Holiday Decorations on board Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Gem.
Christmas and New Years Holiday Cruises from New York
In my 40 years of cruising, I have never taken a cruise over the Christmas or New Year's holidays until this year (2014/15).
On December 22nd, I boarded Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Gem on an 11-day cruise from New York, visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, St. Maarten; St. Kitts and Tortola. I chose the cruise because of the duration and the selection of ports that are seasonally visited from New York. In addition, this is one of the few cruises that incorporated both the Christmas holiday and the New Year's celebration.
The passenger composition was very unique - having different religious groups celebrating their traditional holidays - including Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa to name a few. There was a large group of Canadians as well as Europeans (mainly British). I later found out that the British passengers were part of a tour group created by an ingeneious UK Travel agent who packaged together Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 December 15th transatlantic crossing from Southampton, England to New York, with the 11-day cruise onboard the Norwegian Gem. After returning from the Norwegian Gem, they enjoyed an overnight in New York, before boarding the Queen Mary 2 again on January 3rd 2015 for the return voyage to Southampton.
In addition, to the groups mentioned above, there was a large number of children, teen and young adults approximately 600. Since most schools were out of session this is to be expected especially on a family oriented cruise line like Norwegian.
The weather was unusually and exceptionally nice. The first day out of New York (12/23), the temperature was 60 Degrees, sunshine and very calm seas. We were extremely grateful for the nice warm and calm weather because this particular cruise had 3 days at sea from New York to Puerto Rico. The 3rd day (Christmas Day) was scheduled to be at sea because in all ports, most shops, tourism attractions, tour operators and Taxi's would be closed. December 25 is considered a holiday. Since the Norwegian Gem was traveling at a slower speed it was nice to encounter the warmer weather early on.
The 3-days at sea went quickly with activities to keep everyone busy. Activities included sunbathing; reading; swimming; the gym; the Spa; shuffleboard; basketball; bingo; people watching; shopping in the gift shops; selecting shore excursions; making dinner reservations for the specialty restaurants; enjoying a different show every evening and more.
Onboard everyone had the holiday spirit. Select passengers chose to decorate their stateroom doors with banners of snowmen, Christmas trees, Santas, wreaths, battery operated holiday lights and even a menorah flag.
Everywhere throughout the ship were Christmas trees, decorative garland, larger than life gingerbread houses and more. Halfway through the cruise, some passengers starting eating the gingerbread houses. This became an issue so signs were placed on the gingerbread houses - "For Display Only". All the decorations certainly helped keep everyone in the holiday spirit.
Christmas Eve there was midnight mass held in the ship's main showroom - The Stardust.
When Christmas Day arrived, I was in my shorts, wearing sunglasses, sunscreen and short sleeve shirt. It was 80 degrees with bright, warm sunshine. People were in the pool and whirlpools while others sunbathed and the band played tropical tunes. When the band was not playing Christmas carols were played by the DJ. Somehow the "12 Days of Christmas" and 80 Degree weather seem like polar opposites. This was not your traditional vision of the holiday - with snow and warm clothes. I had to keep reminding myself it was December 25th.
Christmas night dinner was a formal night and there was a traditional Christmas menu in the main dining rooms including a turkey dinner with all the fixings; Baked Ham; Beef Wellington and more.
Everyone was in the holiday spirit - wishing each other "Merry Christmas" There were carolers (crew members) who led sing-alongs with passengers in the public rooms and dining rooms, helping to spread the holiday cheer.
Norwegian Cruise Line also created a special show - "the Holiday Spectacular" which featured the ships singers and dancers.
Once in port, there were some holiday decorations but the decorations did seem a little sparse. Three exceptional decorations caught my eye was 1) the large Nativity scene in the center of the Old City in San Juan and 2) the large Christmas tree and Santa at the pier exit at St. Maarten. In St. Kitts, 3) there were live monkeys dressed in Santa Suits (I am not kidding) and people were posing with the monkeys for a fee.
After visiting the ports of call, we then began our trip from Tortola back to New York.
On New Year's Eve, Norwegian Cruise Line had various celebrations under weigh simultaneously. In the main atrium, the huge, 2 deck television screen played the New Years Events live from New York's Time Square, while dance music played and holiday partiers danced. Just prior to mid-night was the official count-down and the release of hundreds of balloons on partiers below.
At the same time, up on the pool deck, others dance to a DJ in the open air. There was a giant ice sculpture of the numbers "2014". At midnight, the captain smashed the "4" and it was replace with a "5" carved out of ice. In addition, one of the whirlpools was drained and filled with ice and used as a cooler to keep the bottle of bubbly cold.
In the smaller atrium, near the wine and martini bar, the tropical band played live music for listening and dancing.
In the Spinnaker Lounge the ship's band played live music and kept revelers on their feet and finally in Bliss (the ship's disco), music filled the room.
There was complementary Champaign earlier in the evening and at midnight to welcome in the new year, as well as a New Year's buffet featuring select specialties.
Crew member also took part in the holiday celebration, recruited to assist with the distribution of Champaign and other party preparation, clean up and crowd control. The crew memebers seemed to smile more and some even incorporated a dance move into their work.
Norwegian Cruise Line has also added some niceties to their cruise experience. After spending a day in port shopping, seeing the sights or sunbathing on the warm beach, you are welcomed back with a cool towel accompanied by an ice pop, fruit punch or glass of cold water.
On the final day of the cruise, off the coast of Virginia, we encountered clear, sunny skies, cool temperatures (50s) but there were 70 mile-an-hour-winds. Steaming back to New York at full speed, The Norwegian Gem handled the weather conditions well with very little movement.
Overall the Christmas/New Years Cruise was a great experience. It did lack some of the tradition but it was a new and different type of holiday. My 16 year old daughter and 19 years old son, both enjoyed the vacation and stated they would go again. The itinerary was great and featured some of the best islands of the Caribbean. The New Year's celebration was a great time and enjoyed by all of those onboard.
From a price perspective, these cruises are sold at a premium - 50%-100% above "discounted" fares. This is because demand for vacations during the holiday times is extremely high.
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