Cruise Ships Are BANNING Alcohol In UK Ports (And Some Others Too)

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There’s nothing like that feeling of getting onboard a cruise ship on departure day, completing your muster drill, locating your stateroom and then heading to the bar to grab that first cocktail so you can properly relax.

But what if your cruise ship denied you your cocktail, and said that you weren’t allowed to drink alcohol until that night?

Norwegian Jade

What if you’d paid for that drink already by choosing a drinks package? And, worse, what if it was looking like a recurring issue for the rest of your cruise?

For guests of Norwegian Cruise Line, those questions aren’t rhetorical…

Which cruise lines are banning alcohol in UK ports?

The only cruise line that is banning the sale of alcohol in UK ports is Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). All other cruise lines are still serving alcohol as normal during port visits.

It’s not possible to tell if this is affecting the sister cruise lines of NCL either – neither Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas have had cruise ships in the UK since this issue was first reported.

If I hear of any more cruise lines with similar issues then I will update you!

But to clear up exactly what is happening…

NCL has stopped serving alcohol onboard cruise ships whenever they are docked in a UK port, even for guests that have paid for a drinks package or that have paid for a Free at Sea fare which includes a drinks package.

As you can imagine, this has caused quite a stir amongst passengers and other cruise fans online.

drinks on a cruise

Why is NCL banning alcohol sales in UK ports?

It isn’t clear why NCL isn’t serving alcohol while in UK ports – the cruise line has given mixed messages.

It appears to be an issue with NCL paying the relevant taxes or license fees to serve alcohol while in port, but the cruise line’s official statement is laying the blame at the UK port authorities.

It’s honestly a bit of a mess – but bear with me.

When the issue first became apparent, NCL staff on the ship were being vague as to the reasons, just blaming “local restrictions”. But if you got in touch with the customer service team for the cruise line, they denied it was happening altogether.

“Megan (5/11/2023, 1:50:14 PM): That is incorrect we serve alcohol in all ports of call. “

However, since then, NCL has at least admitted more of what the problem was – that the port authorities in Southampton had asked for licence payments but had apparently only given the cruise line 2 days’ notice.

This was from a customer onboard the Norwegian Star:

“The official line on board is that there is a fee to pay to the port authority and Southampton only gave them 2 days notice which was not enough time to make payment.”

But if you’ve kept up, you’ll know that this didn’t only happen on that Norwegian Star sailing. It happened again on the Norwegian Dawn sailing three days later – which meant that the cruise line had 5 days to make the necessary payments by this stage.

And while NCL is blaming the Port of Southampton, it’s also happened in Belfast and Portland, too.

This is from the bottom of the Freestyle Daily, issue to passengers:

And a huge thank you to Teresa and Steve, passengers on Norwegian Star and Norwegian Epic respectively, who have emailed me with details of everything unfolding.

Teresa told me that NCL had refused to comment on the situation. But she also sent me this statement from the Port of Southampton:

“The rules state that bars, casino’s, shops must remain closed when less than 12 nautical miles from port. Unless the cruise line gets special permission from HMRC for these to be open whilst in port and agree to pay the duty and VAT on the consumption these should remain closed whilst they are in port.”

So while there isn’t an official, clear answer, it seems pretty obvious – NCL has neglected to pay their fees to allow them to serve alcohol while in ports of call.

Is this an administrative mistake? Or is this a new policy to help the cruise line save money? It’s too early to tell, but even if it is a conscious decision by the cruise line, it may well change soon when they realise the mistakes they’ve made.

Is this happening anywhere else in the world?

There are other problems too, not just with serving alcohol in ports in the UK. NCL has also been making changes to the way it serves alcohol in certain Italian ports of call, including Trieste and Livorno so far.

These aren’t quite as extreme as the issues in the UK – guests in Livorno can still enjoy beer and wine. But the sale of hard liquor is banned during the times the ships are in these ports, as is the sale of cigarettes. Hard liquor includes all spirits, which means cocktails are off the menu during these port visits.

Here’s the sign displayed on Norwegian Breakaway…

Norwegian Breakaway sign stating only beer and wine can be sold.

While a similar sign appears on Norwegian Epic…

Norwegian Epic sign

In Trieste, the ban applies to all alcoholic drink sales.

In Trieste, the ban applies to all alcoholic drink sales.

Guests with some drinks packages are being served cocktails – so there seems to be some confusion as to whether hard liquor can’t be served or can’t be sold in these ports.

Still – cocktails and cruises are like a cup of tea and a biscuit – or for my American friends, cookies and milk – they were made for each other.

So it’s still a serious issue for passengers when they’re not allowed to enjoy them.

How are passengers reacting?

As you can expect, many passengers are very upset at the policy of not serving alcohol in UK ports, and limiting the alcohol purchases in Italy.

It’s worse for the UK ports since nobody is being allowed to drink – even those who have bought a drinks package, or paid for a Free at Sea cruise fare because it includes drinks.

To then be told you’re limited in when you can enjoy those drinks – but only once you’re on the ship and it’s too late to cancel your cruise or change your fare – is not a good look for the cruise line.

“So, they end up charging passengers for a service not delivered. Talk about fraud and breaking the law. Wow!!”

There are, unsurprisingly, a number of people talking about cancelling any cruises they have planned with the cruise line, and booking with another one in future.

“if this doesn’t get sorted out I’ll be cancelling and finding another line to do a TA on”

Speculation continues as to whether this is just a temporary issue, or if it’s a plan that will continue, with the cruise line having a lack of foresight for how this would be received:

“someone has decided that this is a valid way of doing business - seems strange as anyone could have predicted that passengers would get very upset about this”

And some people seem to think it isn’t a problem being denied alcohol while on a day in port:

“So people are upset because they can’t have alcohol fir eight hours ? 😂😂😂😂😂must be a lot of alcoholics on these cruises that can’t go without and get the shakes”

Which ships and sailings are affected?

The issue was first reported on the Norwegian Star on the 11th May 2023 itinerary and has since recurred on the Norwegian Dawn on the 14th May 2023 sailing.

UPDATE: I just had an email from a cruiser who said that the issue is now resolved on his latest cruise…

Hello, I’ve read your post about the UK alcohol duty fiasco and wanted to share an important update. I’ve just boarded the Norwegian Star in Southampton and after what could only be described as a PR disaster for NCL and is now the talk of the ship; I’m pleased to announce that they have now fixed all the problems and all the bars are once again serving the full menu….YAY!!

Kind Regards,


Because the alcohol ban is only on ports in the UK, it affected NCL ships with visits to any UK port. That includes ports like Gibraltar and Belfast as well as those in England and Scotland.

Hopefully, this was a temporary issue that will be resolved quickly across the whole NCL fleet.

Has anything like this happened before?

For cruise lines to block the serving of alcohol completely while in ports is rare, but it has happened before.

And guess what – it was NCL once again.

In fact, it was recent, in 2022, only this time it was Greek ports. It was similar to the Italy issue from this year, where guests with pre-paid drinks packages could be served alcohol but no other sales were possible until the ship had cleared the port waters.

This adds fuel to the fact that it seems to be cost-cutting measures by the cruise line – surely if it was administration errors they would have learned from their mistakes?

Final word

I’m completely on the side of the passengers who are annoyed and feel let down by NCL here.

This isn’t just about being entitled to alcohol – a lot of these passengers have already paid for it, either with a standalone drinks package or choosing the Free at Sea or Free at Sea Plus fare. And they should therefore be allowed to enjoy it as it was advertised.

Communication is key here. And if guests were given a full explanation along with a refund of anything they had already paid, or perhaps some extra on board credit by way of apology, then I’m sure the news would be much easier to swallow.

If NCL truly is aiming to avoid paying their taxes in these ports, then that just doesn’t seem like a wise move at all. I just hope that passengers don’t mind waiting until the night for their drinks. And I hope NCL can confirm that this issue has now been fully resolved..

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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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14 thoughts on “Cruise Ships Are BANNING Alcohol In UK Ports (And Some Others Too)”

  1. I have sailed many time with other lines and always had a drinks package but have never paid any tax in Spanish waters, is this the case with norweigian as I have received an email saying I must pat 20% odd tax in Spanish water but surely that’s on sales in their waters, a drinks package is purchased outside of their waters!

  2. We were on NCL Sun on Dec. 2022. While in Gibraltar (19th of Dec.) alcohol was not permitted on board. This was posted on the Free Style Daily the night before.
    Also in Malaga port, there was an additional VAT charged on board. This was valid while we were on port and remained until leaving Spanish Maritime Waters. The cruise had been before in the Canary islands and there was no charge there (maybe because of some tax exemptions of these islands). Also there were no charges in Madeira, Portugal.
    We finished NCL Star in Southampton on 11th of May so we didn’t notice as we don’t drink alcohol at breakfast.
    We are now going on NCL Dawn 27th of July from Southampton (British Isles ending in Copenhagen). From what I read here, I guess that we might expect restrictions.
    A friend of mine departed on an MSC ship from Southampton on 13th of June and they had no restrictions while on port.
    We did cruise on the Med and if we didn’t leave European Community waters (Italy and Spain) there was VAT in all the purchases on board. We started having the impression that itineraries would have one country outside the EU to alleviate passengers of the taxes.
    We are completely on the hands of the cruise lines and they do whatever they want and show little respect for customers. They know that if they advertise restrictions before, less customers will buy their cruises.

  3. I was on the Norwegian Dawn from May 4 – 14, 2023, and this happened. My husband and I bought the highest drink package available, but we were told NCL was not allowed to serve alcohol until the ship had reached 12 miles off the coast of Southampton. We were told it would take about three hours, but people were drinking in less time than that. Not a biggie to us. Getting back to Southampton was another story. Our final port was Portland. When we left, we were told the same BS – no drinks until we 12 miles away — and it would be maybe another “30 minutes or so.” It never happened. I just wanted a glass of champagne for my last night — drinks I had paid for in advance — and we couldn’t get one. I will be writing NCL and seeking a partial refund. It was my belief that the ship stayed within 12 miles of the coastline the entire leg from Portland to Southampton so it wouldn’t have to serve us alcohol — you know, to make an extra buck or two.

  4. I have just returned from the Norwegian star cruise around the island of Ireland, which was absolutely breathtaking, but very concerning and upsetting regarding the alcohol policy. After an extremely stressful time getting on the ship, which, thankfully, they overlook their policies about not taking us on because we were so late, we weren’t able to celebrate until close to 10 o’clock that night when we shared a whiskey!
    They did allow us to bring on our Jamison products before we left Ireland and keep them with us in our state room perhaps to mollify us I don’t know, but I was thankful for that too!
    Karen D

  5. Just returned from a NCL UK 10 day 5/4-5/14/23. I assumed that it was a UK custom/requirement not to bars open in port but now doesn’t seem that way. We bought Club Balcony Suite accommodations and the ‘free’ (ha,ha) at sea package. In some ports you have to pay a sales tax. I can sort of see that but really chicken poop by a port that gets so much related income from cruise ships. I’m now REALLY annoyed that this happened and will contact NCL as a platinum latitudes member. I also noticed they were really loading the glasses with ice and shots were anything but generous. On the last night there was some delay in leaving (ambulance present) and the bars opened some time after 10 PM to my knowledge. I will be contacting a rep and request a credit of some sort. This is completely unacceptable and needs to be addressed. Otherwise I feel it is breech of contract. Hope there is a lawyer listening (even though I hate lawyers).

  6. We were on the NCL Dawn sailing from Southampton from 4th to 14th May, and had the alcohol ban in place on this cruise. The first we knew of this was once we onboard.

    This certainly affected the mood on board during the ‘Sail Away Party’.

    Our last port of call was Portland, sailing at 9pm, and the alcohol ban was still in place when we retired to our stateroom at 11pm; so the ban was not lifted when the ship left port. Bar staff told us that they had not been notified by the Bridge that they start serving alcohol. We have no idea if they ever started serving that night.

    • I’m currently on the NCL Dawn sailing out of Southampton on May 14th. No alcohol on first day, no plausible explanation. Spoke to bar manager the next day. He confirmed it was something new. Told me they didn’t know why and when it would be resolved. He also said it could affect all the UK ports of call, but it hasn’t. We’re in Liverpool today and they are serving alcohol, but only to pasengers who purchased drink packages. Asked why they couldn’t serve alchohol in Southampton, but no explanation. Just said they couldn’t serve anyone, drink package or not. NCL can’t seem to apply its unexpected policy changes consistently across sailings.

  7. Not a chance of ever sailing with a cruise line that can
    Change my contract before I get on board.
    I can further add that I sailed on the Epic in the first year of it’s fleet appearance, and it was the only cruise. I ever lost weight on!!!

  8. We are Saphire latitudes members and next month will be on the Epic for another med cruise (with Livorno overnight)…horrible port…IF they do not serve alcohol having paid a lot of cash for another NCL cruise I will be very very unimpressed to say the least…..thanks and keep up the good work!

  9. We sailed with NCL in March from Copacabana Brazil then over to Cape Verde and Spain, whilst we were in Brazil and Spain ports we were told we had to pay a tax on all drinks, we were not informed of this until we were on the ship and everyone was complaining. So annoying.

  10. Thanks for bringing this issue up Jenni, hopefully it will help put some pressure on NCL to clear this up!

  11. We were on Norwegian Sun in Gibraltar in January 2023 and were unable to purchase alcoholic drinks whilst in port. Could get non alcoholic drinks with our package. 1st time on NCL that it has happened to us

  12. NCL were doing this exact same restriction onboard Norwegian Sun when docked in Gibraltar in November 2022. The staff when asked gave no qualified answers only to refer to the vague “local restrictions”. We weren’t even allowed glass of wine at dinner that evening as we were told they’d not yet cleared Gibraltar waters! I managed to contact the port authority customs team who confirmed that there is no blanket ban on any alcohol service on cruise ships in the port of Gibraltar. But…. they are expected to conform to appropriate licence laws and duties. Having visited Gibraltar previously on other cruise lines where no restrictions were applied (and chatting to other cruise line passengers in 2 forums) it is absolutely clear it was ONLY NCL doing this.
    Together with your detailed report it is without doubt an NCL considered policy to significantly cut costs by not serving beverages to many thousands of passengers across all these itineraries!!!
    For those with existing bookings I’d strongly suggest contacting NCL now in advance to argue a refund against their drinks package.
    For those considering booking a UK based itinerary, then strongly consider whether you want to prepay for a drinks passage you’ll be heavily restricted in using!

  13. This is the response I got from the NCL Concierge regarding my upcoming Med cruise – I love how it says “which will be specified onboard” – nothing like PLANNING to deceive the guests once they’re already onboard?

    Please be advised that in accordance with the laws and regulations of select ports, the sale of duty-free goods including alcoholic beverages is not permitted while the vessel is in port or proximity thereof. However, in certain ports of call which will be specified onboard, guests who have pre-purchased any of NCL’s beverage packages may be served. Thank you for your understanding.

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