You know a social media event has truly gone viral when it transcends the platform and makes global headlines — and even more so when it gets its own subreddit, too.
Last year, it was the private chefs of the Hamptons — in 2024, it’s the #UltimateWorldCruise that has taken over TikTok.
What makes this particular cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas unique is that it lasts a staggering nine months. Over 274 nights, the ship will make port in over 60 countries, with some 700 passengers booked to stay on board for the journey.
Even reading that paragraph has probably left you with questions. How do you pack for nine months? How big are the rooms? What’s the food like? How much did it cost?
I stumbled upon one creator, another South African, Amike Oosthuizen, in between the predictable mix of fitness, productivity, and BookTok content on my For You Page late last year, which sparked a journey down several TikTok rabbit holes. Now, I’m the proud follower of almost all the creators on board — and an FYP that’s almost exclusively cruise-related. (Miss you, BookTok.)
But I’m not mad about it. If I can’t travel to every continent on earth and live in a tiny cabin for nine months, at least I can live vicariously through the folks who can.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. The CruiseTok creators' following counts range from a couple of thousand to well over 200K. They’ve spawned a cottage industry of non-passenger creators curating and reporting on their content and even featured in scores of news outlets, including TIME, The New York Times, and Vox.
While consuming my daily fix of cruise content, it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned from the TikTokers, who have rocketed to social media success (and internet fame) in a matter of weeks.
I poured over hours of #UltimateWorldCruise content on TikTok and beyond and managed to speak directly to a couple of them via email, WhatsApp voice notes, and Zoom calls (cruise wifi is expensive, so we kept the camera off on that one).
Here are nine valuable lessons from (and a look behind the scenes at) the CruiseTok phenomenon.
1. The same content can yield very different results on new platforms
Several of the most-followed CruiseTok creators only joined TikTok while on the cruise. But many of them were active on other platforms first.
Dr Jenny Hunnicut, owner and founder of Hunnicutt Writing & Consulting (better known as @drjennytravels), had been documenting her adventures on Instagram and Facebook for several years before the cruise. She and her husband travel full-time while working remotely.
After seeing other creators gaining traction on TikTok with their cruise content, she quickly jumped on the short-form video platform to start creating there, too. “I have been posting about this cruise for two years on Instagram and Facebook,” she told me with a laugh.
The travel vlogs she creates on TikTok now aren’t all that different from what she’s been doing on Instagram, where she has over 8K followers. But, thanks to the virality of the cruise on TikTok, she’s grown to 138K followers on the platform in under two months.
Mike and Nancy, self-proclaimed empty nesters, have been creating YouTube videos on their channel, Living Phase 2, since February 2022. Some of their pre-world cruise videos (covering everything from Nancy’s sleep apnea to travel) have amassed more than 50K views.
They also started creating on TikTok (@livingphase2) when they saw other creators gaining traction there. Now, many of their TikToks boast over 100K views (the one below has 5.6 million).
@livingphase2 Rocky seas. Weathering through the Drake Passage #UltimateWorldCruise #RoyalCaribbeanWorldCruise #RoyalCaribbeanUltimateWorldCruise #SerenadeOfTheSeas #CruiseTalk #RoyalCaribbean #uwc #LivingPhase2 #fyp #cruising #drakepassage ♬ original sound - MikeandNancyLP2
“We were extremely surprised how much interest has taken place regarding this cruise,” Nancy told me. “We had no idea, and this has been an entirely new dynamic we’ve had to navigate. I think this is because this is the longest world cruise, and people are interested and fascinated by how we can live away from our homes for such a long time.”
Why has this exploded on TikTok more than other social media platforms? Jenny reckons it might have something to do with the idea of a cruise — a form of travel you might associate with an older demographic — being so foreign and fascinating to TikTok’s Gen Z audience.
Amike Oosthuizen (@amikeoosthuizen) thinks it has more to do with the fact that there were simply more creators covering the cruise on there — but she did add that she feels TikTok users seem to be more hungry for ‘drama.’
@amikeoosthuizen Spend the morning with us in Antarctica! ❄️📍🥶 #tavel #cruise #antarctica #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #worldcruise2023 #SAMA28 #royalcaribbean #viral #cruisetok #fyp #antarctica #drakepassage #snow ♬ original sound - amikeoosthuizen
“TikTok is such a unique place where people like drama-type content — and many people thought the cruise was like a reality show — which it obviously is not."
Jenny plans to keep all three of her platforms active — because you never know what content will resonate where she says — though she knows she needs to experiment with her work on Instagram and Facebook.
“I've only had the bandwidth to take what I'm putting on TikTok and put it on Instagram and Facebook. But I realize I need to transition that a little bit because it doesn't perform the same.”
2. A viral moment can evolve but doesn’t last
After the initial explosion of interest as the cruise departed, some creators noticed their video views were dipping.
“The virality of this has started to taper down some already,” Jenny told me. “I think it has transitioned from a wide audience to people that are now a little more invested in my content.”
She also thinks the recap accounts (more on this below) might have something to do with the drop-off. “They have grown significantly — and we love some of them on board; we talk to them in our DMs.”
“But I think what’s probably happened is people are just watching the recaps because those accounts are making some great content about it. I think people are not coming to my page directly because they’re seeing it on a recap.”
Another CruiseTok favorite, Anthony Antoine (@anthonyantoine1021), a full-time traveler who added more than 66K followers to his already substantial audience since embarking on the cruise, shared more about his plan to maintain momentum with me.
@anthonyantoine1021 More penguins & dolphins on #ultimateworldcruise #royalcaribbeanultimateworldcruise #ushuaia #ushuaiaargentina #worldcruisetiktok #anthonyantoine #ushuaia🇦🇷 ♬ original sound - kardashianshulu
"Before the cruise, I was more spontaneous," he said. "Now, I’ve been a little more strategic, paying more attention to what works, the best times to post on TikTok, and who to collaborate with."
He hopes to build enough trust with his audience to bring them along for the ride on some projects he has lined up post-cruise — including a CD, a book, a screenplay, and his non-profit organization, the Michael-Anthony Foundation.
"I will develop this strategy, promoting these things as the cruise unfolds, hoping my new followers come along for the ride. I want folks invested in other aspects of who I am and what I have to offer, and I'm hoping to continue to inspire on social media."
3. There’s room at the table for commentators
Who says you need to be an active participant in a viral event to create content about it?
Fanning the CruiseTok flames have been dozens of TikTokers reporting on the creators on board. Tapping into easy-to-use TikTok features like Stitches, Remixes, and greenscreen filters, plenty of them create recaps and summaries that have made it easy to keep up to date with the daily goings-on.
My favorite is @nchimad, self-appointed “SeaTea Director,” who sums up the global fascination in this clip (with 4 million views) below: “This kind of feels like a social experiment. Cause, like, why would you want to be on the water for nine months? I may not be able to handle it, but I’m going to live vicariously through the people who can.”
@nchimad I’m staying on cruisetok for the next nine months😂 I want to see everything!! #royalcaribbeancruise #9monthcruise #whewchile #oceano #fyp #foryourpage ♬ original sound - ✨SeaTea Director, ND✨
She also did a great job answering people’s burning questions early on, like the cost of the whole trip (prices started at just over $50,000 per person, for what it’s worth).
All it would have taken was a quick Google search to uncover this info, but thanks to TikTok becoming Gen Z’s search engine of choice (and TikTok SEO), nchimad was the top search result.
@nchimad Replying to @user0986584638 #greenscreenvideo #greenscreen Here are some details about Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise! For everything you get, the price isn’t bad….but I still can’t do it🤣🤣 #royalcaribbean #ultimateworldcruise #cruisetok #fyp #foryou ♬ original sound - ✨SeaTea Director, ND✨
It’s also fascinating to see how curators like these have shaped the narrative from thousands of miles away. Pamela Wurst Vetrini (@pamelawurstvetrini) was one of the first to pose the idea of a ‘fake reality show,’ something the creators on board have leaned into in some (delightfully cringe) videos.
@amikeoosthuizen Made some new friends!! 🥰🛳️ #SAMA28 #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #royalcaribbean #foryoupage #foryou #travel #cruisetok ♬ original sound - amikeoosthuizen
Another stand-out curator is Kara Harms (@whimsysoul), who created an Ultimate World Cruise bingo card that CruiseTok fans loved, spiking her already sizeable following.
@whimsysoul Ultimate World Cruise Bingo Card!!! who's playing with me? 🛥️ 🌊 🌍 🍿 #ultimateworldcruise #royalcaribbean #worldcruise #cruise #bingo #travel #whimsysoul ♬ original sound - Kara
Austin Green, a YouTuber who covers news and internet drama, also curated a (rather helpful) recap of everything that had happened on the cruise so far in January — both on and off-board — which is an excellent watch if you’d like a bird’s eye view. Be warned, though: it's more than an hour long!
4. Ask, and you might receive
Another TikTok commentator who jumped into the fray was able to shape the narrative in a very significant way. “Put me in! Put me on the cruise, I’ll go,” Marc Sebastian (@marcsebastianf) promised his followers, who were hungry for a peek behind the curtains of CruiseTok.
Marc laid out his pitch publicly, detailing how much money he’d need to cover the cost of an 18-night segment. “If there is a brand out there who would give me, say, seven grand, I will do three videos promoting your product, along with filming everything that happens on that cruise.”
About a week later, Marc was packing his bags for the ship, thanks to a sponsorship from Atria Books, and delivered on that promise.
@marcsebastianf #stitch with @Marc Sebastian next time on survivor #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #royalcaribbean #realitytv #cruise #serenadeoftheseas #Uwc #royalcarribeancruise #drakepassage #antarctica ♬ original sound - Marc Sebastian
Over the course of almost three weeks, Marc uncovered the drama his followers were after, but only really concerning the buffet food, onboard art, and some of the other guests who weren’t too impressed with his strong language.
Within days, he appeared to endear himself to every other creator onboard. He even hosted a scavenger hunt for them, with personalized clues and meaningful prizes hidden throughout the ship for them all to track down.
@drjennytravels Replying to @marcsebastianf 🥳 See what I found with the help of yall in the comments, Sabrina @the.ultimate.world.cruiser, and THE Marc Sebastian himself 👯♂️ #drjennytravels #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruisetok #cruisetok #9monthcruisedrama #9monthcruiseproblems #Serenadeoftheseas #9monthcruisetok #9monthcruise #drakepassage#9monthcruisedrama #9monthcruiseproblems ♬ original sound - drjennytravels
As part of his agreement with Atria Books, he also ventured into BookTok, running a poll about which of their books he should read and even hosting a live book club in Antarctica (with a couple of penguins in tow).
@marcsebastianf pending i’m not being thrown around the ship like a loose quater in a washing machine ❤️ love you very much @Atria Books and @Will Dean Author 📚 #drakepassage #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #serenadeoftheseas #royalcaribbean #cruisetok #cruise #9monthcruise #marcreadsabook #booktok #books #penguin ♬ Murder On The Dancefloor - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The partnership was unlikely but proved beneficial for both — Marc garnered millions of views with his irreverent cruise content, and Atria Books earned the kind of reach and engagement that would have cost them far more than $7,000 had they paid for ads.
The way Marc put the request out on TikTok was genius. It earned him the support of fans clamoring for him to go and created a character arc of sorts in the proverbial CruiseTok reality show. He went in with a tongue-in-cheek promise of drama, positioning himself as the villain, and instead emerged as the star of the show (for 18 days, at least).
5. Niching down can work in a crowded market
I’m not sure if we could call such a small market saturated. However, with all the onboard creators staying in similar cabins, doing the same activities, and going on the same port excursions, standing out on CruiseTok isn’t easy.
Professional chef Sabrina Snyder is the brains behind Dinner Then Dessert, which exclusively covers the food on board. As you’d expect, Sabrina’s take on the food passengers are served — mainly in a now-infamous buffet restaurant called the Windjammer — is fascinating.
@dinnerthendessert Day 22 of 274 Craziest Buffet EVER New Year’s Eve Ultimate World Cruise 12/31/2023 Ok I thought today was out of control at that steakhouse. But this buffet…. This is definitely the craziest buffet I’ve ever seen onboard. And the craziest two words of it all… a BEEF STEAMSHIP. Insane. Just insane. It felt like being in a Vegas buffet. #buffet #nye #newyearseve #food #ultimateworldcruise #9monthcruise #cruising #worldcruise #worldcruise2023 #serenadeoftheseas #cruise #royalcarribeancruise #royalcaribbeancruise ♬ original sound - Dinner then Dessert
She explains the ins and outs of dining on board, including the complicated all-inclusive system and what you must pay extra for (spoiler: rather a lot).
Then there’s budget traveler Amazu, who shares how “regular people” managed to get on the nine-month cruise. In his unpolished videos, he shares how he booked the cruise in segments rather than the full package, which means he and his companions have to disembark and get back on again “constantly.”
@budgettraveler33 #Worldcruise #cheap #savemoney #royalcaribbean #rcl #ultimatecruise #price #cost #cheapcruises #cruisetips #regularpeople #workingclass #downsides #serenade #cruisecabin #booking #ship #ultimateworldcruise #ultimateworldcruise2023 ♬ original sound - Amazu
He’s also not afraid to publish the less glamorous side of nine months at sea, including canceled ports, passport mishaps, and (sorry) hairs in food.
6. With great reach comes the potential for great negativity
With audiences this big, the creators have had plenty of unpleasant comments (and headlines) to contend with. “That's been a little bit new for me because I have been very fortunate not to have gotten a lot of negative comments on Facebook and Instagram over the years,” Jenny says.
“But TikTok, that's a whole other story. There has been a lot of negativity. Fortunately, I'm very confident myself, and I don't take those negative comments to heart.”
She’s also been able to lean on other creators for support here. “We met up very early on when all this started unfolding, and we just vented to one another about some of that negativity or how we were being portrayed. And so I think that since we did that so early on, it's just nice to have friends on board who are also going through this with me.”
7. Finding support in your niche can be a gamechanger
With all the same events and very similar routines to cover, you’d think the CruiseTok creators would be pretty competitive. But Jenny assures me they’re all becoming pretty close.
“How often do you ever get to learn from one another like this? If I have an issue with a video, or I get some negative comments, or maybe I'm having some trouble with monetization, I have about ten people I can go to to ask for help. That's been huge.”
For Anthony, collaborating with other creators, both those on and off the ship, can be incredibly beneficial. His audience has loved his collabs and asked for more, he shared.
"Followers have really given such light to us for collaborating. And by doing so, you learn from each other, too," he adds.
@anthonyantoine1021 Day 29 was a GREAT Cruisng day on @Royal Caribbean #ultimateworldcruise Some of your favorite cast members met up & welcomed @Marc Sebastian on board @Brandee Lake @Shannon Marie @drjennytravels @Nadine Bower @joe @FrugalVagabond @Angie @Little Rat Brain @Brooklyn Schwetje @Madison Schwetje #royalcaribbeanultimateworldcruise #worldcruisetiktok #anthonyantoine ♬ original sound - Anthony Antoine
At Buffer, we’re inclined to agree — it’s a huge part of the reason we set up the Buffer Community, where creators, social media managers, and small business owners can connect with and learn from each other. (We also host weekly #BufferChats on Threads on specific topics, if you’d like to dip your toes into the water, first!)
8. Authenticity is essential for success
I asked Jenny, Anthony, Amike, and Nancy for one piece of advice they’d give new content creators, and they agreed on one thing: social media success requires authenticity.
“We’ve learned it is so important to remain positive and to stay true to ourselves,” Nancy said. “We do not want to slip and slide down the drama path just to get clicks and views.”
Anthony pointed out that just being on the cruise has not meant automatic virality for many other passengers documenting their journeys — those who were fun and authentic are the ones who stood out.
"I believe that this 'thing' exploded for a few key people because of this larger experience, but it didn’t happen for everyone," he says. "I believe most of those who did were those who were authentic in their approaches — and those who are having fun."
Jenny says letting go of the idea of the kind of content she felt she was “supposed” to create has been freeing. “I think the biggest lesson for me was staying true to myself and not trying to put myself into some sort of cookie cutter."
“For example, I let go of trying to make those daily vlogs like some other TikTokers [which she didn’t enjoy]. I just started talking to the camera and just taking that pressure off myself. That's when my views started going crazy. And my following started going crazy. So I just started talking to the camera, being myself, hoping to educate and inspire. And that's when it took off for me.”
@drjennytravels Real time updates yall! 📢 The time has come.. SOONER than we were expecting! 😬 Get the seasickness remedies ready!!! 🤢 #drjennytravels #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruisetok #cruisetok #uwc #royalcaribbean #Serenadeoftheseas #royalcaribbeanworldcruise #9monthcruisetok #9monthcruise #9monthcruiseproblems ♬ original sound - drjennytravels
9. If you want to succeed as a creator, don’t give up
Like Jenny, Amike had been focused on content creation on Instagram for about two years and grew her following to an impressive 10K. But now, she has 125K followers on the platform and more than double that on TikTok (285K). She says if this experience has taught her anything, it’s to keep at it.
“I think if you really do enjoy posting and social media, never give up. You never know when your break is going to come.”
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