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Cruise Ship Guide to Stag and Hen Parties

The tradition in which soon-to-be-married men and women endure all manner of humiliations as a last rite of singledom can be so much more intense on a cruise ship.

Cruise Critic member benatty‘s stag do on Grand Princess began when he showed up in a tuxedo at his best man's cabin door and was required to don Hugh Hefner-inspired pyjamas.

"I was given a list of the items I would have to accomplish before I was allowed to go to sleep," he says, and over the course of dinner, and the six hours that followed, I accomplished the following: I sang the 'Love Boat' theme in the main dining room for all who cared to listen (it sounded damn good). I kissed a woman from every one of America's states and many from abroad (all with the permission of my fiance)."

Then he was required to "re-enact a scene from 'Titanic' with a woman named Rose. She was a beautiful older woman who may have actually sailed on that doomed vessel."

The Passenger Services Association, which chronicles cruise trends in the U.K., does not keep tabs on the popularity of such outings on ships but if a recent two-night cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Jade tells any kind of story, it's that short voyages on big ships are a perfect choice.

Never has waiting in line to board a 2,400-passenger ship at Southampton been more entertaining.

There were at least a dozen groups of adults wearing matching t-shirts (some quite risqué). Another gaggle of hens were outfitted as nuns, and a couple of men in a stag group were shamelessly dolled up as super heroes. Of course, brides-to-be are easy to pick out of the crowd: look for the faux veil.

"During a two-night mini-cruise to Brugge on P&O's Arcadia," says my colleague Kelly Ranson, "there was a hen party onboard -- the group were all dressed up in matching sailor outfits when they embarked. Once onboard I saw them a few times, mostly in the bars -- they all dressed up glam on one night, too."

As weekend mini-breaks have, for many, replaced a night out near a hometown strip club or drink fest in Baltic cities with cheap beer, parties at sea are a natural outlet.

Cruise lines offer a handful of one- two- and three-night ex-U.K. sampler cruises that offer the perfect stage set for a hen or stag party.

Benefits include those close-to-home departures, a fare that includes meals and entertainment, the variety of ports of call (who knows what humiliations await in Brugge?), and built-in amusements, such as spas, casinos and a variety of bars and lounges. The added bonus? All of this is self contained -- and, as accommodations are included, no one need worry about driving home.

In the coming year, Royal Caribbean is offering a handful of trips from Southampton on its Independence of the Seas. A three-nighter goes to Normandy's LeHavre and back; a four-night cruise visits Cork. Celebrity's Southampton-based Eclipse will be cruising a pair of four-night trips next spring to Cork as well.

P&O offers a wider selection with a half-dozen two-night cruises to Brugge and Normandy on Azura and Arcadia. Fred. Olsen is another option; it offers numerous mini-cruises (though these are perhaps better suited to those more mature hens and stags).

There are even more options for those for whom a long weekend Bahamas cruise (and the necessary flight to Miami) or a seven-night U.K.-based cruise (especially in summer) is not a budget buster.

But here's one thing: booking a cruise for a group is not quite as easy as booking a weekend stag package to Mallorca or a hen spa outing in Bath. Also, cruise ships don't offer some of the racier activities that one normally associates with the tradition (lap dancing, naked mud wresting, lessons in pole dancing).

For Cruise Critic member benatty, his stag do on Grand Princess was a perfect prelude to the wedding itself -- he got married onboard the next day.

Tips for Stags and Hens

Designate one person to liaise with your travel agency (this is not the time to experiment with do-it-yourself online booking). Make sure you share pertinent information with the group (such as dress codes).

Plan as far ahead as possible. Not only to get the best available fares but also to be able to choose specific cabins and make key reservations in advance (cruise lines increasingly allow you to pre-reserve group bookings for alternative restaurants or spa treatments; ask your agent for assistance).

Set a budget. Typically, each participant pays his or her own fare plus a portion of the cost for the honoree. Choosing accommodations can be tricky as some will have budgets only for inside cabins while others will splurge for balconies. Because cruise lines' prices are based on two sharing a cabin, you'll want to make sure as many participants are paired up as possible.

Look for discounts. Many lines offer free berths and even free cabins if your group is large enough. "It's a great option as many of the cruise lines give free places if you book more than 16 people (eight cabins)," says Mark Pullen, group sales manager for cruise agency Ideal Cruising.

In fact, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have an official policy: groups receive one free berth (berth category at discretion of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line) for every 16 full paying guests, according to a cruise line spokeswoman. There must be a minimum of eight cabins booked with 16 full paying guests between them.

The line can also help pre-arrange drinks packages, spa treatments, hiring out of specialty restaurants and cocktail parties.

Decide what to do in port. Cork and Brugge are easy cities in which to maneuver independently but industrial Le Havre is a solid distance from any city (Rouen, Paris) and requires advance planning.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief. This story originally appeared on Times Online.

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