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Mah Jongg Cruises: How to Play Onboard

Andrea M. Rotondo

Jan 8, 2020

Read time
5 min read

If you're a mah jongg (also seen as "mahjong") enthusiast, you probably already know where to look online for more information about the game, tournaments and theme cruises. Yes, that's right, there are actually tournaments at sea and mah jongg-themed sailings. If you're not quite that passionate about this Chinese game of strategy, memory and teamwork, but enjoy playing, we've got tips on how to get a group together onboard, in addition to where to find the larger-group charters.

Mah Jongg Theme Cruises

If you're looking for a vacation filled with mah jongg play, both friendly and competitive, and opportunities to meet fellow enthusiasts, a mah jongg-themed cruise is the perfect choice for your next trip. The following are a few organizations you should check out.

Mah Jongg Madness touts itself as "simply the best and best known mah jongg tournaments in America." This group offers weekend events throughout the United States as well as an annual cruise tournament, which is typically scheduled in early December. (They've hosted more than 30 at-sea tournaments over the years.) The cruise is always packed with meet-and-greets with old and new friends, tournament play, prizes and neat game-related gifts for participants. Expect a U.S. embarkation port like Fort Lauderdale or Miami and a seven-night itinerary.

The American Mah-Jongg Association -- which exists to "promote, foster, expand and increase the popularity of the game" -- also hosts cruise tournaments and events aboard ships like Holland America's Zuiderdam and Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas. The cruise package usually includes things like full use of the ship's conference room for game play; coffee, tea and snacks during games; a meet-and-greet cocktail party; group dinner; and tournament fees.

In addition to straight-up mah jongg theme cruises, there are also outfits offering specialty itineraries like Yoga Jongg - The Cruise. This getaway offers a welcome cocktail party, private group dinner, yoga classes, instructional mah jongg sessions and other onboard activities plus shore excursions. Leah Feigenbam, the "Mah Jonggg Mentor," leads classes while Jivamukti yoga teacher Meridith Hootstein of Blossoming Lotus Yoga brings her love of the discipline to participants.

Other Ways to Play Mah Jongg on a Cruise

You don't have to sign up for a mah jongg-themed cruise in order to play the game at sea. The fact is, most cruise ships have at least one game set onboard. Look in the ship's library, card room or puzzle area. Or, bring your own travel set from home. You can reach out to your cruise line before your sailing to ask about the availability of a mah jongg set. Just remember that the shoreside concierge can only confirm whether or not a set should be onboard -- not if, in fact, it is. Games can go missing on a ship, so while your cruise line makes every effort to keep its recreational library intact, it's not always a guaranteed sure thing.

What If There's No Game (or Not a Complete Set) Onboard?

If you play mah jongg regularly, you're no stranger to the small tiles that are integral to the game. Those little devils go missing easily, especially on a cruise ship where curious bystanders or children might handle the set and use the pieces for other purposes.

While you might find one or more mah jongg sets onboard your cruise ship, it might not be a complete set. It's wise to locate the sets as early as possible onboard and do a quick check to make sure all 144 tiles are accounted for. You might find that you need access to a few onboard sets in order to compose one complete set that's ready for play with your group.

Bring some supplies with you for "mah jongg emergencies." For example, re-create missing tiles using Post-its that can be cut down to tile size and used in place of the missing pieces. Or, grab an extra tile from another set, place easily removable washi tape on the top and write the character or symbol for the missing tile. Voila! Now you'll have a complete set that's ready for a game with your new cruise buddies.

Alternatively, consider bringing your own set. While mah jongg game boards can be large and bulky, you can find lightweight travel sets and versions that utilize cards instead of tiles to help make the game more portable. It's not an ideal solution, but it's better than showing up for a game only to realize that the ship's mah jongg set is incomplete or missing altogether.

How to Find Other Mah Jongg Players Onboard

If you're not traveling with enough mah jongg aficionados to play a game onboard, you'll need to recruit extra players. Before you leave home, join your cruise's roll call on Cruise Critic's message boards. You can get to know your fellow cruisers before stepping foot onboard and you can post a message asking who'd like to meet up for a game of mah jongg on the first sea day. Cruise Critic's onboard meet & mingle get-togethers are also a perfect place to find additional players for your game -- in addition to meeting avid cruise fans. You'll need to sign up before you sail.

Also, find the cruise director on embarkation day and let him/her know that you brought your mah jongg set and would love to find others who would like to play. Connections can often be made that way. Alternatively, inquire at guest services to see if they can add a notice to the ship's bulletin board -- often in public areas where all passengers have access. Other mah jongg players can then contact you directly to schedule a game.

Finally, bring a few printouts that explain the rules. Mah jongg is an intriguing game and passersby will, no doubt, ask you about the origins of the game and how to play. It's sometimes easier to hand out some written details than interrupt your game with a long-winded explanation.

Updated January 08, 2020
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