The following are the two acceptations of the term booze cruise in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED – 3rd edition, 2002):
1. Originally U.S. History. During the Prohibition era: a cruise on which passengers were taken just far enough from the shoreline to be outside U.S. jurisdiction, so that they could buy and consume alcohol legally; (also, more generally) a boat trip on which the passengers drink a considerable amount of alcohol, often as part of a dinner-dance or similar event.
2. British. A brief excursion (especially a day trip) by ferry from Britain to France, the aim of which is to bring back cheap or tax-free (or formerly duty-free) alcohol, sometimes for illegal resale. *
(* Cf. ‘booze cruise’ #2: a British acceptation.)
However, one acceptation of the term is absent from the OED. According to the following from the St. Andrew’s Citizen (St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland) of Saturday 17th June 1950, the Scottish novelist, journalist and broadcaster George Blake (1893-1961) coined booze-cruising [cf. note] with reference to the bus and car trips organised on Sundays in order to take advantage of the bona fide clause in the Scottish licensing laws—a clause which allowed non-residents to obtain alcohol:
NATIONAL AND LOCAL VIEWS
St Andrews is not alone in being confronted with a Sunday tripper problem, whose seriousness has been greatly aggravated by the de-rationing of petrol and the recent heat wave. The complaints of drunkenness among passengers on touring ’buses has [sic] been echoed in almost every resort in Scotland, and the same helplessness in knowing how to deal with the menace exists in all municipalities affected.
Mr George Blake, the well-known Scottish novelist, following a recent visit to St Andrews, commented as follows in the Glasgow “Evening Citizen,” of which he is editor:—“Going home in the evening, my serious reflection was that alcohol is always likely to produce more trouble on the roads than refined petroleum. The laxity of the bona fide clause in the Scottish licensing laws, along with the laxity and inconsistency of its interpretation and application, is rapidly making it one of the curses of Scotland.
“Booze-cruising is obviously on the increase. It is just silly to pretend otherwise. Whether in cars or in ’buses, too many people go out on Sundays mainly for a skite through the loopholes in an obsolete regulation. It is only tedious now to inquire what the architects of the Act intended by a bona fide traveller. After all, they were working in times when journeys by train or carriage were apt to be long or cold, and what they intended by the phrase ‘reasonable refreshment’ is anybody’s guess. What is certain beyond any peradventure is that the vast majority of these people who take advantage of the clause nowadays are not bona fide, but rather mala fide travellers, and that their ideas of refreshment are far from reasonable. The problem becomes more and more agonising to both the decent innkeeper and to the police.
“The former is encouraged to build up a first-class trade for the encouragement of the tourist. But how is he to keep a quiet and orderly house if his premises are invaded at 11 o’clock of a Sunday night by gangs of hoodlums demanding drinks? There are, of course, too many hoodlums who batten on the bona fide trade, but they are not the men who matter so far as tourism is concerned.
“As for the police, they naturally dislike the now all-too prevalent rowdyism, and to be frank, they incline to dodge it, simply because that rotten clause in the Act appears to put the customer who can still stand on his feet in the right.
“I commend to the present Secretary of State for Scotland, the notion that an inquiry into this increasing scandal might be more than rewarded for practical purposes than some he is continually being called upon to undertake. Most of us at the moment are simply burying our heads in murky sands about this conjoint matter of Sunday observance and Sunday drinking. It is an extremely ugly symptom.”
The Chairman of the local licensed trade, Mr J. M. Kinnear, commented that Blake’s article was most interesting in view of the recent criticisms of Sunday tourers in St Andrews and the subsequent injunction of the Magistrates to licence-holders to see that regulations were adhered to. He pointed out that licence-holders are always under an obligation to conduct their businesses according to the law, and until ‘reasonable refreshment’ was defined, and the bona fide law was scrapped or amended, the problem became even more difficult for the decent innkeeper and the police. Whether they liked it or not, the solution, in his own opinion, was the English Sunday, with the opening of all licensed houses from 12 to 2 and from 7 to 9.30. Surely that solution would be more acceptable to the adherents of Sunday observance than the existing practice which left the door wide open to all abuses.
The noun booze cruise occurs in the same issue of the St. Andrew’s Citizen (St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland):
St Andrews is not alone in being confronted with a Sunday tripper problem. Its seriousness has also been aggravated by the derationing of petrol and the recent heat wave. The complaint of drunkenness among passengers on touring ’buses has been echoed in almost every resort in Scotland. The same helplessness in knowing how to deal with the menace — for it is worse than merely an annoyance — exists in all the municipalities affected. Mr George Blake, the noted Scottish novelist, has coined the phrase, “booze-cruise” for many of these Sunday excursions, and goes on to blame the obsolete bona fide clause in the Scottish licensing laws for their increase. It is undoubtedly the bona fide requirement which has given birth to this peripatetic mode of drinking, in which the trip, far from being the object, is merely the excuse.
At the House of Lords on Tuesday 21st November 1961, the Scottish Conservative politician Jack Browne (1904-1993) explained how the bona fide, or “traveller”, clause had come to be perverted—as Minister of State for Scotland, he was introducing the Licensing (Scotland) Bill, proposing “very considerable changes to certain aspects of the Scottish licensing law”:
The position regarding the sale of liquor on Sundays in Scotland is thoroughly unsatisfactory and should be rectified. […] There are no permitted hours on Sunday. Public houses are closed; hotels, however, may supply liquor—and here I quote the terms of the hotel certificate in the 1959 Act—“for the accommodation of lodgers and travellers”. So far as concerns “lodgers”—“residents” we call them today—there is no difficulty: it is accepted that hotels should supply liquor to residents at any time of day on any day. The difficulty relates to “travellers”. The local hotel has been unable to supply drink on Sunday to the local residents, but it could supply people who were, or said they were, travelling.
This “traveller” position derives from the principle, still embodied in the Common Law, that an inn must provide board and lodging to any traveller; in the past, for this provision has a very long history, alcoholic liquor was almost an essential part of board. But time has caught up with the provision. Insofar as it is necessary, and I do not say it is not, for the law to provide for the supply of food and drink to travellers, nobody to-day would claim that it is essential to provide travellers with alcoholic drink at all times. And, because of the much greater ease of travel in modern times, the “traveller” provision has made a laughing stock of our licensing laws. Every Sunday, […] there issue forth from the cities and large towns of Scotland, not the footsore and weary travellers whom the drafters of the law had in mind, but the Sunday trippers in their cars and buses. Some go, I am sure, mainly for the outing, but some go solely to make use of the “traveller” provision in order to obtain strong drink because they cannot get it in their own home town. And they can seek “accommodation” at any time, and if he does not serve them, the hotelier runs the risk of losing his certificate. […] When I said that there were no permitted hours on Sunday in Scotland, I was wrong. To all intents and purposes there are, for some at least, 24 permitted hours. And sometimes the hotelier must put up with and “accommodate”—according to the words of the law—these so called “travellers” from the early morning till late at night.
Note: The term booze-cruising implies the existence of the verb booze-cruise, absent from the OED. Also absent from the OED is the use of the verb cruise with reference to a bus or car trip.