Escaping the chill of winter in the Northeast is something our family looks forward to every year. This December, we opted to take a weeklong cruise to the Caribbean and Bahamas on Caribbean Princess. And we weren't the only ones with that idea. According to Princess, Christmas week is one of the most popular weeks to sail, and the ship sails at its highest occupancy. Many of the passengers aboard were part of larger traveling groups, including multifamily and intergenerational family groups. We even saw travel parties wearing T-shirts advertising special anniversaries and family reunions.
Not everyone was looking to escape the cold. Some said they travel during the Christmas holidays because all the children are home from school -- including those in college -- and they can look forward to quality time together. Others met parents and grandparents to celebrate together. And others who don't celebrate Christmas opted to travel at this time because they needed to work around school breaks for their vacations. Both families and couples thought going on vacation would be a welcome change from running around and shopping at home, and they chose this itinerary for its beautiful ports and ship.
So how is a holiday cruise different from a regular sailing? All week long, the cruise staff offered special holiday programming, from gingerbread house-making to watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on the large movie screen outdoors. A special Christmas Eve dinner, holiday-themed drinks, ornate decorations and displays throughout the ship, and a beautiful tree in the ship's atrium called attention to the festive atmosphere at every turn. A priest led a midnight Christmas Eve mass and Christmas Day services, and on Christmas morning, Santa arrived, children received presents and carolers sang seasonal tunes. Even the crew was treated to holiday treats, with special crew dinners and a surprise performance of a magic show.
The week was full of spirit, warmth and good times -- even more so than the usual cruise.
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The hub of Caribbean Princess is the Piazza, where strolling performers engage passengers; the International Cafe serves soup, coffee and baked treats; and a wine bar attracts nibblers with its vintages and tapas. As we stepped onboard, we found the holiday cheer started in this central gathering place. A festive "Happy Holidays" sign was affixed high on the glass elevators, and three Santas greeted passengers from a lofty perch. Throughout the ship, we saw plenty of decorations including poinsettias, garland, twinkling lights and Christmas trees.
Also in the Piazza was a multi-tiered display of gingerbread houses. The houses ranged in size, color and cultural origin and were surrounded by greens, poinsettias and other holiday garb. The display was thoughtfully set at a height so children could view it easily, but we caught passengers of all ages admiring the decor throughout the cruise.
The main Christmas tree located in the Piazza was a gathering place for families throughout the cruise. Often, children would stare at the tree with high hopes for the holiday, while parents and grandparents would gaze at the beautiful ornaments, garland and lights that were painstakingly placed for all to enjoy. What was particularly nice about this cruise was that the decorations were tasteful and not overly obtrusive. Earlier in the month, the ship celebrated Chanukah with a menorah and nightly candle lightings in the Piazza.
A special holiday addition to Caribbean Princess was a real tree that was placed on the ship's mast. (It was the only non-artificial tree onboard.) Illuminated with purple hues, it was found above the Sanctuary, the ship's adults-only haven. The tree was visible to passengers as they sunbathed -- reminding everyone that, even as they enjoyed the beautiful weather in their bathing suits and shorts, the holiday spirit was still with them.
More than 700 children were onboard for our holiday sailing, and Princess offered special holiday programming for the tots, preschoolers, youngsters, tweens and teens participating in the onboard kids clubs. Dan Styne, cruise director, donned a Santa hat to read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to some of the younger children onboard in one of the playrooms. The children were mesmerized by the story, and cookies were served after the reading.
Even the usual cruise activities -- like cooking demos -- had a holiday theme. For example, we stumbled upon a turkey-carving demonstration. (They do this one on Thanksgiving cruises, too.) A member of the cruise staff narrated while a chef demonstrated the proper way to carve a turkey. He also graciously answered questions about cooking and plating the turkey. Not only was it fun to watch a culinary master at work, but we learned a few useful tips to take home from the event.
On Christmas morning, hundreds of children arrived in the Piazza with hopes of being greeted by Santa. Some were all dressed up in velvet dresses and suits, while others were in their pajamas. Music played in the background, and it seemed that most passengers on the ship -- those who celebrated and those who did not -- were excited for Santa's arrival. The cruise staff was dressed in holiday garb, and the cruise director made funny comments about someone in a sleigh landing on the ship. When Santa arrived through a glass elevator, there were yells of excitement. Children were invited to sit on his lap and were given wrapped presents.
Everyone hopes for a White Christmas, and Princess obliged! A snowmaking machine onboard is one of Princess' most noteworthy holiday achievements, as it can create falling snow. The snow fell down from the highest level of the Piazza on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning, just as Santa entered the scene. The children were very excited, and some even tried to catch snowflakes on their tongues. You can just make out some snow on the ground in this photo, surrounding the flagship Christmas Tree and the presents for the kids.
After Christmas, the youth staff hosted a holiday-themed Kids Fair in the Piazza on one of the sea days. Children were invited for activities that included arts, crafts and games. Face-painting was a highlight, and the young ones were transformed into animals or decorated with glittery designs. Children colored holiday stencils like snow scenes. Afterward, everyone snacked on gingerbread cookies, eggnog and hot chocolate. We saw many grandparents enjoying the fair with their grandchildren -- not surprising, given the number of multigenerational groups vacationing together onboard.
Kids weren't the only ones who could participate in holiday-themed activities. One of the week's highlights was a gingerbread-making event for adults and children alike. The cruise staff handed out kits with decorations like candy, icing and confetti to adorn the houses. We saw children decorating their houses with care, while parents and grandparents also got into the decorating fun. Officers, cruise staff and individuals from the culinary team, dressed in Santa hats, were on hand for this well-attended event. All finished houses were then put on display.