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Rite of passage
Rite of passage

Ever been tempted to plunge into freezing water on a voyage to Antarctica or have your face slathered with a cream-topped custard tart on a cruise ship at the equator?

Or is the intention to marry at sea with family and friends joining the wedding party for a cruise, or maybe renew marriage vows on a romantic sea-going holiday?

Many cruisers love to take part in these and other ceremonies which can be as silly or as serious as passengers want them to be. After all, the celebrations are organised for their entertainment.

  • Crossing the equator *

This ceremony is conducted by King Neptune (the Roman god of the oceans) and it is usually one of the cruise ship's entertainment team that officiates while crossing from the northern hemisphere to the south, or vice versa.

This centuries-old naval rite was seen as a test by seasoned sailors to ensure new shipmates could handle rough times at sea.

Passengers and crew who have previously crossed the equator by ship are nicknamed Shellbacks while those who have not had the experience are known as Pollywogs.

  • Weddings at sea *

Cunard's iconic liners Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria recently introduced weddings at sea programs that are conducted by each ship's captain on voyages across the world, including Australia. To date, the most popular wedding trip is Cunard's transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton or from Southampton to New York.

A wedding co-ordinator, hairdresser and make-up artist are on call for the preparations and the wedding music, flowers, champagne, wedding cake and marriage licence are also arranged as are the photos and a video of the ceremony.

Combining the romance of sail with an idyllic ocean setting, Star Clipper cruise line holds marriage blessings on the upper deck of its four-masted Star Clipper and Star Flyer cruise ships, as well as on the five-masted Royal Clipper.

The "I do" ceremony is conducted by the ship's captain and attended by uniformed crew on voyages in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Central America.

Thousands of Australian passengers found their true love on holidays at sea with P&O Cruises and many of them celebrated honeymoons on those ships. Now couples can also marry on board the fleet's Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl and Pacific Sun.

Ann Sherry, chief executive of Carnival Australia, which includes P&O Cruises in its fleet, says couples are always looking for a memorable wedding location and running away to sea to get married has to be one of the best. A celebrant performs the marriage ceremony on the cruise's embarkation day at the port of Fremantle, Sydney, Brisbane or Newcastle, while renewal and commitment ceremonies are held at sea by the captains of Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl or Pacific Sun.

All wedding celebration packages are additional to the cruise costs.

  • In icy waters *

On the expedition ship Orion, hardy passengers join in an Antarctic Circle crossing ceremony at 66 degrees south (the departure port is Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina), where a substitute King Neptune (one of the expedition team) hoses down volunteers with icy sea water before the ship heads further into Antarctica.

In another cruise ritual, volunteers from Orion's crew and guests jump from the ship's stern platform into the Southern Ocean where the water is often minus 3C.

Certificates are handed out to all hardy souls who take part.

Quark Expeditions' ships also hold a special ceremony on arrival at 90N on North Pole cruises when passengers and crew form a circle on the ice for a champagne toast, to wave national flags and to enjoy a barbecue.

This expedition includes shore landings in Franz Josef archipelago in far north Russia which is a known habitat of polar bears, walrus and vast colonies of seabirds.

  • fact file *

·cunard.com

·orionexpeditions.com

·p&ocruises.com.au

·quarkexpeditions.com

·starclippers.com