Can Cruise Ship Scanners Detect Alcohol? (& Do they Check Your Bags)

After, one of the most common questions I am asked is how to sneak alcohol on a cruise? Perhaps your cruise line doesn’t allow any alcohol and you want to save on the higher onboard prices, or you can’t go without taking your favourite liquor.

Cruise ship scanners can detect liquid that shows as a dark hue, but not directly detect whether the liquid is alcohol or not.  The scanner will also show the shapes of any bottles and any containers containing liquid.

If there are any suspicions raised during the checks, the security staff may want to take a close inspection of your bags.

Cruise Scanner

Do Cruise Ships Check Your Bags?

All bags are scanned to check for prohibited items, not just alcohol but also weapons, clothing irons, blue tooth speaks and other banned devices. If anything is suspected by the cruise security staff, they will manually check the luggage for a closer inspection

What Baggage Do Cruise Ship Scanners Scan?

Carry On Bags

Cruise ship scanners scan your carry-on bags when you first arrive on the ship.  Your carry-on bags will go through an x-ray machine, similar to what is used at the airport.

They will see a clear outline of every item in your bag as well as its density.

Cruise Baggage Scan

Liquids in Carry-On Bags

There is no 3-1-1 rule for cruises, so you can bring liquids, gels, shampoos, toothpaste, etc in your carry-on bag. 

This means you can take any size containers for your toiletries.

However, bear in mind if you are flying into ports you’ll have to follow the 3-1-1 rule for the air trips 

This rule states that each container must hold 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less, and all containers must fit in a single quart-sized bag.  Each passenger is allowed one bag per item.

Checked Bags

Your checked bags will also be scanned with an x-ray machine.  Once your bag has been scanned, it will be placed on a conveyor belt and sent to your stateroom.

Cruise security will seize any luggage that raises suspicions and may call you to personally discuss the contents.

Liquids in Checked Bags

You are allowed to pack liquids, gels, and aerosols in your checked bag, however, there are no restrictions on the amount or size of these items.

Make sure you pack any liquids safely so they don’t risk leaking and damaging surrounding luggage items.

How Much Alcohol Can You Take on a Cruise?

The amount of alcohol you’re allowed to bring on a cruise ship varies by cruise line, but most have a limit of one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne per person. We have covered how much wine you can bring on a cruise for each of the main lines.

Beer and hard liquor are usually prohibited but there are some exceptions covered in can you bring alcohol on a cruise?

Many cruise lines even prohibit bottles of nonalcoholic beverages, for example below are Carnival cruise’s full relevant terms from their prohibited items list.

  • Alcohol (hard liquor) and beer
  • Wine or champagne beyond the allowable limit of one 750 ml bottle per adult (21 years of age or older)
  • Non-alcoholic beverages in containers other than a can or carton; excessive quantities per person (over 12 cans/cartons per person); excessive size per can/carton (over 12 ounces each)

It’s hardly surprising therefore that some passengers want to see if there are ways they can get more on.

What do Scanners See?

Cruise and airport scanners see a clear outline of every item in your bag, as well as its density.

They will also see the shapes of any bottles and any containers containing liquid will show up as a darker denser color.

Baggage Scan

If there are any suspicions raised during the checks the security staff may want to take a close inspection of your bags.

Can You Fool the Scanner?

There is no foolproof method, but some people have suggested wrapping bottles in aluminum foil.

The idea is that the alcohol will appear as a solid on the scanner.

There are also multiple ways people use to sneak alcohol on a cruise ship. From using rum runners to all kinds of disguise flasks.

However, it’s worth noting that security staff are trained to be vigilant and will be looking for any suspicious items.

Plus the fact that modern-day scanners can see through aluminum foil.

How Do Cruise Ship Scanners Detect Alcohol?

Some people want to know how cruise ships and for that matter airport scanners detect alcohol in order to try and avoid detection.

The answer is that the scanners work by using x-rays to see inside bags and identify if any liquids are present within any bottles or containers.

Scanners work by using x-rays which are able to penetrate most packaging materials and assess their density. 

The denser the item the darker it will show on the scanner.  Therefore a bottle full of liquid would appear darker than an empty bottle.

Liquids show up as a dark hue on the scanner, so if security staff spot anything suspicious they will often open the bag for a closer inspection.

How Cruise Security Detects Whether A Liquid is Alcohol?

There are a few ways the cruise line security can detect whether your liquid is alcohol, which vary depending on how it is contained.

Quick Test for Water or Alcohol

Shake test: If the alcohol is in a transparent water bottle, security can simply shake or squeeze the bottle if it’s plastic and tell the difference between water and alcohol.   Both liquids will produce bubbles, but they will rise to the top of the water very quickly and disappear almost instantly.

In alcohol, more bubbles will clearly form and rise more slowly to the top and take longer to disappear.

You can see what we mean by this in this video:

So even though some passengers go to the effort of removing and replacing the seal so it looks unbroken, it’s still a relatively quick and easy way to tell its alcohol if it ends up in the hands of security.

Opening and smelling: If staff are unsure about the contents of a bottle, they will open it and give it a sniff to check for the tell-tale alcoholic smell.

How Scanners Detect What Liquid Is In Your Baggage?

Cruise and airports can use laser bean scanners to scan containers of liquid.

If security suspect a more sinister liquid they can use a scanner that detects the threat level of the liquid.

It’s unlikely this would be used to determine whether a liquid is an alcohol or not, its priority being to identify security threats.

What Happens If Cruise Ship Scanners Detect Alcohol?

If you are caught trying to bring alcohol onto a cruise ship, then the drink will be confiscated, and you may face disciplinary action from the cruise company.

It is also worth noting that some cruise companies have a zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol, and if you are caught with any in your luggage, then you may be refused to board. However, this is unlikely and probably more of a scare tactic.

So it is always best to check with your cruise company before you travel to see what their policy is so you can assess any risk.

We have put together a list of what happens if you are caught smuggling alcohol on a cruise, including some real-life examples.

The majority of the time, at least on the most well-known cruise lines, they will simply confiscate your alcohol and leave it at that.

Do You Get Your Alcohol Back?

If your alcohol is confiscated by the cruise line you can usually collect it on disembarkation day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Carry-On Luggage and Checked Luggage?

Carry-on luggage is any bag that you take into the cabin with you and is usually limited to one smaller bag per person.  Checked luggage is any bag that you leave at the port to be loaded onto the ship.  You will usually receive your checked luggage on the first day of the cruise.

Do Cruise Ships X-Ray Your Luggage?

Both your carry-on and checked luggage will be x-rayed and scanned when you board a cruise ship. You will have to pass your carry-on luggage through a scanner before you board. Your checked luggage will also pass through an x-ray scanner. If they find any prohibited items in your luggage, you may find a note attached or inside your luggage explaining that they have removed it.

Do Cruises use Body Scanners?

Cruises do not have the nude-type body scanners that you sometimes find in airports. They do have the whole-body walk-through metal detector scanners to forbidden detect metal objects on your person, such as any form of weaponry.

If you are sneaking alcohol on your person, for example, a booze bra, it would not be able to detect this.

Is Bottle Wine Damaged Going Through X-Ray Scanners?

There are no known health effects attributed to any food, drink or beverages including wine caused by x-ray scanners.  See answer A8 here by the FDA.

Do Rum Runners Show up on X-Rays?

The outline of a rum runner will be visible on x-ray scanners. If they are full of liquid, this will also show up as a darker hue on the scanner screen. However, rum runners are much less obvious than the shape of alcohol bottles.

Also, the scanner is also looking for a range of other more obvious prohibited items such as weapons and some electrical devices, so are more likely to miss a rum runner of let it through.

Can the Cruises Scanners be Bypassed?

No, it is not possible to bypass cruise scanners and neither should you try.  They are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew.

Can Scanners See-Through Aluminum?

Modern X-Ray scanners can see through most materials including aluminum so there’s no point trying to wrap anything in aluminum foil.

Can Cruise Baggage Scanners See Through Glass and Plastic?

Cruise x-ray scanners can see through everything, glass, plastics, and metals.  They can also indicate whether the containers are filled or not, because the denser the item including its contents, the darker it will appear on the scanner monitor.

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