The International Critters, whose mascot and sign-off on the Cruise Critic forum is a smiling crab, number up to 250 and will be travelling en masse on the first two sailings of Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, on December 1 and December 5.
It's been two years since the Critters started chatting online and following the build-up to Oasis' December launch. Some have met on ships before, but these two cruises are the first chance many Critters, and the group at large, will have to put faces to names.
Although events like this are popular among US cruisers -- Cruise Critic Community Manager Laura Sterling remembers a huge turnout of 450 members on a Freedom of the Seas cruise in 2006 and a group of 352 on Brilliance of the Seas -- we more reticent Brits are less inclined to befriend complete strangers online and then meet up with them on ships.
But the Critters have genuinely reached across continents to form their community, marshalled by women on either side of the Atlantic: "Captain" Liz Linnie (elizanessie) in the U.K. and "Captain" Janet White (Whit53) in the U.S.A.
"The 'International' part of the name came into being as a way to celebrate the launch of Cruise Critic's U.K. site and also due to the fact the Critters Captains are from different countries," explained Linnie. "There will be Critters from Canada onboard, too. This is why the Critters' colours are red, white and blue, the colours of U.S., U.K. and Canada."
Other Cruise Critic regulars onboard Oasis are welcome to join the party and "become" Critters (look for the December 1 and 5 roll calls). "I am sure when they meet the Critters and see what a great group of people they are they will be very happy to join in the Critters' fun onboard the ship," said Linnie. "The most important thing is that we are all Cruise Critic members; we are all part of the same online community."
To this end, Critters T-shirts and a flag have been designed -- and a Critters official song has even been composed. "We have various activities on both sailings, such as Slot Pull, Cabin Crawl, Poker/Bar Crawl, Zipline Challenge, Sailaway Party, Meet & Mingle and Gift Exchange," said Linnie.
No mean feat, with 250 individual people's holiday plans to consider. "What is remarkable about Liz and Jan," Cruise Critic Community Manager Laura Sterling commented, "is that they've done all of this on their own ... it is a very 'tight' group (some of which I've sailed with myself!)."
Oasis of the Seas will be named in Fort Lauderdale on November 30 before setting off on a pre-inaugural on December 1 and "official" maiden voyage on December 5. Stay tuned -- you'll be able to follow events on Cruise Critic as they unfold!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor