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Cruise Feature
Holiday Cruising

by Sharon Jackson

It is December 23rd. Bob and I have just arrived at the pier. The embarkation area is decorated with Christmas trees and all the check-in agents are dressed as Santa's elves. We are ushered up the gangway where Santa Claus snaps our picture as we board. Mrs. Claus leads us to our cabin where we find a holiday fruit basket trimmed in holly and red ribbon. Shortly thereafter, our bags arrive. (This is a dream, remember?) I quickly unpack everything necessary for our 10 night Panama Canal cruise where we will spend our holidays this year, including the little fold-up 2 foot high Christmas tree which I proceed to decorate and tuck in the corner of a shelf all prepared to accept the gifts we have brought along for each other. (Mine, of course, will be that aquamarine pendant I drooled over last August at Brazilian Emeralds in St. Thomas. Bob, of course, snuck back over there without me and pursuaded the owner to accept a second mortgage on our house in exchange.) After the cabin is in order, we head up to the luncheon buffet, traversing passageways and lobbies decked out in Christmas trees, wreaths, holly and mistletoe. Signs are everywhere proclaiming happy everthing-you-can-think-of as holiday music plays in the background . . . .

Fade back to reality

A holiday cruise is truly unique and every cruise addict's dream. Jennifer de la Cruz of Carnival Cruise Lines shared with me a lot of information about what happens on Carnival ships during the Christmas/New Year's cruises. Besides all the traditional decor, the music of the season is everywhere - piped into passenger cabins and incorporated into the live entertainment. Caroling is rampant among children and adults alike, often taking place out on deck, and Christmas-themed movies are shown on the cabin TV's and in the theatres. Santa Claus always makes an appearance toting bags of gifts for the youngsters. (In my dream, Santa's sleigh, pulled by the eight tiny reindeer, actually lands on deck where he hops off and proceeds to slide down the funnel, surprising the heck out of the crew in the engine room.) Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, usually in the main show lounge because of the high attendance, and traditional Christmas dinner is served with the requisite 8 fattening starches, including such old faithfuls as Roast Tom Turkey, cranberry sauce and pecan pie.

In my opinion, New Year's Eve is the highlight of any holiday cruise. The nightly show is usually a biggie - last year on Celebrity's Horizon, their "Fifty Years of Broadway" played on New Year's eve - the favorite show of most passengers on any ship. The party on deck usually starts around 10 PM where waiters are continually passing out glasses of champagne amid the twinkling lights and glitter. Most of the ships will offer supervised activities and babysitting for the children so the parents can celebrate in a more adult fashion, blowing horns and streamers out of their mouths while wearing silly little hats in no way color-coordinated to their mostly formal attire. The Disco is hopping, big band music is being played in the main showroom, the comics and magicians are getting ready for the late shows and the whole atmosphere is building to that big minute when the countdown begins: 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Whew. Just in time for the Midnight Buffet.

And, get this. No cars, icy roads, drunken bums or druggies to battle to get home. Just fumble your way back to your cozy cabin and climb into your comfy bunk and sleep until the warm bright sun wakes you up in the morning when, if the satellites cooperate you can catch the Rose Bowl Parade and a lot of the college bowl games. Again, special dinner menu selections like pork tenderloin and Norwegian salmon are offered.

fade back to dream sequence

It's very late on Christmas Eve. Bob and I grab our sweaters and head up to the highest open deck. We are always amazed at how deserted these decks are at night, but our amazement hits a new high on this night. Hand in hand, from our private, dark spot at the rail, we gaze up at the most beautiful of skies, searching for that twinkling star in the East. As we both sight the star at the same instant, we experience the true joy and meaning of peace on earth.

Stille nacht, Heilige nacht,
Alles schlaft, einsam wacht.
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar,
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh,
Schalf in himmlischer Ruh!

Special thanks to Jennifer de la Cruz of Carnival Cruise Lines and Dr. Carla Rogers of Houston, TX for their assistance in the preparation of this article.
It is never too early to book your Christmas or New Years HOLIDAY cruise! Prime space sells out very quickly and by summer, there could be slim pickings.

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