Editor's note: Content was up to date at time of publication.
If escaping from the rigors of your everyday routine is a primary motivator for high-tailing it out of town and onto the decks of a cruise ship, what happens when you throw holidays into that equation?
We asked how you felt about cruising over the holidays in a poll for this Members Speak Out feature. Hundreds of you responded, sharing moving tales from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah and Christmas. We learned that a lot of you share in the conundrum that the holiday season, by dint of a vacation getaway for everyone from workers to school kids, is a great time to travel ... for the most part. But there was also a melancholy strain running through your comments; many of you noted that it is hard being away, not just from family gatherings during the season but also from your own special traditions.
Right off the bat, we learned this:
About 31 percent of you have said that you have never cruised over the holidays, 39 percent have occasionally, and few respondents actually cruise every year without fail. When asked if you would repeat the experience of a holiday cruise, 365 of you said that you would, and 50 said you wouldn't do it again.
Celebrants of Hanukkah didn't chime in with too much excitement. Less than 2 percent of you said your favorite onboard holiday memory occurred over Hanukkah; about 27 percent said Thanksgiving, 32 percent voted for New Year's and 39 percent named Christmas. Kwanzaa, a festival celebrating African American culture during the week between Christmas and New Year's, didn't even rate a response.
It's no big surprise that everyone wants to go somewhere warm (and as the cruise lines are not offering trips to, say, Alaska or Canada/New England, it's rather difficult to cruise to those regions!). A strong 84 percent, though, preferred the closer tropics of the Mexican Riviera and the Caribbean. Runners-up, in order, are as follows: adventurous and untraditional destinations such as Asia, South America and Australia; rustic and relaxing regions like the Panama Canal; low-key and beautiful places like Hawaii; and the historic and cultural Mediterranean (believe it or not, travelers -- mostly Europeans -- sail the southern Mediterranean all winter long).
We Loved the Heart-Warming Stuff!
Most intriguing, heart-warming and occasionally appalling were your generous retellings of anecdotes relating to favorite memories.
"We did Thanksgiving on Norwegian in Hawaii a couple years ago. It was great! They had turkey and dressing if you wanted it, but we went for the specialty Italian restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, which was fantastic! Hawaiian pumpkin pie is, um, interesting. It was just nice in general to get out of that old 'everybody congregate at Mom's house for turkey' rut. We took turns at our table telling the others what we were thankful for. It started out funny and ended up very touching." -- MopedMama
"We cruised on Thanksgiving on Celebrity's Summit, which was very nice and relaxing. We spent a nice relaxing day at sea in the warm Carribean, had a turkey dinner that was fabulous, and I didn't have to cook it or clean it up! Also, most of the islands were already decorated for Christmas. It was a nice surprise and we looked forward to returning home to decorate our house." --PatnJohn
"During my Caribbean Princess cruise ... we lit a menorah every night at dinner in the dining room." --Teach
"Just being with other Jews celebrating our holiday made this cruise on Norwegian Star special." --Vclst
"Well, I'm 14, and this may be something no one would appreciate, but I thought it was cool. I met some non-Christian people onboard Carnival Liberty, and they had fun celebrating Christmas with us. And I was walking out of the dining room and one of the girls dressed up as a Santa's helper scared the crap out of my dad." --Hot Hockett
"On the Norwegian Majesty during a Christmas cruise they had a Christmas White House menu serving past president's/first ladies' favorite meals. Also, the gingerbread houses on the same cruise with a selection of cookies to choose from throughout the cruise. Christmas caroling too!" --anonymous
"We have done two New Year's cruises, one of which was on the Millennium. After that, other holiday cruises would be hard to top. The fireworks, off Labadee, at midnight [is my favorite memory]. Every time I hear 'Once in a Lifetime,' I can see the fireworks, see our friends and other passengers, see the other ships, feel and smell the warm tropical sea air." --KreinKrunker
"My cruise on Disney's Wonder provided me the best New Year's Eve of my life! First, we had an elegant dinner. Then my son went off to the kid's club for a few hours while the adults went to the bars. We picked up our son at about 11:30 p.m. and all went to the Atrium to ring in the New Year. He had sparkling cider, we had Champagne, and we all had fun!" --Cruisewmn
Best Holiday Memories ... in Port
For Vclst it was observing Hanukkah at the synagogue in St. Thomas; that 300-year-old synagogue is one of the most historic in the Western Hemisphere.
Sausimayok, who sailed on Carnival, said, "I get ornaments for my kids each year from Western Caribbean places I visited & the ornaments on our tree remind me of the different ways other countries celebrate the holidays."
"This year and last year we spent Thanksgiving on Holland America's Amsterdam off the west coast of South America. We spent Thanksgiving on the Anuket, on the Nile, at Aswan Dam and Abu Simbel. Beautiful weather and lovely new found friends, we had a blast." --Dosperegrinos
"I love hearing the local island holiday music. Seeing all the kids dressed for church and family gatherings. I'm especially touched when the Radiance of the Seas sends Santa out to give the local kids gifts." --RDeagazio
One member recalled the "unlimited fireworks explosions in Aruba and Curacao in the days before New Year's that lasted all day and all night."
"This was our first cruise together onboard the Carnival Inspiration, and our first port of call was Montego Bay. We were up on deck before the sun rose over the mountains as we approached Montego Bay ... it was beautiful." --Txskier
Outrageous Onboard Experiences
After a very enjoyable New Year's celebration on Cunard, 2moose said "a gentleman was refused entry into the lido for breakfast because he barely had a thong on!"
Leighuf had a few worth sharing from her Thanksgiving cruise on Enchantment of the Seas. "It's a tie. One, a hysterical mother screaming at a steward because she just found out a drunk man picked up her unsupervised kid and threatened to throw the kid overboard. This was at midnight and I could hear her hysterical yelling through our suite door. And two, the captain stopped the ship and turned around at dusk on our sea day so a RCI rescue boat could be launched to pick up a raft of four Cubans."
"There was a fist fight!" Inew1gd1 recalled from a Christmas cruise. "It was between an older (in his 70's at the least) man and another passenger in the lounge because the older man was trying to save an entire row of seats for 'all the friends that would join him for the show after they finished their dinner.' The older man punched the middle-aged (somewhere around 50ish) man in the nose because he refused to move out of the saved seats."
Okay, Now for the Down Side
So what is the worst part about cruising over the holidays? Many of you said the jacked up prices and massive crowds. And the most popular complaint?
"Too many unruly, unsupervised children and teens. This problem seems to be getting worse each year." --CruiseDoctor
Another problem that put a damper on your cruise?
"We went to Grand Cayman on New Year's Day, but they had a power outage so nothing was open -- no power on the whole island and a part had to be flown in from Miami for repairs. We went to Seven Mile Beach, but could not use any washrooms as hotels and restaurants were in total darkness and closed to all visitors. A very interesting day." --Marysb
Plus, occasionally bouts of melancholy:
"The sadness of some of the crew members ... I can imagine they miss their families." --anonymous (Find out how the other half -- the crew that is -- lives in Under the Captain's Table: Holidays on the High Seas.)
Writes SuziClue, who once spent the holidays on an otherwise lovely Mediteranean cruise: "On Christmas Day we were docked at Cadiz, and I couldn't stop crying long enough to join friends on a day trip to Seville. I so missed my family, and snow and the carols and church and the meal and, yes, even the occasional bickering! Then my cabin stewardess came by to tidy my stateroom and when she saw me crying she gave me a huge hug, said, talking of her fellow crew members, 'we're all sad, too,' and we both cried together for a minute or two. Then we both straightened up, as if we were saying enough, now, and she shooed me out of the cabin so she could get on with her day, and I got on a train to Seville (where luckily I met up with my friends). But I think both the cabin stewardess and I felt better for it."
Finally, What Do You Need To Know Next Year?
We asked our all-knowing members to share their best advice for anyone planning on taking a holiday cruise:
"Get to your port city well in advance. And plan on airline problems." --Norcrest (To aid in your travels, check out Destinations, which features port profiles, and mini-breaks for those planning to stay a few days in an embarkation port.)
"To remember that the staff is away from their families and they may need YOU to be nice to THEM for a change." --Coka
"Just do it! You don't have to deal with relatives, clean up and when you get back, the experience/glow is much greater." --Mrsp
"If you are bringing children, bring some Christmas goodies from home. We brought the Santa plate and mug we usually left for him at home. We filled them before the kids went to bed, and Santa ate them before they woke up. Some small gifts were left under the little portable tree we brought onboard." --Leona1
"If you don't want to cruise with children, stay away from the mainstream cruise lines. Opt for the luxury lines with no children's programs. Prepare to pay through the nose." --Jdsuth
And the best advice of all?
"Relax and enjoy." --Kentskie.