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What the duck? Why people hide these kiddie toys on cruises — and how you can, too

July 18 2022
6 min read
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On many a cruise, rubber ducks can be found peeking out from random hiding places, beckoning passengers to pick them up and read their accompanying information tags. Perhaps you'll find one hidden behind a plant by the Doe Family from Springfield or another carefully placed somewhere in the buffet by the Smiths from Greenville.

What the duck, you might be wondering, is the deal with hiding ducks on cruise ships?

As an avid duck hider, let me clue you in to this popular onboard pastime. Whether you're ready to hide ducks on cruises or want to send your kids on a hunt for cruise ducks, you'll need to get your own ducks in a row before you set sail.

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Cruise ship rubber ducks, explained

A branded The Points Guy duck on a cruise ship. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Cruisers often bring rubber ducks on cruises in an effort to have a bit of fun by hiding them throughout the ship. The ducks usually have information cards attached to them bearing the names of the people who hid them and where those passengers are from.

What began in 2018 as a cute gesture by a 10-year-old girl named Abby — who simply wanted to make other passengers smile — now spans several Facebook groups with hundreds of thousands of members. In these groups, cruisers chat about the ducks they've ordered, the best places to purchase them, clever places to hide them after they've set sail and the best ways to attach the information tags.

The largest group I've been able to find — yes, I'm a member — is "Cruising Ducks - Original," which encourages people to share photos of the ducks they plan to hide as well as ducks they've found on board. Think of it a bit like geocaching, but simpler — and with ducks.

What to do if you find cruise ship ducks

A TPG duck hidden on a cruise ship. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

If you find a duck, the next step is simple. Take a photo of yourself with the duck you've found and post it to the "Cruising Ducks - Original" Facebook group. Mention the name of the person who hid it. You might also choose to reach out to thank them if they have provided contact information on the card attached to the duck.

Then, either keep your new friend to take home with you as a souvenir or re-hide it according to the below rules.

Rules for hiding ducks on a cruise

I once took mini-ducks won in the arcade on a cruise ship and hid them on the cruise. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

It might sound silly, but there are rules for hiding rubber ducks on cruises. The first is that you should never put it in a pool or hot tub. You wouldn't want an excited child or inebriated passenger to fall in and drown or hurt themselves while attempting to fetch it.

Second, don't hide ducks in any of the onboard shops. If someone finds one hidden there and tries to take it with them, it could appear as though they're stealing something.

Third, don't place ducks where they might fall overboard. It's a huge no-no to toss anything into the ocean, even by accident.

When choosing ducks, the sky is the limit. I've seen everything from mini-ducks to giant ones that are a foot tall. You can find simple, classic yellow ducks in bulk online or you can choose to go all-out and purchase custom ones in a color or design that suits your personality. You might also choose to order plain ones and decorate them yourself with feathers, glitter or paint. Really, anything goes in terms of theme.

Some participants even choose to vary it a bit by hiding other duck-themed toys or objects, such as duck keychains, hand-crocheted ducks, duck-shaped Hot Wheels cars or small LEGO duck kits.

On a couple of my recent sailings, I won some inexpensive mini-ducks by playing a claw game in the arcade, and I used spare hair ties to attach my business card to them. It was a last-minute improvisation, but boy was it fun. Hiding them also kept the young daughter of one of my travel companions busy for an afternoon.

Donald and Daisy Duck posing with a TPG duck on Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wish. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

(Inspired by that experience, the cruise team here at The Points Guy got creative and had some specialty captain ducks made for the team to hide on upcoming cruises.)

For the tags, make sure to include your name and where you're from, along with instructions for the people who find your little quackers. Standard wording is generally something like this:

"Oh, what luck. You found a duck! Keep or hide, you decide. You found a cruising duck hidden by [name] from [city, state, country]. Hide in public places only — no pools, hot tubs or stores. Take a photo, and post it in the Facebook group 'Cruising Ducks - Original.'"

At a minimum, the tag should tell the duck's finders that they can either keep or re-hide the duck and the places that are off-limits. It should also encourage them to share the ducks they find online. You can also choose to include additional information, such as a QR code or your e-mail address.

Bottom line

If you're hiding ducks, be sure to adhere to the rules. If you find a duck, whether you keep it or re-hide it, be sure to post a photo per the accompanying instructions.

Hiding rubber ducks on cruise ships is a fun way to connect with other passengers on your next sailing, as well as a fun pastime on sea days. Whether you find a duck and contact the folks who hid it or hide your own flock so others can reach out to you, it can help you to make new friends from all corners of the globe.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured photo by A flock of TPG-branded ducks on a cruise ship. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

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  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
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