Drinking ages vary by country, but what are the rules on the high-seas?
Like many things this is not an easy question to answer. While the drinking age in the United States is 21, plain and simple, many guests on cruise lines are from nations with very different laws and customs. What should you expect if traveling from the U.K., or perhaps Brazil?
Let's review alcohol policies aboard some of the more popular cruise lines, copied straight from their websites with my commentary below.
The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings originating in North America is twenty-one (21).
The minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean International ships on sailings from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand is eighteen (18). The minimum age to consume alcohol at all private destinations remains twenty-one (21) without regard to where the sailing originated. The Company retains the right, on rare occasions, to raise the minimum age of alcohol consumption on any sailing when local laws require or permit such a modification.
Royal Caribbean divides their policy into two categories: Sailings originating in North America, where you must be 21 and sailings originating from everywhere else, where the drinking age is 18. No matter where you sail from, you must be 21 to drink in Labadee and Coco Cay, their private destinations.
The minimum age for the purchase and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the bars, lounges and gift shops is 21 years of age. In the event that Bar/Restaurant/Gift Shop Staff are in question that the guest is less than 21 years old, they shall request picture identification, prior to serving the drink or selling the bottle of liquor.
The Carnival policy is quite simple: you must be 21 in order to drink alcohol.
Passengers must be 21 years of age or older to purchase or consume alcohol.
With the exception of Alaska and Hawaii itineraries, Norwegian permits young adults to purchase and personally consume wine and beer only while onboard and with the consent of an accompanying parent. Authorization will be given only when the accompanying parent completes the Young Adult Alcoholic Beverage Waiver form. This form can be obtained and completed at the Guest Services Desk upon embarkation of the vessel. However, passengers 18 years of age or older are permitted to consume beer and wine when sailing on round-trip European voyages without having to complete the Young Adult Alcoholic Beverage Waiver form.
In short, on U.S. based sailings you must be 21 years old to drink, but if you're at least 18 a parent can sign a waiver allowing you to drink...unless the sailing is out of the Alaska or Hawaii. I don't fully understand this (except for on the Pride of America, which doesn't visit foreign ports), but it's more flexible than other lines. On European sailings those persons at least 18 years old can drink beer and wine, though it isn't clear if a waiver allows those passengers to drink alcohol. If you have experience with this we'd love to hear from you.
The age for gambling on Princess ships is 18 years old. The age for drinking on Princess ships is 21 years old*. Guests under the age of 18 will not be permitted in the Casino or Night Club after 11:00 p.m.
*For cruises between Australia/New Zealand, China, Europe and Singapore ports, the drinking age will be 18 years old. For cruises between Japan ports, the drinking age will be 20 years old.
Princess requires guests are 21 in order to drink alcohol unless the sailing is between Australia, New Zealand, or Singapore, in which case the age requirement is 18. For sailings between ports in Japan guests must be 20 to consume alcohol, in compliance with local law.
The minimum drinking age for all alcoholic beverages on Celebrity Cruises ships sailing from North America is 21. The minimum drinking age for all alcoholic beverages on Celebrity Cruises ships sailing from South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand is 18. In certain circumstances where local laws permit or require, Celebrity Cruises may modify this policy which may also require parent/guardian request/authorization. Guests may contact Guest Relations or refer to Celebrity Today for specific minimum drinking age information on their cruise vacation.
For purposes of complying with the minimum drinking age requirements, a guest’s age is established upon boarding at the beginning of the cruise vacation. If a guest celebrates their birthday during the cruise vacation, and thereby becomes of age to consume alcohol, the guest may thereafter ask the Guest Relations Manager to modify ship’s records to permit their consumption of alcohol during the remainder of the vacation. The guest will be required to appear at Guest Relations to present a valid government-issued form of identification to permit verification of their age.
Celebrity, as you see is common, requires person to be 21 years of age in order to purchase and drink alcohol. They do however offer exceptions for slightly more regions than other lines. Sailings from anywhere in South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, where the age requirement is 18. So really, Celebrity is saying that you must be 18 to drink alcohol, unless the sailing is out of North America. This is interesting as it curiously leaves out Canada, where the drinking age on land is 18. They also mention, as is expected, that they can adjust this requirement as needed based on local laws.
Guests under the age of 18 are not permitted to gamble or enter the casino. Guests who are under 18 years of age are not permitted to purchase or consume alcohol on board. While in U.S. waters, Cunard Line enforces and abides by the U.S. legal drinking age of 21 years.
Cunard simply notes that they require guests are 18 or older to consume alcohol aboard their ships, and that while in US waters, this requirement changes to 21 years of age. It's been a number of years, but I can note personally, that when I sailed Cunard as a child, regardless of policies, actual enforcement came down to one's ability to reach the bar. This isn't surprising as the U.K. has much more lenient alcohol laws than the U.S.
Holland America Line
Alcoholic beverages will not be served to guests under age 21. However, effective on voyages commencing July 1. 2016 and thereafter, the legal drinking age onboard will be 18 for voyages which depart from and return to Europe, China, Hong Kong, Singapore or Taiwan, and the legal drinking age onboard will be 20 for voyages which depart from and return to Japan.
Starting to see a pattern here? The policy starts simply, with guests needing to be 21 years old to purchase alcohol. On sailings that depart and return to Europe, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan, the requirement is 18 years old. For sailing going to and from Japan, the requirement is 20 years old.
Have personal experience with drink packages? Have another cruise line you'd like us to research? Leave a comment below!