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The poker cruise is not a new concept, as the first ones were organized in the 1990s. The first major event held on a cruise was the PartyPoker Million in 2002, becoming the first tournament held at sea and making history when Kathy Liebert became the first woman to win $1 million in a poker event. The World Poker Tour then began to host cruise-based tournaments on a regular basis for several years.

Card Player Cruises is the most well-known poker cruise company, run by Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher. Johnson bought the company as part of Card Player Magazine in 1993 and continued on with the cruises long after she bid farewell to the magazine. To date, Johnson has taken more than 130 poker cruises, hosting them in the Caribbean, Asia Pacific region, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Canada and New England.

The Heartland Poker Tour partnered with Card Player Cruises several years ago, and the duo now jointly hosts an annual cruise, the next one scheduled for February 2016 in the Caribbean. Ante Up Poker Cruises is gearing up for four cruises in 2016, and World Poker Tour has one set for May and another in September. Even the Norwegian Cruise Line is preparing to host its third annual Norwegian Poker Challenge in December of 2016.

Why are poker cruises so popular? Here are the top 10 reasons:

True Mix of Poker and Vacation

Most poker players travel to a destination for a poker tournament and rarely end up leaving the casino to see the sights. A poker cruise doesn’t give much choice, as the poker room is usually closed when the ship pulls into a port. Playing poker in cash games or tournaments takes up some of the time at sea, but land stops are the perfect opportunity to enjoy other activities and see new places as a tourist.

Travelling with Fellow Poker Enthusiasts

It isn’t often that a person goes on a vacation and meets other people with similar interests. Many people who have taken poker cruises – either alone, with a significant other, or with friends – rave about their new poker friends. There are always other people ready and anxious to talk about poker.

Spouses Included

Many poker players find it hard to plan poker trips with a spouse or significant other who doesn’t play the game. Poker cruises are the ideal mix for those couples, as there are many other activities on the ship to occupy the non-player while the other plays hours of cash or tournament poker. And as mentioned, when the ship docks, poker games pause, and couples can enjoy each port together.

Pricing Deals

Booking a poker cruise through a company like Card Player Cruises enables travelers to pay special low prices. For example, the Card Player Cruises and HPT event in February 2016 offers prices as low as $849 and a December Mexican Riviera cruise starts at $789 per person. Many travel agents can also find low prices for poker cruises, especially when booking early.

Lessons Included

Most poker cruises offer tutorials and lessons as part of the poker package. Card Player Cruises offers free seminars on each cruise, Ante Up boasts of free poker classes, and the WPT May cruise is specifically for training. The WPT Spring Training cruise travels the Caribbean waters and brings along poker training experts like Mike Sexton, Nick Binger, and Eric Lynch.

Numerous Destinations

Several of the poker cruises go to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, and Alaska. Card Player Cruises takes vacationers to more exotic locations as well. Just this month, they are traveling to Indonesia and Malaysia, and next year’s lineup features trips to Scandinavian countries, Russia, and the Canadian and New England coast line.



 Cash Games

The majority of the cash games on board a cruise ship are low stakes. Card Player Cruises offers games starting at $1/$3 No Limit Hold’em and low limit games, but they will spread almost anything by popular demand, sometimes even up to $20/$40 Omaha. There is no pressure to play high-stakes on the cruises, as many players are relative amateurs and enjoy playing cards for fun.

No Regulars, Few Pros

The occasional HPT or WPT cruise will boast of some well-known professional players, but most poker cruises are not full of intimidating faces. Everyone feels comfortable playing in the rooms, and unlike at most land-based casinos, there are no locals who are regulars looking to crush the tourists. Most players are on the same level, and there is no intimidation factor.

Amenities Not Offered by Casinos

Traveling to a casino to play poker typically traps vacationers in the casino with fluorescent lighting and no fresh air. A cruise offers beautiful sights at sea and when docked, and everything from movie theaters to live music, spas and fitness centers, and even basketball courts and climbing walls. The ability to spend just as much time on deck as inside a poker room is appealing, especially when bringing guests who don’t favor the cards as much as the avid players.



 Kids Welcome

Casinos are not usually welcoming to families with children. Cruises, on the other hand, offer numerous activities for kids. Not only do pools usually come with slides and activities like surfing simulations, but there are such things like circus schools and other fun ways for kids to spend their time. Children can enjoy the port stops as much as anyone, and there is often special pricing for kids.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.