Take a look around your next cruise ship and you may just find a unique souvenir: a duck.
That’s right. Ducks of all sizes and materials are popping up on cruise ships around the world. And it all started with a simple mission: to make people smile.
The Cruising Ducks phenomenon started in 2018 with an 11-year-old girl named Abby Davis. Her parents say Abby asked them to buy some ducks to take on their 7-day spring break cruise out of Galveston, Texas, aboard the Carnival Breeze. They bought 50 ducks to hide and often saw people become so excited to find one. Her family says Abby even met a girl on the ship that told her how much she loved finding the hidden ducks. The floating hide-and-seek game only grew from there.
“Abby started this to spread happiness, and we have never would have known it would have been like this,” Abby’s mom, Ashley, tells me. “It really is amazing even to us, how many lives the group has touched.”
Recently, my husband and I took an 11-day Greek Isles cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines out of Athens. On the first day, I saw a woman place a duck on a ledge. It caught my eye because it was so unusual, but I chalked it up to her playing a game with her kids; I had no idea at this point about the cruising duck game.
A few days later, we were eating, and I saw another woman place something on top of a sign entering the restaurant. I thought this had to be more than a coincidence, so we checked it out and found a small duck with a note on it. After some research about Cruising Ducks, we spent the rest of our time looking for the small ducks all around the ship. We ultimately decided to bring the duck home for our kids, and they are already looking forward to hiding it on our next family cruise.
With any game, there are some rules when it comes to hiding and finding ducks on cruise ships. Before you hide them, be sure to label the duck with basic information, like the name of the cruise ship and instructions on what to do when you find them. This message can be as simple as “Keep or hide, you decide.” Some cruisers handwrite their own labels, others create mini “passports” for the duck — you can get as creative as you want! There are plenty of templates online. The label can also include instructions for where to post pictures of you and your new duck so the hiders can see your joy.
When it comes time to hide the ducks, they should be in public places; stay away from shops (may look like shoplifting!), pools, or hot tubs (some kids can’t swim). Also, let’s keep the ocean clean — please don’t hide the ducks somewhere where they can blow into the water (like a handrail). Other than that, get creative! We’ve heard of ducks hidden in elevators, restaurant signs, or even in passenger cabins for the crew to find.
If you’re lucky enough to find a duck on your cruise, you have the option to either keep it or re-hide it. As I mentioned, we brought ours home to tell our kids about the game, but we plan to re-hide it on our next cruise. Some hiders want to see how far around the world their little duck can go!
“We want to see at least one duck travel on every boat!” explains one Cruising Duck Facebook group member. “I hope whoever finds ours will re-hide and keep sending off on another cruise.”
Just as the game has grown over the years, so has the creativity when it comes to the ducks. While the game started with basic small rubber ducks, cruisers are now hiding keychains, snow globes, or even making their own duck creations.
“My past cruise, I made epoxy glow-in-the-dark keychains and epoxy anchor keychains,” says one cruiser. “It allows me to be creative and make things.” Looking online, you will see hand-made wooden ornaments, crocheted ducks, and rubber ducks with added bling to create a bride and groom or a Santa hat for Christmas.
The idea of hiding ducks may seem a bit silly, so I wanted to know exactly why people love and continue this game. I posed the question on the “Cruising Ducks-Original group” Facebook group, and I received more than 100 responses within an hour! Even more after that!
“I just heard about the duck hide and find game and I thought it was kind of silly,” explains one group member. “WOW was I wrong! Finding one was the highlight of my day!” Another group member says, “It’s nice to know that a complete stranger wanted to bring a smile to your face.”
Several group members recounted stories of small children melting down and parents struggling, but then they find a duck and suddenly everyone is happy! “Believe me, parents appreciate a successful meltdown stopper, when a child has just had enough,” says one group member. “We carry a couple with us just for that reason.”
Others love the memories the ducks create. “I do it because I travel with my children. It is a great time bonding and making memories.” Others do it for the exercise: “Hid 100 ducks today. Definitely got my steps in!”
While the reasonings are vast, all of the responses had a similar theme: to spread joy. One group member put it best when she says, “Traveling is the cake, cruising is the icing on the cake. Hiding and finding ducks are the sprinkles in the icing. Everyone likes sprinkles, don’t they?”