Cruise ducks are a fun phenomenon that has truly taken flight aboard cruise ships, but why? What is so appealing about these cute and quirky figures, and how can you join the feathered fun?
In This Article…
What Is a Cruise Duck?
A cruise duck is a small rubber duck that gets to take a big vacation aboard a cruise ship. These colorful toys may be plain or themed, and may even be homemade or decorated. They are hidden around cruise ships in a fun, passenger-led game of hide-and-seek.
Exciting to find and cheerful to share, cruise ducks come with a “hide or keep, you decide” philosophy. Some passengers love to re-hide ducks to bring joy to other passengers, while some collect ducks as whimsical vacation souvenirs.
Many cruise ducks are labeled with stickers, tags, or ribbons with the name of the ship and sailing date, and may also include a family name, social media hashtag, or QR code with an invitation to snap a duck selfie to share in Facebook groups or on other platforms such as Twitter or Instagram.
Some ducks travel even further than a single cruise, and may eventually be spotted on different ships all around the world as they are kept by different guests for re-hiding on future sailings.
How Cruise Ducks Got Started
The exact beginning of the cruise duck phenomenon is shrouded in mystery, as some guests remember setting sail with rubber ducks for many years as far back as 2015 or earlier.
The most widespread acknowledgment of the accepted beginning of cruising ducks is in March 2018, when an 11-year-old girl named Abby Davis brought 50 ducks aboard Carnival Breeze, setting sail from Galveston to spread kindness and fun during her spring break vacation. The project was a rousing success, with one duck “hiding” in plain sight for three days before being found.
Today, the cruise ducks phenomenon has become a type of oceangoing geocaching, with guests from all over the world eagerly hunting ducks on every major cruise line, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and more.
Social media groups dedicated to the ducks continue to drive interest in the game, and finding even one duck can be a source of delight for folks of all ages. Similar to the painted rocks scavenger hunts, the hide-and-seek of ducks can add even more fun to every cruise sailing.
Types of Cruise Ducks
The traditional cruise duck is a small rubber duck, similar to the classic bathtub toy, but that’s only the beginning of the fun.
any rubber ducks have themed designs, and holiday ducks are especially popular for Christmas, Halloween, Easter, or other holiday sailings. Pirate, captain, or mermaid ducks are other fun designs popular on cruises.
Many guests also choose ducks with themes to match their hometowns – cowboy ducks for Texas cruisers, for example – or to represent their favorite sports teams, careers, animals, or military branches. Some ducks are used to help raise awareness of individual causes, or to celebrate a special someone.
Handcrafted ducks are a popular favorite, or basic ducks may be hand-decorated with extra bling. Crocheted or origami ducks are also great choices. Many cruisers are opting for even more unique ducks with key chains, magnets, hair barrettes, or plush toys. Some ducks have wacky hairstyles, and some even light up.
Guidelines for Hiding Ducks
No matter what type of duck will take a cruise, there are basic guidelines for safely and effectively hiding the ducks. While no formal rules exist, these guidelines help ensure everyone can enjoy cruise ducks.
- Ducks should be hidden in public areas only, never in crew-only areas or on any restricted equipment such as lifesaving gear.
- No ducks should be hidden in any retail stores to minimize any hint of shoplifting or theft when the duck is discovered and picked up.
- Do not hide ducks in restrooms or locker rooms, spa treatment rooms, on buffet food serving dishes, or anywhere sanitation may be a concern.
- Duck tags or labels should be family-friendly without any vulgarity or profanity, as it is never known who will find and pick up the duck.
- Avoid placing ducks in any spot that may be windy or if there is any risk of the duck accidentally going overboard, which would violate many cruise lines’ environmental policies.
- Do not place ducks in a ship’s pools or hot tubs where kids might overreach in their eagerness to collect the duck and could fall into the water.
- Do not place ducks irretrievably high where they will be hard for most passengers to reach, even if they do spot the duck.
- Ducks should be in relatively plain sight so they can be seen without moving or rearranging items such as stacks of towels, library books, or dishes.
Fortunately, there are many great nooks and crannies to hide ducks. In stairwells and elevators are favorite spots, as are nestling ducks into potted plants or balancing them on sculptures, artwork frames, or statues.
The tops of signs, sitting on tables or chairs, atop a piano, in corners, or in a ship’s atrium are other popular places to hide cruise ducks. Some cruisers also choose to leave a duck in their stateroom for their attendant or future cruisers to find.
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Once ducks are hidden, many participating cruisers enjoy going back to the hiding spot to see if the duck has been discovered, and it can be even more fun to try and find the same duck later during the cruise.
Tips for Finding Ducks
You don’t have to hide ducks in order to find them, as the game is not necessarily a reciprocal activity. If you find a duck, you can choose to rehide it, or you can keep it as a souvenir or gift. But how can you improve your odds of finding a cruising duck?
- Be alert to unique and unexpected hiding places, especially high (above eye level) and low (closer to the ground), and frequently check for clever hiding spots.
- Choose different stairwells and elevators when walking around the ship to cover as many potential hiding spots as possible.
- Head out early in the day on a duck hunt to check out as many hiding spots as possible, as many participants hide ducks either late at night or early in the morning.
- Revisit different areas of the ship throughout the day, as ducks may migrate to new spots each time they are found and rehidden.
When you find a duck, the choice is yours whether or not to keep it or hide it again for someone else to enjoy, with no judgment about which you choose. Some travelers reposition ducks immediately, while others might wait for a day or two.
Some even keep ducks until their next cruise, or photograph them on different adventures at different ports of call, even on different ships as they travel the cruising world.
What Do Cruise Lines Think?
There is a lot of debate about whether or not cruise lines approve of hidden ducks or not. While there are no official policies about cruise ducks, in general, crew members enjoy finding them and may keep or hide the ducks again themselves.
Some guests report seeing ducks discarded in the trash, though this was more frequent when the game was less well-known than today.
Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador John Heald has commented on cruising ducks, and encourages the fun aboard the Carnival cruise ship fleet.
“Many of the crew love finding the ducks and have them in their cabins as they bring them cheer,” Heald said. “We have absolutely no problem with guests leaving them as we do think it’s fun.”
While there are always those who hate ducks and think the practice should be banned, no cruise line has yet added “little rubber ducks” to its list of prohibited items.
Travelers who think the activity is silly can simply overlook any ducks they see, just as all cruisers are able to pick and choose which activities onboard a ship they want to join in and those they prefer to avoid.
Where to Buy Cruise Ducks
If you want to bring your own toy ducks to hide onboard a cruise, where do you buy them? Any small rubber duck will work, such as those found in claw game vending machines or sold as bath toys for young children.
Ordering ducks online generally works better, with a greater variety of designs and themed ducks available with bulk quantity discounts. Amazon, party stores, and toy store websites generally have good selections of ducks available, and you can even buy duck kits that include pre-printed labels to attach to the ducks.
Other options to check for buying ducks are local discount or dollar stores, as well as flea markets that may have bulk toy vendors. Online auction sites like eBay may also have great deals on ducks perfect for cruising.
If the ducks you buy do not come with pre-made labels or tags, a variety of templates for cruise duck tags can be found online, including on the dedicated cruising ducks Facebook page and groups.
You can also choose to make cruise ducks with whatever craft you enjoy, such as crocheting or knitting ducks, making hair bows, carving wooden ducks, creating felt ducks, or decorating duck ornaments. Every style is welcomed in the game, and more unique ducks make even more desirable and sought-after ducks to find.
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Cruising ducks are a creative, cheerful, and fun way for many passengers to add enjoyment to their cruise vacations. Whether you bring ducks aboard to hide, prefer to be a duck finder and keep the ducks you seek, or rehide every quirky duck you come across, everyone can be a part of this oceangoing scavenger hunt.