• Washington Post

How ‘the Andy Cohen of the 9-month Cruise’ Took Over TikTok

Marc Sebastian
Marc Sebastian isn’t your typical ‘bookfluencer.’

As soon as Marc Sebastian, a 33-year-old content creator, heard about Royal Caribbean’s nine-month Ultimate World Cruise, which departed in January to travel the world, he knew he had to get on the ship.

He posted a video asking a brand to put him on board promising that he would “wreak havoc” and “record everything.”

Within days, Atria Books, a publishing imprint under Simon & Schuster, suggested a partnership. Sebastian pitched his marketing scheme to the Atria team on Christmas Eve, and the publisher pulled all hands on deck to get Sebastian an 18-day ticket on the cruise for the ship’s Antarctic portion of the voyage.

Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise is a 274-night trip around the globe. After departing on Dec. 10, 2023, the Serenade of the Seas ship will venture to the Americas, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Mediterranean and “Europe and beyond” in four primary segments. Some travelers are joining for the full nine-month voyage, while others are joining only for key parts.

Sebastian quickly emerged as the ship’s breakout star. His candid commentary about his living conditions (complaints about wire hangers, tiny showers, and the fact that a room costing $8,500 doesn’t come with free water bottles), along with his cutting humor, engaging adventures and ability to distill onboard drama, has earned him a growing cult internet fandom. He’s also amassed a massive community of readers, quadrupling Atria’s TikTok following with the publicity he’s generated.

“It wasn’t until Marc started posting regularly that the cruise really started to permeate into the public’s consciousness, beyond people who are extremely online,” said Lia Haberman, a creator economy consultant in Los Angeles. “He’s the Andy Cohen of the nine-month cruise. Atria couldn’t have cast him better.”

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” an Atria spokesperson told The Washington Post. “Every arm of Atria had a part to play in this.”

Throughout his time on the ship, Sebastian is hosting a book club and reading “The Last One,” a thriller novel by the famed author Will Dean, which takes place on a cruise ship. Fans voted on books for him to read before his departure, and “The Last One” won by a landslide. Interest in the book has jumped significantly, a spokesperson from Atria said, leading to even more hype for the author’s upcoming summer release.

But Sebastian isn’t your traditional book influencer. He doesn’t normally read or particularly enjoy reading. He said that he can’t remember the last time he finished a book. “My first video said, ‘do you like reading? I don’t. But, on this cruise, like I’m gonna read a book!’” He’s captioned his videos with the hashtag #MarcReadsABook.

Sebastian’s flippant attitude toward books allows him to speak to an audience that book marketers normally find difficult to reach: young people who would rather scroll TikTok and consume stories through YouTube video essays than pick up a novel.

“I was like, listen, I’m not a reader,” Sebastian said, recounting his meeting with Atria, “but I know how to market on TikTok.” Before boarding he researched book marketing and studied effective TikTok publicity campaigns to plan details of his execution.

“We actually liked the fact that he isn’t a traditional reader,” the spokesperson for Atria said, adding that it has sparked discussions within the publishing house of new ways to engage readers. “It’s definitely been a positive experience that will help us continue to think of new ways to reach new readers.”

Brendan Gahan, a freelance influencer marketing executive, said that Sebastian has changed how marketers think of book promotion. “This is antithetical to what most book marketers would have done,” said Gahan. “Marc and Atria have created a campaign that will undoubtedly spark copycats in years to come.”

Sebastian also knew that to stand out online, he’d have to make an impact early.

In one of his first TikTok videos, he states “I hate it here,” before complaining that the water temperature comes in only three options: “freezing, scalding hot, or third-degree burns.”

His critiques of the ship, such as complaining about the music and food at the ship’s Windjammer cafe, have made him an Everyman to TikTok audiences around the globe. It has also poked holes in Royal Caribbean’s aspirational marketing. Unlike some other cruise and travel influencers onboard, he has no allegiance to the cruise line, allowing him to speak freely and humorously about his experiences.

But capturing people’s attention is easier than keeping it. Sebastian said that he knew he’d have to weave drama and storylines into his content about reading to hook readers.

“Watching Marc Sebastian on the 9month royal cruise’s updates in the morning like it’s the paper,” one X user posted. “Generally, not a fan of reality shows … but wow am I riveted by Marc Sebastian’s TikToks aboard the Ultimate World Cruise,” said another.

Sebastian said he carefully selected his attire for the ship, packing outfits he knew would generate impact. “I wanted to stick out like a sore thumb,” he said. “I wanted to dress like an evil supervillain because I wanted to stand out amongst the insanity that is this cruise, which is basically just like, old people. It’s like a floating retirement home attached to a Chili’s.”

Atria is already brainstorming ways to keep readers hooked once Sebastian leaves the ship. Sebastian hinted that there will be a surprise twist at the end of his journey that fans might not expect.

Sebastian plans to keep reading once he’s back on dry land. In the meantime, he’s counting down the days until he’s home in Los Angeles.

“It’s literally the most disgusting ship,” he said, “I feel like I’m living in an Olive Garden. And I did it for the views.”

Marc Sebastian
Sebastian joined the cruise for the Antarctic portion of the voyage.