Can Cruise Ship Scanners Detect Alcohol?



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If you enjoy drinking wine with dinner, or you like having a beer before you get ready for a night of dancing, you might want to take your own onto a cruise with you, to avoid paying the high prices at the ship’s bars.

wine on cruise ship with a sea view

Sometimes it’s allowed, but often you’re limited. So, do cruise ships check your bags for alcohol using scanners, or even manually? If you’re looking for tips on how to sneak alcohol on a cruise, this guide might give you something to think about.

Can Cruise Scanners Detect Alcohol?

Cruise ship scanners can’t outright detect alcohol, but they can detect liquids. The security team will check every bag scanned, and if they see a liquid container, they are likely to open it up and check what’s inside.

The scanners are the same as those you’d find at the airport, and both your checked bags and your carry-on bags will be put through them. They use x-rays which can penetrate into your bags and show an outline of everything inside.

cruise ship scanner

However, they also cause liquids to appear as a dark colour, so they can quite easily spot any bottles of liquid. Once they see liquid they will normally open it up to check what the liquid is.

Suggested read: Can You Bring Bottled Water On A Cruise?

So in short, no they can’t detect alcohol, but they can detect any liquid – and they’re pretty vigilant about checking what that liquid is. Because whether it’s alcohol or something more sinister that could be used to create an explosive, they’ll want to know!

What Do Cruise Scanners Detect?

Cruise scanners will detect all kinds of objects – because they use x-rays, they’ll show a clear outline of everything inside your suitcase or bags. The security team are also highly trained to look for items disguised as other things – so they can easily spot contraband.

The security teams both portside and on the cruise ship are experts in their jobs – this isn’t something they do for an hour before picking up their ‘main’ responsibilities elsewhere.

Think about how many thousands of bags they have scanned in their career – they know the kinds of things to look out for. So if you were thinking of taking any banned items onto your cruise ship, you should expect a high likelihood of it being found.

Large group of suitcases with cruise ship in the background

Depending on the severity of the item found, the cruise line may treat you differently. If you’re caught trying to sneak an extra bottle of wine onto the ship, you’re likely to just have it confiscated.

But try to bring something like drugs or a weapon onboard and you’ll not only be refused the chance to board, but you’ll be handed over to the local authorities as well. So don’t try to sneak drugs onto your cruise ship!

Can You Bring Alcohol on a Cruise?

A lot of the time, you’re actually allowed to take alcohol onto a cruise ship – but not as much as you want.

Open suitcase packed for holiday on bed at home

After all, cruise lines are businesses and they need to make money. They want you to either pay for their drinks packages, or buy your drinks individually.

Letting you bring as much booze onto the ship as you want would undermine that, and cause a bit of a hit in their profit margins.

Here’s a look at which cruise lines permit you to bring alcohol onto your cruise, as well as guidelines on limits for non-alcoholic drinks too:

Cruise LineAlcohol allowance (per person)Non-alcoholic drinks allowance (per person)
CarnivalOne bottle of wine12 x 330ml cans or cartons
CelebrityOne bottle of wineNo limit
CostaNot allowedWater only permitted for medical needs
CunardOne bottle of wineNo limit
DisneyTwo bottles of wine or six beersNo limit
MSC CruisesNot allowedWater only permitted for medical needs
NCLUnlimited wine – $15 fee per bottleWater only permitted for medical needs
P&O CruisesOne litre of wine, Champagne, beer or spiritNo limit
Princess CruisesOne bottle of wine for free. $15 per additional bottleNo limit
Royal CaribbeanOne bottle of wine12 x 500ml bottles, cans or cartons (per stateroom)

If you try to bring more than you’re allowed onto the ship, and you’re caught, you’ll still be allowed to keep the permitted amount of alcohol – but the rest will be confiscated.

Read more: Can You Bring Your Own Drinks on a Cruise?

How Strict Are Cruise Ships With Alcohol?

Cruise lines’ official policies vary on guests who try to sneak alcohol onboard – some say they will confiscate the alcohol, while others reserve the right to refuse guests boarding. In reality, the alcohol is usually confiscated and sometimes returned at the end of the cruise.

However – let me be clear – I am not saying that it will be fine if you do try to sneak alcohol onto a cruise ship. Especially with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, which do say they may refuse boarding, there is a chance it could happen.

I can’t find any stories of someone being refused onto the ship, but all it takes is one security guard deciding to take a harder line and you might end up missing out on your cruise.

Cruise ship security guard

And because you had willingly broken the terms of your cruise contract, you wouldn’t be able to ask for a refund either.

So, in most cases, what tends to happen?

If you have alcohol on your carry-on luggage, or it’s found on your person, then security will ask you about it, and if they find out that it is alcohol, they will take it from you.

If this happens port-side, it’s likely that you won’t see the alcohol again, because they don’t tend to have storage facilities for your contraband.

However, if your extra alcohol was in your checked luggage, things vary.

On some cruise ships, you might have your suitcase delivered to your room as normal, but with the alcohol missing.

On others, you may be asked to go and collect your luggage yourself, where you’ll be asked about the banned alcohol.

This video shows what happens. Bear in mind it has an explicit language warning:

That video also shows the alcohol being logged with tickets, so that the passengers could collect the bottles at the end of the cruise.

If your alcohol is taken from your suitcase, you’ll receive a letter explaining what happened. And again, sometimes you may be able to collect it at the end of the cruise, but at other times you won’t.

In that video, the passenger receives a letter which states:

“With the exception of all liquor, beer, and other forms of alcoholic beverages canned or bottled, your items will be stored in a secure location and returned to you on debarkation morning in the…

…All liquor, beer, and other forms of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages canned, bottled, or in cartons, will be discarded and no compensation will be provided.”

So you need to be aware that, if you take the risk, you might end up having your alcohol removed permanently and you won’t be reimbursed.

How Do Cruise Ship Security Check for Alcohol?

There are a couple of ways that security on your cruise ship will check for alcohol. Obviously, they will use the scanners to look for liquids, but then how do they know whether something is alcoholic?

If the liquid is in an opaque container, or it’s not a clear liquid, usually the security team will open it up and smell it. Even if the bottle is sealed, their priority is making sure you aren’t sneaking alcohol onboard so they’ll break the seal and smell what’s inside.

But if the water is clear, and there’s a chance it’s just water, there’s a really simple trick that they will use.

When water is disturbed – tapped or shaken – the bubbles that form inside are quite large and will rise to the top quickly.

With alcohol, the bubbles are smaller and much slower.

Do You Go through a Body Scanner on a Cruise?

You will go through a body scanner when you board a cruise ship, but this is typically a metal detector instead of a more complex scanner, so it won’t be able to detect alcohol if hidden on you.

This means that, if you did want to sneak alcohol onto a cruise ship, a wearable might be a better option – there are bras and fake bellies that you can use!

View on Amazon

However, the security staff are pretty savvy. If they suspect anything about you when you come onto the cruise ship, you may be patted down. And if they find you trying to sneak alcohol onto the ship using a wearable, the consequences are likely to be more severe than if you’d tried to sneak it through in your bags.

That’s because it shows a real dedication to breaking the rules to try and use a wearable like this, and so the security team will be concerned about what other dangers you might pose to the ship.

Are Rum Runners Detectable?

Rum runners are flasks for alcohol that are not bottle shaped – they tend to be flat, which can make it harder for cruise ship security to spot them on the scanners. However it is not impossible, as the x-ray images still show the darker liquids, and security staff are trained to look for rum runners.

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Remember, these people know what they’re doing, and so while there’s a chance you might get lucky on a larger ship where thousands of bags are being scanned, the security teams know what rum runners look like.

Just like how they’re wise to people using mouthwash bottles for liquor.

I can’t tell you how likely you are to succeed using a rum runner – cruise lines are hardly going to post those statistics, are they? But while there are plenty of success stories:

There are also plenty of failures:

Final Word

While the consequences of smuggling alcohol onto your cruise ship don’t tend to be too drastic, it’s a risk you’re taking since some cruise lines could decide to stop you from boarding.

If you do try to sneak alcohol on cruise ships, and you do get caught, don’t argue or cause a fuss. That’s going to massively amplify your risk of being kicked off the ship!

I’d recommend sticking to the guidelines and avoiding smuggling altogether – that’s the best way to make sure you’re not stressed on check-in day and you don’t need to have any awkward conversations with security staff.

But, if you really do want to give it a try, then click here to find out how most people do it.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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