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April 8, 2004 -- The wild days are gone, at least those involving hordes of unchaperoned, or nearly so, high school and college spring breakers piling on to a cruise ship. Used to be you could have hundreds of them on a given sailing, and it wasn't a pretty sight (unless of course you were 17). I witnessed one of these "lovely" sailings myself, back in spring of 1996, on the Carnival Celebration. On a ship only carrying 1,486 passengers, a good third were high school students living it up on a spring break trip - you can only imagine. They hogged the deck chairs, spilled out of cabins, passed out in the hallways, puked on the stairs and staggered up to adults in bars asking for drinks (which, if they were cute enough, they usually got!). The few mothers "chaperoning" hardly seemed concerned with disciplining their perfect little charges and mostly sat on deck chairs glued to a can of Bud. Anyway, cut to the present. Policies have changed in recent years, and we, the adults, have our ships back! Unsupervised teen groups are not permitted on board any more. Not to say you won't ever encounter rowdy teens -- with more and more families cruising, there are a lot of teens sailing these days -- but mom and dad are on board, too, hopefully, keep their offspring in line. If you happen to be a civilized teen looking to cruise solo with a friend or two, you're basically out of luck.

Here are the age policies of the major lines. Keep in mind, most make exceptions for young married couples and teens traveling with parents who may be booked in two separate cabins.

  • Carnival: All passengers must be 21 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 25.
  • Celebrity: All passengers must be 25 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 25.
  • Costa: All passengers must be 21 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 21. During certain times of the year, like Spring Break, passengers ages 21 to 24 must have one person at least 25 years old in the same cabin.
  • Disney: All passengers must be 21 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 21.
  • Holland America: All passengers must be 18 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 21.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line: All passengers must be 21 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 21.
  • Princess: All passengers must be 18 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 18.
  • Royal Caribbean: All passengers must be 21 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 25.
  • Windjammer: All passengers must be 18 years old, or have at least one person in the cabin over age 18.

When it comes to drinking and gambling on board, cruise line policies vary. For example, you must be 21 years old to drink alcohol on Carnival, Costa, Disney, Norwegian and Princess ships. (Most lines mark a passenger's age on their cabin/account cards, so a bartender can easily tell who's of age; of course someone legal could fairly easily slip a drink to a minor, just as they could at a hotel or resort). To gamble, Norwegian and Princess require you be 21, while Carnival and Costa set their age limits for gambling at 18.

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