Visit the home page of Cruise Critic today and you’ll see a section called Things To Know Before You Go, packed with information on all those cruising mysteries – tipping, dress code, staying in touch… and one of the most contentious subjects of all: bringing your own alcohol on board.
Cruise lines’ attitudes to BYO alcohol range from perfectly reasonable to nannying to apparently illogical. I’m not campaigning for the idea of bringing truckloads of your own booze on board and depriving the cruise line of bar revenue. Just a couple of innocent bottles of wine.
It’s summer in the Mediterranean. Wine-tasting excursions abound. Ships are calling at ports where the shops are stocked with delicious, cheap French rosés from small Provencal growers, while passengers are enjoying tastings in exquisite Tuscan country estates. What’s wrong with loving a new wine so much that you buy a bottle to enjoy with dinner that night?
Yes, of course we’ll pay a corkage fee, just like we would in a restaurant at home. Yet some cruise lines are completely relaxed with this, while others forbid it completely.
Take P&O, for example: a blanket ban on BYO. Also, Fred. Olsen, MSC and Royal Caribbean. Any booze you buy on your travels is confiscated and handed back to you at the end of the cruise. Costa allows you to bring a bottle, in theory, but the procedure is so complicated (you have to write a letter two weeks in advance for approval and produce both the letter and the wine on embarkation for inspection) that it’s hardly worth bothering.
Cunard, though, along with Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line will allow you to consume your own wine for a corkage fee of around $20. And hats off to foodie-friendly Oceania Cruises, which assumes that you may have enjoyed one of its shore excursions so much that you’d quite like to buy some regional wine ashore and crack it open at dinner to remind you of the day.
Less so Azamara, which insists you can only bring your own wine at the beginning of the cruise, thus removing all spontaneity.
I know there are plenty of logical arguments against letting guests supply their own wine: loss of revenue, diluting the cruise line’s own effort, storing everybody’s wine, chilling it, reuniting each bottle with the right owner.
But why do some cruise lines treat us like adults and others like irresponsible kids?