Frangelico liqueur from Italy, dark rum from Barbados, tequila from Mexico. One of the perks of cruising is the ability to buy alcoholic beverages at ports of call close to where the products are made, and at prices much lower than at home. Unfortunately, that's not a way to save money on alcoholic beverages on board. Most cruise lines require that passengers turn over newly purchased liquor for storage until they disembark. Luckily, there's a little-known policy that makes it possible for cruisers who do want to enjoy some libations do so without paying a huge premium.
You're actually allowed to bring wine -- typically one bottle per person or two bottles per stateroom -- in your carry-on luggage just on embarkation day. (Wine purchased at a port of call is also held by the crew until the end of your cruise.) While corkage fees can apply, typically running anywhere between $10 and $30, bringing your own vino to enjoy during dinner can be a big money saver. Considering that a glass onboard can cost roughly $10 and that a bottle can fill about six glasses, you'd be saving upwards of $50 even with the corkage fee.
You'll find each cruise line's policy on its website -- check the FAQ page or perform a search for “beverage policy.” To save you some time, here's a sampling of rules and fees for a few popular lines:
Carnival Cruise Lines
The line allows one bottle of wine or champagne per adult at embarkation. The corkage fee is $15 if the wine is consumed in the main dining room or in the steakhouse.
Royal Caribbean International
Two bottles of wine or champagne per stateroom are permitted, and there is no corkage fee.
Disney Cruise Line
When sailing with Disney, guests can bring a maximum of two sealed bottles of wine or champagne. A $25 corking fee is applied when imbibing in the dining rooms.
Norwegian Cruise Line
There's no maximum limit for bringing wine on board a Norwegian ship, but a corkage fee, depending on the size of the bottle, applies: $15 for 750 ml and $30 for 1,500 ml.
Holland America Line
On embarkation day, one bottle of wine per adult is allowed on board. If consumed in the stateroom, there is no corking fee. Passengers may bring additional bottles of wine or champagne, as long as they aren't larger than 750 ml, but will incur a corking fee of $18 -- no matter where it is consumed. In the case of bringing back wine bottles from ports of call, guests can either drink them on the ship for an $18 fee, or have them stored until the end of the voyage.
The line allows one bottle of wine per adult to be brought aboard on embarkation day, and there's no corkage fee if it's consumed in a stateroom. In restaurants or the dining room, the fee is $15.
A final money-saving tidbit for thirsty cruisers: It isn't only wine that can be brought aboard most lines on embarkation day. Water and soda, in limited quantities and contained in carry-on luggage, also are allowed. If you want to go beyond the filtered water and fountain soda at the buffet, it's not unusual for a cruise line to charge $3-$5 for a bottle of water or a can of soda from a cabin's wet bar. Again, check online or call for specific cruise line's rules.