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12 Rules of Drinking on a Cruise Ship

Mojito Flight on Norwegian Cruise Line (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Mojito Flight on Norwegian Cruise Line (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

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The guy who leaves the hot tub looking like a crime scene, ridden with the remains of his fruity cocktail. The woman flailing around at the nightclub like Elaine from "Seinfeld," spilling her drink with every kick and jolt. The ruthless seat saver holding onto an entire booth in the lounge, forcing others to stand. Many cruisers enjoy a vacation drink or several, but you don't want to turn into an embarrassing stereotype.

And that's where our unofficial rulebook for drinking on a cruise ship comes in. Not all the rules stem from other cruisers' mishaps. Many of them are (or should be) common sense, while others are simply a good reminder, even for seasoned cruisers. (We admit we've been guilty of No. 1 in the past.) Drink responsibly, maintain your dignity, and avoid public humiliation with these 12 rules of drinking on a cruise ship.

Updated June 28, 2018

1. Remember to hydrate.

With so much to do and see (and drink) on a cruise, it can be easy to forget to stay hydrated -- and no, the ice in your margarita on the rocks doesn't count. Carry around a refillable water bottle (you can get water at the buffet's self-service drink stations, and cruise ship water is perfectly safe to drink), or pace yourself by having a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages. Forget to hydrate, and you not only could get sloppy drunk, but you also risk getting sick and waking up with a debilitating hangover.

2. Don't save seats at the bar or lounge.

Akin to deck chair hogs, bar/lounge seat savers have no regard for other cruisers. It's one thing to hold a seat for your cruise companion if he or she needs to step out for a sec and use the bathroom, but it's rude to claim a handful of seats for your group that won't be arriving for a half-hour or more.

3. Have an idea of what you want before you get to the bar.

We spend enough precious vacation time standing in line, whether it's boarding the ship or waiting outside the main dining room before dinner; we don't need to wait around for Joe Schmoe to study the drink menu and ask the bartender a million questions about the items listed. If you're unsure of what you want to order, take a peek at the menu before getting in line -- this way, you have time to think about it.

4. Tip the bartender.

Mainstream cruise lines automatically place gratuities (bar service is usually around 15 percent) on onboard accounts, so cruisers don't have to worry about hunting down crew members and handing out tips at the end of the cruise. However, if your bartender goes above and beyond, consider adding a little something extra to show your appreciation. Plan to hang out at the same bar often? Tipping your bartender some cash upfront is a good way to ensure attentive service throughout your cruise. (Editor's Note: Cruise ships based in Australia and New Zealand do not have gratuities added.)

5. Don't overpay for drinks.

There are a handful of ways to get free or cheaper drinks on a cruise, if you play your cards right. Start by checking your daily planner for drink specials, such as happy hours and the drink of the day. Some lines also host captain's cocktail parties, where servers make the rounds with trays of Champagne. Big drinkers should also consider beverage packages, either for a daily rate or as a free perk, to save on booze. Bear in mind, though: Just because you're saving money on drinks, doesn't mean you should order more than you can handle.

6. Don't overdo it.

We've all witnessed "that guy" -- the one who drinks more than he can handle at the pool bar and makes a fool of himself, prompting onlookers to whip out their cell phones and record the scene. Unless your life goal is to be a viral video or meme, we recommend you pace yourself and know your limits. If you have a track record of getting "ship faced," assign a wing woman or man to look after you.

7. Finish your drink before you hit the dance floor.

Bust a move, not a glass. On a moving ship, it's a smart idea to finish your drink before heading out onto the dance floor. Even if your idea of dancing is just swaying from side to side, all it takes is a little motion or one person to knock over your drink -- staining your friend's formal dress and putting those around you at risk of slipping and getting hurt.

8. Think outside the box.

Lavender, basil, honey -- a cocktail's ingredients have caught your eye; the only downside is it's made with gin, which you can't stand. Don't settle for another drink. Ask the bartender to swap out the gin for your spirit of choice. Most happily will tailor drinks to your liking, as long as they have your requested liquor on hand. Or be adventurous and try it as is. Vacation is a perfect time to try something new.

9. Don't let a stranger hand you a drink.

A cruise ship bar can be a great place for singles to meet and mingle, but -- using the same basic precautions you would in any bar -- make sure you don't accept a drink from someone you don't know. You should be the one to take it from the bartender's hand. For the same reasons, you also shouldn't leave your drink unattended.

10. Keep it classy in the hot tub.

There's nothing more uninviting than a hot tub bubbling with cherries, pineapple slices and empty plastic cups. We have no problem with sipping a drink in the hot tub, but please use extra caution and respect for your fellow hot-tubbers. You also should avoid entering the hot tub if you're highly intoxicated, as it becomes a safety issue. Note: Cruise lines prohibit the use of glass near the hot tubs or pools, so make sure you order your drink in a plastic cup if that's where you're headed. Most cruise lines also have servers who will take orders from the hot tub and bring out your drinks in plastic cups.

11. Don't buy drinks for anyone underage.

The drinking age on all U.S.-based cruise lines is 21 -- even when sailing international waters. (Under special circumstances, some cruise lines allow 18- to 20-year-olds to purchase and consume alcohol with a parent's consent.) Regardless of the policy, you should never buy a drink for someone under 21. Break this rule, and you could face some serious consequences, including forced disembarkation. (In Australia and the U.K. the legal age to drink on cruises is 18.)

12. Don't sneak alcohol onboard.

One of the most important rules -- which happens to be a legitimate rule, enforced by the cruise lines -- is that you should never sneak alcohol onboard. There are a number of reasons why you should never try it, including the public humiliation you'll face if caught and the money you could lose if your newly purchased "rum runner" containers are confiscated. You can try to justify it all you want, but it's actually straightforward: It's a cruise line policy. Don't do it.

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