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Sneaking Alcohol on a Cruise: 5 Reasons You Should Never Try It (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

Sneaking Alcohol on a Cruise: 5 Reasons You Should Never Try It

By Gina Kramer
Cruise Critic Editor
Updated September 21, 2017

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 to do the dirty work. Grandma doesn't deserve this.

As stealthy as these rule-breakers think they are, cruise lines know all about 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 a trip to the naughty room and having your prized bottle of Caribbean rum confiscated, we can think of five reasons why you shouldn't sneak alcohol on a cruise. Don't worry, rule-breakers: You can still enjoy a carefree vacation by cutting in line at the buffet and hogging as many deck chairs as your heart desires.


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1. It's embarrassing.

Remember how it felt to be called down to the principal's office in grade 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 the naughty room to open it. Talk about feeling like a misbehaved child.

2. You'll get the stink eye from other passengers.

Cruisers bold enough to try sneaking alcohol in their carry-on bag will not only have to suffer through public humiliation, but also reproach from passengers who are stuck in line behind them. Waiting in line is bad enough; the last thing anyone wants is to put their vacation on hold because someone else didn't follow the rules. Even though you might be sailing with thousands of other passengers, somehow the people you annoyed at security will be the ones you run into over and over onboard.

3. 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.

4. You're under 21.

Generally speaking, 21 is the minimum drinking age on any cruise that begins in a U.S. home port. (An exception is Norwegian Sky, sailing out of Miami, which allows young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 to consume alcohol with a legal parent or guardian.) 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.

Most cruise lines let you bring at least one bottle (typically 750ml) of wine or Champagne onboard. (Some even allow bottled water, cans of soda and juice, no questions asked.) 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.

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