Family Day at Sea

Family and friends get to experience Navy life on an unforgettable Tiger Cruise.

With an appreciative crowd of Tigers looking on, an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 launches from the USS Ronald Reagan. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd)

No one remembers exactly why the first one was called Operation Tiger, but the idea was a hit from the start. As many as 1,250 guests are invited to bunk aboard an aircraft carrier—or amphibious assault ship, landing helicopter dock, or submarine—during the last leg of its cruise into homeport, which can last from two to five nights.

Beside getting to see firsthand what life at sea is like, the guest Tigers pitch in to help with everyday chores that their favorite airman or sailor would call “work.”

Guests on a Tiger Cruise can be family members or friends, but under Navy regulations a Tiger cannot be a “significant other” such as a spouse, fiancé or fiancée, girlfriend or boyfriend of the sponsoring crew.

For deployments to the Pacific, most guests embark in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, en route to San Diego. For missions that wind down in the Atlantic, Tigers might come aboard during a port call in Jacksonville, Florida, before the ship sails to Norfolk. Typically some of the Naval crew disembarks to make room in their lockers, berths, and mess halls for the guests.

Special guests during a Tiger Cruise receive an orientation by Capt. Karl Thomas to operations in the hangar bay of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as it returns after its deployment to the Western Pacific. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner, Jr.)
It’s not all sightseeing for the Tigers. These participants set out their exercise mats alongside Navy crew and beneath the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 17 on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Stevens)
As USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) sails from Hawaii to its homeport of San Diego, a pair of CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters release chaff during an air power demonstration for Tiger Cruise guests. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert C. Long)
An SH-60F Seahawk helicopter assigned to an anti-submarine squadron (HS-4) aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) performs a flare maneuver for some 1,200 guests. (US Navy/Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Mark J. Rebilas)
Why settle for the fake pyrotechnics at a landside airshow when 500-pound bombs are exploding just off deck? This demo took place in May 2015 aboard the USS Carl Vinson. (US Navy/Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Coffer)
Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), young guests compete in a tug-of-war in the hangar bay. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Burden)
Unencumbered by regulations limiting its speed over land, an F/A-18E Super Hornet breaks the sound barrier for guests on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Guests on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) watch the afterburner of a fighter jet engine in action as the aircraft carrier returns to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua A. Moore)
Guests toe the foul line aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Vigilantes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151 launches for a demonstration and aerial change of command ceremony following its seven-month deployment. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist James R. Evans)
Navy guests enjoy a private air power demonstration by Carrier Air Wing 17 during a Tiger Cruise in May 2015 on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. (US Navy/Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Coffer)
Guests over the age of eight can go on a Tiger Cruise, where they might be asked to join a fire hose team in a crash and salvage demonstration. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans)
Family and guests of the crew aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) crowd its flight deck for a seaborne photo op. (US Navy/Photographer’s Mate Airman Sarah E. Ard)

During their days at sea the Tigers are treated to some of the best air shows ever staged for civilians. While the aircraft demonstrate standard military maneuvers, with a thousand Tigers on board, a little extra flair can’t hurt. Spectators are closely chaperoned to follow all ship rules—meaning that they stay behind the painted lines—but still get to stand thrillingly close to active aircraft moving at blistering airspeeds.

Since Navy pilots have to practice these maneuvers anyway, there’s no real cost for the “airshow.” Tigers do pay a fee, however, with a recent cruise costing $82. Guests share standard meals served to ships’ crews, and can buy snacks as well as commemorative merchandise, as long as their sponsor loads up on his or her Navy Cash card.

In the early days the voyage was called a dependent’s cruise, with only sons and fathers allowed. Now there are no gender restrictions, although Tigers must be at least eight years old (although certain ships only accept guests from ages 12 to 75). Pregnant women can’t cruise, and prospective Tigers have to submit a medical history and must be able to negotiate a ladder. Sleeping berths are separated by gender, and are based on the rank of the sponsor—even if the guest happens to be a retired admiral.

And even though it’s the trip of a lifetime, Tigers are limited to what stories they can tell. Neither crew sponsors nor their guests can disclose the ship’s movement or location during the cruise, and can only discuss it in general terms later. Sensitive or hazardous areas such as the nuclear reactor are off limits. Finally, cell phones can be brought on board, but their use is prohibited. Most Tigers would probably consider it a small price to pay.


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