Norwegian Cruise Line Causes Confusion Over Alcohol

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Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has decided to prohibit the sale of alcohol on its ships while in UK ports. This applies to all Norwegian cruise ships visiting the UK. Passengers who have purchased drinks packages or Free at Sea packages, are also affected.

The exact reason for the ban is unclear, with NCL blaming the UK port authorities for requesting license payments with short notice.

The New Rule and Its Implications

Norwegian Cruise Line has stopped selling and serving of alcohol onboard its ships calling on any UK port. The move has caught many guests off guard. In fact, most guests did not find out what was happening until notices in bars and lounges were put up onboard ships.

Guests who purchased drinks packages or opted for Free at Sea fares, which also include a drinks package, are not exempt from this recent ban.

The precise reason behind this sudden change remains unclear, with NCL attributing the restriction to the UK port authorities’ sudden demand for license payments. Parallels to this restriction have also been spotted in certain Italian ports, and NCL had previously enforced a similar ban in Greek ports in 2022.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ship
Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz

One point of criticism has been NCL’s communication, or lack thereof, regarding the prohibition and how they plan to address it. The statement issued by Norwegian Cruise Line says:

“Please be advised that in accordance with the laws and regulations of select ports, the sale Of duty-free goods, including alcohol beverages, is not permitted while the vessel is in port or proximity thereof. However, in certain ports of call, which will be specified onboard. guests who have pre-purchased any of NCL’s beverage packages may be served. “

The fact that Norwegian Cruise Line is now banning alcohol sales, as well as the serving of alcohol while in port, suggests that the cruise line is currently not willing to levy taxes on guests or shoulder the burden itself. While this decision may save NCL the cost of taxes, it is causing dissatisfaction among their guests.

Moreover, NCL’s lack of clear communication about the ban and the reasons behind it has led to widespread confusion. While the cruise line attributed the ban to sudden demands for license payments by UK port authorities, the existing regulations suggest that this could be a move to avoid paying duty and VAT.

To add to the current confusion, some guests who are booked on a Norwegian sailing report that they have received confirmation from the cruise line that they are allowed to be served alcohol while in port.

Cruise Hive has reached out to Norwegian Cruise Line for further clarification and will update this post as more details emerge.

The Norwegian Fleet in the UK

NCL’s decision to halt alcohol sales at UK ports directly impacts several of its ships operating in the area. For instance, the 92,250 gross tons Norwegian Dawn, which has a guest capacity of 2,340 guests, has several upcoming sailings throughout the British Isles through October 14, marking the end of its European stint for the year.

Similarly, the Norwegian Getaway has cruises scheduled from Lisbon to Southampton and vice versa, wrapping up its European sailings with a voyage from Southampton to New York, on October 22.

Norwegian Getaway Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Bjoern Wylezich / Shutterstock

The new Norwegian Prima, the company’s flagship vessel, will also operate itineraries from Southampton with cruises to Reykjavik and Barcelona through October 1. Finally, Norwegian Star has seven cruises that call on or sail from UK ports through October 23.

Rules & Regulations

The UK government has regulations that allow cruise ships with an international itinerary to serve duty-free alcohol during the voyage if passengers and crew are the only ones permitted onboard. However, for cruises that do not call at any other ports besides those in the UK, duty must be paid on the quantities consumed.

The UK Government’s website reads:Where a cruise ship calls at multiple UK ports as part of a wider international itinerary, the bars, and restaurants may continue to serve excise duty-free stores throughout the cruise. This is on the condition that the only passengers and crew allowed on board are those traveling on an entitled journey outside the UK.

Intra-UK cruises: These cruises do not call at any port other than those situated in the UR. Duty-free stores can be Ioaded for these Journeys but the quantities consumed must be duty-paid.

Southampton Cruise port

This regulation is not new. One person made a Freedom of Information request to HM Revenue and Customs in 2015; the letter posted online states:

“I have just traveled from Hamburg to Southampton with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) aboard its new brand new ship Norwegian Escape. I arrived in Southampton on 27th October and up to then had been billed for purchases made at the advertised price plus a service charge of 18%.”

“On the evening of the 27th, the ship left port and sailed in the English Channel before returning to Southampton this morning. Overnight all bills now also had VAT additionally applied and also duty tax for alcohol.”

The implications of this situation for NCL are yet to be seen. The choice to cease alcohol sales in UK ports is significant, and how NCL handles the backlash will be a major topic of discussion in the coming days and weeks.

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