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Cruise Ship Review
Religion Takes A Cruise

Services On Board

by Toni & Jack White

Have you ever felt guilty even considering a cruise which would coincide with a religious holiday, such as Passover or Christmas? Many are unaware that the cruise industry which specializes in enticing travelers is solving your dilemma.

Christian Sunday services are normally conducted by the ship's captain, but many cruise lines are now bringing a Rabbi and a Priest aboard to conduct special religious services. Since cuisine is a major feature of cruises, executive chefs are now creating elaborate menus for traditional meals to satisfy observant passengers.

Californians Geri and Al Margolin cruised on the Crystal Symphony during Yom Kippur. They were delighted when a Rabbi conducted services, and an elaborate break the fast was served after the 24-hour fast observing the day of atonement. The couple were pleased that they could take advantage of the special fare for this cruise and still fulfill the covenants of their religion.

Crystal Harmony SederAfter speaking with the Margolins, we welcomed the opportunity to experience a Passover Seder on the Crystal Harmony journeying through the Panama Canal. We joined 90 passengers, all dressed semi-formally out of respect for this Jewish religious service.

The Levines and Gumperts, our regular dinner mates, were unaware that a Seder was scheduled. However, they were easily persuaded to join us. We collectively gasped at the entrance to a secluded dining area decorated with exquisite flower arrangements, new china, crystal and flatware displayed on lovely linen. Captain Glenn Edvardsen greeted the group and extended Passover wishes to our group which now felt like mishpucha (family).

Crystal Harmony SederA retired New Orleans Rabbi explained the meaning of the traditional symbols. His wife recited a prayer, as she lit candles to remember Jews being freed from enslavement in Egypt. Matzo, in lieu of bread, was provided, along with red and white kosher wine. Horseradish, bitter herbs, lamb shank, hard boiled egg, and chirosses, a dish made of apple, nuts and honey were passed around to begin the Seder meal. Gefilte fish was attractively presented. Matzo ball soup, kosher roast chicken, salmon, tzimmis, potatoes, and vegetables were served formally after being prepared in a special kitchen. Desserts included zabaglione, macaroon cookies and sponge cake. There was no extra charge for this special dinner, only the need to make a reservation.

Passover is the oldest, continuously observed festival in the history of the western world dating back more than 3,000 years. Unfortunately, the Rabbi deferred to the requests of some guests and presented a too brief, sketchy service that disappointed many. Crystal Cruises absolutely did their part to fulfill the needs of the devout.

Princess Cruises provides clergy for several religious holidays, including a midnight Christmas service, Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. For those of the Jewish faith, the Rabbi requests special foods for a formal dinner gala, separate from the regular dining room. Formal evening wear is requested. Preparation of the Seder is to the Rabbi's specifications.

For those of the Christian faith, traditional holiday meals are prepared in the dining rooms. For example, a traditional Christmas menu includes turkey, along with traditional desserts from around the world (Panattone from Italy, Christmas pudding from England, and a Chocolate Yule Log from France and the United States). At a gala dinner this menu also offers shrimp, lobster, etc. Each table is also decorated with Christmas offerings such as dried fruit, chocolates and candy canes for the pasengers to indulge in and enjoy. A buffet is available throughout the day and includes a variety of offerings, with the traditional gingerbread house on display.

For Easter dinner the fare includes such traditional items as lamb and ham, along with lobster and shrimp. Traditional Easter desserts include Colomba (from Italy) and chocolate cakes shaped as Rabbits and bells. Each table is decorated with Easter baskets, featuring both hardboiled and chocolate eggs for the passengers. In addition, for each seating in each of the dining rooms, one large chocolate egg is placed on display. The captain, with the assistance of the children onboard, breaks open the egg, which is filled with chocolates and candy. A buffet of traditional fare is available throughout Easter Sunday.

Holland-America Line serves a traditional Passover dinner, and offers options for those of the Jewish faith who have special needs at Passover and Yom Kippur.

Celebrations of Easter and Christmas are always special on this line's fleet. The menus are handled in more general fashion since specific food is not obligatory, but the Christmas cruises feature caroling and an international crew choir, a visit from Santa and holiday-related kids activities.

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 has a completely kosher kitchen to cater to Orthodox Jewish passengers and their needs. To take a cruise over a religious holiday, contact your cruise specialist travel agent or the cruise lines for more information on these special cruises.

Photos courtesy of Jack White.


[Toni & Jack White]Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.

Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.

Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.

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