Have You Ever Thought About Taking a Cruise Over the December Holidays?
For the past 10-years my immediate family has scheduled a vacation cruise around the Christmas / New Year’s Eve holidays. Some years we are gone over Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or both holidays. Each year, we usually book a 7-night cruise. Depending on the dates of Christmas and New Years’ Day, we find that we usually miss one or the other holiday. A few times, we have booked a 10-night cruise over both the holidays. Since the cruise ships usually are at home port on Sunday or Saturday, we find that we leave on a different date each year. Most of the time, we book a cruise over the New Year’s holiday, but sometimes our vacation schedules only allow us to book a cruise over the Christmas holiday.
If you have ever wondered what it is like being away for the holidays, or if you have considered an experience like this, then I have put together a few questions that may help you make a decision about choosing a similar experience. Here are some major inquiries I have encountered. You may have some of your own. If you do, feel free to write to me and I would be happy to answer them?
Why do you cruise at this time of the year?
The answer to this is very simple. All of my immediate family is free at this time of the year. This may not be true in the future, but for the past 10-years this has been our situation. Normally we would all gather together at our home, so making a plan to do something special together seems to work for us. All of us like cruising, and all of us like spending time together, visiting new places, and experiencing different sites around the world. Taking a cruise together seems to be a perfect fit.
Do you feel bad about being away from home for the holidays?
Yes, we do. All of us really like to go to church on Christmas Eve. It is a beautiful experience that we cherish. When we are not able to attend our local Christmas Eve service, we miss it. We also miss visiting family and friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In order to compensate for this, we often try to plan holiday actives the week before we leave. It’s not a perfect substitute, but it does help to extend the spirit of the holiday. New Year’s Eve seems to be less of a problem because few do not have any significant traditions associated with this holiday. When we are on the ship together, we actually find that we enjoy having a planned celebration that brings us all together.
One advantage we have found being away over the holidays is that since we are traveling to different locations, we have taken advantage of holiday experiences that are going on around our departure port. As an example, one year we decided to leave from Port Canaveral, so we booked two days at Universal Studios Orlando to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Everyone loved this experience and it became an extra holiday treat. Another year, the day before our cruise, we booked a night at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee. That experience definitely put everyone in the holiday mood.
How does your extended family feel about you being away at this time of the year?
At this point, our extended families just accept that we will be away for the holidays. Originally they were surprised that we made the decision to go away over the holidays, but they could see that we were willing to make adjustments so that we could continue many holiday traditions. Over the past 10 years, much of our family has moved away or passed away, so it seems to be less of an issue. On two occasions, we have arranged for extended families to join us on our holiday cruise. On both occasions, it was a great experience. We actually wish this could happen every year, but we know that it is not always possible for everyone to plan their holiday break around the cruise schedules.
What’s it like spending Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve on a cruise ship?
To be honest, it definitely can be weird spending Christmas Eve on a cruise ship. It does not have that traditional family feel. I’m also sure that it can be difficult for young children. We started taking family holiday cruises after our child was 10 years old. One thing that is really enjoyable is having our family together for a nice meal and maybe some entertainment. Cruise lines do hold special events such as holiday shows, caroling, and tree lighting celebrations. These have been fun, and they do help to create a holiday feel.
Some cruise lines have religious services, but not all. I have attended Catholic and interdenominational Protestant services, usually performed by a retired chaplain. I have also seen some cruise lines offer Hanukkah candle lightings. Generally, every family deals with holiday traditions in their own way. We have seen some families decorate their cabins for their children. We generally bring a small gift to exchange with each other. This has become a nice tradition.
New Year’s Eve is usually a lot of fun on the cruise ship. Every cruise we have been on has had multiple parties going on around the ship. They all have live feed broadcasts from Times Square. Some have had fireworks. There have been no shortages of parties on the ships. It is actually a lively, safe way to spend New Year’s Eve because after the festivities are finished, all you have to do is walk back to your cabin.
Aren’t many places closed on Christmas or New Year’s Day? How do you deal with port days that fall on the holidays?
Surprisingly, most ports of call are open on the holidays and there seems to be very little that is closed. We have never found that we were not able to do something we wanted to do because of a holiday. In fact, some of our most memorable experiences have actually occurred on holidays. As an example, our first day trip to Tulum occurred on New Year’s Day. Holiday closures have never really been an issue.
A few times, we have actually encountered special experiences. On one occasion, we found ourselves in Disney World on Christmas Eve. It was very crowded, but still a great experience. On another cruise, we found ourselves sailing into Nassau in the Bahamas on Christmas day to avoid high winds on the cruise line’s private island. Because of this, we were able to attend a special carnival-like celebration they hold in Nassau on Boxing Day (January 26th) every year. We had heard about this unique parade and dance party, but were never in Nassau at the right time to attend it. The change in our cruise schedule made it possible.
Aren’t the cruises really crowded? How do you deal with all the people?
When we have read reviews of holiday cruises usually the negative reviews have two major complaints. The cruise was too crowded and there were too many children on the cruise. If you do not like crowds and want to avoid a large number of children, then do not take a holiday cruise. They will be crowded and you will find a higher percentage of the crowd is made up of children than on a regular cruise. Many of the holiday cruises are populated by families. That means large numbers of children. On the other hand, the crowding issue may be overstated. Most cruise ships leave fully loaded with passengers. Whether it is a holiday or not, the ship has a limited capacity. Truthfully, we have never really experienced crowding issues. Most cruises have 1000s of people of them, but the crews are trained to handle large numbers of people. We have become experienced at avoiding areas where crowds congregate. Also, most cruise lines allow you to prebook dinner and show reservations. We have seen crowding at buffet lines and certainly, the pools and deck areas are crowded. Usually, we change our schedules slightly to avoid the crowds by doing things such as dining earlier or waiting to get off the ship in port cities. This has proved to be very effective in helping us to avoid overcrowding situations.
Isn’t it really expensive to take a cruise at this time of the year?
Holiday cruises are more expensive than cruises taken at similar times of the year. We have paid as much as three times the cost of the same cruise that sailed two weeks earlier. If you are looking for budget cruising, then you will not find it on holiday cruises. We have come to just accept the fact that our holiday cruise will cost much more than a cruise at another time of the year. One thing that I would suggest is to pay close attention to the sales and promotions offered by cruise lines and by cruise booking agents. This year I was able to reduce the cost of our holiday cruise by almost one-third by booking during a specific sale offered by the cruise line. I was also able to acquire some room credit by booking with a cruise travel agent whom I have used frequently in the past years. This amounted to over $3000 in reduced cost. Most cruise lines promote heavily from January to March. I often wait until April or May to book our cruise for the holiday season. I have found that I usually receive a better price at that time.
Another issue you may want to consider is the cost of getting to the cruise terminal. Many cruises leave from ports in Florida. The cost of airfare to Florida around the holidays is outrageous. This is especially true for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and the Port Canaveral (Orlando) area. If you are considering a holiday cruise, book your air farewell ahead of time. There will be no last-minute deals. In fact, premium arrival and departure times will fill up quickly. One strategy we have used is to book cruises closer to our location in the Northeastern United States. Cruises depart from New York and Baltimore even over the winter. Most of these cruises sail to Florida and the Bahamas. Usually, the first day and last day are cooler, but surprisingly most of the journey is in warm weather due to the Gulf Stream. Since we can drive to these areas, we are willing to trade the lower cost for less outdoor pool exposure time.
Is it worth it?
Yes, absolutely! The joy of having my immediate family together enjoying a vacation where we can all do our own thing, yet gather together each evening for dinner and a show is an amazing blessing. Furthermore, we don’t worry about where we are going to eat, and who is cleaning up. Everyone has a relaxing and fun time. What’s not to like?
I would suggest that if you want to try something different around the holidays, then consider a holiday cruise. The less painful option is to choose something over the New Year’s holiday. You may find that it is a one-time experience or something you do every few years. Nonetheless, don’t entirely rule it out, give it a try. You may just find that it is the perfect solution for spending family time together during the holidays.