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Updated January 21, 2019
Sneaking alcohol on a cruise has always been a popular pastime for those who are willing to break the rules to avoid paying for drinks onboard. Mainstream cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing their own liquor, beer and other alcohol (with the exception of wine or Champagne) on ships. Why spend more money than you have to, when you can try to pull a fast one on security staff?
Many "rum runner" passengers have sneaking alcohol on a cruise down to a science, stuffing refilled mouthwash bottles and purpose-made plastic bags in their checked luggage. Some even go as far as appointing the least guilty-looking family member (ahem, Grandma) to do the dirty work.
As stealthy as these folks might be, cruise lines are wise to alcohol-packing hacks. They know all the common hiding places, as well as which containers are most suspicious.
While the worst that likely will happen is having your prized bottle of Caribbean rum confiscated, we can think of five reasons why you shouldn't sneak alcohol on a cruise. Here they are.
1. It's embarrassing.
Remember how it felt to be called down to the principal's office in high school? Getting caught sneaking alcohol on a cruise is twice as embarrassing. Cruise lines will usually slip a note in your suitcase before it's delivered to your cabin on embarkation day, letting you know if something was confiscated. If your bag is locked, and they suspect you might have some inside, you'll be summoned to a below-decks location (that cruisers have nicknamed "the naughty room") to open it. Talk about feeling like a misbehaved child.
2. You could end up losing money.
If you dropped $10 to $30 on purpose-made containers to sneak alcohol on a cruise, you'll lose all that money -- plus whatever you spent on the booze inside -- when you get caught. If you opt to hide bottles in your suitcase instead, whether or not you'll see those bottles again depends on the cruise line. Some might confiscate it indefinitely, while others will hold on to it until the end of the cruise. As you're likely going to pay for drinks once your stash is gone, you'll end up spending more money after a failed smuggling attempt.
3. Beverage packages are more fun.
You'll never be able to sneak an entire bar onboard, so even if you manage to smuggle some vodka or whiskey onto your ship, you're going to be limited in the drinks you can make in your cabin. Compare that to booking a cruise during a "free beverage package" promotion, where you can try out an array of fun cocktails, shots and after-dinner drinks -- not to mention beer, wine by the glass and soda -- for just the price of bartender gratuities. If you're an adventurous drinker, you'll get great value and more fun by playing by the rules.
4. You're under 21.
Generally speaking, 21 is the minimum drinking age on any cruise that begins in a U.S. homeport. Underage passengers who try to sneak alcohol onboard face the same repercussions as anyone else; the booze will get confiscated. The only difference is they won't get it back at the end of the cruise. If you do make it through, you put yourself at a high risk for hurting yourself or others (for example, with alcohol poisoning, falls and sexual assault). Cruise lines reserve the right to disembark passengers who violate their alcohol policies, so obey the rules and avoid sticky situations. Age limits are in place for a reason.
5. You can bring wine or Champagne instead.
A couple of cruise lines let you bring a bottle (typically 750ml) of wine or Champagne onboard. (Some also allow bottled water, cans of soft drink and juice.) Although corkage fees might apply if you decide to drink your own bottle in the main dining room or a specialty restaurant, you can save money by enjoying the wine in your cabin. If you do bring your wine to dinner, the corkage fee is often around $15, cheaper than purchasing a bottle or several wines by the glass. You also get to enjoy whatever red, white or rose you please.