Drink packages are supposed to make things easier. Instead of having to budget and keep an eye on what you are spending, you simply pay one daily fee and drink your fill. Want a beer when you step on board? Just order it and get back to enjoying your cruise. Want a margarita while you sit poolside? Step up to the bar and it’s yours — no additional payments required.
And for the most part, the drink packages are simple and work exactly as planned. You can purchase the package, step on board the ship on the first day of the cruise and start getting your money’s worth. If you want a drink, you order it. Couldn’t be simpler, right?
Well, cruises from Galveston are a little different. There are special rules that apply to selling alcohol in Texas that have an impact on your drink package and what you can order.
Special Rules for Alcohol on Texas Cruise Ships
Search around the Internet and you’ll find all sorts of questions about drink packages for cruising from Galveston. Rumors and hearsay have run rampant across the Internet for years as passengers tell their stories. Meanwhile, Carnival and Royal Caribbean (the two lines that sail from the island) have different policies regarding alcohol while in Texas waters that causes even more confusion.
That’s why we spoke with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) — the body that regulates the sale of alcohol in Texas — as well as cruise line representatives to get the details on cruise line policy and Texas laws surrounding drink packages.
What follows is each cruise line’s policy about selling alcohol on the first day of a cruise from Galveston, plus details on the Texas laws that are behind the policies.
Carnival’s Policy Regarding Drink Packages and Alcohol in Galveston
First things first. If you purchase a drink package on a Carnival cruise departing Galveston, it will not be in effect until the next morning. So if you sail away on Sunday, you won’t be able to use your drink package (even if purchased ahead of time) until Monday morning. Don’t worry, you aren’t charged for this day. So a drink package on a 7-day cruise actually gets charged for six days.
This policy is clearly laid out on Carnival’s website, which says “Due to state laws, we cannot sell CHEERS! until the second day of the cruise (starting at 6:00am) for voyages departing from our Texas and New York home ports. Drinks purchased on the first day of the cruise will be charged to the guest’s Sail & Sign® card in the usual manner. When purchased on the second day of the cruise, guests are charged for the remaining days only (cruise duration less one day).”
The good news for cruise passengers?
You can still purchase alcohol when you first get on the ship. However, you should know that the menu is limited until the ship sails beyond Texas waters. According to a statement from a company representative:
“Carnival offers special drink menus that are in compliance with Texas state laws for the time we are sailing in Texas waters.”
You’ll still find plenty to drink during this time, but if you like a specific brand, it may not be available until the ship leaves state waters. (This takes about two hours from the time you depart the Port of Galveston.)
Royal Caribbean’s Policy Regarding Drink Packages and Alcohol in Galveston
If you sail on Royal Caribbean (Liberty of the Seas), then our understanding is you can use a drink package from the moment you step on the ship. While this has been mentioned regularly around the Internet, we tried to confirm it by pricing out the package for an upcoming 7-day cruise (we were quoted the daily price times the number of days in the cruise), as well as calling a Royal Caribbean representative to ask directly. We were told there is no waiting period for the package.
In addition, there is no special mention of drink package restrictions for Galveston cruises as found on Carnival’s website.
Like Carnival, Royal Caribbean does offer a limited alcoholic drink menu while in Texas. Below is an image of the menu while the ship is in Texas waters.
While the menu still offers plenty of variety — including several beers and many mixed drinks — everything the ship serves while at sea isn’t available while in Texas waters.
Understanding the “Why” Behind These Restrictions
So why do the cruise lines have policies about selling drink packages on the second day and having limited menus?
To find out, we contacted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). While the TABC couldn’t comment on specific cruise line policies, they did shed light on rules surrounding drink packages and limited menus.
According to a spokesman for the TABC:
“State law and TABC rules prohibit any practice which could reasonably be interpreted to allow or encourage overconsumption of alcohol. This includes “all you can drink” packages or other promotions which allow unlimited alcohol for a buy-in price. These standards would apply to any alcoholic beverages served or sold within Texas territory, including any waters over which Texas claims jurisdiction. Once a vessel is outside of Texas territory, the state’s laws no longer apply.”
This appears to be the reason that Carnival waits to sell their drink package until the morning after sailaway from Galveston.
But what about Royal Caribbean? Frankly, we’re not sure. It seems that offering the drink package while the ship is still in Texas waters wouldn’t be allowed given Texas laws. However, there may be special circumstances that allow the cruise line to comply with the law for its specific situation.
An email to the cruise line asking for more information about their policies was not answered.
We also asked the TABC about limited menus and why they might be offered. According to the agency:
“Like any business which holds a Texas permit to sell alcohol, any alcohol sold by the cruise lines while in Texas must comply with the state’s alcohol laws. Sec. 28.07 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code requires that any holder of a Mixed Beverage Permit (the permit most commonly used by the cruise lines) must obtain their alcohol inventory from the holder of a Local Distributor’s Permit. Again, once the vessel is in international waters, these requirements no longer apply.”
In other words, if the cruise line didn’t get their beverages from a local distributor, then it’s our understanding that they can’t sell them in Texas.
Should they obtain alcohol from an outside source (for instance, because it is less expensive — or duty free — from another source) then our interpretation is that it would be illegal to serve this while in Texas waters. However, once in international waters the cruise line would be free to serve the “out-of-state” alcohol.
This seems to be reason for the limited menu. In fact, Royal Caribbean mentions “We will only be serving Texas liquor at these bars until out of Texas waters” in their Cruise Compass information guide on embarkation day.
Remember: Restrictions Are Only Temporary
While we’ve spent a lot of time covering the ins and outs of drink packages and limited menus when sailing from Galveston, it’s actually quite simple. Both cruise lines have limited drink menus until out of Texas waters. Carnival makes passengers wait until the morning after sailaway to use a drink package. Royal Caribbean allows the use of drink packages right from the start.
Just don’t be surprised if you can’t get your favorite drink the moment you step on board. You might have to wait a couple of hours.