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Cruisers often hide little yellow ducks around the ship (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Cruisers often hide little yellow ducks around the ship (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Cruise Ducks: Cruising's Strange Obsession

Cruisers often hide little yellow ducks around the ship (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Cruisers often hide little yellow ducks around the ship (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Mikkel Woodruff

Last updated
May 28, 2024

Read time
7 min read

Getting your ducks in a row for a cruise usually means organizing your travels, like figuring out flights, booking a pre-cruise hotel, or deciding what excursions to book. Nowadays, the phrase could literally mean getting some cruising ducks: dozens of little rubber duckies in order to hide on an upcoming cruise.

Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in hiding ducks on cruise ships over the past five to six years. Is this a quackers trend that is incredibly out of wing, or is this light-hearted activity not to be taken too seriously?

Two Sides of the Duck-Hiding Equation

While cruisers take pleasure in participating in duck-hiding on ships, the behavior is ruffling the feathers of some cruise lines -- even among passengers that already do some admittedly strange things onboard.

When cruise passengers pack their suitcases, they’re now considering packing a plethora of rubber ducks in addition to sunscreen and their daily attire. It’s likely the same rubber ducks won’t come home with them, though. They’re meant to hide around the ship for other passengers to find.

However, this has many cruise employees concerned because of safety reasons passengers don’t think of. While the lightheartedness is enjoyable for cruisers, it has stressed some crew members whose concern for the safety of everyone onboard is paramount.

Some people hide two dozen ducks, while others hide over 1,000 ducks. Imagine the headache for the crew if the ducks aren’t all found. The rubber ducks might remain in plants, in shops, and who knows where else around the ship! This is part of the problem – often, the passengers who hide them don’t remember every single nook and cranny they placed a duck.

Brian Flock and Samantha Kanner, better known as the famous podcasting team behind DCL Duo, perfectly explain this double-edged conundrum:

"The ducks started off as added “pixie dust” around the ship – something fun for kids and adults to find, share and hide. We even hid a few ourselves! As with many things, folks went a bit overboard (no pun intended), bringing dozens of ducks on at a time and hiding them in places that posed safety challenges.

"We’ve also heard some younger guests (especially teens) were throwing ducks into places where it was difficult even for crew to retrieve. It’s sad but understandable to see this fun tradition come under scrutiny based on the behavior of some guests."

Before you decide whether or not to participate as you plan your next cruise, let’s unpack the history of this cruise ducks mania.

Where the Duck Did the Rubber Ducky Idea Come From?

Ducks hidden aboard P&O Cruises' Aurora (Photo: Adam Coulter)
Ducks hidden aboard P&O Cruises' Aurora (Photo: Adam Coulter)

It was indeed all in good fun. As the story goes, a little girl named Abby Davis asked her mother, Ashley, if she could bring rubber ducks on their 7-day spring break cruise out of Galveston in 2018. Cruising Ducks was born when Ashley purchased 50 ducks for their vacation, and Abby hid them around the ship.

Maybe the idea took off partially because everyone loves a good old-fashioned game of Hide and Seek.

The Cruising Ducks Facebook group is a robust and active community with 253.3K members; Ashley Davis – Abby’s mom – is a group admin. They encourage cruisers hiding or finding ducks to use the hashtag #cruisingducks on social media. You could say the hashtag is their way of proving that birds of a feather flock together.

The phenomenon has grown immensely despite the brief pause in cruising caused by the pandemic. Today, there are countless videos on YouTube explaining the activity. There are even additional Facebook groups for avid or aspiring duck-hiders, including Carnival Cruising Ducks with 66.5K members.

The Fun of Cruise Ducks

Finding ducks onboard cruise ships is only part of the fun for many participants.

Contrary to what you may think, most people don’t wing it if they plan to hide rubber ducks on cruises. Meticulous pre-planning is involved. People delight in creating the ducks to pack for their trip. They find every bit of the process enjoyable, from shopping for the perfect ducks to creating accompanying tags that they affix to them, typically with a string around their necks, to hiding them onboard. Sometimes, the hider waits around to see the reaction of the finder who discovers it.

The information on the tags commonly includes who created them, the cruise ship where the duck was found, the cruise sail dates(s), and the message, “Keep or hide, you decide.”

Whether you’re assembling ducks as an adult or with a child, the crafting is enjoyable regardless of age. And there is no doubt about it: people are addicted to brainstorming inventive ideas for cruise rubber ducks! We have seen photos of bags of ducks people will hide in various shapes, sizes, colors, and sometimes even in different painted-on outfits. Many people get creative with the tag, too – in one photo, the tag attached to the rubber duck was a little piece of paper luggage. Another image revealed Duck Passports with the information that usually goes on a simpler tag.

But the creativity doesn’t stop there: we’ve seen crocheted ducks, Canadian-branded red ducks with white maple leaves, and even small rubber ducks sitting on perfectly sized pool floats. Creating the ducks could even be a bonding activity for families to experience at home before embarking on their cruise. It’s easy to see why this fun fad has gained popularity and become a craze.

The other part of the fun is the tinge of joy the simple act of discovering one of these creatures brings the finder. It’s like the hit of dopamine you get when you find a four-leaf clover: You're a lucky duck!

Problems Duck-Hiding Presents for Cruise Lines

Disney Cruise Line has said 'no thanks' to cruise ducks (Photo: Aaron Saunders)
Disney Cruise Line has said 'no thanks' to cruise ducks (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Andrew Hayward, director at Panache Cruises, states that he has also seen this fad creep into the luxury and ultra-luxury cruise market.

"Interestingly, it is often the multi-generational groups who seem to embrace the idea more than couples traveling on their own," says Hayward. "Furthermore, it is often a pastime for grandparents traveling with their grandchildren. Cruise lines are faced with a dilemma. Whilst, on the one hand, they can see the social media value and viral marketing potential of allowing this sort of activity to continue, they can also see that this sort of behaviour presents specific risks, too."

It is not uncommon for people to hide ducks in locations that could present a fire risk. For example, many people choose to lift up ceiling panels and place their duck in out-of-sight locations. Some people can simply get carried away and not properly understand that all sorts of sensors and safety equipment may be affected as a result. Safety is paramount and these sorts of practices simply cannot be tolerated.

Cruise lines are officially discouraging guests from hiding ducks. Disney Cruise Line has stated that guests are forbidden to hide things in their staterooms or public areas of the ships.

Resolution for This Fowl Play

Can all the humans and the rubber ducks get along before dedicated aviaries need to be built on ships? We kid, but what’s the resolution for cruise lines that don’t want to squash the fun but have to consider the safety and the well-being of their vessels?

Is there another resolution before this rubber ducky idea is thrown overboard and left to the Quacken? Hayward suggests, “...the industry could better manage this by creating ‘treasure hunt’ routes on each ship, with questions, puzzles and challenges for multi-generational groups. In doing so, the focus could be moved away from ducks completely by simply creating a fun alternative on sea-days.”

Perhaps if a cruise line prohibits passengers from hiding cruise ducks, we may see official cruise-branded rubber ducks placed on our stateroom beds during turn-down service in lieu of towel animals. Or maybe a decorative fountain could be added outside of major cruise terminals where guests would be encouraged to donate their cruise ducks for charity before boarding the ship.

Until alternative solutions are presented to the cruise duck flocking community, one thing’s for sure: now that you know to keep your eyes peeled for them, it’s nearly guaranteed you’ll see a small rubber duck glaring at you from its hiding place on an upcoming cruise. Perhaps the adage fits the bill in this case: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

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