When it comes to drinking on a cruise, people know how to let loose.
In fact, our survey showed that nearly 90% of people spend at least some money on booze during their trip. Even more surprising is that greater than 20% spend over $200 on alcohol during their cruise.
The honest truth is that it’s pretty easy to spend a lot of money on drinks. Cruise ships have a captive audience that’s ready to have fun, and they price the drinks accordingly. It’s not unusual to pay $6-8 for a beer or $12-14 for a cocktail.
With prices so high, it’s no wonder that many people wonder about sneaking alcohol on with their luggage.
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 recent survey we conducted, 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.
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. All liquor, beer, other forms of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages outside of this exception are strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked luggage and such items will be confiscated and discarded and no compensation will be provided.”
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
We found a number of stories from passengers 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.
One person mentioned how her friends had their booze taken away:
“I’ve actually never had the bottle of rum I put in my luggage taken away. I’m like 5 for 5, so not sure how much they do actually check. Anyway, went with a big group last year and about 3 out of 12 people had their alcohol taken away. All that happened was it was confiscated and placed back in your room the last night before your cruise is over, so you really run no risk. This was all on a Carnival cruise line ship.”
Another said they received their confiscated booze back at the end of the trip:
“I’ve been caught twice but never been kicked off a cruise. The cruise line confiscated my liquor and responsibly returned it the last evening of the cruise. There are web sites that sell non-detectable plastic flask. I’ve used them many times.”
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 happen, but we have yet to see stories of it take place.
Should You Risk Sneaking Booze?
There’s no doubt that trying to sneak on alcohol is popular 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. While you might be able to smuggle on small amounts, it’s likely not 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 are sparse, there is a strong possibility that your alcohol will be confiscated if found. That can be expensive.
Instead, we suggest simply bringing what the cruise lines allow and buying other drinks on board. (Use our calculator to see if you would save money with a drink package.)