Strange But True: 10 Bizarre Cruising Customs

Posted September 28th, 2015

Not surprisingly, the cruising world is full of oddities that provide a little entertainment whenever one pops up. Though not spread across all cruise liners, the following quirks might be witnessed whenever you're out on the water. From pudding parades to men dressed as Neptune, here are 10 odd things you can see on a cruise.

1. Baked Alaska Parade

This peculiar custom of waiters parading around the dining room with plates of sculptured foam is said to have started in the early 20th Century, when the first cruise ships acquired refrigeration and decided to make a song and dance about it. (Baked Alaska is kept in the freezer until serving time, when it is flambeed with alcohol or placed in a very hot oven to brown the meringue.) The parade usually happens on the penultimate night of the cruise.

2. The Polar Plunge

The 'polar plunge' is a rite-of-passage tradition for the brave (or foolhardy). Most cruise lines that sail in polar waters offer the limb-numbing dip – some strap a belt to passengers and attach it to a hooked pole; others use life jackets. Either way, the activity is a bit nuts.

Popular spots include Glacier Bay in Alaska, destinations in South America – and even Antarctica. On larger ships, bravery is rewarded with a certificate. A certificate? It's a warming shot of fiery liquid that we'd want.

3. Crab Racing

On rainy days and sea days (in places where hermit crabs are easy to come by), pirate games and crab races have kept many a cruise-goer entertained. Select your critter, stand back and let the action unfold ... or not, if your chosen crustacean is on a go-slow. Team races can get very competitive.

The US, naturally, boasts a National Crab Racing Association, and in Grenada it is customary to kiss your crab before the starting gun is fired.

4. Godmothers

The Vikings did it with blood. Today it's bubbly (or wine for Cunard ships). The spillage of liquid over a newly built vessel is a long-held custom but cruise lines have taken the ceremonial blessing a step further.

From 1960s It girls (Twiggy) to Italian sex icons (Sophia Lauren); the queen of cakes (Mary Berry) to HRH herself (the Queen – godmother to Queen Mary 2) the smashing of a bottle against the ship’s bow by a designated godmother is part and parcel of a modern-day launch. Who can forget a heavily pregnant Duchess of Cambridge in her Dalmatian print dress smashing a Swarovski-studded Nebuchadnezzar of Moet against Royal Princess?

5. Crossing The Equator Ceremony

Are you a shellback or a pollywog? If you've never crossed the Equator on a ship, you are the latter. The 'crossing the line' ceremony happens on vessels that sail across the zero-degree latitude line. On board Cunard ships, the ceremony is called the King Neptune’s Court Ceremony, in reference to the custom's origins (which tested a sailor's seaworthiness), and refers to god of the sea Neptune's willingness to allow (or forbid) a ship to continue on its journey.

Most World Cruises will include at least one crossing. Either the captain or entertainment director will preside over the ceremony at which you can expect fancy dress, lots of silliness and pool-dipping shenanigans. Some cruise lines put on a Neptune's Ball.


Check out the scenery on your polar plunge: Beautiful Icebergs Of Antarctica

Cruise Ship Adventure: A Bizarre Mix Of Cruise Holiday And Alligator Wrestling

Unusual cruise additions: Submarines And Underwater Weddings


6. 'Friends Of Dorothy'

The legend of the original gay icon, Dorothy (Wizard of Oz), endures in this peculiar code for primarily LGBT cruise passengers who might want to meet and mingle. These days you're just as likely to find LGBT guests spending a mint in the spa as attending a FOD meeting, but less-confident cruisers and/or those who are travelling solo no doubt appreciate its existence.

7. Sailaway

Before you start humming the pop tune by Enya, this one harks back to the days when a departing ship was a major event. Cue horn honking, best caps and bonnets, and much waving of handkerchiefs. Some ships still make a fuss – bagpipers, elaborately dressed geishas and string quartets are among the send-offs one can find in the world's various ports.

Hurtigruten has a sometime soprano performer who hops between ships playing hauntingly beautiful tunes that echo through the fjords. But the most well-documented sailaway is on Star Clippers' tall ships. As the ship leaves port, its sails are unfurled by hand to the sound of Vangelis's 1492: Conquest of Paradise.

8. Unlucky Number 17

The number 17 is considered unlucky in Italy so most Italian-owned ships avoid it. MSC Cruises doesn't have a cabin 17 or deck 17 on any ships across its fleet. Why? The Roman numeral XVII is changed anagrammatically to VIXI, which in Latin translates to "I have lived". In other words: "My life is over". Similarly you can bet that the Chinese won't be booking any cabins on decks four or nine.

9. Those Italians Again

Not to be outdone, the Italians have their own dessert parade. The 'tiramisu ceremony' happens on Italian nights. "The tiramisu comes in and everyone spins their napkins over their head and sings," said a spokesperson for Italian line MSC Cruises. "I’m told the tune changes, so it could be any of a number of traditional Italian songs."

10. The Talent Show At Sea

Were Simon Cowell to venture on board a cruise he might get a pleasant surprise. Large ships are heavily staffed by Filipinos – a particularly musical bunch. Michael Jacksons and Elvises abound; as do some very talented gymnasts and musicians and stand-up comedians (look out for Princess Cruises' Indian waiter).

Carnival Cruise Lines has its very own dulcet-toned Sinatra in Irishman Ken Byrne, aka The Singing Maitre D'. Reserve judgement about the talent show until you've seen one.


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This article was from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning UK English language broadsheet newspaper, published in London by Telegraph Media Group and distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

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