Pros and Cons of a Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday Cruise

For many working adults and families, the Christmas Holidays present the only opportunity for them to get away on an extended vacation. These prime holiday weeks vary from year to but generally run from the weekend before Dec 24th to the weekend after Jan 1st. In some years this Christmas Holiday season also corresponds with the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah. (Other years, because the Jewish Lunar Calendar, Hanukkah occurs earlier in December.) Often this may be only opportunity for these working adults and families to take an extended vacation together resulting in the busiest and most expensive time of the cruising season. Cruiser considering a Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday Cruise for their vacation may want to weigh the following factors into their consideration.

Ship’s Atmosphere

The cruise lines cater to Christmas and Hanukkah cruisers, so most will decorate the ships with garlands, trees, lights and a special Menorah. Often the entertainers will put together a special Holiday themed show just for these cruises. Santa may make a special visit to hand out presents for the younger children or pose for pictures. During Hanukkah cruises, ships will often have a Rabbi to light the Menorah and lead prayers. Kosher meals can be provided, however they are usually pre-packaged and frozen before the cruise unless cruisers are part of a special Kosher group with their own chef and kitchen. While meals and deserts are almost always special on cruise ships, they usually will try to make either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meals extra special in the ship’s main dining room. For Christmas cruises, cruise lines that normally don’t have a Priest or a Minister on board, make sure they sail aboard in order to lead the religious services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In other words, the cruise lines generally try to capture the holiday spirit in every aspect of their cruising experience.

High Demand Season

Many people, especially families, have a two week break from work and school in late December. Some large manufacturing facilities even have a two week shut down during this period. Almost all school districts provide two weeks off at this time calling it “Winter Break.” Hence, for many people this time is either the prime or only opportunity to get away with the whole family. This opportunity creates a high demand and an increase in the prices charged by the cruise lines. A seven to fourteen day holiday cruise can typically cost anywhere from 40% more to nearly double the cost of booking a similar voyage during the non-holiday period. As an example, a 7 day Dec 3 2011 Caribbean Cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse in a C3 cabin costs $949.00 for the first two people and $399.00 per person for the 3rd and 4th person. That would make the cruise cost for the entire family of 4 a total of $2,696.00. For the same cabin, on the same itinerary, for the holiday cruise on Dec 17th, the price increases to $1,299.00 for the first two passengers and then the price for 3rd and 4th passengers in same cabin increases to $699.00 per per person for a total of $3,996.00 for the whole family. That price represents a cost of nearly 50% more for the same itinerary and cabin class because of the sailing date.

Many Families On Board

With this time of year providing a school break for everyone from kindergartners to grad students, there will be many families on board the ship. This abundance of kids can be great for teens or younger kids who want to hang out with lots of kids their own age. Most cruise lines will have plenty of staff to keep them occupied and busy with their own activities. However, for those passengers who may not have the patience for so many extra young people, it can be disruptive to their cruise experience. While an early December cruise may afford adults the opportunity to swim relaxing laps in a nearly empty pool, during a holiday cruise they may find that the pool is filled with kids and teens. Not all the young people’s activities take place in the kids club and not all the kids participate. In some instances people have found kids running in halls or playing in elevators. For those adults and families that don’t mind the extra kids or can really only get away at this time, it can be a lot of fun. For those who prefer fewer kids, even families who would like more attention or supervision for their kids, other times of the year might serve their vacation expectations better.

Fuller Ship

The high demand will often mean the ship will be booked at higher than 100% occupancy. This can occur because 100% is occupancy is figured upon double occupancy for every room. With so many families sailing at this time of year, they fill the 3rd and 4th berths in many cabins. Obviously, the fuller the ship, the more crowded it will feel, and the ship’s processes would theoretically run less efficiently. Lines might be longer and slower in the buffet area and service could be slower in the main dining room. Depending on how a particular line responds to these types of circumstances these delays may be unnoticeable or blatantly obvious. The last two cruises we have cruise on have been Trans-Atlantic cruises on a ship sailing with only about 90-95% occupancy. On such sailing no areas of the ship ever felt slow or crowded. It did make me wonder, however, how such a ship would respond to about 20% more people. On a ship that has a terrific ergonomic design and planned traffic flow patterns, a 20% increase in passengers would probably fall into the “hardly noticeable” category. However, on a ship, where for one reason or another, people seem to all congregate at one place at one time, the lager capacity sailing would probably be highly evident to the passengers, especially those who had sailed before during less than peak times. When choosing a holiday cruise one might want to consider consulting with an experienced travel agent or doing extensive online research to gain an understanding of which ships accommodate larger occupancies better than others. Another factor to consider is the number of four passenger rooms. Some ships have a high percentage of rooms that will accommodate four passengers, while others have only a handful of four passenger rooms. Some smaller luxury lines only have rooms that accommodate two or three passengers. Be sure to discuss with your travel agent how these factors will contribute to the feel of your holiday cruise.

When to Book

Almost always, the best time to book a holiday cruise is as soon as the lines release the schedules. This need to book early can be difficult for some families as school holiday schedules are not often released that far in advance, or work schedules can vary from year to year. The prices will be high, but because of the demand they are not likely to drop. Discuss with your travel agent if the cruise lines will honor price drops. Some cruise lines will honor price drops before the final payment is due. In such cases there is no penalty for booking super early. As mentioned earlier, many ships only have a handful of cabins that will accommodate families of four. They have even fewer that can accommodate families of 5 for 6 in one cabin. Booking early, insures that you can get a single cabin for your family should you choose. The next popular option for families, connecting rooms, can be the next category to book up early for these holiday cruises. Finally, for those who book closer to the cruise date, the cabin selection can be very limited. Families might have to book two cabins on two different areas of the ship in order to accommodate all members. Usually cruise lines release their holiday cruise schedules about a year and half before the sailings. For the best cabin selections, look at booking in the one year to year and a half window. However, always check to see what is available, sometimes the perfect cabin can be available even for a late booking.

Christmas/Holiday Cruise, Your Decision, Your Experience

When deciding weather or not to book a Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday cruise for yourself, you might want to weigh the above factors. Personally my most memorable childhood cruise was Christmas aboard the old Stattendam in in 1980. It was special because of the number of fun but well behaved young people close to my age, the wonderful holidays shows performed by the entertainers and crew, and the fun spirit of the ship. We invite our readers to share with us their Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday cruise experiences. Was the cruise everything your family dreamed of? Or did some of the factors mentioned above hamper your cruise enjoyment? Would you recommend a holiday cruise to others? Why or Why not?