Its amusing to watch a cruise line caught in a scandal pretend to be outraged over "unfair" media scrutiny.

Royal Caribbean’s response to Inside Edition’s out-of-control cruise booze expose’ reminds me of the the quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.

Last week, InsideEdition aired a story "Inside Edition Investigates Cruise Ship Drinking" which took a look at widespread public intoxication aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas cruise ship.  Inside Edition’s show contained video depicting:

". . . many passengers pound back booze day and night. In the ship’s night club, our cameras spotted people passed out and one passenger face down on the bar. We also observed raunchy dancing and women exposing themselves.

From the moment our undercover producers walked up the gangway, the booze kept flowing. We saw many passengers drinking heavily before and during the mandatory lifeboat drill  . . . 

But the real boozing we witnessed occurred after the Liberty of the Seas set sail when legions of waiters descended on passengers with tray loads of booze pushing the drink of the day."   You can watch the video below:


The following day Royal Caribbean’s President Adam Goldstein wrote a blog about the Inside Edition expose, calling it "sensationalist" and "highly misleading." He wrote about his cruise line’s "SafeServe" alcohol training program and allegedly "strict policies" against over-serving alcohol to passengers.

There is no question that Royal Caribbean has a written policy theoretically designed to curb excessive drinking. But its just that – a policy.  In practice, the waiters and bartenders routinely ignore the policy and push alcohol sales. Its hard to take a cruise CEO’s shore-side policies seriously when you watch videos of Royal Caribbean waiters, who work almost entirely on tips, dancing around with bottles of rum on their heads while pouring double shots directly into the passenger’s mouths.

Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $50 a month.  The waiters push booze in order to obtain gratuities.  Profits from aggressive alcohol sales are a fundamental part of the cruise line’s "onboard purchases" program.  The cruise line nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling booze. If Royal Caribbean was serious about curtailing over-consumption of alcohol during cruises, they would pay the waiters and bartenders a reasonable salary. 

Lots-of-cruise booze translates into lots of cruise profits but higher incidents of sexual assault, drunken brawls and serious accidents including some leading to death.  The alcohol related problems on Royal Caribbean cruise ships date back decades.

In 1994, the LA Times published an article "Boy’s Death Raises Issues of Drinking On Cruises."  A 14 Royal Caribbean Cruise Booze - Alcohol  year old boy aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas consumed so much rum and tequila that he literally drank himself to death. The cruise line corporate communications manager at the time responded to the minor’s death cavalierly saying "the best advice that you can give is that a cruise is a resort vacation.  It’s not a baby-sitting service."

There have been problems with too much booze on Royal Caribbean cruise ships ever since.

The first sexual assault case I handled in the late 1990’s involved a 15 year old boy served a dozen glasses of champagne and then molested by a 28 year old Royal Caribbean crew member pedophile.

Perhaps one of the best known cases of an over-served passenger involved another case we handled where honeymoon cruiser George Smith was grossly over-served alcohol.  Royal Caribbean bartenders even provided shot glasses for Mr. Smith and other passengers to quaff absinthe that had been smuggled aboard the Brilliance of the Seas.

The seminal case involving the responsibility of cruise lines in dispensing alcohol is a 2004 case here in Miami called Hall v. Royal Caribbean.  A passenger on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, according to the opinion, "was injured on the high seas when, after having been served alcohol by the vessel’s employees to and obviously past the point of intoxication, he staggered from a lounge, and while unable to look after himself fell down two flights of open stairways."  

The trial court threw the case out saying that the cruise line had no obligation to the drunken passenger. But the appellate court revered, holding that although passengers have a personal responsibility to act reasonably, the cruise lines also have a corporate responsibility of acting reasonably in serving a safe amount of alcohol.

In 2006, a young man from Ohio, Daniel DiPiero, fell off a Royal Caribbean ship when he tried to vomit over the railing which was too low.  The accident was entirely preventable.  Video showed that the young man had passed out in a deck chair but no security had passed by for several hours.

In 2011, another intoxicated young passenger went overboard from Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas after Royal Caribbean over-served him alcohol.

Royal Caribbean Alcohol - All You Can Drink - Cruise Ship In the same year an underage passenger alleged that she was raped on a Royal Caribbean after becoming intoxicated.

Many of the problems with alcohol on Royal Caribbean cruise ships in the past few years stem from its all-you-can-drink-packages,where passengers can drink themselves into a stupor for a daily set price. No cruise line with a genuine concern for passenger safety would market these types of unlimited booze deals.  

With this history in mind, CEO Goldstein’s protestations about "sensational" media reports fall on my deaf ears. There is nothing more sensational for a family to learn that their son has gone overboard or their daughter has been raped after Royal Caribbean over-served them alcohol. 

The Inside Edition video speaks for itself.  Little has changed at Royal Caribbean.  The cruise line continues to push cruise booze and makes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free booze profits in the process. 

At the end of the day, it’s the "personal responsibility" versus "corporate liability" debate.  What do you think?

Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts . . .  

May 16, 2012 Update:  The South Florida Business Journal mentions our blog in the article Alcohol vs. Drugs on Cruise Ships


  • Tom

    Take responsibility for your own actions, that simple. Welcome to this world, you have chooses. If I decide to do cocaine then I pay the price. If i decide to drink and clime over a railing of a moving ship (in the middle of the ocean) there are risks with that as well. This whole topic is very dumb. Its called the freedom of choice. You can’t take that away from me and I can’t take it away from you.

  • Lori

    I can attest to the limiting of alcohol as my husband and I tried to buy a round at one of the small bars on one of our RCCL cruises and were told that was not possible do to their new rules (and this was several years ago.)

    I agree with Tom the previous poster, grow up and take some personal responsibility. With that said, I believe the cruise lines have a responsibility to the rest of us to actually use the security personnel when an over indulgent passenger gets out of control. If this calls for “drunk tanks” on the floating cities so be it. This could protect the “overboard” self indulgent from becoming, well, overboard; and could serve to preserve the vacation for the rest of us. It should be monitored and on video to protect the dumb and the cruise line.

  • Zanna

    I think the comment about the “commission” is purposefully overstated. As we’ve discussed in other areas of your blog, staff on the ships are paid only by tips (which the reporter has translated into “commissions”), not wages. The bar staff positions are likely the best compensated from their tips, but it is not like it is on top of regular wages. The pressure to oversell on everything – drinks, “art”, “tanzanite (most rare gem, doncha know!!!!)”, “jewels”, excursions, etc, etc, etc comes from the top.

    The drinks on the one (and only forever) cruise I’ve been on were extremely expensive. For my little group it was a very effective deterrent, and would have been even if we were boozers.

  • Lorein

    I worked on ships for 7 years, Carnival, Royal and Oceania.. I have seen lots of things and lots of passengers acting like they were 12 years old with a credit card in candy store, in 2008 a dear friend of mine fell overboard from Carnival Sensation, on New years eve. I can only describe that as the worst thing I have seen in my life. But I cant blame anyone, he did something very stupid and paid with his life. His body was never found, like other stories they mention here, we are all adults, people go on a cruise to have a vacation, a nice time, but some forget to bring their brains and just act in a way that they would not in their houses, True on Carnival there is too much booze, and true some bartenders dont put a stop. But each one of us is responsable for our lives, bartenders are no babysitters, and the all drink pack on royal is only available for groups and they buy it in advance and funny enough some of them dont even use them, on carnival you can buy it once onboard. Cruises are a great way to travel, the problem is the people that cant behave like an adult.

  • Godfrey Jacinto

    I’m godfrey jacinto worked wih royal caribbean for 18 years in the bar department, I was the victim for this stupid Law of RCCL safe surf policy and was dismissed for maikng revenue for the company,the companu tell us to push the booze but when we push too much the safe surf policies come in our way, and find the ways to fire us. That;s wrong, I’m totally against this law, they consider the passenger is always right, they always brief us during the induction that we will always support the staff but when the times comes the management backs off.
    Sorry to say thtat they never support us.

  • Bill

    Just came off of 13 day cruise with RCL. Never saw any behavior that I haven’t seen in any bar or club. You make the choice. You need to be responsible for your own actions. Stopped in a lounge almost every night after the show. Often had just water. No one tried to push any drinks on us. Quite the contrary. The deaths are very tragic and the families want to blame everyone but the victim or themselves. Where we’re the parents of a 15 year old boy who was drinking? Oh no, not their fault. Let’s sue! That will ease the pain!

  • Bill, people who preach only “personal responsibility” don’t seem to believe in corporate responsibility. Mocking the family of the dead is cruel. Nice touch. Enjoy the water during your next cruise. The crew who rely on tips must love having you aboard.

  • Jeremy

    This is a fascinating debate. While I agree there should be more to consider on the part of corporate responsibility of the hospitality industry, and cruise lines in this instance, I also agree that personal responsibility is paramount to a safe and enjoyable holiday. As for the tragic deaths, etc, I am sympathetic, but consider the following since this is a topic of alcohol consumption…

    On a cruise ship, as well as any all-inclusive resort, one can imbibe as much and as often as they find appealing, because they are, in general, not endangering themselves or others (i.e. operating a motor vehicle, etc.). These boozers could have simply said “no thanks” when offered another round. They’re traveling companions could have said “no more”. As for the 15 year old, Jim, where were the parents? They do, after all, have a responsibility for their children no matter where in the world they might be. I don’t think Bill was being wicked but rather questioning the facts.

    The bottom line is this; we go on vacations to escape the daily grind and to have a good time. If one chooses to enjoy a beverage or three or a dozen… it is most certainly ones prerogative and not the responsibility of the cruise line to be the nanny. The cruise line provides a commodity and we should all be responsible consumers.

    I’ve been on three 13 day cruises and not once was I pressured for alcohol sales.