Arguably, it's the most wonderful time of the year to take a cruise: the holiday season. Ships are decorated to the nines (so you don’t have to struggle with tangled up knots of Christmas lights), festive feasts are prepared and served (so you can hang up the apron) and parties and New Year's Eve celebrations are organized (by somebody else).
If it sounds like for you it could be the hap-happiest time of the year with the kids jingle belling and much mistletoeing -- but this year you might just do it on board a cruise ship while visiting exotic locales -- you have plenty of choices departing from Florida ports this upcoming holiday season. Here are offerings by two cruise lines to consider (rates are the best we found online at this writing and are subject to change):
The premium category Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy start celebrating early, launching special Very Merrytime Cruises beginning on Nov. 9 with a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy and a seven-night Bahamian cruise on the Disney Wonder, followed by a five-night Western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic and a four-night Bahamian cruise on the Disney Dream departing Nov. 10.
During these voyages that run through the New Year, holiday events include: "King Triton's Tree Lighting Ceremony" in the atrium lobby on the first night of the cruise, where a young guest helps Disney characters light the glittering, three-deck-tall tree; family holiday activities including building gingerbread houses and meeting Santa Claus and his elves; and youth holiday crafts such as decorating stockings and gingerbread cookies, making holiday cards and creating holiday animation cells; and holiday storytellers sharing tales of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Other festivities include "Deck the Deck Holiday Party," a tropical celebration with Disney friends leading games such as hula hooping and limbo under oversized candy canes, along with dances for the whole family like the "Yuletide Slide" and a conga line around the pool. On Thanksgiving Day, guests will enjoy a bountiful feast, with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and friends dressed in traditional Thanksgiving attire and a special turkey towel animal in their stateroom upon turndown. Also during the special Thanksgiving voyages, big NFL football games will be broadcast live on the ships’ outdoor, jumbo LED screen -- Funnel Vision -- located near the family pool.
Christmas morning at the atrium lobby tree Santa Claus and his elves will have surprises for all the kids. Later in the day, guests will enjoy caroling from the crew choir plus a special musical performance from the children. A traditional Christmas Dinner will be served that night. Christmas services will be held on Christmas Day with a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Hanukkah services will be held each day, Nov. 28-Dec. 5.
When the ships stop at Disney's private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, during the holidays, the celebration continues with "snow flurries," a decked-out Christmas tree, Disney character meet-and-greets and holiday island music. To celebrate the New Year, voyages include a special New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2014, complete with music, sparkling wine in commemorative flutes and a midnight countdown with balloon drops. One of Disney Cruise Line's holiday voyages is a four-night Bahamian cruise on the Disney Dream from Port Canaveral ($1,352 per person, double). Ports of call include Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney's private island in the Bahamas).
Departing: Dec. 22. More dates, info: www.princess.com
Premium category Princess celebrates the holiday season with festive age-old traditions of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's. On Thanksgiving sailings, Princess' culinary team takes over and in recent years have served up a unique, "all pumpkin" menu that uses a Thanksgiving favorite in an entirely new way.
Each dish features the traditional pumpkin -- but the style of presentation and preparation varies with each menu item. Beginning with pumpkin gnocchi gratin and finishing with traditional pumpkin pie or pumpkin creme brulee, Princess passengers delight in a truly unique way to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Main courses have included traditional slow roasted Vermont turkey, served with pumpkin polenta; broiled filet of orange roughy with pumpkin risotto; center cut pork loin chop with pumpkin spaetzle; and grilled medallions of aged beef tenderloin with sauteed pumpkin rosti. For a merry Christmas at sea ships are trimmed from stem to stern in festive holiday decor, complete with wreaths, holly, mistletoe and, of course, Christmas trees, which often even decorate the ship's mast.
It's not uncommon to see Yuletide carolers strolling the decks singing favorite holiday tunes, or waiters wearing Santa hats. Seasonal entertainment abounds, as passengers may enjoy themed production shows, live music and films during the voyage. Passengers can also attend Catholic mass and inter-denominational church service.
A special Christmas dinner features traditional favorites such as roast turkey or goose, and passengers will enjoy a range of seasonal sweet treats such as gingerbread mousse, mincemeat pie, chocolate Yule logs and special Christmas cookies. And to keep younger passengers busy, youth counselors provide a wide array of activities including parties, sing-a-longs and arts and crafts classes, where they can create ornaments to decorate the ship's Christmas tree. Junior cruisers can also participate in a holiday play, which they perform for passengers. On Christmas day, Santa Claus makes a surprise appearance, bringing joy (and gifts) to each child on board. For passengers who celebrate Hanukkah, special prayer and song services are planned by a rabbi, who sails with the ship for the holiday period.
A special area of the ship is reserved for those participating in the services, and ships display menorahs and fresh flower arrangements decorated in the Hanukkah colors of blue, silver and white. Kosher meals are available throughout the sailing when requested in advance, and dining rooms feature specialty items such as potato latkes, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and matzo during the holiday. And when it comes to ringing in the New Year Princess ships welcome each new year in style with a fun-filled New Year's Eve party complete with music, confetti, noise-makers and, of course, champagne to join the ship staff in a toast to the arrival of January 1.
These always-popular festivities can range from casual to black-tie affairs, depending on the ship and itinerary. And once the new year arrives, football fans will be pleased to know they won't miss the day's traditional college bowl games, as the telecasts will be shown (if available) in a shipboard lounge, complete with a full buffet of "munchies" such as popcorn, chips, mini hot dogs or burgers and other assorted goodies. One of Princess’ holiday cruises this year is seven-day voyage to the Eastern Caribbean aboard the line’s new Royal Princess round-trip from Fort Lauderdale departing on Dec. 22 (a balcony stateroom is priced from $1,699 per person, double). Ports of call include Princess Cays (private beach in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.