One of my favorite family vacations to this day will always be the 3-day cruise we took from Singapore to Malaysia on the SuperStar Virgo. Even though it was some 20 years ago, I still remember the excitement I felt walking up the grand staircase that wrapped around the Christmas tree, the inordinate amount of time I spent in the arcade room (one the jet skiing game in particular), running down the carpeted hallways to find our room, and the awe I felt at just how huge the entire ship looked from the outside.
My tiny, eight-year-old brain had a hard time processing how something so big could stay afloat, but I had no worries that it wouldn’t. I also remember thinking how cool it was that there was a swimming pool on the top deck, asking myself “how can there be water on top of water?”
It was, without a doubt, a memorable experience and one that I’d like to have again as an adult. I definitely recommend going on a cruise at least once in your life! However, since our collective 2020-2021 reality has put our travel plans to a grinding halt, the only way to do that is vicariously through our TV screens.
So we’ve put together a comprehensive list of TV shows about cruise ships for all you sea-lovers to get the travel bug somewhat out of your system. Whether the format you’re looking for is reality, travel, scripted, or documentary – we’ve got it! So put on your best cruise outfit, grab that poolside cocktail, and settle down onto your couch to binge these TV shows about cruise ships!
CRUISE SHIP REALITY SHOWS
Below Deck, Brave (2013 – present)
As passengers, we only ever see the surface of what happens on a cruise. We’re the consumers in this entertainment and service industry, after all. Bravo’s reality series Below Deck literally brings us below the ship’s deck – to behind the scenes of the luxurious experience of a ship.
Each season of Below Deck follows the young crew of a superyacht during the ever-busy charter season, chronicling their lives both working and living aboard the vessel.
Some of the yachties, as the crew members are also called, have a prior yachting background while others are there to personify the “work hard, party harder” attitude and bring little to no experience to the table, which always makes for an interesting team dynamic.
One thing is for sure though: there’s nothing these guys wouldn’t do to make sure their clients have the best experience possible.
Below Deck also gives a great view into the perks of working on a yacht, one of which is traveling to places like Sint Maarten, the British Virgin Islands, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bahamas, Tahiti, and most recently, Phuket!
Below Deck Mediterranean, Bravo (2016 – present)
Below Deck was so popular and successful that in March 2015, Bravo announced the arrival of its first spin-off show: Below Deck Mediterranean.
The premise of this spin-off reality show is similar to the original in that it documents the personal and professional lives of the crew on board a superyacht, this time 150-feet in length!
While the regular yachties take a break, the cast of Below Deck takes over for roughly 6 weeks and sail through all sorts of beautiful locations.
Each season features a myriad of colorful guests and customers, ranging from executives on business trips and millionaires on vacation to groups of friends looking for a good time and a sea-bound party.
Here, Chef Ben Robinson from four seasons of the original Below Deck joins the Mediterranean crew as they visit Greece, Croatia, Italy, France, and Spain!
Below Deck Sailing Yacht, Bravo (2020 – present)
News of a second Below Deck Spin-off first came in March 2019 and it wasn’t until December that year that fans got confirmation of a premiere date: for February 2020.
Entitled Below Deck Sailing Yacht, it follows the same format as its predecessors but this time, for the crew on a 180-foot luxury sailing yacht called the Parsifal III as it sails through Greece during charter season.
In a crew mixed with vastly different members, there’s bound to be some tension when certain attitudes and job ethics come to clash – and that’s what reality shows are all about, especially when you’re in a country so beautiful, surrounded by equally beautiful people!
Old relationships are tested while new ones are formed (often to the chagrin of others), but there’s never a dull day on Parsifal III.
Chef Adam Glick, who was on two seasons of Below Deck Mediterranean, joins the Sailing Yacht crew this year. However, with the second season lined up to air in March 2021, it looks like Adam will be bowing out of this new crew.
The Cruise, ITV (2016 – 2018)
It’s not glaringly obvious what the difference is between a yacht and a cruise ship, especially when there are some yachts that are the same length as a cruise!
One difference is that yachts are privately owned and directly chartered while cruise ships are owned by corporations. However, the main difference really lies in the guest experience.
On a cruise ship, you have access to amenities like a gym, pool, spa, arcade room, restaurants, what have you. Renting a yacht, though, provides a more personal and luxurious experience.
ITV’s The Cruise takes us from the yacht setting of the previous shows to an actual cruise ship, though this series does primarily follow the ship’s crew as well.
The Regal Princess ship is over 1,080 feet long and has a whopping 19 decks, so it makes sense that there are more than 1400 crew members manning operations.
The Cruise shows us the hustle and bustle of maintaining their five-star service as they go from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, the Mediterranean, and even Alaska throughout its five seasons.
DOCUMENTARY TV SHOWS ABOUT CRUISE SHIPS
Mighty Ships, Discovery Channel Canada (2008 – 2016)
After a successful one-off special entitled Inside Queen Mary 2, the Discovery Channel commissioned an entire series exploring the workings of the world’s mightiest ships!
What’s great about Mighty Ships is that while we do get to learn about a few cruise ships along the way, the show actually covers all types of sea vessels – probably some that you never even knew existed!
Mighty Ships lets you in on all the secrets these vessels hold throughout their voyages; from preparations made for the journey to the voyage itself, and ending when their job has been successfully delivered.
While the previous shows primarily display the crew’s interactions with each other and the guests, Mighty Ships focuses heavily on the operational and technical side of running the ships.
It even goes so far as to computer-generated animations in order to better explain to its audience certain aspects of the ship that cannot be seen or visited in person. Interlaced with that are interviews with the crew as they provide more information about the ship as well as what life is like aboard it.
Mighty Cruise Ships, Discovery Channel Canada (2014 – present)
Mighty Ships evolved into two spin-offs; the first was Mighty Planes that aired for four seasons and employed the same format while following various types of aircrafts. The second premiered in 2014 and was a more direct spin-off of the parent series: Mighty Cruise Ships.
Everyone wants to know what happens on these huge, extravagant, cruise ships and Mighty Cruise Ships definitely lets us witness the lavish life without having to pay the thousands of dollars that come with a cruise ship ticket.
Each episode brings us aboard a brand new ship – each with its own features, amenities, and cutting-edge technology that only seems to get better as the episodes progress.
These ships are built for their destinations, whether intended to endure the harsh cold temperatures and narrow passageways of the Nordic fjords or to breeze through the coastlines of Scotland.
On board, the ships cater to every aesthetic too – interested in Viking history? The Viking Sea is the boat for you. Looking for an adrenaline rush at sea? Check out Carnival Vista and their suspended bike loop and waterpark! Mighty Cruise Ships truly lets us see the best cruises there are to offer.
Cruise Ship Killers, Justice Network (2020 – present)
This next show takes a much darker turn than those that came before – if you couldn’t tell right away from the title Cruise Ship Killers. If you’ve got an interest in true crime, you’re definitely going to want to add this show to your list.
However, if that’s not your thing and you’re the kind to get paranoid pretty quickly, maybe you should skip this one. I say that because one thing’s for sure: Cruise Ship Killers might make you second guess your desire to go on a cruise – ever.
This true-crime documentary series tells the stories of people who got on a cruise expecting to have the vacation of a lifetime – only to never return or be heard from again.
Each episode will keep you guessing right from the get-go: was the businessman’s death foul play? Was the young woman kidnapped? Did he fall overboard? Did the missing woman just get off at one port and decide to stay to start a new life? There’s just no telling where each episode of Cruise Ship Killers will take us.
* Side note: if you want to look into cruise ship crimes even more, check out the Cruise Ship Disappearances episode of the Wine and Crime podcast. It’s very informative, and the hosts are also really funny!
The Cruise, BBC One (1998)
Not to be confused with the ITV reality show of the same name previously mentioned, BBC One’s The Cruise is an observational documentary series that followed the crew of the luxury cruise ship named Galaxy as it set off on its maiden voyage through the Caribbean – including a pit stop in Jamaica on Christmas Day!
While we have a chance to witness the personal lives of the crew onboard Galaxy, we also get a glimpse into how the crew handles the pressures of everyday operations on the luxury cruise. From dealing with a confrontational passenger at the ship’s casino to facing a whole congregation of born-again Christians, you truly never know what challenges a new day will bring. Not to mention the preparations for their new entertainment show!
Most notably, The Cruise is what paved the way for singer Jane McDonald, who was then an entertainer for Galaxy. After the show, she went on to become a recording artist, actress, media personality, and TV presenter. The Cruise even released two additional specials with Jane in the spotlight!
CRUISE SHIP TRAVEL SHOWS
Cruising with Jane McDonald, Channel 5 (2017 – 2020)
I have always thought that hosts of these lifestyle-type shows have the best job in the world – those that get to do food and restaurant reviews, explore different countries and cultures, and now, even experience cruise ships!
Remember Jane McDonald from the previous show, The Cruise? Well, she’s back for more sea-worthy adventures on the Channel 5 travel series, Cruising with Jane McDonald, where she films a travelogue showcasing the very best aspects of the ship, both in terms of service and aesthetics.
Right off the bat, she starts off with a mega-cruise ship called the MSC Divina through the Caribbean, where over 4000 passengers make the most of their holidays on the ship and at the port.
Throughout its six seasons, Jane travels the world one cruise ship at a time, truly living the best life.
The Voyager With Josh Garcia, NBC (2016 – 2019)
NBC’s The Voyager with Josh Garcia also follows the travelogue format through the eyes of traveler and host, Josh Garcia. However, instead of focusing solely on the experience with cruise ships, The Voyager provides a wider perspective of the world as a whole.
Josh takes his viewers with him as he travels the globe by ocean, disembarking at every port with the intention of discovering the nooks and crannies of each culture he encounters.
Each episode is a learning experience not just for Josh, but for us as well. He speaks with the locals, learns about native and regional traditions from cultural experts, and fearlessly tries the local cuisine every chance he gets.
Through The Voyager with Josh Garcia, our global wanderlust is ignited, and our traveling bucket list just keeps getting longer and longer!
SCRIPTED CRUISE SHIP TV SHOWS
High Seas, Netflix (2019 – 2020)
High Seas, also known as Alta Mar in its original Spanish, is a Netflix original series that aired for three seasons beginning in 2019.
Unlike the modern cruise ship settings that we’ve seen so far, High Seas takes place on a luxury ocean liner in the 1940s!
Sisters Eva and Carolina Villanueva climb aboard the Barbara de Braganza liner as it voyages from Spain to Brazil. Unbeknownst to the other passengers and crew, they’ve smuggled a mysterious woman onboard after she pleaded for their help.
Things go terribly awry when the woman is thrown overboard and Eva, a curious and headstrong writer, launches an investigation into the mysterious goings-on on the ship.
Eventually, both she and her sister discover shocking secrets that tie into their family’s dark past. Who are they supposed to believe?
Sadly, the fourth season of High Seas was originally planned to continue the series but was subsequently canceled in mid-2020.
Wreck, BBC Three (2022 – present)
One of the newest shows on this list of top cruise ship shows is BBC Three’s horror-comedy series Wreck.
The series follows Jamie Walsh, a nineteen-year-old who takes a job on a board cruise ship called The Sacramentum to figure out what happened to his sister, who went missing from the same ship three months ago.
As Jamie learns the ins and outs of living and working on a ship, he befriends other crew members in order to help with his investigation into the disappearance of his sister and how a recent attack on a crew member could be connected to it.
The Love Boat, ABC (1977 – 1986)
The Love Boat is a scripted rom-com/drama series that aired on ABC more than 30 years ago! However, when watching this series you’ll find that a lot of the scenarios portrayed are still reflected, to some extent, in the reality shows on this list as well.
The show takes us on board the MS Pacific Princess, a luxury passenger cruise ship. Captain Merrill Stubing is at the helm, guiding not only the ship himself but his crew members as they attempt to deal with a new passenger’s antics in each episode.
These crew members included the cruise directors, photographer, purser, bartender, doctor, and eventually, even a troupe of dancers!
The Love Boat was based on the original made-for-TV movie of the same name, which in turn was based on the non-fiction book Love Boats.
The reason the scenarios in this show seem so true to life is because the book was written by Jeraldine Saunders, a real-life passenger cruise ship director!
Avenue 5, HBO (2020 – present)
Science fiction and dark comedy collide in this HBO original, bringing cruise ships to a place you never could have imagined: space. Yup, you read that right! Titled Avenue 5, this is also the name of the interplanetary cruise ship owned by Herman Judd (played by Josh Gad) and captained by Ryan Clark (played by Hugh Laurie).
While setting off on an eight-week-long cruise, Avenue 5 experiences technical difficulties that set off a devastating chain of events: a temporary loss of gravity and the Chief Engineer’s accidental death, causing the ship to veer off-course.
When it’s estimated to take three years for them to return to Earth, Captain Clark and his crew need to figure out how to keep their passengers calm, collected, and safe – even as mishaps are happening left and right. Will they ever be able to make it back home?