In British English, the noun booze cruise denotes a brief excursion—especially a day trip—to a foreign country—especially from England across the English Channel to France—for the purposes of buying cheap alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED – 3rd edition, 2002) has recorded this acceptation of booze cruise, together with the following acceptation:
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.
Absent from the OED, however, is booze cruise, which in the 1950s referred 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. (Cf. ‘booze cruise’ #1: a Scottish acceptation)
In the OED, the earliest occurrence of booze cruise in the sense of a day trip to a foreign country for the purposes of buying cheap alcohol, etc., dates from 1994, but the noun first appeared in fact earlier, since the Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, Merseyside, England) published this on Tuesday 12th February 1980:
Booze cruise . . .
A cross-Channel trip from Dover for only £3 return is being offered until March 28 by Townsend Thoresen. Passengers are not allowed to go ashore at Calais, but they can take up their full duty-free allowances.
The second-earliest occurrences of booze cruise that I have found date from Wednesday 27th February 1980; several British newspapers—for example The Press and Journal (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland)—reported the following:
‘Booze’ cruises return
Townsend Thoresen’s “booze” cruises are sailing again following Friday’s ban by seamen.
The crews rebelled when passengers got “fighting drunk” on the duty-free liquor, and they refused to sail after their request for extra staff was turned down.
Management announced yesterday that they have reached agreement with the National Union of Seamen to increase manning levels and to limit the numbers travelling to 850 instead of a possible 1000.
The ferry company offered the trips from Southampton to Cherbourg for only £5 return—including a litre of whisky and 200 cigarettes in the deal.
The following from the Evening Post (Reading, Berkshire, England) of Saturday 27th October 1984 shows how booze cruise soon came to be extended to an excursion that involve travelling by coach, rail or car:
Cheers for booze cruise
Bargain-hunters from the Thames Valley are queueing up to take the booze cruise to France . . . and get an early taste of the Christmas spirit.
Hundreds of daytrippers are saying “salut” to bulk beer and wine and stocking up on continental cuisine from the hypermarkets across the Channel.
One Reading coach firm is already running five trips a month to the French ports, enabling happy travellers to stagger home with up to 50 litres of cheap beer at a time.
And British Rail is even offering travellers an awayday journey to Paris.
Even the cost of getting there has failed to put off the army of shoppers eager to snap up a bargain sur le continent.
A spokesman for Smith’s Coaches in Reading, which runs regular day trips to the French ports, said: “It’s definitely cheaper to buy over there than here in this country.
“Even now we are running four or five coach trips a month. These trips are quite well-supported through the year, but there’s an increase around this time and we put on extra coaches in December.”
The huge shopping spree is being boosted by Thames Valley motorists who make their own way to the ferry ports before returning with a car laden with goodies.
Ferry company Townsend Thoresen said: “We expect to see an increase in traffic due to the Christmas shopping bonanza.”
A spokesman for British Rail, which runs regular weekend trips to Calais and Boulogne, explained: “Around this time of year people are mainly going there for the shopping.”
And the message from the daytrippers themselves: “We’re only here for the beer.”
Absent from the OED is the fact that the noun has given rise to the verb booze-cruise, hence to booze-cruising and booze-cruiser.
For example, the following is from It takes bottle to cross Channel, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Saturday 30th November 1996—the article was about the travel disruptions caused by the French lorry-drivers’ dispute and the closure of the Channel tunnel:
Bibbing tipplers who booze-cruise across the Channel in search of revelry and wassail could be in for a rough ride.
And, in the same issue of The Guardian, the caption to a photograph contained:
The strike made booze-cruising difficult.
In The Observer (London, England) of Sunday 7th July 1996, Ros Snowdon used booze-cruiser in an article about the sale of the off-licence chain Oddbins by the Canadian spirits giant Seagram:
In the first quarter of the trading year Seagram’s net income more than halved. Cross-channel ‘booze-cruisers’ have also taken their toll on the off-licence business, which is based around London and the South.