Santa met us at the embarkation gangway. He was five days early for gift-giving, but he set the tone for a two-week holiday cruise to the Caribbean. Behind him on Oceania’s Riviera, docked last December in Miami, four carolers, dressed in English style from the Dickens era, sang for each new group of passengers checking in.
Don’t plan a holiday cruise to get away from it all, if “all” includes the seasonal music, pots of poinsettias, and a Christmas goose served in the main dining room.
While some cruise lines do more than others to hark and herald, most ships are decked out for the December holidays, and elevators are awash in seasonal tunes.
You can expect more children aboard, too, traveling not only with their parents but also with their grandparents or perhaps aunts and uncles, as multi-generational cruising takes an uptick at holiday time.
All of which recommends paying attention to your wants and expectations, as well as a cruise line’s reputation for tinsel tossing. If you are cruising round trip out of Florida — the most economical of the holiday cruises — you may want to ask how much seasoning is likely to be added to the usual Caribbean spice.
Spokespersons from several cruise lines pointed out that ships on weekly round trips typically offer significantly different atmospheres when comparing Christmas and New Year’s voyages, with far more children aboard during Christmas week, and more of an adult party over New Year’s. This year, those two major holidays fall mid-week, so festivities on cruises that begin on the weekends will not spill into the other holiday week. (Hanukkah, by the way, is early this year, starting Nov. 27, the evening before Thanksgiving.)
Most ships plan a Santa with gift giving for children on Christmas day — Celebrity Cruises promises a gift for every child ages 3-17 — and all ships prepare special dinners and brunches for Christmas and New Year’s. Many provide leaders for weekend religious services, as well as for Hanukah and Christmas. Ask your travel agent or cruise line for details.
Crystal Cruises, which has a reputation for decorations and festivities, has one ship deployed in South America in December, while the other is sailing out of Miami for 14 days, starting Dec. 21. You can expect more children on the Miami cruise.
“It’s huge for families,” says Crystal’s Mimi Weisband. “We have more than 100 children on holiday cruises, but many of our programs strategically take kids behind the scenes so even those who don’t want to be around children are not bothered. For Hanukah, we have a life-size menorah and light the candles (which carry no flame because of maritime rules). We also have dreidl games and give out gold chocolate coins.”
On Riviera last December, most of the holiday decorating was subtle — a Nutcracker here, a gingerbread house there.
“The key is to make everyone feel comfortable, to make everyone welcome,” said Thierry Tholon, Riviera’s hotel general manager. “For Christmas, we decorate each ship, but we don’t overdo it. The goal is stylish, not overwhelming. Even on a Christmas cruise, we draw about 100 guests for Friday night (Jewish) services.”
Still, there were 110 poinsettias, greenery lined the grand staircase to the lobby, and a Santa statue stood watch next to the reception desk.