Bringing Your Own Wine Aboard Ship

Which are you? For some people, taking a luxury cruise is a once in a lifetime event. For others, it’s an annual or semiannual event. The cruise industry places a high value on loyalty and repeat customers. They want you to consider their ships your home away from home. This includes wine fans. In most cases, yes, you can bring your own wine.

What’s the Rationale?

This might surprise you. Didn’t I read something about no liquor or beer can be brought onboard? Doesn’t the cruise line operate the bars and restaurants as profit centers? Isn’t the goal to sell me their booze? Sort of. Their bigger goal is getting you to come back. They also want you telling your friends what a great time you had on their ships.

Here’s what they don’t want: People toting cases of beer onboard or running illicit cocktail bars in their cabins. They are more tolerant of wine. Although it varies by cruise line, you might find their literature or website indicating you can bring a couple of bottles for celebrating a special occasion. Our experience has primarily been with Cunard, but we’ve also brought wine aboard on Holland America too. The most restrictive situation we’ve encountered was reboarding in Port Canaveral and being told, since the limit was two bottles per person, I would need to wait until my wife caught up before the four bottles I just bought could come aboard.

You will find the rules usually prohibit consuming your own alcoholic beverages in public spaces, meaning you can enjoy them in your cabin or on your balcony, but not around the pool or in their bars. The dining room is a public space where they make an exception.

Your Deepening Relationship with the Wine Steward

Regardless of your dining room, there should be a wine steward visiting your table. The first night is the toughest, because they don’t know which tables require more attention. You will learn the ship usually has a corkage policy, a charge for serving you your own wine. In our experience on Cunard, it’s twenty dollars or less.

Here are some basic suggestions.

  • On the first night, order a bottle from the ship’s wine list. Let the wine steward know you are a wine fan and have brought along some of your own wine.
  • Hand the wine you would like at dinner to your wine steward at lunch. Your wine needs to be properly prepared. It might need to breathe. It’s tricky getting corks out of older bottles. These things take time.
  • When the wine is presented at table, invite the wine steward to try it and share their impressions.
  • If you are seated at a larger table, offer to share your wine with your tablemates.
  • Don’t finish every last drop. Leave about a quarter bottle, presenting it to the wine steward to share with their fellow sommeliers after the dinner service is complete.
  • Although you are paying corkage, also tip your wine steward with a white envelope containing cash at the end of the voyage.

What Can Your Wine Steward Do For You?

Did you do a double take when you read “leave a quarter bottle for the wine steward?” Why would you do that? There are several good reasons.

Different ships may have different policies concerning wine. Consider two couples. The first is served their wine, drains the bottle and leaves. The second shares wine with the wine steward. They engage with them, treating them as a wine professional. If corkage is discretionary, whose corkage might be waived?

Wine lists change. That earlier trip with lots of German guests might have left them with lots of unsold German wine they stocked for that voyage. They may vary their wine list with the seasons. “Bin ends” are the leftovers they want to clear out, to make space for the new selections. These are often heavily discounted. In some cases, there’s a supplemental sheet in the wine list binder. In other cases, you need to ask for it. “Do you have any bin ends on this voyage?”

Rules of Polite Behavior When Bringing Your Own Wine

These rules are adapted from land based scenarios where a restaurant isn’t a BYOB, yet they let patrons bring wine and pay a corkage fee.

  • Don’t bring a bottle they have on their list. If they have Moet Brut Imperial champagne, don’t bring your own and ask it to be served.
  • Don’t walk in with an embarrassingly cheap bottle of wine.
  • If you bring a bottle, plan on also buying a bottle from their list.

Relationships at sea develop at an accelerated pace. It’s highly possible you will discover fellow wine fans on your voyage.

Story courtesy of Bryce Sanders

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