First Person: Halloween Onboard a Cruise Ship

October 29, 2010

(2 p.m. EDT) -- Although Christmas and New Year's get all the hype, some cruise lines also go out of their way to celebrate Halloween on the high seas.

This year, for example, Disney Cruise Line will offer trick-or-treating around the ship for kids, costume parties featuring Disney characters, spooky movies and witchy treats, while Holland America is planning to throw a lido deck dance party with a costume parade and contest.

So what's it like cruising on the most ghoulish day of the year?

Possibly the most fun I've had on Halloween in a long time was on a Carnival Spirit cruise to the Mexican Riviera last October. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone got into the holiday festivities -- after all, Carnival is known for encouraging a good time onboard its Fun Ships.

Thanks to the Roll Call thread for our sailing on the Cruise Critic message boards, I knew my travel companion and I would need sea-worthy costumes: Pirates? (Too cliche.) Love Boat characters? (Too difficult.) Fun Ship Freddy? (Too scary!) And then it hit us: towel animals. Worried about depleting the bathroom inventory from our cabin, we'd actually brought our own towels onboard and made caps to look like towel-animal heads. (I was a puppy, my friend an elephant.) Then we draped bath towels around our torsos and wore fuzzy, white sweatpants.

Dressing up turned out to be the consummate ice breaker. In the atrium, cowboys were taking pictures of Elvis, ketchup and mustard were chatting with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and for days afterward, people would come up to us and say, "Are you the towel animal girls?"

While we schmoozed with "Star Trek" officers, the seven dwarfs, '50's bobbysoxers, clowns and ancient Romans over cocktails (served at a cobwebbed bar bearing the sign "Beware of Spirits Inside"), the kids were busy trick-or-treating in other spookily decorated public areas, dodging inflatable carriages driven by skeletal footmen in their quest for candy and showing off their duds in a costume contest.

Fun, yes, but I was amazed at the forethought and preparation people put into their costumes -- not to mention the extra luggage they must have needed to carry unusual cruise items like stage makeup, an entire shark outfit, fake swords and giant, plush beer steins.

Carnival packed its evening program with Halloween trivia and bingo, a late-night showing of "Beetlejuice" and a dance party. We gamely attended a dance class, where we tried to learn Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance with a bunch of more coordinated passengers. My dance moves were scary … but for all the wrong reasons.

The big event of Carnival Halloween turned out to be the adult costume contest, held in the packed Pharaoh's Palace Theater. Many of the finalists were family groups or couples who had coordinated outfits, like the Addams Family, Adam and Eve, stuff like that. (Even a pair of devilishly clever towel animals made the cut.) The grand prize went to a one-legged woman who creatively dressed up as the Leg Lamp from "A Christmas Story" with a fringed, lampshade skirt.

Her prize? Ample applause and a bottle of Champagne.

Want to be inspired by some terrific onboard Halloween costumes? View our slideshow.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor