Here’s What It Means if You See a Rubber Ducky on a Cruise Ship

If you've never encountered cruise ducks before, you're in for a real treat

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There are plenty of things one expects to experience on a cruise: Buffets, ocean views and piña coladas are a given. But there are some less-obvious features too, like unexpected rubber ducks. Not just one in your bathroom, but lots of them hidden all over the ship. What the heck are these cruise ducks all about?

The rubber duckies aren’t left-behind toys or part of some children’s activity. They are purposely placed by passengers for others to find on all types of cruises—not just the best family cruises or themed cruises. The ducks are almost like secret cruise ship code words, but in a cute, plastic way. There’s a meaning behind them that you’re probably going to become obsessed with. Trust me—I’ve been there, done that, and participating in this tradition is something you won’t want to miss on your next cruise.

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What’s the history of cruise ducks?

Some say that cruise ducks trace their quacky past to 2018, when 10-year-old Abby Davis and her father took a Carnival Cruise and thought it would be fun to bring 50 rubber ducks with them to hide for other passengers to find. As it turns out, they were totally right. Now, people from all over bring rubber duckies with them to hide on their cruise vacations.

Abby and her father started the Facebook group Cruising Ducks to keep track of the rubber duckies passengers find. Most of the ducks will have a homemade tag attached to them, with instructions about how to post your details to this Facebook group and information about the person who last hid it. Sometimes the tag will also include contact info, so you can keep in touch with the previous duck discoverer, if you like.

Why do people hide rubber ducks on cruises?

Because it’s fun! Like a ship-wide game of hide-and-seek. No one really knows how many ducks are scattered across a given cruise ship, but judging from the Facebook page, some people may be carting entire suitcases filled with ducks to hide. So there could be thousands aboard any given boat.

Some of the ducks are your standard yellow rubber ducks, but many people have gotten creative with teeny tiny ducks or extra large ducks that they bedazzle to their heart’s delight. Any rubber duck you want to hide is fair game, so go ahead and add them to your cruise packing list. The cruise lines themselves have nothing to do with this tradition, so you’ll have to bring your own aboard if you want to keep the fun going.

What should you do if you find a cruise duck?

For starters, you should celebrate! Next, choose from these two options: Keep it, or go online to log your duck, then pop it back in a new hiding space to keep the ducks swimming.

If you choose to re-hide the duck, join the Cruising Ducks Facebook group, post a picture of yourself with your treasure and explain where you found it. Then update the tag and hide it again for the next lucky passenger to come across it. You can hide it on the cruise you’re currently on, or hold on to it for hiding on a future cruise. It’s totally up to you.

Get in on the cruise duck fun

Heading on a cruise soon and want to try this? Or just want a rubber ducky in your home because they’re adorable? We’ve got you covered.

What do you need to know about hiding cruise ducks?

You can hide a cruise duck on any cruise line, from Disney to Royal Caribbean to Carnival and more, from the biggest cruise ships to the smallest. Cruise ducks can be hidden anywhere but the cruise shop (because you don’t want to unknowingly steal a duck, thinking it was a cruise duck) or any of the pools or hot tubs, for safety reasons.

Leave the previous tag on the duck so everyone can see how far Mr. Quacky has traveled. Then, when you’re back in your room, pop a new tag on top with your information. (You can make one at home, or buy one on Etsy or Amazon before you go on your cruise.) This could include as little as the date and name of your cruise, or more details such as your name, your email and anything else you may want a future duck-finder to know. But most important, just remember that it’s all about having fun!

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Danielle Braff
Danielle is a freelance writer specializing in travel for Reader's Digest. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple, Marie Claire, Travel + Leisure and more.