King Neptune Ceremony on Holland America Line MS Rotterdam

Sea travel in general is a deeply traditional practice, with rituals dating back centuries, many of which are still practiced today, even on passenger cruise ships.

One such example is the King Neptune Ceremony, or line-crossing ceremony which traditionally occurs on any cruise ship crossing the Equator. It is a virtual certainty anybody who takes part in a world cruise or even joins a one-way cruise on a ship moving to another part of the world will witness one for themselves.

Cruise Advice’s intrepid reporter Jordan Smith is reaching the crescendo of his repositioning voyage onboard Ponant’s Le Lyrial and has detailed the goings-on from his own first-hand experience going through the rituals of the line-crossing ceremony.

King Neptune ceremony is a fun spectacle for those watching
First-time crossers of the Equator are subjected to some harmless fun on deck

As the sun beats down on the teak decking of Le Lyrial, we make the move officially from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere, which can only mean one thing.

A group of crew members have tied together the hands of myself and ten other passengers in a convict line. No, this is not a mutiny on the high seas and no, we are not being punished for our extreme requests being perceived as over and above demands.

Instead, it’s an ancient tradition dating back hundreds of years in which Neptune (generally a high ranking officer) judges the Pollywogs (portrayed by those passengers and crew crossing the equator by sea for the first time) for the purported “crimes” they have committed at sea. (Think along the lines of “Wearing a speedo on the pool deck” for one older gentlemen or “Cutting in line at the breakfast buffet” for another lady as the standard of such indiscretions. Welcome to the line-crossing ceremony onboard Le Lyrial.

King Neptune greets the crowd
King Neptune prepares for the ceremony by calling for Pollywogs to present themselves

For their crimes, the Pollywogs are subjected to a serious of “humiliating” punishments for the amusement of the assembled crowd. In my case, my crime of “having limited French linguistic skills,” resulted in a four-pronged sentence which saw me arm crawling across a tarp covered in dishwashing liquid – my comical struggle for propulsion was met with laughter from the crowd. Kissing Neptune’s feet, kissing a fish for good luck and finally crossing the line by swimming under a rope in the ships pool marked the end of my penance.

It was actually a fun experience celebrating the milestone of crossing the equator and a must for anyone looking for a fun way to pass the afternoon – even if watching from the sidelines. Although if you plan to participate, I would suggest packing an old swimsuit, as Neptune’s punishments, particularly on voyages with a young demographic onboard, can be messy!

King Neptune on a cruise ship
A line-crossing ceremony can be a messy affair