from bringing alcohol on board our ships. If you purchase any alcohol at one of our ports-of-call or in our onboard shops, we will safely store your purchase(s) and on the final night of the cruise it will be available for pick up in a designated area.
Wine & Champagne Policy
Guests may bring bottles of wine and champagne on board. When bottles are brought on board and served or consumed in any restaurant, public room area or in their stateroom, a corkage fee will be charged according to bottle sizes noted below.
750 ml Bottle: $15.00
1,500 ml Magnum: $30.00
Wine or champagne sent directly to the ship by travel agents, friends, family, etc. or from another retail source, are subject to the same fees. Box wines are not allowed on board.