A variety of TV cruise shows have surged onto our screens in recent years, with their popularity reflecting this travel segment's rising booking numbers and anchorage in the mainstream holiday market. But similar shows have long been on our airwaves, with some framing cruises as aspirational holidays and others as a place to find love, or telling the stories of crew and passengers in the now-popularised docusoap format.
Today, cruise TV shows lean towards showcasing the incredible variety that cruising offers, from experience-led trips in the Arctic Circle and bucket-list voyages through India to multi-city European river cruises and brand-new itineraries available in Australia and New Zealand.
Read on for seven cruise TV shows guaranteed to inspire your next cruise holiday.
Prefer the big screen? Check out 21 Cruise Movies That Will Make You Want to Sail
1. The Cruise (BBC Version)
Aired: January 13, 1998 – December 31, 1998
Channel: BBC One
Seasons: One (+ two specials)
The original cruise docusoap, The Cruise cast seafaring holidays into UK living rooms with a regular slot on BBC One as it followed Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy on her maiden voyage around the Caribbean.
A full cast of characters includes the young Jane McDonald, then an aspiring singer about to mark a new chapter in her entertainment career -- she had worked on ships previously, but this was her first headline booking. In a recap show, Return to… The Cruise, Jane recalls being “petrified the whole time”.
Over 12 episodes, The Cruise follows Galaxy as the ship arrives in Jamaica for Christmas, gets to know the crew as they experience the perks and challenges of working aboard a ship, and profiles big personalities among the passengers -- including the irate Ros Goodman. In a summer special, viewers get a front-row pew as Jane marries Henrik -- who was working onboard Galaxy as a ship plumber -- on the island of St Thomas.
2. Cruising with Jane McDonald
Aired: February 10, 2017
Channel: Channel 5
Watch on: My5
Now firmly established as an industry icon, Jane McDonald’s cruising career continues with the BAFTA-winning Cruising with Jane McDonald -- the first ever BAFTA for Channel 5.
The show features Jane sampling ocean and river cruises around the world, sailing everywhere from Europe’s waterways and Asia’s rivers to Australia, South America and Cuba.
Season six began broadcasting on April 19, with Jane enjoying the highlights of a Douro river cruise aboard Emerald Waterways’ 112-passenger Emerald Radiance in episode one. The itinerary takes in the picturesque city of Porto and the ornate architecture of Salamanca, Spain, checking off the baroque Mateus Palace and Lisbon en route. In later episodes Jane joins a Uniworld river cruise along India’s holy Ganges river aboard Ganges Voyager II. The sailing features the incredible sights of the country’s Golden Triangle, from the Taj Mahal to Rajasthan, Jaipur and Kolkata -- lands of Maharajas, colonial architecture and colourful festivals.
3. The Cruise (ITV Version)
Aired: March 3, 2016
The Cruise (ITV’s behind-the-scenes documentary about Princess Cruises that shares a name with the 90s television programme) has become a regular ITV fixture, having returned earlier this year for its sixth series -- this time onboard Majestic Princess, the line’s newest ship, which boasts a luxury spa, an indoor garden and a 900-seat theatre.
The documentary reveals what life is like onboard for the line’s crew and guests as Majestic Princess calls at ports across Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Season six is the first to head Down Under, offering viewers a first look into the experiences available with Princess in the southern hemisphere.
Regal Princess, Royal Princess and Star Princess all feature in earlier series of the show, which has enjoyed high viewing figures since it launched. Its popularity has endured with season six -- tune in to learn what to expect on a Princess sailing, as well as what goes into running one of the world’s largest cruise ships.
4. Mighty Ships: MSC Meraviglia
Aired: July 27, 2018
Channel: Discovery Channel Canada
MSC Meraviglia takes centre stage in episode four, season nine of the popular Canadian show Mighty Ships, which is broadcast around the world. Each episode features a particular sea-going vessel, following its voyage and starring its crew, who provide an insight into the workings of their ship.
The ship is filmed on its second-ever voyage: a five-night Mediterranean sailing from Genoa to Naples, Messina, Malta and Barcelona. At 1,036 feet long, 141 feet wide and 19 decks high, and with 4,000 passengers onboard, MSC Meraviglia is undoubtedly one of the world’s mega-cruisers, and Mighty Ships explores how operations are handled on a ship of this scale. As well as the usual amenities, the ship features a water park and ropes course, and even Cirque du Soleil at Sea.
In the episode, the supplies officer is seen springing into action when a truck carrying fresh ingredients for onboard meals fails to arrive at port.
5. Secrets of the World’s Most Expensive Cruise Ship
Aired: August 23, 2019
Channel: Channel 5
Watch on: My5
Regent Seven Seas’ newest -- and most luxurious -- cruise ship, Seven Seas Explorer, and its nearly 4,500-square-foot Regent Suite feature in this four-part documentary, which concluded in September 2019.
The suite boasts a $250,000 grand Steinway piano, a personal butler and a private in-suite spa with unlimited treatments. With a price tag of $5,000 per person per day, the suite is what gives the show its name. Episode one follows head butler Raju as he prepares the suite for its next guests. Senior executive chef Micheal and food & beverage director Stephane also star as they source fresh ingredients from Spanish markets -- the programme was filmed over two cruises around the Iberian Peninsula, the Bay of Biscay and Baltic Sea -- for Compass Rose, the largest speciality restaurant at sea.
It’s not the first time Seven Seas Explorer has featured in a documentary; back in 2016, a two-parter broadcast on Channel 5 aired the ship build.
6. The Love Boat
Aired: May 5, 1977
Seasons: Nine (+ five specials)
Comedy/drama series The Love Boat saw a generation fall in love with cruising. Part of ABC’s popular Saturday night line-up, The Love Boat tells the romantic and comic tales of Pacific Princess’s passengers and crew.
Based on Jeraldine Saunders’ novel, “The Love Boats,” the series follows life onboard and features Captain Merrill Stubing (played by Gavin Macleod), a selection of the ship’s crew and a cast of passengers, many of whom are played by different guest stars for each episode. Janet Jackson cameos as a love interest of bartender Ted Lange, while the then little-known Tom Hanks appears in a 1980 episode. Saunders based her book on personal observations from her time spent working as a hostess on a cruise ship. At its peak, The Love Boat ranked in the top five shows in the US. It ran until 1987, by which time ratings had sunk.
Aired: September 13, 2011
Channel: Sky One
Showboaters followed a familiar docusoap theme, with ten contestants battling it out to win an entertainment contract onboard Thomson Dream (rebranded as Marella Dream in 2017). The winner was to be selected by four judges, led by PEEL Holdings, the entertainment group behind the ship’s stage shows.
Viewers were given an insight into the inner sanctum of a ship’s theatre, including makeup, costumes, rehearsals and a behind-the-scenes look backstage as the amateur contestants performed alongside the ship’s professional team.