Cruise ship corridors can be an anonymous slog for passengers trekking back and forth from their cabins to public areas on the ship, but some doors on some ships stand out from the crowd.

Those are the doors that have been decorated in some way by passengers looking to conjure some personality for their portal.

A display of Dutch pride decorated a door on the inaugural voyage of Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam ship in 2018.
A display of Dutch pride decorated a door on the inaugural voyage of Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam ship in 2018. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

But at least one cruise line has decided to halt the practice, citing safety concerns. Starting in August, Norwegian Cruise Line began implementing a ban on stateroom door decorations on its ships.

"We have often communicated that the safety and security of our guests and crew is always of the utmost importance" Norwegian said in a statement on the new policy. "As such, we have specific requirements in place, including prohibiting stateroom door decorations, which can be a fire hazard."

In fact, however, if door decorations are indeed a problem, there is no industry consensus on how to deal with it. One brand, Carnival Cruise Line, allows door decorations but specifies that they must be flame-retardant. Another, Royal Caribbean International, regulates the content for appropriateness but not the fire safety of the materials.

Several cruise lines caution that materials used to affix decorations to the door should not damage the door, discolor it or be hard to remove. String lights are another prohibited decoration on Carnival, while over-the-door hanging rigs and items placed on the door frame rather than on the door are also disallowed.

So far, travel advisors say, regulations have not stifled the urge to decorate, at least on those cruise lines that have a culture of such self-expression.

There's general agreement that Disney Cruise Line and Carnival are among the lines with the most decorated doors.

Jessica Kara, a self-described door-decorating junkie and vacation planner at Lawler Classic Travel in Winchester, Va., said Norwegian's decision probably won't affect her choosing the line for a cruise.

"I don't think it is really part of the NCL cruise experience like it is on Disney," Kara said.

Advisors said clients have been decorating doors for as long as cruise ships have been sailing, for a variety of reasons.  

"I do have clients who will do this," said Beth Chaffin, an agent at Expedia CruiseShipCenters in New Albany, Ind.

Celebrations such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries or honeymoons are often an occasion for door decorations.  Other cruise passengers like to contribute their own good wishes on those occasions, Chaffin said.

Door decorations also help groups traveling together to recognize and bond with others in the group. Chaffin said she often travels with girls' junior volleyball teams and likes to post the girls' names with decorations beside them.

"It's really fun, and it really just sets a fun atmosphere in the hallway," Chaffin said. "Like when you walk by that and you see that, even when you're an outsider, you kind of know that something fun is going on or that somebody's celebrating. Other decorators like to highlight that they're part of a couple or a family, that they support a favorite sports team, that they have pride in their city or their national heritage or simply that they revel in the joys of cruising."

Some cruise lines are complicit in door decor, selling kits that guests can use to liven up their cabin doors and interiors. Disney Cruise Line sells magnets in its gift shop, although it cautions that the Concierge cabins on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy have wooden doors.

Kara also said that door decorations facilitate a Disney tradition in which some guests swap small gifts with others that are left in pocket holders called "Fish Extenders" because they hang from a fish decorating the room number on Disney ships.

"The hanger and the magnets help identify people who are participating in the gift swaps," Kara said.

Cruise-themed door decorations are available from outside vendors such as, Party City and Etsy.

Chaffin said many agents spring for a Celebration Package to surprise a client marking a special event. She said she has one such client departing later this month, "and she will have birthday decorations on her Carnival door."

Chaffin added that something would be lost if door decor got regulated out of the cruise experience. 

"I think it's going to hurt a little bit," she said, "because you're breaking off some of the community feel that you get being in a hallway with someone on a cruise ship."

She also said it would factor into her choice of cruise line.

"If I have a group that I think is fun and zany, I may send them more toward Carnival or Royal just because they do have that kit that you can add on, and they do allow you to do that," she said. "So that definitely would put a change in how we are sending people, if they're having a celebration or want to celebrate by decorating as a group." 

Brenda Punchak, owner of Cruise Time Plus in Allentown, Pa., likes to keep it simple. 

"When I take a group, a lot of times I take their picture and actually put it on their door," Punchak said. "Everybody is so excited when they see their face on the door."

And for those who don't want anyone to know where they are, a picture is easy to take down.

Punchak said she's been on some 70 cruises, and the fun of door decor is part of what appeals to her clients.

"I think it's sad that [Norwegian wants] to do away with that," she said. "People love seeing their face on the door. The cruise lines keep building more and more ships, and then they keep taking away more and more things that made the industry wonderful."


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