It's early to mid-afternoon at best on P&O's cruise ship, the Pacific Jewel. Packed into the Orient Bar are two dozen guests, sipping colourful fruit mocktails, and three cagey Kiwi comics. The situation is laughable.

In fact, I do laugh. And I'm not the only one. An hour in and an unprintable joke about an emu later, and the initially awkward audience members have relaxed into the event.

The trio of stand-up comics – Michele A'Court, Jeremy Elwood and Brendhan Lovegrove – are more than able to warm up a crowd. As the audience pours out on to sun-drenched decking and not a dingy comedy club back alley, it almost comes as a surprise to remember I am on a boat.

The Big Laugh is P&O's floating comedy festival. Launching in August, this stand-up marathon is spread over 22 New Zealand and Aussie acts across the Pacific Jewel's ample entertainment spaces.

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A fringe festival on water – minus the walking, cobblestones and pamphleteers – The Big Laugh is being held entirely on the 70,310 tonne pleasure craft.

This is the first time the ship has returned to New Zealand since an extensive refurbishment and, for the next six months, will be sailing out of Auckland. This long deployment means the Jewel will be catering to Kiwi tastes and the very particular New Zealand brand of humour.

With courses set for Pacific Islands including Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, the Jewel has undergone a makeover to better fit into its New Zealand home port. Part of this involves taking on board 15,000 litres of hokey-pokey icecream and a roster of Kiwi comedians.

Comics on cruises have been a huge success for P&O, particularly on shorter hauls. In response to this, the Jewel has scheduled nine comedy cruises sailing out of Auckland during the 2018-19 season.

The Big laugh will be at the heart of the entertainment programme, says Sture Myrmell, president of P&O Australia.

"Comedy is something that appeals to a broad range of people. Certainly, it suits the shorter cruises – getting away for a weekend.
"Sailing out of Auckland we are catering for a mostly New Zealand audience. I'd say 99 per cent of our passengers are local."

The Big Laugh on the Pacific Jewel departs Auckland on August 3, 2018. Fares start from $476.30pp.