Equator-crossing ritual on cruise ships

A Pollywog makes the transition to Shellback.

As the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas nears the equator, excitement mounts and all Pollywogs – those who have never crossed the line – are encouraged to register for the crossing the equator ceremony. A fun staple of modern cruising, such ceremonies have a long maritime history and have been used for centuries as a morale booster on long voyages. 

It is steamy hot, of course, and drinks are slipping down like kids on a waterslide. As we approach the middle of the world, quite a few passengers rush to the rails for a look, as though there might be an actual line drawn on the ocean. I am one of the disappointed. 

Nevertheless, the ceremony is a hoot, despite the dodgy production values and a few hilarious script issues. Slimy (the traditional adjective) Pollywogs are led out for their hazing in front of King Neptune, and his assistant reads the charges. The Pollywogs are accused of various atrocities and crimes against humanity, including pushing in at the buffet, singing karaoke out of tune and dancing without rhythm. Heinous as the accusations are, no one seems too concerned until the royal handmaidens bring out the fish. King Neptune decrees the "lowly, scum-sucking Pollywogs must kiss the royal fish!" 

The chant goes up: "KISS THE FISH! KISS THE FISH!" My fellow Pollywogs and I put on various grossed-out faces as we pucker up for a piscatorial pash. It looks like a trout, but the bloke who goes in for the full tongue action is definitely a groper. Pollywogs are then doused with water to symbolise a baptism and are duly admitted to the District of Equatorius as Trusty and Honourable Shellbacks and Sons of Neptune. 

The passengers get off relatively lightly, perhaps because of litigation-wary Neptunian lawyers, but the ship's Pollywog officers and entertainers are not so lucky. Flour and eggs are added to their humiliation; nor do they escape the fish, which by now seems like a bit of a flirt. In a different iteration in Voyager's galley these ingredients could comprise a tasty fishcake recipe, but not today. The Schooner Bar pianist and crooner comes in for some particularly harsh treatment, possibly for playing Living Next Door to Alice too often. 

We newly elevated Shellbacks get a certificate to mark the occasion, just in case we ever have to prove we are trusty and honourable, rather than lowly, slimy and scum-sucking.

The writer was a guest of Royal Caribbean Cruises.

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