Many Happy Returns – How (and how not) to celebrate a birthday at sea

Monday Mantra

Happy birthday to me … Happy birthday to me … Happy birthday to me …

Many Happy Returns

How (how not) to celebrate a birthday at sea

Happy birthday to me! Honestly! I say “Honestly!” because I can’t tell you how many times I pretended it was my birthday in my early days of cruising.

When you’re a narcissistic young woman, a birthday is a terrific way to scam a free birthday cake in a cruise-ship dining room (which, except for the pyrotechnics, is never as good as the desserts on the menu), loads of attention, and free drinks. It wasn’t always my birthday — my friends and I would take turns — but you could always tell our table by the singing waiters that surrounded it while one of us blew out the candles on a sponge cake that was covered with far too much buttercream frosting.

The last time I celebrated a “birthday” at sea, I kept the fib going at the bar after dinner. I remember claiming to be younger and younger each time I was asked my age that evening and I got as low as 21 (I was in my late 20s at the time) before a bartender passed me a paper napkin with the message “You’re full of #$@!” written on it.


I’m glad I outgrew that faux birthday thing because with the computerization of everything on board these days, I’m not even sure it would still work. Today I’d be afraid that my waiter would call up my entire guest registration form, see that my birthday is February not July, for instance, withhold the birthday cake and march me out of the dining room in handcuffs.

Not surprisingly, my very best real birthday was the only one I ever actually celebrated at sea — a 10-day 50th birthday voyage from Buenos Aires. It began with a two-night pre-cruise stay in the luxurious Recoleta section of that magnificent city and, with the Argentine peso at its near low, money seemed no object as I went on a whirlwind shopping spree (made-to-measure leather blazer anyone?), dined on filet mignon, and sipped glass after glass of inky-red Malbec. I even went to a posh hair salon and left with fabulous reflejos (highlights) and a bill that amounted to about what I’d tip for the same service at my New York salon.

Laden with my purchases (except for the blazer, which I’d pick up after the cruise), I struggled up the gangway and arrived at my cabin to find a riot of birthday balloons, confetti, Champagne, and a birthday cake awaiting me. For once, it was an onboard birthday celebration that I actually deserved.

— Judi Cuervo


Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.