Was ‘The Love Boat’ Filmed on a Real Ship?

The 1970s-1980s comedy-drama The Love Boat was an amazingly popular TV show in its time and is still regarded fondly today. Fans enjoyed the longer episodes that still had the styling of comedy television, and the luxurious setting of a cruise ship. On top of that, the presence of guest star celebrities drew in viewers who might not otherwise follow the show, and the anthology format made it easy to jump in or enjoy a rerun. Even today, it has quite the influence, with popular shows like Below Deck taking clear influence from The Love Boat.

One question fans might have about The Love Boat is its set. It seems like it’s shot on a real ship, but it’s entirely possible that it was filmed in a studio. How was The Love Boat actually shot?

(L-R) Fred Grandy as Gopher Smith, Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing, Lauren Tewes as Julie McCoy, Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Bricker smiling in front of a blue background and prop ship
(L-R) Fred Grandy as Gopher Smith, Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing, Lauren Tewes as Julie McCoy, Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Bricker | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

‘The Love Boat’ was a unique show

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The Love Boat started airing on ABC in 1977 and very quickly became a huge hit. It was a comedy, but unlike other comedies, its episodes were an hour long, and there were more serious plots. Each episode would have three concurrent plots, and there would typically be a celebrity guest star. Though other shows had used the concept of a guest star per episode before, it became the hallmark of The Love Boat, and even led to crossovers with other popular shows.

Many shows have been compared to The Love Boat for its use of the guest star format: Fantasy Island, which aired right after The Love Boat for several years, also had an anthology format with guest stars, and even today Below Deck has been compared to The Love Boat. It’s clear that The Love Boat was an important part of TV history. That being said, it dropped off in popularity in its later years, and in 1986 it had its final season. Still, its influence was enough to give it a reunion film in 1990, and a spinoff show in the late 1990s.

What was the show about?

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The Love Boat had many guest stars, but it did have a central cast of characters. The cast included Gavin MacLeod as the captain, Bernie Kopell as the doctor, Fred Grandy as the purser, Ted Lange as the bartender, and Lauren Tewes as the cruise director. Most plotlines focused on the guests on the cruise, but the crew had interactions with the guest stars and there would usually be a crew-focused plotline in each episode. That way, fans could learn more about their favorite repeat characters while seeing new guest stars – a format that helped the show’s success.

Where was ‘The Love Boat’ filmed?

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It seems like The Love Boat would be shot on an actual cruise ship, right? It was — but only in part. According to Mental Floss, The Love Boat did use actual ships to shoot on: The Pacific Princess and The Island Princess. There would even be vacation-goers on the ships as extras, so if you watch The Love Boat you may see these regular people in scenes. However, episodes were not always shot on these ships, and the show would just as frequently use a soundstage. Nonetheless, it is impressive that the show would take the extra effort of using a real cruise ship, and it pays off in the extra realism of certain scenes.