The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. There’s no getting around it. If you want to buy booze, you have to be of legal age or face some serious consequences.
But what about on the drinking age on a cruise? Do you still have to be 21? After all, we’ve all heard of “international waters” — a magical place just a few miles offshore where the normal rules don’t apply. Doesn’t that mean if you are under the legal drinking age, but not in the U.S., that you can live it up?
Well, not so fast. If you are under the legal drinking age on shore, there is some good news in that yes, you can drink on your cruise… but not necessarily on the ship.
Drinking Age on a Cruise Ship in North America
Ok, first things first. Most cruises won’t let you drink on the cruise ship if you aren’t 21 years old (assuming your cruise is departing and returning to the U.S.). Here are the official policies of three major cruise lines as listed on their websites:
The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings originating in North America is twenty-one (21).
Guests must be 21 years of age or older to be served alcohol onboard. Proper I.D with birth date is required.
The age for drinking on Princess ships is 21 years old.
So if you are sailing one of these cruise lines, even with a parent on board, then you can’t drink while on the ship.
However, Norwegian Cruise Lines is more lax in their policy. If you are considered a “young adult” (meaning 18-20 years old) and you are sailing with a parent who signs a waiver, then you can drink wine and beer aboard the ship — but not cocktails.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Passengers must be 21 years of age or older to purchase or consume alcohol.
With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii itineraries, Norwegian Cruise Line permits young adults to purchase and personally consume wine and beer only while onboard and with the consent of an accompanying parent. Authorization will be given only when the accompanying parent completes the Young Adult Alcoholic Beverage Waiver form. This form can be obtained and completed at the Guest Services Desk upon embarkation of the vessel.
Drinking Age on Non-North America Sailings
Many countries have a drinking age that’s lower than the 21 years old seen in the United States. If you are sailing a cruise outside of North America, then the drinking age onboard is likely 18 years old. This usually includes sailings from Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia.
For example, Royal Caribbean makes the following adjustment for the onboard drinking age for many trips outside of North America:
- The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand is eighteen (18).
Princess also specifies that the drinking age is 18 years old on its cruises in Australia, China, Europe, Singapore, and South America.
In short, if sailing from outside North America, then the drinking age is normally lower.
Drinking in a Port of Call
Once you are in a port and off the ship, the cruise line’s rules no longer apply to you. Instead, you are under the laws and regulations of that country. Therefore, if the country’s legal age limit is 18 to consume or buy alcohol, then that’s the rule that applies when ashore — not the cruise ship’s policy. Note that if you are on a cruise line’s private island, even if it is in a country with a lower drinking age, then the cruise line’s rules on drinking will apply.
For those under 21, you’ll be happy to know that the legal drinking age throughout the Caribbean is 18 years or under. In addition, a couple of countries have drinking limits of 16.
Drinking Age for Selected Countries
- Antigua: 16 years old
- Bahamas: 18 years old
- Belize: 18 years old
- Bermuda: 18 years old
- British Virgin Islands: 18 years old
- Cayman Islands: 18 years old
- Haiti: 16 years old
- Honduras: 18 years old
- Jamaica: 18 years old
- Mexico: 18 years old
- Puerto Rico: 18 years old
- US Virgin Islands: 18 years old
What if I Am Caught Drinking While Underage?
The rules are very clear about drinking on a cruise and in port. If you are under 21 and sailing from North America, you better wait until you arrive at a port before taking a sip. If you are under 18, then most ports and the cruise ship are off limits.
But what if you decide to sneak a drink anyway?
If you are on the cruise ship, there’s a chance that it could end your trip early. Carnival makes the following statement in its ticket contract:
Guests who attempt to purchase alcohol by using false identification or the Sail & Sign card of a Guest who is twenty-one or older will be deemed in violation of this policy. Any Guest twenty-one or older who attempts to or purchases alcohol for any Guest under twenty-one will also be deemed in violation of this policy. Guest agrees that Carnival has the right to disembark any Guest who violates this policy and as well as any adults traveling with minors who violate this policy or any other shipboard regulation.
While getting kicked off the ship may be a possibility, we find it unlikely. That’s not to suggest that you try and test your luck.
If you are caught drinking underage while in port, you are subject to the laws of that country. Depending on the country, that could mean serious legal issues at worst. At best, it could make you sweat getting back to the ship in time for departure.