If you're geeking out over your new drone, you've probably wondered whether you can take it on your next cruise for flying and photography fun. Cruise Critic researched individual cruise line policies on drones to determine what you can and can't do with a drone onboard.
Updated May 17, 2018
What is a drone?
A drone is a remote-controlled flying machine. Cruise lines distinguish between two types of drones: drones that carry cameras or video recording devices, and recreational or hobby drones, which are similar to radio-controlled airplanes.
Can I take my drone on my cruise?
That depends on which cruise line you're sailing and the type of drone you wish to bring.
Carnival and Royal Caribbean are the only cruise lines that allow drones to be brought onboard, and for Carnival it is only camera drones that are permitted. In both cases, the drone can only be used on land. Royal Caribbean further specifies that on land, the drones can only be used outside of the port area and not at all on Royal Caribbean’s private destinations of CocoCay, Bahamas or Labadee, Haiti.
At all other times, the drone or drone camera must be stowed in the passenger's cabin on both cruise lines.
Carnival encourages passengers to pack their drones in their carry-on luggage. Once a cruiser passes through security, a secondary check is done to verify the contents of the bags if something raises a red flag.
What happens if I bring a drone onboard a non-Carnival or non-Royal Caribbean ship and get caught?
If a drone is found -- either during embarkation or during a cruise -- it will be confiscated and returned to the passenger at trip's end. This also applies to recreational drones smuggled onto a Carnival ship.
If I'm traveling on Carnival or Royal Caribbean, can I use my drone camera anywhere in any port?
No. As a Carnival spokesperson said, "It is the responsibility of the guest to ensure that the port allows drone cameras, and to obtain the necessary license to operate it, if required."
Drone laws vary by port. Be sure to learn the rules for a specific port before taking to the air. The port of Galveston, for example, has regulations that ban drones from within 400 feet of critical infrastructure buildings, such as the cruise terminal, and 100 yards of cruise ships.
Drone-friendly ports include Aruba, Roatan in Honduras and Cozumel in Mexico. General guidelines include keeping the drone in sight at all times and not flying the drone over large crowds, at night or near airports.
A starting point for finding information about local regulations on drones is The Drone Info website.
Why do most cruise lines not allow drones onboard?
Many lines consider drones a safety and security risk. Some cruise lines worry a drone would interfere with a ship's operation. There are also concerns that a drone would crash on deck or violate the privacy of other guests.
What happens if my drone inadvertently takes flight onboard or is caught flying in an unauthorized area or port?
In most cases, the drone will be confiscated and returned to the passenger at the end of the voyage. If the drone was involved in an incident or accident, it will be confiscated and turned over to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Flying in an unauthorized area onshore could also result in a fine or other legal penalty. Local authorities might confiscate a rogue drone and not return it.
You say these are the rules, but I'm hearing other things from fellow cruisers. What should I do?
Cruise lines are constantly reevaluating these policies so the best way to get the correct answers to drone questions is to contact the company directly.
Carnival, for example, said it was prompted to add a drone-related question to its website's FAQ because it received so many questions. A Cunard spokesperson said it is reviewing its current no-drone policy in light of advancement in drone technology.
Do the same policies apply if I am a licensed drone pilot with substantial drone experience?
Yes. Even if you are considered the equivalent of Tom Cruise in "Top Gun" in the drone-operating world, no drones means no drones.
I'm a professional photographer and have received permission from a port to use my drone there. Can I get a special exception to bring the drone onboard a non-Carnival or non-Royal Caribbean ship if I promise not to use it at any other time?
The only way to find out about special exceptions is to contact the cruise line directly.