Can you bring alcohol on a cruise? The answer is mostly no, but there are some exceptions. And those exceptions have made sneaking alcohol on a cruise a popular pastime for those who are willing to break the rules to avoid paying for drinks onboard. 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 (ahem, Grandma).
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.
Wondering how to sneak alcohol on a cruise? If you're sailing with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL or any other mainstream cruise line, chances are you should stop your wondering right now. As we already mentioned, cruise lines are wise to the tricks of passengers trying to sneak alcohol (and most prohibited items) on board.
Futhermore, you will be screened at your port of embarkation, including airport-style X-ray searches of your bags. Liquid size restrictions are also in effect for all carry-on luggage for cruises, as they are on airplanes. You can bring wine or Champagne onto onto cruise ship in your checked luggage. Keep reading for more on this exception.
Check It Out: Your Guide to Cruise Line Alcohol Policies
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-deck location (that cruisers have nicknamed "the naughty room") to open it. Talk about feeling like a misbehaved child.
If you dropped $10 to $30 on purpose-made containers to sneak alcohol on a cruise, you'll lose that money when you get caught -- plus whatever you spent on the booze inside. If you opt to hide bottles in your suitcase, 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.
And that's not all. If your alcohol is confiscated on your cruise, you'll wind up having to pay for a drink package or pay for alcohol a la carte. In any case, chances are you'll spend more money than you would have in the first place if you're caught.
Take Your Pick: 17 Cruises That Include Alcohol
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 with what you can make in your cabin. Truth be told: The cocktails made by bartenders on your ship are going to be far more creative. And if you think that you'll be saving money, see above. But also keep your eyes open for free drink package promotions offered by cruise lines throughout the year. That puts an array of fun cocktails, shots and after-dinner drinks -- not to mention beer, wine by the glass and soda -- within reach almost anywhere on the ship. You'll also only be paying bartender gratuities.
Read More: A Guide to Cruise Line Drink Packages
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 on a cruise face the same repercussions as anyone else: The booze will get confiscated. The only difference is that if you're under 21 won't get it back at the end of the cruise. Cruise lines reserve the right to disembark passengers who violate their alcohol policies. In other words: You could be kicked off.
If you have a nice vintage sitting around the house that you'd like to celebrate with onboard, there are exceptions to alcohol policies. Some cruise lines let you bring a bottle of wine or Champagne onboard (typically 750ml). 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. Whatever you decide, check your cruise line's rules before embarkation day.
Updated March 17, 2022