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The best poker on the high seas: your guide to cruise ship poker

While we all love the idea of a slightly seedy basement poker game being played by crusty old men chomping on cigars, drinking beers and chewing the fat, the games that really capture the imagination are the ones with the glitz and the glamour – the sort of game where you wouldn’t be surprised to see Daniel Craig rock up in a tux.

In the popular imagination it’s the high-end casinos that play home to these glamorous games, but while they do host some of the greats at venues like The Bellagio in Las Vegas or The Venetian in Macau, one sometimes overlooked place to play a hand or two of Texas Hold ‘Em is on a boat – both the luxury yachts and palatial cruise ships. 

One very obvious advantage to these games is that if you live (or are holidaying in) a country or state that doesn’t allow gambling or poker, all a boat has to do is sail a few miles off shore and voila, the game becomes legal. It’s fairly common, in fact, for US states where gambling isn’t legal to have day cruises that exist specifically for their passengers to gamble in international waters, free of on-land legislation. Hop on, wait an hour or so for the boat to get away from the coast and you’re off to the races.

Arguably the best games, however, are against the more luxurious backdrop of holiday cruise ships that breeze about on the open ocean, occasionally calling into port for an hour or two on a beautiful island or stretch of coast. Many of the big ships have casinos and poker is growing in popularity there. They range from big money expert games (big name players like Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer have been found on some of them) to much more easygoing games that would be great for a beginner (if that’s you, get a handle on your poker slang before you set sail). So, whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, here are some of the best games going on the high seas.

Norwegian Cruise Line

A popular line that includes entertainment ranging from mega star tribute acts to spectacular circus performances and, of course, its own onboard casino. It’s a Vegas-themed affair, with slots, blackjack, roulette and craps alongside the poker. It also has a Sea Players Club that gets you perks like free drinks while you play and once a year there’s the annual Poker Challenge for the best players to try their hands at.

This year they’re hosting their sixth annual Norwegian Poker Challenge aboard the Norwegian Getaway. It’s a seven-day cruise with a $400,000 main event and five additional tournaments, as well as daily cash events. 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event champion and 2018 Main Event Final player Joe Cada will be there, as will Loni Harwood.

Card Player Cruises

As the name suggests, this is a cruise service that has one goal in mind – draw in poker enthusiasts. In 2017 they celebrated 25 years in the business. In that time, they’d hosted upwards of 175 poker cruises with more than 50,000 players on board. They say that’s more poker cruises than all the other poker cruise companies combined, though we haven’t had time to count!

They offer all sorts of events that run to far flung, beautiful destinations, like a seven-night tour of the Western Caribbean on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. It includes a $150 NLH Ladies only event, a $350 main event for everyone and port stops in Costa Maya, Roatan and Cozumel.

World Poker Showdown

This one’s for the slightly more serious player, but still a fun and relaxed time whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the tables or not. These are the cruises where famous players like Greg Raymer and Chris Moneymaker have played a few hands. Tournaments range from manageable $100 buy-ins to $2,500 if you think you’re up to playing in the cruise’s championship event.

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World Poker Tour

The World Poker Tour cruise is one for proper poker aficionados, but you won’t have to bet the farm to get involved. There will be cast members from the WPT on board who will be doing meet and greets to sign autographs and take photos, but it also has professional WPT dealers and tables and onboard escorts to make sure you get a slick poker experience.

This year’s event sails on September 1st and runs to the 9th, taking in the Mediterranean. There will be a full complement of cash games including the likes of No-Limit Hold ‘Em, Pot-Limit Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo 8-Or-Better and more and games at limits from $1-$2 to $2-$5, depending on the demand.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises is one of the brands that’s a bit more forward-looking on their technology. Most of their ships have a Fortune casino on board, but they also have tables covering almost every type of poker game. The icing on the cake, however, is that they even have an app that you can download to play casino games anywhere on board while you’re out in international waters.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines is popular for any number of reasons right now, but among them is its poker offering. It offers everything from three card tables to high tech Texas Hold ‘Em, with a mixture of nice and low minimum bets and tables for the high rollers out there that offer juicy high stakes, as well as onboard tournaments for those wanting to make a big experience of their time at the table.

They also boast other table games including roulette, craps, blackjack and more, with slot machines for anyone fancying a nice laid-back experience. If you’re going to be spending a fair bit of time at the tables, they also offer membership to the Carnival Player’s Club which gives you points that can be traded for bonuses like free drinks while you play.


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