Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 16, 2021

Urban Pirates: COVID-19 is the new scurvy

By CATE TURNER | March 24, 2021



Climb aboard Urban Pirates’ ship and take on the high seas of the Inner Harbor.

There are several classic tropes about partying in college: the bar you go to with your fake ID; the best, worst and creepiest fraternities; and the postgame where everyone tries to forget their night. For college students in Baltimore, there is one more locale to add to that list: Urban Pirates.

It’s themed, it’s mobile and it’s BYOG (Bring Your Own Grog). For those of you who are not high-sea savvy, grog is the nickname sailors gave to their various alcoholic beverages, made with the most accessible and powerful liquors.

The company offers booze cruises on a pirate ship, the Fearless, equipped with costumed performers and your favorite sea shanty/Ariana Grande medleys. Urban Pirates isn’t just for those over 21, however; it also does family adventure cruises, perfect for an exciting day trip when your family is in town.

Urban Pirates is, by its very design, one of the more COVID-19-friendly event options. The cruise is completely outdoors, and you can reserve slots with only people you know. You must have at least 14 friends to set sail (undoubtedly a high bar), but because of pandemic restrictions, no more than 25 people are allowed.

Of course, when COVID-19 hit the Northeast, Urban Pirates was quick to stop its events. In an interview with The News-Letter, Urban Pirates Chief Executive Officer Cara Joyce shared how worried she’d been in 2020.

“I was seriously thinking, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to make it,’” Joyce said. “We were losing money hand over fist.”

She mentioned that Urban Pirates was lucky to receive COVID-19 relief federal loans. However, the company still had to reimburse the customers whose cruises were canceled, in addition to paying back the loans and dealing with drastically lowered booking rates. 

Yet Urban Pirates was determined to keep fans engaged, posting weekly, pirate-themed Story Times with crewmember Silver Ann and even holding floating concerts with local musicians. The company reopened on July 10, 2020 in accordance with Baltimore Phase One guidelines (that are still in place) and closed for the season on Nov. 24.

While 94% of local downtown businesses were negatively affected by the shutdown, Urban Pirates’ outdoor setup makes it a more COVID-19-friendly venture.

Loida Hopkins, a Delaware resident who attended a family adventure event, reported that her children “felt completely safe, and [they] never came into contact with any person outside of the group.” She said that she would not only return to Urban Pirates after the pandemic but also that she would feel happy to go again before life returns to normal.

Urban Pirates’ BYOG events have been a hotspot for local universities for years. Sororities and fraternities and student clubs and birthday parties were frequent on the Fearless before the pandemic.

Hopkins alum Jenny Chong attended one such event with Urban Pirates in October of 2019 and said that the trip exceeded her expectations.

“The people who were invited to the event fed into how fun it was,” she said. “The workers were super into their jobs, speaking in pirate speak and pirate pole-dancing. And the music was good.”

Because of overwhelmingly positive reviews, Joyce, who founded Urban Pirates in 2008, remains hopeful for her cherished business.

“I’m still in awe that I’m in this business and that I’m surviving this pandemic,” she said. “After 14 years of doing this, I still to this day look at our pirates on the ship and laugh at the jokes, even though I already know what they are.” 

So if you’re over 21 and reading this: Urban Pirates reopens on April 10, and BYOG cruise tickets cost only $25 per person (there are group discounts, too!). Grab your mask and mini-cooler, invite some friends you wouldn’t mind getting scurvy with and book your adventure today.

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