Holiday Cruising

Chanukah, Christmas and New Years are quickly approaching, so what can people traveling this time of year expect from "Holiday Cruising?"

I remember how thrilled I was on our first holiday cruise, as I walked into the atrium of the Carnival Destiny and saw the marvelous Christmas decorations and a huge Chanukah menorah. I loved walking around this festively decorated ship; the extra excitement of my fellow passengers was evident even during embarkation. Seeing those icons for the two religions mingled together gave me a special joy as I thought about the spirit of fellowship behind the holidays. But I also realized that even though religious services are offered onboard, I wouldn't recommend these sailings to anyone devoutly religious: They might be disappointed that the more spiritual aspects of the holidays do not take center stage.

On Christmas eve aboard the Carnival Triumph, cruise staff and passengers were caroling in the central atrium, and the next day, kids could count on appearances by Santa. But out on deck during the afternoon, Caribbean steel drums were really the order of the day.

Still, there is plenty of family bonding during these special times. You'll see multi-generation families sharing activities and just catching up on old times, even though they're in a non-traditional setting. Many people bring along decorations for their cabins, cabin door or even balconies, adding to the festive ambiance the cruise lines create. To my mind, this is the "spirit of the season" anyway!

But in all candor, there are some minor drawbacks to cruising over the holidays.

Especially on Christmas sailings, the staff may be less than enthusiastic. After all, they are very far away from their own families during this "family time," and so may be a bit melancholy or depressed. We passengers can help to remedy this by going a bit out of our way to include them in our festive spirit. Generally, the staff will be so appreciative of the "extra effort" that they go even further to please you. This year we are suggesting a simple gift to give your room steward. The fact is they may not get many presents at all while on board the ship and it does leave them feeling a little empty. The extra effort will go a LONG way in boosting your holiday spirits as well. But please don't give a gift in lieu of a tip for service. That is never appropriate when a tip is proper protocol.

For the other staff members we meet, often we take a box of candy canes (or something similar) to hand out, or maybe a T-shirt or trinket from home. I've found these little things work wonders, and make us feel better as well.

Another drawback to holiday cruises is their higher cost, normally $300-$500 more per person than other winter sailing. This is simply a result of supply and demand, not a predetermined rule of the cruise lines. As a matter of fact, this year because of over capacity, especially in the Caribbean, Christmas bookings were weak on many cruise lines, prompting them to offer reduced pricing starting around the beginning of November.

Any time school is out of session, however, the pool of possible cruise line passengers broadens. It's the only time many families can vacation together, and the only time those in the teaching profession can vacation, so demand swells and prices increase.

Some people will do anything to avoid these family (i.e., kid-infested) sailings, but not me. I've sailed during the holidays both with my children and without. Sure, there have been times I couldn't use the pools or Jacuzzis because they were full of kids. Sure, there have been times when the passageways through the public areas have been crowded with teens. But personally, I really enjoy seeing families sharing the fun of the cruising experience, and the associated inconveniences have always seemed secondary to me.

Now, New Year's sailings take on a totally different feeling. There are few experiences better than celebrating New Year's Eve at sea. The ships really come alive: Unlike any other cruise, on New Year's Eve, no one is their cabin! All the public rooms are full of people and excitement as midnight approaches. A real feeling of camaraderie is apparent as the champagne flows and the air fills with confetti, streamers and noisemakers when the countdown to the New Year begins!

And this year, if you don't already know, is CruiseMates biggest New Year's Eve party ever - we have some 140 Cruisemates readers, staff and friends booked on Celebrity Century for the CruiseMates New Year's Eve Party of the Century! Are you going? If so, be sure to check in here: CM's New Year's Party of the Century.

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