Here's the Terrifying Truth Behind Cruise Ship Jails

Here's the Terrifying Truth Behind Cruise Ship Jails

Trust us, you don't want to find out through personal experience.

By Kristyn Pomranz

So there's a pretty major misconception about cruising. People seem to think that just because you're sailing around in international waters — drinking and gambling and partying with no escape — that mean it's total lawlessness out there, right?


Although it's true gambling is legal as soon as you hit international waters, all other cruise ship protocol is actually stricter than life on land — precisely because of that whole "no escape" thing. So watch out, lawbreakin' buddies: It's all outlined in your booking agreement.

Cruise ships maintain the same legal system as their place of departure, and the same basic rules of conduct that you’d find at the average bar. (Drinking age when departing from the U.S. is still 21 plus, although some cruise lines like Norwegian allow your guardian to write you permission to drink at 18 plus.) If you’re too drunk or belligerent — or, worse, commit a crime — you will be apprehended by boat security. Beyond the obvious misdemeanors, common cruise ship offenses include fighting, throwing things overboard, jumping over railings, and bringing weed (or worse) onboard.

Although many ships will simply keep bad seeds confined to their cabins until the next docking, the larger cruises keep jails — usually called “brigs” — for truly dangerous passengers. “We do, in fact, have a couple of steel rooms near our security office for any guests or crew who are deemed too dangerous to be confined in their rooms,” says James Abbgy, Shipboard IT from Royal Caribbean.

One cruise guest described his ship’s brig on Deadspin: “I pictured the ship's brig as an old-school jail, with bars and a sunny bailiff and a tin cup you can rattle. It is not that. It's a tiny room with NOTHING. I stepped into the cell on my tour of the ship and they joked about closing the door and — deep down — I freaked out that they would and that I'd be trapped. It's that kind of place."

But you’re not going to stay in the brig until you get back to your point of departure. Rather, you will be turned into local authorities at your next port — which may mean you could wind up facing an international court. “If you end up in [the brig],” says Abbgy, “you’re almost certainly going to be escorted off the ship at the next port, and handed over to that nation’s law enforcement officers.”

Sound bad? Here’s what’s worse: You’ll be forced to figure out and fund your own way home, even if you’re in, like, Virgin Gorda. So do yourself a favor and be a courteous cruiser, lest you find yourself in a real-life Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? situation.

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