U.S. law applies in U.S. territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles from the shore. As the legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old, no cruise line permits passengers under 21 to drink alcohol while in U.S. territorial waters. In international waters such as Mexico or the Bahamas, however, as claimed by countries with lower drinking ages, some cruise lines age policies allow passengers 18 years old and over to drink.

During shore excursions age limits may vary based on the place disembarking is happening. Legal age requirements should be researched in advance to ensure minimum drinking age compliance prior to arrival at a lounge or nightclub.

Parental Permission

Azamara (azamaraclubcruises.com), Norwegian Cruise Line (ncl.com), Disney Cruise Lines (disneycruise.disney.go.com) and Celebrity (celebritycruises.com) cruise ships allow guests 18 through 20 to drink with parental permission. The Azamara, Disney, and Celebrity policies apply only to sailings that originate in Europe, Australia or South America, while Norwegian’s policy is in effect whenever the ship is in international waters except on Alaska and Hawaii itineraries. On all three lines, your parent or guardian must be on the ship with you and must appear in person to sign the waiver.

Location-Based Policies

Royal Caribbean (royalcaribbean.com), Costa (costacruise.com), Cunard (cunard.com) and MSC (msccruises.com) base their policies on local laws. Parental permission is not required for 18- through 20-year-olds to drink. Royal Caribbean Cruise's drinking age is 18 for cruises that originate in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South America, but the drinking age is always 21 on the company’s private islands. Costa’s drinking age is 18 for all sailings that depart from a non-United States port. Cunard’s drinking age is always 18 except when a ship is in U.S. territorial waters. MSC requires passengers to be 21 to drink on U.S. and Caribbean sailings, but 18 on all others.

Beer and Wine Only

Crystal Cruises (crystalcruises.com) allows passengers 18 through 20 to consume beer and wine when outside U.S. waters and U.S. ports. Guests must be 21 years of age to consume hard liquor. Norwegian’s parental consent form extends only to beer and wine. Norwegian’s alcohol policy states that young adult passengers under 21 may not consume liquor even with their legal guardian’s permission.

Special Considerations

On some cruise lines, passengers 18 through 20 face alcohol restrictions that older passengers do not. For example, on Celebrity and Azamara, you are not allowed to provide alcoholic beverages to anyone else, even if that person is over 21. Read your cruise line’s policy carefully to ensure that you understand all the rules.

Research is key to understanding cruise line policies, for lines not mentioned including Princess Cruises, Holland America, or Carnival Cruise Lines, check online or contact guest services for information on drink packages and rules. Also keep track of what age is classified as underage or a minor for all expected ports of call including your embarkation site.