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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cruising for the holidays, a festive time at sea

   Out to Sea for Dec. 22/12

   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   There’s nothing like a cruise around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays for some festive fun.
Hula dancers put on a Christmas performance for cruise ship guests on Holland America’s Zaandam. (Barbara Fox photo)
   Rather than escaping, it’s even better when family groups sail together to enjoy all the festivities that are in high gear at this time on the high seas.
   Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year’s Eve, couples, families and extended groups pack cruise ships as they choose to combine the holidays with a vacation.

   Mele Kalikimaka
We’ve sailed on a few holiday cruises either before or after Dec. 25 so we wouldn’t be away from the family at Christmas.
   That’s still a great way to enjoy many of the seasonal activities and sights onboard.
   Among the most memorable trips was a 14-day circle Hawaii cruise in early to mid-December when Holland America’s Zaandam was being outfitted in its seasonal finery.
Visitors to Honolulu at this time of year can see a beachy Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele (Mrs. Claus) outside the city hall as part of the city’s light displays. (Hawaii Tourism)
   On our land excursions in four island ports, we had a chance to discover Hawaiian preparations and customs for the holidays.
   Businesses had Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) banners strung and there was much playing of the song by that name made famous by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1950.
  Another fun time was celebrating New Year’s Eve to welcome the Millennium in 2000 with a big poolside party after leaving the Cayman Islands that afternoon in the Caribbean.

 Honolulu’s Aloha Tower, a lighthouse that is considered one of the landmarks of Hawaii, is decorated for the season. (Jim Fox photo)
    Despite the warnings of the Y2K doomsayers, which helped to get us an upgraded balcony suite when someone cancelled only weeks from sailing, there weren’t any massive ship power failures or getting cast adrift in the Gulf of Mexico – although the partyers wouldn’t have minded.
   Cruisers will pay more of a premium price in many cases during the high-demand times of the holidays and for the special programs.
   That is offset, however, by a noticeably higher quality of food and special items along with treats and nightly souvenir-type gifts left in each cabin.

Cruise ships put on spectacular holiday buffets including evening dessert extravaganzas during the holidays. (Jim Fox photos)
   This will float your boat
   Many people who enjoy cruising combine time off work with a short cruise such as a getaway of three or four nights to the Bahamas or week-long, island-hopping voyages in the Caribbean.
   Also popular are cruises to the Mexican Riviera, luxury river adventures showcasing the historic Christmas markets of Europe and even holiday sailings around Hawaii, Australia, the South Pacific, Amazon and Antarctica.
   On board throughout the season, the industry’s more than 200 cruise ships are decorated with garlands, wreaths, holiday sprays, Christmas trees and thousands of twinkling lights.
   There are spectacular holiday buffets, gala Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners, Christmas high teas, tasting menus and mimosa brunches among the special dining options.

Yummy treats! (Jim Fox photo)
    Concerts, carols, festive balls and seasonally themed entertainment revues, religious services, children’s activities from arts and crafts to building gingerbread houses, gifts, and surprise visits from Santa – in one case on water skis – guarantee lasting memories.

   Don’t miss the boat
   While it’s too late now to book for Christmas, those impromptu last-minute cruisers can still find some spaces left to celebrate New Year onboard a ship.
   One now advertised leaves Dec. 27 from Jacksonville, Fla. on the Carnival Fascination for four nights to the Bahamas from $614 US for an oceanview cabin.
   Royal Caribbean was still offering a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Dec. 30 from $1,329 US for an oceanview cabin.
   Disney Cruise Lines is still selling its six-night Western Caribbean sailings on the Disney Magic leaving Galveston, Texas on Dec. 29 at $2,010 US for an oceanview cabin.
   There is also a six-night Western Caribbean sailing on the Disney Wonder from Miami leaving Dec. 30 at $2,334 US for a veranda cabin.
   The Norwegian Epic sails roundtrip from Miami on Dec. 29 for seven days in the Eastern Caribbean from $429 US for an inside cabin.
   Or, take a cruise to the same destinations a week or two later when fares will be lower or even get a head start on planning for next year.
   To get onboard and learn about the sailings and cruise lines, go to www.cruising.org or contact a travel agent.


Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com
For more Out to Sea trip tips: http://outtoseatravel.blogspot.ca

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