Crimson Thompson had given up on looking for love when she found it in the middle of the ocean.
Before taking a Caribbean cruise in 2014, Thompson was fed up with dating, she told USA TODAY, noting that online dating wasn’t working for her. “I was almost 40, I was over it.”
But when fellow passenger JD Thompson got chatting during a stand-up paddleboarding excursion in Turks and Caicos, something clicked.
“We consider that our first date,” JD, a 37-year-old photographer and graphic designer, said. While they had met earlier in the trip, they spent the majority of that outing in Turks and Caicos together, after which “we really were kind of bonded together for the rest of the cruise,” he said. They then had dinner together, saw shows, and spent evenings in the hot tub, staying so late that security asked them to leave so they could clean it.
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After the cruise, JD accompanied Crimson home to South Florida for a short visit and the pair kept in touch after he returned to Texas. Three years later, after their chance meeting on vacation, they were married. “There is no way that we would have crossed paths without this cruise,” he said.
The pair are among a number of travelers who have found love on cruises and taken their vacation romances ashore.
‘The Real Love Boat’
Cruise ships can be so conducive to finding romance that a new reality dating show will center on a group of singles looking for love as they sail on a Princess Cruises vessel.
“The Real Love Boat,” which premieres Wednesday on CBS, is inspired by the beloved 1970s and ’80s show and features destination dates and challenges as the cast cruise in the Mediterranean for close to a month. One couple will win a cash prize and a trip with Princess.
Executive Producer Jay Bienstock said spending that much time sailing in places like Marseille or Santorini changes your state of mind.
“The troubles of your life sort of melt away, and the only reality that you have is what’s in front of you, and what is in front of you are other singles who are there for the same reason as you, and that is looking for love,” he said.
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Whether you’re spending time in the pool or watching the sunset on the starboard side, or having drinks in a bar late at night, he said, “all of these sorts of environments speak the language of love.”
Just like on “The Love Boat,” the crew members play a key part in the reality series. “We steer the couples or the singles … to even better explore or better understand the opportunity that they have with somebody by maybe setting them up on a dinner or maybe to a date ashore,” said Paolo Arrigo, a Princess captain who also serves as captain on the show.
Paris Howard and her now-husband, Robert, locked eyes on the top deck of their 2013 cruise to the Bahamas, meeting formally the following day at one of the lounges. They exchanged information, and he called her room to ask her to breakfast, where her grandmother answered. “She’s like, ‘Who is this calling my granddaughter?’ ” Howard said, laughing.
The Carnival Cruise Line voyage took place over spring break during Howard’s senior year of college, and she said the environment and timing played a role in the pair connecting. “We were there to have fun, network, let loose,” the 29-year-old human resources consultant said.
She said the ship also made for “easy access, if you will, in terms of like, we’re on the same boat together … we’re bound to see each other again.” “It’s not that hard to arrange if we do want to because we’re in such close proximity to one another.”
The couple lived an hour and a half apart in North Carolina at the time, but they kept in touch. Howard moved back to her hometown of Raleigh after college, and Robert joined her there after he graduated. Shortly before they got engaged, the couple went on another Carnival cruise, this time together.
“We were just like, ‘This is just like when we met,’ ” she said. “You know, it was kind of like reliving the romance again.”
Why passengers might find love on a cruise
Christene Lozano, a certified sex therapist, said when travelers are away from their day-to-day grind, they may feel more relaxed and open to meeting someone “because you don’t have stress, anxiety, work, school just weighing you down.” Cruises, she noted, also bring passengers together in various ways, from the buffet line to events on board, increasing the chance of running into people multiple times.
Because of those factors and the fact that others are likely in a similar headspace, “you’re probably more likely to start talking to some of these people,” Lozano said.
The limited length of a cruise may also motivate passengers to pack in multiple dates during the sailing, allowing them to “really build a connection because they’re spending a lot of time together in a much shorter period of time compared to if they were back home.”
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However, Lozano noted, passengers may feel drawn to people on a trip like a cruise they would not be as much normally. “You’re seeing a very specific part of someone when they’re on their vacation mode, and that may or may not be aligned with how they are outside of vacation mode.”
Distance could pose another challenge, as passengers who connect on a voyage may not live close to one another. That requires each person to reflect on the experience and what they want and to communicate that, Lozano said.
“Because for some people, they might have a wonderful time on a cruise and have a lot of awesome memories and maybe have a lot of awesome sex,” she said. “And then they might say, ‘I’m not interested in a long-term thing, I’m not interested in long-distance anything.’ But then ideally, there’d be a conversation around that so that people are on the same page.”
Lozano also said having an enjoyable shared experience and doing something out of the ordinary and new – such as kayaking – can help travelers bond.
The Thompsons connected in part over their love for cruising, and are taking their next voyage over Thanksgiving with MSC Cruises. And even if travelers don’t find love on a cruise, they can still have a memorable date.
“I would say without a doubt going on a date stand-up paddleboarding, or going to a Broadway show on a cruise ship or any of the many other activities they’ve got is a whole lot better than meeting somebody online and saying, ‘Hey, let’s go to dinner and a movie,’ ” JD said.