What’s real and made up on the ‘Hacks’ episode featured on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship

HBO’s Emmy Award-winning show, “Hacks” just premiered its second season, that has one episode predominantly shown onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Photo HBO Max

Episode 4 in the second season is titled, “The Captain’s Wife”, and is centered around the main character’s attempt to kickstart her comedy career by performing on a lesbian charter cruise.

Royal Caribbean fans would instantly notice the ship featured in this episode is Navigator of the Seas, which sails from Los Angeles down to the Mexican Riviera. 

Anytime a cruise ship is the focus of a television show or movie, cruise fans like to analyze how truthful the cruise experience is to reality.  In this episode, I found most of what they portrayed as accurate. As we’ll see, there are a few things the show got right and a few areas they clearly took “poetic license” to make things look better.

Overall, I thought it was a very positive portrayal of Royal Caribbean and it was fun to see this week’s episode prominently focus on a cruise ship. I’ll let you be the judge.


Photo HBO Max

When the main characters arrive onboard, they start off at the Lime & Coconut pool bar, which is absolutely what the pool deck looks like today.

The pool deck is used quite a few times for the day scenes throughout the episode. It’s clear they probably filmed while the ship was in port before the next sailing began, as the pool deck is the only area that actually looks like it does in real life.

“This is amazing! No wonder you love cruises, they’re like the Vegas of the sea”, Hannah Einbinder exclaims as soon as she boards the ship. I was glad to see cruise ships portrayed positively in this episode.  It’s not uncommon for cruise ships to be the subject of stereotypes and clichés rooted in ships of the past.

Read moreWhy the cliche about cruise ships is totally wrong


Photo HBO Max

After getting onboard the ship, Einbender’s character heads to the Solarium bar for a drink.

This scene is filmed in the Solarium, which is the adults-only area of the ship. The bartender even has a Royal Caribbean nametag on and the same shirt the bar staff wears on the pool deck.

Photo HBO Max

If you want to nitpick, there was no exchange of a SeaPass card after she got the drink, but it’s perhaps because this a charter sailing. 

Something else accurate is she asks the bartender about if they can make mocktails. When Royal Caribbean revamped their drink menu in 2021, they added a focus on mocktails. 

Read more8 mocktails to try on your next Royal Caribbean cruise

“It’s a ship, not a boat”

Photo HBO Max

A recurring joke is anytime one of the characters refers to the ship as a “boat”, someone immediately corrects them that they are on a ship.

This actually a very important distinction that crew members and repeat cruisers alike will almost always correct people on, because it’s basically insulting to refer to a cruise ship as a “boat”.

Vernacular understanding often explains that a ship can carry a boat, but a boat cannot carry a ship. That is a vessel is a boat if it is small enough to be carried, and a vessel is a ship if it is large enough to carry one smaller than itself. 

Read moreThe top 7 cruise ship things you’re still saying wrong


Photo HBO Max

All the interior shots are clearly on soundstages and not representative of what Navigator, or any Royal Caribbean cruise ship actually looks like. As I said before, I think they only had time to shoot while the ship was in port so they limited it to outdoor scenes.

The buffet certainly resembles the Windjammer buffet, although this version is quite narrower.

In short, there is indeed a buffet on the real thing, but there’s more to it than we see.


Photo HBO Max

Jean Smart’s suite almost looks like a real suite, but Navigator’s interior motif is not nearly as nice as the show.

Besides the fact the room looks quite spacious, the room aesthetics are far different than the look of Navigator of the Seas’ cabins. 

Photo HBO Max

It doesn’t look that different from what Royal Caribbean suites sort of look like on newer ships, but it’s certainly more modern looking than what you’ll find onboard a real ship.

Piano bar

Photo HBO Max

In the evening, the main characters go to get a drink at a piano bar.

Navigator of the Seas has a piano bar, which is known as the Schooner Bar, but this is definitely not the Schooner Bar.

Photo HBO Max

Like the suite, this piano bar looks more modern and glitzy.  Unlike the Schooner Bar, there’s no nautical theme at all present.

At the end of the scene, Jean Smart sings one of the songs instead of the piano player. This is definitely something that happens at the Schooner Bar, although rarely do the guests ever sound as good as Ms. Smart did in this.


Photo HBO Max

Jean Smart’s character performs her comedy act onboard in the theater, which is a real location on Navigator of the Seas, but looks completely different in the show.

It’s a shame they couldn’t have filmed in the actual theater on Navigator of the Seas, because it’s a beautiful space.

Aerial views

Photo HBO Max

Perhaps the most common mistake made about cruise ships on film is how they look. While they never name the ship in the episode, they use aerial shots of Symphony of the Seas.

Interestingly at the end of the show when the main characters disembark the ship unceremoniously, Navigator of the Seas is back in view from afar.

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