Alcohol packages sold onboard cruise liners have been criticised following last weekend’s mass brawl onboard a P&O ship.
Many of the world’s biggest cruise lines offer generous drinks packages that allow customers to drink alcoholic beverages during a set period.
Carnival Cruise Line, which owns brands including P&O, Cunard and Holland America Line, allows customers to drink 15 alcoholic drinks – including wines, beers, cocktails and mixed drinks – over a 24-hour period, which starts at 6am. The Cheers! Package costs $49.95 (£41) per day.
P&O passengers can buy an “ultimate drinks package” for £39.95, which allows them to get 15 beers, wines by the glass, cocktails or single-measure spirits, over a 24-hour period.
All cruises by Marella, which is owned by Tui, are all-inclusive and include a selection of cocktails, beers and wines that are served between 10am and 2am. The cruise line has a responsible drinking policy that encourages guests to be sensible when consuming alcohol.
Royal Caribbean doesn’t enforce a daily limit in its unlimited drinks package, the price of which depends on the ship. However, its ServSafe policy says bartenders will monitor customers for over-consumption of alcohol.
Last weekend, a late-night brawl on a P&O Cruise saw six people injured and two arrested.
Families fled as passengers reportedly used furniture and plates as weapons on board the P&O vessel, which had left Bergen in Norway just 12 hours earlier. Three men and three women were assaulted during the fight, according to Hampshire Police.
It has since emerged that the brawl was not started by a clown, as previously believed.
One passenger who was onboard told the Daily Mail that the ship was basically “Benidorm on Sea”.
“We found many people were there purely to drink as much as they could with their unlimited drinks packages,” she added.
However, Michele Andjel from P&O Cruises told The Independent that there was “no evidence to suggest that the drinks packages were linked with this event”.
Jim Walker, a cruise law expert from Florida, posted on his website Cruise Law News about the incident, saying that one factor behind cruise ships brawls was often “too much alcohol on increasingly gigantic ships”.
“Cruise lines aren’t profitable based solely on their cruise fares. Of all ‘onboard purchases’, including casino sales, shore excursions, speciality restaurants and gift shops, alcohol sales are the key to keeping the tax-free foreign flagged cruise ships profitable. Pushing alcohol sales are a key part of cruising on certain mass market cruise lines,” he said.
“Cruise lines make hundreds of millions of tax-free dollars a year selling booze. Bartenders, who make a earning solely on gratuities and tips, are often prone to over-serve guests.”
According to Carnival’s 2018 annual report, 26 per cent of all revenue – $4.7 billion last year – was classed as “onboard revenue”. Onboard alcohol sales fall under this.
In a comment on Mr Walker’s post, cruise passenger Sandi Flynn said: “We’re on a different P&O ship at the mo – I’ve already complained about the drinks packages encouraging excessive drinking which is socially unacceptable. This is not a cheap cruise.”
Another said: “Gee go figure they serve copious amounts of alcohol what did they think would happen.”
Adam Coulter, UK managing editor of Cruise Critic, told The Independent: “While cruise lines do offer guests the opportunity to purchase prepaid drinks packages onboard, it is important to remember that cruise ship bartenders — and security officers — still have the ultimate say in whether a guest has had too much to drink and should be cut off.
“Those decisions are made with the best interest of their guests in mind. Just as on land, the purchase of a package doesn’t allow guests to have free rein, and it doesn’t mean all guests will choose to drink responsibly.”
A spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which couldn’t comment on alcohol policies for individual cruise lines, said: “In terms of security onboard, cruise passengers are protected by a comprehensive system of security. Security staff onboard and onshore are well-trained and experienced; some are former law enforcement officers and full-time security personnel are on the job 24/7.
“While precise security details for each vessel are confidential and vary based on size, configuration, passenger demographics and other factors, cruise lines have experienced, well-trained security staffs and protocols in place to protect passengers and crew, including closed-circuit cameras to monitor ship activity.”