I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…one filled with soft white Caribbean sand and a gleaming white cruise ship. Like most parents, by the time Christmas comes around each year, I'm definitely dreaming of a relaxing vacation at sea rather than a holiday at home filled with potential snow and a frenzied atmosphere.
Holiday cruises traditionally sell out faster than any others, so if you're considering a Christmas cruise or one during Hanukkah or New Year's for this year, you should inquire immediately: Space is already getting tight. Or alternatively, for the best stateroom selection, start planning for December 2006 now.
Most cruise ships go all-out to decorate public rooms festively with seasonal décor, and to provide special family-oriented activities that put kids of all ages in the holiday mood. All of the following family cruise lines below feature seasonal activities as well as a visit from Santa and his elves bearing small gifts for kids on board.
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES
During December, holiday music is available in cabins and is also incorporated into the live entertainment. Camp Carnival for kids has special programming, too, including special games, holiday themed arts and crafts, and a Christmas Show in which children of all ages participate. During the show, the six- to eight-year-olds sing holiday songs, and the nine- to 14-year-olds dance with the professional dancers. At the end of the production, Santa visits and provides all children with a gift and photo opportunities.
Celebrity provides a holiday gift for each stateroom, festive parades with children from the youth program, and a display of gingerbread houses. For adults, there are eggnog parties in December and themed parties in all the lounges on New Year's Eve, complete with party favors and champagne toasts.
During Hanukkah on Costa ships, a Rabbi may be on board if there is enough demand for religious services. If so, there are also specialty items such as potato pancakes and kosher wine. For Christmas, children make decorations for the Christmas trees and a priest offers Catholic and non-denominational services.
Crystal Cruises offers its youth program during the holidays and features age-appropriate activities themed to the period, as well as the destinations the ships visit. Some highlights include a Christmas tree lighting ceremony hosted by the Captain, Christmas caroling, holiday cookies and hot chocolate.
Keeping with the line's British tradition, children receive limited-edition gifts from Father Christmas on the QE2 and QM2, and also celebrate for an extra day due to Boxing Day festivities on December 26. Religious services are led by a rabbi and clergy for both Hanukkah and Christmas respectively.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
On December sailings, the holiday spirit starts at Disney Cruise Line's terminal, where Disney characters are dressed in their seasonal best and greet passengers as they board. Disney ships have a three-deck-tall tree in the atrium, where snow "magically" falls during the tree lighting ceremony. There is also international holiday caroling by crew members and special family activities such as decorating gingerbread houses. While Santa himself doesn't make an appearance, Santa Goofy visits with surprises for all children on board.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
Holland America Line's Family Reunion Program -- which rewards those who book five staterooms or more with group pricing and extra amenities – is a great incentive for those looking to share the holidays with loved ones in a relaxing cruise environment. Some of the special seasonal activities include holiday movie showings, a Christmas show by the crew on Christmas Eve, and a visit for the kids from Santa, who sometimes arrives by parasail.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
All NCL ships feature holiday caroling by members of the staff, a Catholic priest and Protestant minister for Christmas Eve services, and a holiday show in which both crew members and children participate. While kids enjoy the youth program, parents can check out the high-energy parties on New Year's Eve, featuring Caribbean, Rock ‘n Roll and Big Band themes.
During Hanukkah, ships display menorahs and floral arrangements in the Hanukkah colors of blue, silver and white. From waiters wearing Santa hats to Christmas trees attached to the ships' masts, Christmas is celebrated festively on Princess' ships. Christmas dinner features British classics like roast turkey or goose, mincemeat pie and chocolate Yule logs.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
Royal Caribbean has a whole roster of seasonal activities for kids in its Adventure Ocean program. On Christmas Eve, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" is read to the children, while on Christmas day there is an Adventure Ocean Holiday show, a parade with Santa and his elves, Christmas cookie decorating and holiday family activities. On New Year's Eve, there are extended Late Night Party Zone hours for kids (after hours youth activities/group babysitting) so that parents can ring in the new year in style. During that time, children and teens can enjoy their own festive New Year's Eve countdown party.