How to Smuggle Alcohol onto a Cruise Ship

(OR… How to Have a White Trash Vacation)

I could do a post on the Bahamas, but really, there isn’t much to tell.  We got to Miami late Thursday night, headed to South Beach and hung out at a bar, had a couple of drinks, and headed back to the hotel for a 3am pizza.  Very low key.  Got on the big boat Friday around noon, ate lunch, changed into our bathing suits, began laying out in the sun and drinking.  Saturday was a repeat of laying out in the sun and drinking, only with more napping.  We actually touched the streets of Nassau around 10pm Saturday night, went to a club where we got rock star seating overlooking the streets in the open air bar, had many more drinks, danced until my high heels wouldn’t let me anymore and called it a night.  Sunday…sun, drinks, naps.  Oh, and a LOT of eating the whole weekend. (EDIT:  re-reading this, it sounds like I was drunk the whole time.  Outside of Friday afternoon and Saturday night, I really never drank enough to feel anything.  Plus, it was my 30th birthday, so don’t judge me! )

So I can’t in good faith do a post on the Bahamas because I really didn’t experience it.  What I DID experience is how to make the best of a cruise vacation.  (Disclaimer:  I may want to go on a cruise again, so I’m not telling you which cruise line I used; I don’t want to be black flagged.  So the things I may be telling you may only apply to one cruise line.  If you need to know which one, contact me privately).

I’ve posted about my previous 7 day cruise, although it was more about the ports of call, rather than the cruise itself.  After that cruise I said I’d only do it again if I did it with friends and it was shorter.  Seven days is a long damn time on a boat and when you cruise, it really is more about the boat, not the destination.  For ME, it’s the destination, and I can only do cruise stuff (i.e. laying around doing nothing) for a few days. 

Based on my two cruises this is what I’ve learned:

  • They tell you not to check in to the cruise until 12:30pm.  We obeyed this the first time, standing in long lines and not actually boarding the boat until 2:30pm.  Ignore this.  We arrived to check in at 11:30am, zoomed through security, and were eating lunch by 12:30pm.  This allowed us to actually enjoy practically a full day on the boat, really getting our money’s worth.
  • When you check in, you have to hand over your bags, which will be delivered to your stateroom later.  This could be as late as 9pm the first day (which did happen the first trip-the bags were waiting on us at 1pm this past weekend).  So grab sunscreen, bathing suits, and anything else you think you may need to enjoy your afternoon on the boat and put it in a carry on bag.
  • A cruise ship offers a lot:  24-hour food, entertainment, economical travel.  It does not include alcohol or any sundries you may need.  There is information below on alcohol but anticipate ANYTHING else you may need: band aids, batteries, hand sanitizer, sunblock, aloe vera, pain reliever and any kind of medication (including cold medicine; colds run rampant on cruise ships-I got a nasty one on my first trip and both my girlfriends got sick on this last one), and all toiletries.  If you’ve reached for it in the last 6 months, bring it.  The bathroom does have shampoo and bath gel dispensers though.
  • Officially, no alcohol is allowed on the boat.  Any containers found with a broken seal will automatically be thrown away.  However, you are allowed to bring a limited number of unopened bottles of water and soda.  They tell you every bag is checked; the reality is they don’t have time to check EVERY bag so they spot check.  Between us 3 girls, one bag got checked and the alcohol enclosed got chucked because it was in an opened water bottle.  We still had enough alcohol for the weekend, so no biggie and they just give you a strongly worded letter.  BFD.
  • They don’t check for liquids and such during boarding so don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Keep one water bottle full of alcohol in your carry on.
  • Clear alcohols: purchase prior to packing and pour into water bottles.  Any containers found with a broken seal will automatically be thrown away.  If at all possible, try to keep the seal from breaking on the cap because you are allowed to bring a limited number of unopened bottles of water and soda.   Apparently larger capped plastic bottles (think Gatorade or Vitamin Water) are easier to open without breaking the seal so that may work (although the color of the drink may be difficult to work with)
  • Dark alcohols:  You are allowed to bring two wine bottles on the cruise (and they will uncork it for you for $18-how kind).  If you have a friend that makes homemade wine or simply knows how to cork bottles, this can be an option for whisky drinkers.  Obviously use a colored bottle, keep the label on so it looks legit, and please remember to bring the corkscrew.  Alex did this the first year for his Crown and it worked like a charm.  Others have mentioned using shampoo bottles and such; I don’t know about this one but I’m pretty sure you want to wash it out thoroughly first!
  • Bring a sports bottle or some other large drink container for mixing the drinks. 
  • Purchase a beverage card.  It was about $35 for the 7 day cruise in 2007 (price may have gone up) and $22 for the 3 day cruise.  Even if you aren’t a soda drinker (I am), this will allow you to get juices and other mixers for your drinks.  The rule is that the card is only to be used by the person who purchased it AND they will only give you one drink at a time.  However, I purchased one card and we three girls used it all weekend.  If I needed to get two drinks, I went to one bar, got a coke, and went to a second bar to get the diet coke.  I’d say you wouldn’t even need to worry that much about keeping it in the same gender because all they look for is the little “Coca Cola” sticker, not at the name.
  • Bring a beach bag with you.  It’ll be convenient to be able to bring all of your sunning items  without having to keep going back to the room.
  • Bring a watch with you.  There are no clocks in the room or on the boat, and your cell phones probably won’t get a signal when you are out at sea.  I bought a cheap, waterproof watch on the first cruise and have taken it with me everywhere.  Its permanently attached to a backpack or beach bag on all of our trips. 
  • Some people may be interested in trying to smuggle cuban cigars back into the country.  I wouldn’t do this because in case of getting caught, you get fined for this (a strongly worded letter I can handle but I’m not losing any money).  HOWEVER, if you want to risk it (and don’t, because cigars from Honduras and other countries are just as good), purchase two cigars, one cuban, one from anywhere else.  Smoke the other cigar, take off the label from this other cigar and put it on the cuban.  Good luck.  Hope you don’t get caught.
  • To get off the boat at the end of the trip, you have to go through disembarkation.  There are two choices: “self-assist” where you carry off all your luggage yourself or you can choose to have your luggage picked up the night before, where it will be waiting for you after you’ve gone through customs.  The first year we did self-assist because you can essentially leave anytime you are ready; the downside is that those huge bags are a bee-otch trying to get down elevators when everyone else is doing the same thing.  We got trapped on an elevator the first year because the lobby was full and we had nowhere to go when the doors opened.  This trip we had our bags picked up the night before.  It made for a much less stressful exit, we ate our breakfast in luxury, and didn’t have to lug those bags around.  However, you can only get off when your number is called and if you are trying to catch an early plane, this may not be ideal.

So that’s about it.  If you have any more suggestions, feel free to share.  Hope this makes for a fun (and more economical) vacation!

About Jessica

Mild mannered marketing drone by day. Bucket list adventurer by late afternoon. Having first drafted a list in high school, Jessica's list of things to do before she dies has slowly taken over her life and consumes her thoughts. Because of the list, she has traveled to Mordor, plummeted towards the Earth's surface from 13,000 feet up, cavorted with whale sharks in open water, skinny dipped herself into the Guinness World Book, and cursed the day she was born during the last miles of a Marathon. It's safe to say that if Jessica is doing it, it's on the list.

13 Responses to “How to Smuggle Alcohol onto a Cruise Ship”

  1. Great picture!!!!

    And this is really great info. Especially if I reschedule this Greece thing.

    Part 101 Things to Do and part Travel Guide and Completely awesome!

  2. I don’t think that last sentence makes sense in my previous comment…I’ve been driving WAAAAAYYYYY to much the past two days!

  3. Thanks for the compliment on the photo and don’t worry, your last sentence made sense! I really questioned doing this post because a) I don’t want to get black flagged from ever doing another cruise and b) I really don’t know how smart it is to generally talk about drinking/smuggling alcohol onto a cruise ship, in regards to colleagues and future employers. I can only hope that they realize I’m still a relatively sane, responsible person who drinks every now and then.

  4. Just don’t put your website on your resume :)

    I will have to bookmark this link, so I can use it to plan future cruises…great info!

  5. Well, its not on my resume, but if you Google my name, my blog comes up. As someone put it the other night, at the end of the day, do you really want to work for people that would be shocked by what you do in real life? If the worst that I’m doing is a keg stand once when I was 30 and skinny dipping for a world record, I’m not that bad!

  6. In November I plan to cruise for my first time which will be on Carnival, I have been all over the internet gathering information and this is by far the most down to earth, straight forward, and to the point experience that I have read. Thank you for sharing and thank you for the ideas and tips.

  7. Great Post! We are planning a cruise in November. We are going to try using rum runners ( which are flat bags that are easy to hide. They almost force you to smuggle alcohol on a cruise ship because they charge entirely too much. I would have to pay $90 for a fifth of tequila that I can get here for $40 bucks. $25 for a 4 pack of Budweiser??? Come on. I understand charging a little more but they are out of their mind. If you ask me they would sell more of their alcohol and have less people trying to smuggle if they weren’t so greedy.


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