A couple, Fred and Emily Hill, living a mundane middle-class life in London, are given a small fortune by an uncle as an advance against their future inheritance so that they can enjoy it in the present. Immediately Fred takes leave from his job as a clerk and they leave on a cruise for "the Orient". Fred quickly shows his susceptibility to sea-sickness while crossing the English Channel. While in Paris both are scandalized by the Folies Bergères, demonstrating their shared lack of sophistication.
Fred's sea-sickness mainfests itself for day after day during the cruise. During this time, Emily begins a relationship with a Commander Gordon, a dapper, popular bachelor. Finally feeling well enough to appear on deck, Fred is immediately smitten with a German "princess" who encounters him while retrieving the rope ring used to play deck tennis, a combination of tennis and quoits which was at the time widely played shipboard. Both begin spending their time on board with their new paramours to the virtual exclusion of each other, and each plans to dissolve the marriage in order to pursue these newfound loves.