A common sight in cruise ship cabins, towel animals are popping up everywhere

No one is quite sure when and where the first towel animals started popping up in cruise ship cabins, but the practice has been spreading to hotels around the world and shows no signs of slowing down.

While the art of shaping bath and hand towels into whimsical animal shapes is inspired by the Japanese art of paper folding known as origami, its true roots lie in the practice of decoratively folding napkins that began in Europe centuries ago.

Some credit Carnival Cruise Lines with popularizing the act of decorating passenger cabins with towel animals, but stewards on just about every cruise line are known to amuse their customers with a zoo’s worth of different animal shapes. There are even books and online guides to help you fold your own at home.

The first time I encountered one of these creations wasn’t on a cruise ship, but was actually at a luxury resort in Fiji. The housekeepers had left a pair of kissing swans on my bed with their arched necks forming the shape of a heart. There was an extra touch of a welcome on the bed spelled out with flower petals. It was all very romantic, but, sadly, I was travelling solo, but it was a memorable site and I’ve since spotted towel animals in rooms all over the world.

While some people hate them, I appreciate the extra effort hotel staff take to personalize the room and it reminds me that the spotlessly clean room didn’t happen on its own.

In honour of this art form, I offer this gallery of some interesting examples spotted in the wild.

Swan

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Possibly the most common towel animal you’ll see, swans only seem to come in romantic pairs.

Monkey

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Don’t be surprised if you find a monkey hanging in your closet.

Elephant

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Elephants are another popular towel animal, but decorative eyes are sometimes added to complete the effect.

People

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Towel scarecrows might seem a bit alarming at first, but they’re usually set up with sunglasses or reading glasses left behind by the room’s guest for comical effect.

Turkey

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Birds are popular towel subjects. Turkeys (or are those peacocks?) pop up in rooms now and again.

Stingray

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Cruise ships are ocean-going vessels so aquatic creatures are a common subject for towel artists like this stingray.

Scorpion

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You never know what animals you’ll find on your bed if your housekeeper or steward is a towel-folding aficionado, but you’re not going to see a scorpion very often.

Llama

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On cruise ships, towel animals aren’t restricted to passenger cabins, but are frequently spotted in common areas like by the side of the pool.

Mouse

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If you’re on a Disney cruise, expect to see a mouse or two during your voyage.

Alligator

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Staying a hotel in Florida? You might see an alligator in the wild, but you’re just as likely to find a towel version in your hotel room.

Dog

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Can’t find the TV remote? Helpful housekeepers will make them easy to locate with the help of a towel animal.

Duck

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Hand towels aren’t exempt, but their size limits the number of creatures that can be made out of them, but creative minds have come up with a few.

This gallery is just a small sampling of the many towel creations that populate ship cabins and hotel rooms around the world. What do you think of towel art? Kitschy or cool? Let us know in the comments.

– Mark Stachiew is a Montreal-based freelance writer who shares travel news and tips at www.stachiew.com and curates a collection of cool travel gear at www.jetsetgeneration.com.

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