King Neptune, the Mermaids, and the Cruise Tourists: The line-crossing Ceremony in Modern Passenger Shipping

David Cashman


The line-crossing ceremony is an ancient maritime tradition that marked the transition from inexperienced sailor to experienced sailor. This ceremony has been co-opted by the cruise industry for the purposes of portrayal and commercialisation of the heritage of passenger shipping for consumption by cruise tourists. This paper discusses this process of adoption and commodification of the traditional crossing the line ceremony by the modern cruise industry. While the cruise ship version bears some similarities to the traditional ceremony, it differs in purpose, the brutality of the original version is lessened, and the gender onboard cruise ships permits a difference in the makeup of participants (including the portrayal of mermaids) and a reduction in the need for transvestite performances. It exists for two reasons: for the amusement and diversion of passengers, and in an attempt to buttress the historical portrayal of cruise ship as part of a naval tradition. Data is drawn from interviews with cruise ship workers and published accounts of the ceremony by cruise tourists.


cruise industry; line-crossing ceremony; mermaids; passenger shipping; commodification

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