Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has decided to ban the sale of alcohol on its ships while in UK ports. This also applies to all Norwegian ships visiting the UK. Passengers who have purchased a drinks package or Free at Sea package are also affected.
The exact reason for the ban is unclear, with NCL accusing UK port authorities of asking for a license fee with a summary notice.
The New Law and Its Implications
Norwegian Cruise Line has stopped selling and serving alcohol on board ships calling at any UK port. The move has attracted many visitors. In fact, many tourists did not know what was happening until notices were posted in the train’s bars and lounges.
Guests who have purchased a beverage package or selected Free at Sea fares, which also include a beverage package, are exempt from this latest ban.
The exact reason behind this sudden change is still unclear, NCL says the restrictions were brought about suddenly by UK Port Authority’s demand for license fees. Similar bans have been seen in other Italian ports, and NCL has implemented a similar ban in Greek ports in 2022.
One point that has drawn criticism is NCL’s communication, or lack thereof, regarding the ban and how it plans to deal with it. A statement from Norwegian Cruise Line says:
“Please be informed that according to the rules and regulations of the selected ports, the sale of duty-free goods, including alcoholic beverages, is not allowed when the ship is in port or nearby. However, in other ports of call, which will be mentioned on the platform. guests who have already purchased any NCL beverage can be given.”
Of course Norwegian Cruise Line now banning the sale of alcohol, and serving alcohol while in port, shows that the ship currently does not want to collect taxes for tourists or carry goods on its own. Although this decision may save NCL the cost of taxes, it is causing dissatisfaction among their guests.
Also, NCL’s lack of clear communication about the ban and its reasons has caused confusion. Although the ship operators point out that the ban was done suddenly in order to issue licenses issued by the UK port authorities, the existing rules show that this could be a way to avoid paying duty and VAT.
Adding to the confusion, some guests booked on a Norwegian cruise report that they have received confirmation from cruise lines that they are allowed to consume alcohol while in port.
Cruise Hive has reached out to Norwegian Cruise Line for clarification and will update this as more information comes out.
The Norwegian Fleet in the UK
NCL’s decision to stop the sale of alcohol at UK ports directly affects a number of its ships operating in the region. For example, 92,250 tons Norwegian Dawnwhich has a total of 2,340 guests, has several tours coming to the British Isles until October 14, which marks the end of its European season for the year.
Similarly, a Norway Getaway has scheduled sailings from Lisbon to Southampton and vice versa, completing its European itinerary with a voyage from Southampton to New York, on October 22.
New Norwegian Primathe company’s cruise ship, will also run trips from Southampton and cruises to Reykjavik and Barcelona until October 1. Finally, Norwegian Star has seven cruises calling or sailing from UK ports until October 23.
Rules & Regulations
The UK government has regulations that allow cruise ships with international cruises to serve non-alcoholic beverages on board if only passengers and crew are allowed on board. However, on cruises that do not call at any ports other than those in the UK, duty must be paid on what is consumed.
The UK Government website says: “Where a cruise ship visits a number of UK ports as part of an international voyage, restaurants and bars can continue to have duty-free outlets throughout the voyage. This is only for passengers and crew members who are permitted to board and are traveling on a qualifying journey outside the UK.“
“Intra-UK cruises: These cruises do not call at any port other than UR. Empty shopping can be sent on these Tours but the amount consumed must be paid for.“
This law is not new. One person made a Freedom of Information request to HM Revenue and Customs in 2015; The letter posted online reads:
“I have just sailed from Hamburg to Southampton with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) on the new ship Norwegian Escape. I arrived in Southampton on October 27th and until then I had paid for the purchase at the advertised price and the 18% discount.
“On the evening of the 27th, the ship left port and sailed through the English Channel before returning to Southampton this morning. During the night, all costs were re-applied for VAT and alcohol duty.”
The impact of this on NCL is not yet clear. The decision to stop selling alcohol in UK ports is significant, and NCL’s handling of the backlog will be a major topic of discussion in the coming days and weeks.