What Happens If I’m Caught Sneaking Alcohol on a Cruise?

When it comes to drinking on a cruise, people know how to let loose. Bars are everywhere, and the minute you board the drinks start flowing, stopping only when it’s time to debark.

Stocked bar on a cruise
Alcohol is popular on a cruise, but also expensive. So what happens if you sneak booze on the ship and are caught?

The honest truth is that it’s pretty easy to spend a lot of money on drinks while on your vacation.. Cruise ships have a captive audience that’s ready to have fun, and they price the drinks accordingly. It’s not unusual to pay $7-8 for a beer or $12-14 for a cocktail. On top of that, there is a 15-20% gratuity tacked on that pushes the price even higher.

With prices so expensive, it’s no wonder that many people wonder about sneaking alcohol on with their luggage. Cruise lines don’t allow you to bring on beer or liquor, but you could potentially save a lot of money if you brought on your own drinks with you instead of buying them on the ship.

In fact, YouTube is filled with videos of the best way to smuggle your favorite drink on board, and Amazon offers up all the supplies you would need. It’s proof positive that the desire is there among cruise passengers.

Of course, all of this begs a big question. What if you are caught trying to sneak alcohol on the ship? Will you be fined? Kicked off the cruise? Put in jail?

The answer might surprise you…

Cruise Line Policies About Smuggling Alcohol

It’s not unusual that passengers will sneak alcohol aboard a cruise. In a survey conducted by Cruzely, 19% of passengers admitted to doing so at least once. It’s so common that the cruise lines explicitly state rules — and consequences — about bringing drinks on board with you.

These comments represent the “worst-case scenario” of what a cruise line could do to a passenger and serves as fair warning.

Royal Caribbean
For example, Royal Caribbean states that they reserve the right to not allow you to board if you are caught sneaking in alcohol:

“Guests are not allowed to bring beer or hard liquor onboard for consumption or any other use.

“Alcoholic beverages seized on embarkation day will not be returned. Security may inspect containers (water bottles, soda bottles, mouthwash, luggage etc.) and will dispose of containers holding alcohol. Guests who violate any alcohol policies, (over consume, provide alcohol to people under the legal drinking age, demonstrate irresponsible behavior, or attempt to conceal alcoholic items at security and or luggage check points or any other time), may be disembarked or not allowed to board, at their own expense, in accordance with our Guest Conduct Policy. Guests who are under the permitted drinking age will not have alcohol returned to them.”

Carnival offers up a softer clause, that simply says they will take away what you sneak in and throw it out:

“Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages on board with the following exception – at the beginning of the cruise during embarkation day only, guests (21 years of age and older) may bring one 750-ml bottle of sealed/unopened wine or champagne, per person, in their carry-on luggage. Outside this exception, all liquor, beer, other forms of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked luggage and such items will be confiscated and discarded and no compensation will be provided.”

Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Guest Conduct Policy states:

“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 on board; engaging in alcohol drinking games; or failing to consume alcohol responsibly, will be considered for discipline under the provisions of this policy.”

Later in that policy, NCL lays out different broad consequences for violating anything in its conduct policy. This includes everything from confiscation of prohibited items to removal from the ship.

Other cruise lines will have similar policies. Of course, what a cruise line reserves the right to do and what it actually does may be two different things. So to get a better idea of what really happens if you are caught smuggling on alcohol, we went in search for real stories from passengers.

What Really Happens If You’re Caught

Mojito on a cruise ship

We found a number of stories from passengers online with anecdotes about when they were caught. The central theme appears to be that those caught smuggling alcohol have it removed from their bags, and either returned at the end of the trip or poured out.

A report from a Royal Caribbean passenger said that they had their alcohol taken away, and not returned at the end of the trip:

“We had it confiscated from checked baggage on Royal Caribbean. We had two bottles, one plastic, one glass, in different cases. The plastic liter made it through, the glass on didn’t. We had to go and claim our case and they searched it and took the bottle. They would not return it at the end of the cruise either.”

Another Carnival cruiser said they had their wine taken out, but returned at the end of the trip:

“Experience with Carnival: Had 4 passengers (2 adults, 2 kids) on a 5 night cruise. We packed in 2 large bags and put 2 bottles of wine in each bag. Two bottles were allowed through (policy says one bottle per person), the other 2 were confiscated. We got a note in our luggage telling us to pick them up on the morning of debarkation.”

Nowhere in our research did we find a person be kicked off a cruise or not allowed to board due to bringing on alcohol. That’s not to say it doesn’t or can’t happen, but we have yet to hear stories of it taking place.

In fact, when boarding we’ve personally seen check stations for liquids with security inspecting bottles brought by passengers. At the station were a number of bottles and cans that appeared to be confiscated from guests, who were then allowed to continue to boarding… without the alcohol.

Should You Risk Sneaking Booze?

There’s no doubt that trying to sneak on alcohol is relatively common among cruise passengers. At the same time, the security staff is well aware of the tricks that people use and continually get better and better at detecting booze in luggage.

It’s rare that you will be able to smuggle in alcohol using a trick they haven’t seen before. Still, given the volume of passengers being screened in such a short time, many people are able to successfully bring on drinks.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you plan to drink a lot, it’s going to be hard to sneak large quantities of alcohol on board. The more volume you try to bring, the easier it will be to detect. You might be able to smuggle on small amounts, but it’s not likely to last you very long on the cruise.

Our advice? It’s not worth the risk to try and bring your own alcohol. While stories of passengers getting kicked off the ship appear to be few (if any), there is a strong possibility that your alcohol will be confiscated if found. That alone can be expensive.

As well, there is also the stress of worrying about breaking the rules up until you are through security. For some people this may not be a big deal, others may sweat going through security — and any potential awkward encounters with security — instead of looking forward to their vacation.

Instead, we suggest simply bringing what the cruise lines allow and buying other drinks on board. 

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  1. Those harsh rules are in place for people that act like idiots. I know this article is old, but as we can see lately, passengers in the wrong are the ones fighting other people! That one person that sneaks alcohol on board, gets busted, and goes to them demanding their alcohol back making threats would be the one to get kicked off the ship. They want everyone to have a good time while making their money. They’re not going to kick you off of the ship because you got busted sneaking a bottle on board.

  2. 12 cruises 26 bottles brought on board I confiscated one time and Returned actually at cruises end the night before that one we celebrated with a final night party.Actually on one port in Mexico I bought 2 large bottles of kahlua for $8 each and carried both declaring one to the inspector and while he was busy attending to that I had the other under my arm and sailed on through. The one I declared was returned the day before we left in the room
    SO 28 took on and 28 went where they were intended .Actually I dont drink much so most went home unopened now it’s just a game testing their effectiveness in security. With 4000. In a ship now checkin 8000 bags in a couple of hours is a chore. What do you think inspector Cleseau?

  3. I am 20 and want to attempt smuggling liquor in rum runners, however I do not want to be kicked off. I’ve searched everywhere to see if anyone has been kicked off or if anyone under 21 has been successful and I have not seen ANYTHING. I don’t mind if they take the alcohol and trash it, but I do not want to be kicked off. that is my main concern. ANY feedback would be greatly appreciated! My cruise leaves within a few days!!

  4. We use rum runners and tuck them into our clothes as we board. Spanx and a loose dress helps, plus I’m curvy. We put them in our carry on, go to the bathroom and put them on our person (bra and lower back for me, makes my butt look dumpy but loose dress hides it and no one is looking at your butt, lower back/top of butt for my husband, just before we board. You just board and go directly to the bathroom to put back in your carry on. Depending on cruise length you can refill in port and get back on the same way (bring a small funnel). They’re not strip searching people πŸ™‚ We like to drink, but we are also frugal. We still hit up happy hours on board and often can get the 2:1 drinks/beer usually for husband, unopened and to enjoy at the pool or stateroom another time. Cheers!

  5. I got caught on Carnival. I expertly replaced water with booze that would fool 99.9% screeners. I found the .1% zealot who shook the case to reveal bubbles that booze but not water produce. I was the bug not the windshield that day. It was taken with commentary or fan fair. Added to his collection.

    • Any repercussions other than it getting taken away? I am going on a cruise next January and am thinking about buying the rum runner shampoo and conditioner bottles.

      • I would think the shampoo/conditioner bottles would be a dead giveaway ….. your cabin is stocked with free soap, shampoo and conditioner.

        • They probably would be a giveaway, but plenty of people do bring their own shampoo and conditioner with them because they don’t like what you get for free.

  6. My son has been successful twice using the rum runners and he’s making “arrangements” for our upcoming cruise in December. I don’t drink…if I did, I couldn’t imagine paying $10 for a drink in a plastic fish.

    • Honestly, we don’t know the answer to that one. In our opinion it seems like it’s an informal process. They take the alcohol and that’s it. We haven’t seen any evidence of anyone being written up about it.


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