Long-time cruisers and cruise-selling advisors understand there's a whole world of cruise traditions and customs out there. One of the most fun – and not yet widely known (despite a Facebook group several hundred thousand large) – is that of the Cruising Duck. Those little plastic duckies that come in all colors, designs and themes and are hidden around cruise ships for others to find.
Those who know about Cruise Ducks love them, and that includes even the most serious-minded cruise advisor.
"While there are plenty of fun activities to do while on a cruise, the 'draw' of both hiding and finding Cruising Ducks is addictive," Pris M. Phillips, an associate at a Dream Vacations franchise in South Carolina, told TMR.
"It's like being a kid at Easter," added Jenn Williams, an associate at another Cruise Planners franchise.
Lisa Bostedo, an associate at a Buffalo-based Cruise Planners franchise, told TMR she's only ever found one duck. "You would think I had just won the lottery! I can't wait to hide and hunt on our next journey."
Though some Cruise Duck finders re-hide them, many keep them as souvenirs of their cruise. Williams told TMR she keeps her ducks.
"When I find it, I keep it as my very own treasure. I especially love it when the crew finds duck. They are so excited and willing to give to the guest, but I always say, 'finders, keepers.'"
Debra Thune, owner of an Oregon-based Cruise Planners franchise, said she first heard about the Cruising Ducks in 2018 and ever since she's been hooked, hunting for and putting out ducks for others to find.
"I've found a ton of Cruising Ducks! Even my husband is in on it. He loves finding ducks and giving them to me, as it always puts a big smile on my face."
For some advisors, finding Cruising Ducks is an important part of their cruise experience and they take it very seriously.
Thune said the first time she bought a bunch of ducks to put out, she made sure to have all of the holidays covered, with ducks representing Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter and Christmas. "Plus, I had patriotic ducks for Memorial Day and Independence Day. And pirate ducks for everything else!"
Others are more serious about finding ducks.
"I have a hidden talent in finding hidden ducks," said Bryan Villella, owner of an Orland-based Dream Vacations franchise. "I am a retired Sheriff's Detective, highly trained to notice attention to detail and something that looks out of place as if we are collecting at a crime scene. I use my finely tuned skills to 'out hunt' other cruisers. On a typical cruise, I can collect at many as 10 to 20 ducks of all different sizes."
Like others he keeps some ducks, but told TMR he re-hides about half of his "flock of ducks."
"My all-time favorites are the miniature ducklings, as they are easier to hide and harder to find," he added.
Some advisors even have a strategy when hiding (or re-hiding) a duck.
"When I re-hide, I mostly go semi-low so more children can see them," Maribeth Kring, owner of Cruise Mom Cruises, a TRAVELSAVERS agency. "On occasion, I put them up very high to mess with the adults. At 5' 8" I can reach higher than the average woman."
Advisors TMR spoke with said their clients love it just as much.
"I first learned about the hiding ducks society when we were on a cruise. I happened to find one sitting on a ledge by the elevator," said Laurie Shuss, owner of a Dream Vacations franchise. "I thought it might be a fun way to get people excited about cruising as well as hiding and finding ducks from all over the world! On our recent New Year's Eve cruise one of my clients found her first duck! I will be taking about 120 people on the Symphony of the Seas in February and I am encouraging them to bring and hide ducks. Should be a hoot!"
A Brief History of the Cruise Duck
The most commonly cited origin story behind the Cruise Duck is that of a young girl named Abby who thought it would be fun to hide some toy ducks on her Carnival Breeze cruise back in 2018. In the early Cruise Duck days, a few ducks would show up here and there, mostly on Carnival Cruise Line vessels, but they soon jumped ship, expanding to almost every major cruise line out there.
"Ever since I came across the legend -- how a little girl decided to brighten others lives by hiding ducks on a cruise ship -- I've been charmed by the whole idea," said Becki Bozart of BriBeckTravel, a Cruise Planners franchise. "Not only do I hide ducks, on many of the groups I host I'll give a tagged duck to each client to hide if they wish. Some have found ducks on the cruise and been so happy!"
Cruise Ducks may only be as recent as 2018, but one travel advisor TMR spoke with has been sending her clients ducks to photograph on their cruise vacations for even longer.
"As a travel advisor, I began sending rubber duckies, themed according to either when they sailed (Christmas, Valentine's Day, July 4th, etc.) or what their occupations were (police, fireman, nurse, etc.) to my clients quite a few years ago, at least back to 2017," said Phillips. "I would attach a tag to their ducks asking them to post a photo on social media of what their ducks were up to on their trip."
Within a few years, she said, she began noticing "flocks of ducks being hidden all over the ships with little tags attached instructing the finders to choose either to keep or re-hide. (The unofficial slogan of Cruising Ducks is "Keep or Hide, You Decide.")
Nowadays, the habit of hiding ducks on cruise ships (and even at resorts and other vacation destinations) is so popular, entire stores are dedicated to selling ducks of every variety.
The More, the Merrier
Several advisors TMR spoke with said they let their clients know about the ducks.
"As I speak to and sometimes travel with my clients I encourage them to participate in the fun exchange," Villella said. "It adds an extra element of fun to the cruise, especially on the days at sea."
Williams agreed. "I do mention to many of my clients the duck secret. The more, the merrier."
How To Get In on the Fun
Want to get in on the fun? While the easiest way to start is with hunting for ducks onboard, many of the advisors TMR spoke with have as much – or more – fun hiding ducks.
Ducks can be bought on web sites like Amazon and there's an entire Facebook group dedicated to the subject.
But one thing Thune and Kring pointed out that's especially important for travel advisors is to not put their agency name on the duck.
"The cruise lines are very particular about not allowing travel agents to advertise while onboard the ships," Thune said. "Some agents will tell you that putting their agency info on a duck is not advertising, but I disagree. I think it is definitely advertising and I do not want to run the risk of getting into trouble with any of the cruise lines."
Kring agreed. "The only thing that bugs me is when travel agents hide them with their cards, advertising their agency. That goes against most cruise lines' 'no solicitation' policy."