Marketing "Sex at Sea" on Cruise Ships

Marketing sex on cruise ships has been around ever since the Love Boat television program which I watched in the 1970's. OK I admit it.  I had a crush on Julie McCoy - "Your Cruise Director" - as she introduced herself.  Her line in every show "Hi!  I'm your cruise director" - was too much for most young boys to handle.   

Selling the Sea - Carnival - Sex on Cruise ShipsThe show revolved around Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess cruise ship, whose passengers and crew had romantic interludes every week.  The show starred the ship's captain (Captain Stubing) who encouraged his passengers and crew members to hook up and, well, it was the 1970's and people didn't talk in public about such things - do whatever people do behind closed doors. 

But somewhere over the course of the last 30 years, marketing sex on cruises changed from the innocence of the Love Boat  to something a little less conventional - swinger parties, cougar parties, and who knows what.  

Selling sex became a fundamental part of the business of selling cruise tickets.  Former Carnival President Bob Dickinson wrote a book called "Selling the Sea." I bought a hard back copy on eBay for $2.75. Consider his view of the role of the Captain of the cruise ship, always on the prowl:

" .  .  .  we have observed that some captains, because of their social and sexual prowess, have contributed meaningfully to the revenue occupancy of the vessel.  Clearly, there are passengers who are drawn to the Captain's insignia and crisp white uniform.  Imagine being entertained in the Captain's quarters (often a two or three room spacious suite with leather sofas, a library, and a  stereo) with a polite wait staff pouring Dom Perignon and serving Beluga caviar!"

Cosmopolitan magazine and Royal Caribbean conducted a survey which was published in an article entitled "Sex at Sea."   58% of passengers were unable to wait more than 10 hours after embarkation "before dropping anchor in the sea of love."  With their traveling companions?  Or crew members?   

P & O Cruises - Sex - Marketing - Dianne BrimbleSeveral years ago P & O Cruises ran a sexually charged campaign showing bikini clad women oiled up and lying oh-so-promiscuously on their backs with the caption "Seamen Wanted." 

Now, I work in an office with only women, who find this type of advertising totally offensive. 

The cruise line is advertising sex to sell tickets, pure and simple.  The P & O Cruises marketing was particularly offensive, considering that  just a year earlier P & O passenger Dianne Brimble died after being given Ecstasy by a pack of men.  After it was over, she ended up naked, and dead, on the floor of the cruise ship.  

This is the problem with the come-aboard-and-have-sex approach to marketing.  Date rape drugs have entered the equation (I don't remember GHB or roofies on the Love Boat).  Crew members try and get involved. They have key cards and can get into the cabins at will.  After all, the Captain is doing it.  And when a rape occurs, cruise lines are notorious for covering up the crimes and destroying evidence.

Just today the popular blog CruiseLog on USA TODAY blasted the headline: Royal Caribbean Says Yes to Sexually-Charged Cougar Cruise.  The article began with the question: Is Royal Caribbean the new bad boy of the cruise industry?

The article commented on Carnival having second thoughts about associating itself with hosting "cougar cruises."  So Royal Caribbean decided to fill the marketing void by announcing that it will happily host what is being called the "Second International Cougar Cruise" to take place in May on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas.  Royal Caribbean's PR team even issued a press statement to USA Today to promote the sex charged cruise. 

Marketing a cougar sex cruise?  You bet, Royal Caribbean - Sex on Cruise Ships - Adam Goldsteinthis is right up RoyalCaribbean's alley.  

A couple of years ago, I remember seeing a publicity photo of Royal Caribbean advertising its new mattresses on its cruise ships.  There before my eyes was Royal Caribbean President Adam Goldstein.  He was wearing a Hugh Hefner robe, holding a martini in his hand, lying in bed in front of two sexy, skimpily clad women wearing the Royal Caribbean logo on their bikini tops.  Take a look to the left.  What do you see? 

Booze ... beds ... women ... sex  ...  welcome aboard!   

We have come a long way from Julie McCoy, the innocent cruise director of the Love Boat.  

Carnival's President marketed his product by touting how many women the Captain can conquer in his bachelor pad suite on the cruise ship.  And Royal Caribbean's President might as well as be in the Playboy Mansion surrounded by bunnies selling tickets.  

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Comments (7) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Judy Best - January 13, 2010 9:14 AM

Even as a travel agent, I was disappointed to see a Cougar group cruise announced. Folks need to become more aware of the kinds of large groups sailing with them on ships, because some groups just aren't family friendly!

Janet Huggard - January 14, 2010 11:35 PM

Male sexual predators bad. Female sexual predators good? No!

It was hard to imagine that Carnival let them book at all. Now, times are tough, so other lines are eager to grab these middle-aged wild cats and send a message that coming to find sex on a cruise ship is alright. The word "pandering" comes to mind.

I see this fact brought up in cruise ship sexual assault lawsuits. I think Carnival figured it out, will the others?

Colin Smith - January 27, 2010 5:45 PM

Two words: Consenting Adults

mariak - August 8, 2010 11:09 AM

Most cruises dont know about the mafia-like behaviou aboard cruise ships.Young female crew member are often 'introduced' by their managers onboard(especially Spa managers) to senior officers. These girls are expected to 'service' the often much older, married officer for their contract. If they refuse, life onboard is made very very difficult for the girl. Often it is easier to just do as you are told.. After all, you are out at sea- theres is no-one and no laws to protect you. If you complain, theres no one to help you either. The women acting as the pimps have been doing this for years and are protected by the company. I know this firsthand

Miguel and Rhadia - April 29, 2011 4:01 AM

We are a couple from the canary island, and we are interesting in make a swinger cruise this summer or october. please, can you help us? Thank you for you information.

Joe - February 21, 2012 1:55 PM

Cruise ships are not the only place to see this type of behavior. You can go to any resort, hotel, bar and so on. This does not only happen on cruise ships. Just look at resort advertising and you can see almost naked women around the pool or bar as well as every man having a hard body without an ounce of fat. Both are hanging all over each other giving the impression that you are going to be having sex with fantasy men and women when you stay there. Do you ever see the normal people that visit the resorts? Women that shouldn't be wearing a bikini or men that have some fat around the middle? No! Face it sex sells and even the people that say they don’t like it have the spark ignite in their brains.

TessnBob - August 1, 2012 10:34 AM

While we do put on cruises that are clothing optional and marketed to swingers, we also get people that like Fantasy Fest, Mardi Gras and just having a fun, liberating experience. We charter the entire boats, so that there are no kids and no one that will be offended, because they all understand what type of a cruise we put on.

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