If I’m on a Cruise Ship, What Laws Do I Have To Adhere To?

By: Julia Layton  | 

The High Seas: Breaking Loose

Royal Caribbean International's "Freedom of the Seas" cruise ship, before a one-night cruise.
Heiko Junge/AFP/Getty Images

From the 1950s to 1990, a cruise ship flying a U.S. flag had no gambling onboard. U.S. law applied — end of story. Of course, the law changed after the gambling ban left only three U.S.-registered ships.

The United States Flag Cruise Ship Competitiveness Act of 1991 made it legal for a U.S.-registered cruise ship to offer gambling once it made it to international waters. Since then, the U.S. cruise industry has been thriving. Aside from gambling, cruise ships typically offer inclusive alcohol packages as part of the price of an adult ticket, with only the cruise ship determining whether someone should be cut off. And considering no one onboard is going to be driving home, few people are cut off. (This, along with scalable railings, might account for a few of those 28 cruise-ship disappearances).


This legal leniency could extend beyond gambling. Technically, a cruise ship registered in the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal, could offer prostitution services while the ship was on the high seas (although Holland America doesn't do that). And a cruise ship registered where marijuana use is legal could allow passengers to smoke pot on board when it's in international waters — although it would run the risk of illegal smuggling between countries.

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