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This Is Perhaps the Strangest Thing We’ve Ever Learned About Cruises

Look closely, you just may find rubber ducks peeking out from behind your deck chair the next time you’re on a cruise ship.

The next time you’re on a cruise ship, look high and look low while walking the deck on your way to dinner or the pool; you may just find a rubber duck. It could be sitting there on the hand railing, under a deck chair, on the elevator floor, or some other obscure place. It’s not lost by a child; it was placed there on purpose, hidden for you to find.

Some ducks are very well hidden, while others are placed to be easily found. Usually, they’ll also have a tag attached: “Con-quack-ulations! Oh, what luck, you found a duck!” The tag generally contains the name of the person who hid it, information about the itinerary where the duck was hidden (it could take a few trips before a duck is found), and a request to post a photo to social media with your new-found friend. And make no mistake, social media is overflowing with people who have gone “quackers” for ducks.

The original “Cruising Ducks” group on Facebook currently has over 108,000 members, and a quick search will show many other groups set up for specific cruise lines, such as Carnival with over 44,000 members. So why ducks, and how did this get started?

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Texas resident Ashley Davis says this was all his daughter Abby’s idea. In 2018, 11-year-old Abby was booked on a seven-day cruise out of Galveston for spring break and asked her mother to buy some ducks to hide. Aboard the Carnival Breeze, Abby hid 50 ducks and watched as passengers found them and even said that one of them wasn’t found for over three days although it “was in plain sight on the blue iguana sign.” The rest is history. Cruising Ducks group member Mary Wolek says she likes the idea of hiding ducks because they “swim, fly, and walk freely,” and it provides “a feeling of camaraderie [by] sharing a gesture of: let’s enjoy our journey, together. It’s an amazing feeling to realize we are all in this together.”

Cruise passengers from around the world now take part. Kathleen Repinski says she refers to this as “stupid fun.” She added, “one of our favorite things to do is hide a duck where we can sit nearby, have a drink, and just wait for it to be found. The excitement, especially when it’s a child, is just plain heartwarming.”

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Bobby Laurie

Recently, I took a cruise on the Norwegian Bliss from Los Angeles to Vancouver, and to my surprise, I found a duck. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe I found it because I was already in the process of researching this story and was subconsciously keeping an eye out for one, but there it was. I was headed across Deck 6 when I realized I was going the wrong way, turned around, and it was sitting on a chair next to a slot machine in the casino. I read the tag and contacted the duck’s former owner, Tracey Flattes.

Tracey told me her family has “a lot of fun choosing which ducks to get, what to put on the labels, and where to hide them. It’s great to watch people discover the ducks and to see their reactions. This is something we get a lot of fun out of as a family and is now part of our cruise!” Tracey says her family has hidden around 100 ducks since they got involved and usually hide about 20 per cruise. But, if I only found one on the Norwegian Bliss, what happened to the other 19? Well, Tracey said that’s the one downside to the fun. “Not everyone posts their finds.  Maybe they don’t have social media, or they just aren’t into the game? This is disappointing after the effort made to hide them.”

It’s not just rubber ducks, either. Some people hide anything duck-themed, such as custom jewelry, mugs, hats, keychains, you name it. Cruiser Mel Hopkins started painting stones while in lockdown at the height of the pandemic; now, she paints ducks on them and hides them on vacation. It’s “just a gesture and hopefully raised a smile or two.” Almost all of the Cruising Ducks community members that responded to my request for information said that they hide ducks for no other reason than it’s fun and to see a smile or the look of joy on someone’s face, whether a child or adult.

Looking to get involved? Cruising Ducks group member Kathy Burdick says you can “get the ducks at most places,” whether Amazon or Walmart. As for the tags, most folks design their own and say it’s a part of the experience, although many buy templates on Etsy. Some tags resemble passports, cruise line key cards/room keys, license plates, and—in the case of Melissa Grove—a free drink voucher.

“I’m adding on a free drink to the finder of my gold ducks so the people can come meet me at a specific bar at a specific time, and I will get to meet them in person,” explains Melissa, who, after being isolated through the pandemic, saw this as a way to ease back into socialization. “In a world where everything feels cynical and acrimonious, cruising ducks feels wholesome and doable. It is low commitment but feels like you could be making people happy.”

Those who don’t hide ducks but find them have a big decision to make. “Keep or hide, you decide” is broadly printed on most tags. I kept mine as a keepsake from my trip and to memorialize my first duck encounter. Others post a photo with their find and then re-hide the duck with a new tag for someone else to happen upon.