The thought of sailing across an ocean on a hot summer's day sounds blissful, especially for those who are reading this from an office chair. The swim-up bar, umbrella-clad cocktails, a salty breeze blowing through your hair. Cruise ships, however, are not always this serene. More often than not, your laid-back pool day will be interrupted by the colossal splashes of belly flop competitions, men flaunting their hairy chests and legs, and the elderly crowd congregating for a customary conga line. Not all cruises are this cheesy, but — we're sad to say — most are.
Some are in it specifically for the cheese factor — the cheesier the better! These folks are the first in line at air guitar wars, dancing along to '80s rock songs, and dressed up for every themed party on the roster. If you are one of these people, then power to you and your cheesy ways. There are plenty of cruise activities we can get on board with (like surf simulations and circus acrobats), but we draw the line at game shows and tacky tourist photos. Here are 20 of the cheesiest things travelers will see on a cruise.
20 Flash Mobs
They're in the malls, in train stations, on the streets, and now — just as soon as you get settled into your cozy poolside chair with a frozen daiquiri, miles offshore — a flash mob strikes again. Carnival Cruises have been known to host a flash mob now and again. Guests will be hanging out on the lido deck, having a snooze when — Bam! — 600 people pour in dancing in unison. Sometimes there's even a marriage proposal in the mix. Sure, it's corny, but what's the fun in going on a cruise if you can't laugh at 600 people with no rhythm trying to dance to a Maroon 5 song?
19 Conga Lines
Sometimes cruise ships can get a little crazy after the old folks have had one too many Long Island iced teas and break into a good old-fashioned conga line. No place is safe; cruise guests will cha-cha their way around pool decks, restaurants, and everywhere in between. The average age of these people is, of course, about 60 years old (because what Millennial would be caught dead in a conga line?!). Last year, Carnival even set a record for having the world's longest conga line at sea to celebrate "World Conga Day." About 25 of its ships joined in during a week-long "conga event," which spanned across 13 countries and included more than 60,000 Carnival guests.
Karaoke bars don't always have to be cheesy, but it is likely, however, that if they're located on a cruise ship, they are. In 2010, Carnival amped up its karaoke game (pun intended) when it launched Superstar Live Karaoke, a program that has since been axed. When it was offered, guests could have their three minutes of fame while belting out ABBA and T-Swift alongside a live orchestra, every aspiring singer's dream. According to ABC News, guests on Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Princess cruise ships can participate in video game-style karaoke — in case you wanted your Celine Dion-singing to face projected on the poolside movie screen — and even audition to perform with the onboard bands.
17 Belly Flop Contests
In case you're ever curious about the sometimes-bizarre goings-on aboard cruise ships, there's a review website that is entirely dedicated to travelers sharing their cruise experiences, from the food they ate to the fun they had while competing in the belly flop competition. One Cruise Critic user bragged about competing in the bloodthirsty belly flop contest 15 times (and winning 10 of them). "One thing that is most important is to be as horizontal as possible with no bend or pucker at the waist," he advises. "Have your legs straight and don't have your feet hit before your midsection." Thanks for the pro tip, Blizzard54!
16 Who-Has-The-Most-Hair Competitions
You might think that the prospects of hopping on a cruise ship and wearing — almost exclusively — skimpy swimwear for a week would have people lining up for a waxing at the salon, but that would be wrong. This is because, on many cruises, hairy chests and legs are actually celebrated and rewarded. Take Carnival's "Hairy Chest Contest," which apparently isn't all about how hairy your chest is, but how confidently you rock it. Another cruise ship delight that's sure to ruin your appetite is the "Mr. Sexy Legs Competition," a poolside tradition on lines like Norwegian and Carnival. Of course, these are the hairy legs of male cruise-goers, so you can be the judge of just how "sexy" they are.
15 Old-School Rock
There are entire trips dedicated to remembering the rock music of decades' past. The 70s Rock and Romance Cruise, Warped Rewind At Sea, and the Kiss Kruise are just a few. The better ones feature live music from old-school favorites, but bygone artists always bring out older generations. And who could blame them? These cruises are often advertised as "spring break for adults," and it's been a few years (decades, more like) since our parents' generation has had a proper spring break, so let them jam out to Gene Simmons without reserve. You might actually find that, although cheesy, these themed cruises can be a rollicking good, rock-and-roll time.
14 Air Guitar Wars
While real-life rock legends in the flesh can be great fun, the air guitar competitions that often take place (against recorded music, no less) on cruise ships are usually nothing more than cringe-worthy. Australia's Rock The Boat cruise, a so-called "music festival at sea" that has recently featured Foreigner as its headliner, is proud to promote its air guitar wars. One Carnival air guitar competition winner posted a video of his wild performance on YouTube that will tempt a giggle (or just make you feel uncomfortable). Norwegian has gone a step further to make its guests feel like true rock stars by partnering with Gibson Guitar to offer a Check-In-Rock-Out program where guests can rent their own guitars for $10 a day.
13 Green Eggs & Ham
Carnival has recently brought Dr. Seuss' timeless tales to life with Suess-A-Pallooza parades, movie screenings, and themed activities to entertain youngsters while their parents perhaps sneak away to the pool bar. As part of the "Seuss At Sea" program, the ship offers a festive breakfast with the Cat in the Hat. On the menu is A-B-Cereal, The Who's Fruit, and a tongue-twisting "scrambled super-dee-duper-dee-booper, special de luxe a-la-Peter T Hooper omelet." Of course, you can't forget the iconic green eggs and ham, except Fox News, said that they're "kind of gross." It's a nice idea, Carnival, but the harsh reality is that green eggs just aren't that appetizing to anyone over eight years old.
In a sea of wacky activities that have been launched (and many failed) over the years, bingo is the OG cruise activity, and it's on the itinerary to stay. Most ships include a casino or other gaming hub of the sort, and that's precisely where this magic happens. While on-land bingo is often associated with church gatherings and retirement communities, one Cruise Critic article says that bingo-at-sea can get pretty competitive, probably because it costs so much to play. Allegedly, it costs about $10 per card, which means the winnings are often in the hundreds and even thousands. Some love cruise ship bingo so much that there's a cruise dedicated to it — the World Championship Bingo Tournament and Gaming Cruise — that's been sailing for 30 years.
11 Ice Carving
Speaking of wacky activities that you can do on a cruise, some ships like to display some ice art under the hot, summer sun. It seems strange (because, well, it is), but ice carving has long been a "staple of cruising," according to Cruise Habit, which says that the activity is actually not as popular as it once was. Still often seen on pool decks, though, are these big blocks of ice and a few chefs with a chainsaw, slicing them into unicorns and dolphins while onlookers watch with awe from the shade. If there's one thing cheesier than the fondue fountain at the midnight buffet, it's a tropical bird ice sculpture.
The Carnival cruisers who participate in the zany competitions mentioned above and win are rewarded with a much-sought-after ship-on-a-stick. If you are wild enough to win the belly flop contest or air guitar wars, or even if you are the winner of a crazy game of bingo, Carnival will grant you with a plastic, golden trophy shaped like a ship that is engraved with the name of the cruise. "The people who covet these trinkets seem to far outnumber those who wish for a 'better' prize," says an article on My Cruise Stories. "Some passengers go to great lengths to acquire one." Apparently, some people are so desperate that they'll even purchase one from eBay.
9 Towel Animals
Now, this might be one cruise ship tradition we can get behind, because who isn't a sucker for a towel that's folded into the shape of an exotic animal? In 2012, Condé Nast Traveler called on its readers to submit photos of their favorite cruise ship towel animals on its Facebook page. Featured in the gallery is everything from a quilted platypus to a dog (or monkey, maybe) doing trapeze moves on a clothes hanger. Some cabins even contained a life-sized towel human reclining in a chair and reading a magazine. In fact, Carnival Cruises released a book called "Carnival Towel Creations," which Condé Nast Traveler said was selling, at the time, 60,000 copies per month.
8 Game Shows
After the kids go to bed, Royal Caribbean invites adult guests only to its own version of a tacky TV game show: Quest. In the game, the moderator requests specific items from teams, such as a tie or a sock with a hole in it. Things get more risqué as the night progresses. Eventually, the host is requesting bras and belts looped together and the men on stage are all donning red lipstick. For some, this is perhaps the most suggestive thing they've ever done in public, so the show operates under an unofficial no-tell policy, which one guest has chosen to ignore by posting a very informative breakdown of the game show on Cruise Critic.
7 Dress-Up Parties
Carnival Cruises recommends you bring a sombrero for its Mexican Fiesta, while Princess Cruises suggests packing your cowboy hat for the Country Western Hoedown. From Gatsby parties to black and white parties to pirate parties and every theme in between, it's no question that cruise-goers love to dress up. One night, the top deck will be transformed into a colorful Caribbean island and the next, it could look like a scene from Frozen. Every day is dress-up day on the 80s Cruise, hosted by none other than Dee Snyder and featuring a "Let's Get Physical" aerobics session to ensure you get your workout in.
6 Wacky Crew Uniforms
The guests aren't the only ones getting dressed up on some cruise ships. Take, for example, Star Trek: The Cruise. On this "unconventional voyage," guests could forget they're floating at sea and not through the galaxy because the crew is dressed up in their most futuristic space costumes. In fact, the crew is not only dressed like Star Trek stars; they are Star Trek stars. Guests on this nerdy cruise could rub shoulders with Will Wheaton, Jason Isaacs, Jonathan Frakes, and others. You can bet that crew members aboard Halloween-themed cruises will be donning mermaid, pirate, and other ocean-inspired costumes, too.
5 Horse Races
A lot of people name horse racing as one of their favorite cruise activities, which often beckons the question: there are horses on the ship? We can confirm that there certainly aren't stallions on your cruise; not real ones, anyway. The cruise ship version of horse racing, according to Mental Floss, includes cardboard cutouts of horses that "race" according to a roll of dice. People bet money on the horses as they would bet for thoroughbreds in the Kentucky Derby, so this event has become just another way to gamble that doesn't involve sitting in a dark casino all day. People get so involved that they buy these cardboard horses and dress them up for luck.
4 The Newlywed Game
No married couple in the audience of Carnival Cruises' "Newlywed and Not-So-Newlywed Game" is safe from being picked by the cruise director to participate. As you could probably guess, it goes a lot like the corny, old-time television programs that force couples to say embarrassing things about each other, such as: "what animal does your husband best resemble and why?," "what's your wife's most disgusting habit?," and "how do you rate your first kiss from one to 10?" This is a common cruise game and, following suit with most other cruise ship activities, it tends to get dirtier toward the end.
3 Cheesy Cruise Ship Photos
If you didn't go back home with a tacky vacation photo, did you even go on a cruise? Every ship has a house photographer who likes to take portraits of guests with sunburned faces from too many hours snoozing by the pool. Typically, these portraits depict poor green screen tactics where smiling vacationers appear to have been cut out of one photo and pasted on another photo of a tropical beach scene. "Cheesy but necessary," the blogger behind Anna With Love captioned hers. Now you know, travelers, the next time you find yourself dancing in a cruise ship conga line, there's probably a photographer near.
2 The Souvenirs
If you can believe it, cruise ship souvenirs are less weird today than they were in the past. That's Condé Nast Traveler's claim, anyway. In the photo slideshow that this travel website posted of vintage cruise ship souvenirs, you'll find a creepy sailor doll, hand-carved seashells, bar soap, and a fashionable (or not-so-fashionable) brooch. Still today, cruise gift shops' shelves are packed with tacky beach bags, touristy towels, wine glasses painted with "cruise diva," and photo frames. If you must take something home from the boat, just take the keycard or a program — at least those are free!
1 Kid Rock (In The Flesh)
Perhaps the cheesiest thing you'll find on a cruise ship is Kid Rock singing "bawitdaba da bang da bag diggy diggy" on stage. That's right, Kid Rock performs on cruise ships; actually, one cruise in particular of which he, himself, is the theme. This year was the ninth anniversary of Kid Rock's Chillin' The Most Cruise, sailing from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, each summer. This four-day trip claims to be a "chillers only throw-down" (how much cheesier could it get?). Kid Rock himself curates the lineup, so guests can be sure that by the end of these four days, their ears will be ringing with cowboy rock.