Well, the Festive Season is well and truly approaching as I write and this will be the last of my articles before Christmas Day, so why don’t I take this opportunity to describe what a truly magical time this is on board the Cunard ships and, I’m sure, on the other cruise lines’ vessels as well!
A ship’s Captain gets “roped in” for many things and one of them is to play Santa Claus for the Officers’ Secret Santa present-giving in the evening of Christmas Eve! Complete with full Santa costume and white beard worn, I might say! In truth, it’s a lovely occasion and a great tradition that we all buy a gift for one of the other Officers and they are not supposed to know who has bought for them! There are usually some highly amusing and pertinent choices of gift, of course!
Our itineraries almost always allow for December 25th to be a day at sea, rather than a day in port anywhere. This means that all the lovely ship traditions can be followed on the day – one of those being that in the morning the Captain leads an interdenominational service of carols and readings for the guests in the main theatre. The readings are made by members of the ship’s crew and I always liked to get as many different nationalities of crew as possible involved. I say that because at the last count, we had an incredible 60 different nationalities within the 1250 crewmembers of Queen Mary 2!
Almost immediately after that, I and my Officers (and my wife too!) would head for the Crew Mess, which is where the crew eat, for the great Festive tradition of the Officers serving the crew their lunch, instead of it being the other way around for the rest of the year! I really enjoyed those occasions and so did the 1250 or so crew on board. I used to lose count of the number of crew that wanted photos (or selfies) with me in my Santa hat as I served then their various types of Christmas dinners! Roast suckling pig and boiled rice was the Filipino crew members particular favorite, if I recall correctly!
Some ships I’ve been on have even had a genuine Santa arrive on board – complete with a welcome ship-wide announcement from the Captain, of course! Somehow Santa used to appear right at the top of the ship’s funnel before making his way down onto the decks to mingle with the guests with plenty of Ho Ho Ho-ing! It was always strange how much he used to resemble one of the ship’s Engineer Officers, though!!
Next on the agenda was Captain and Officers’ Carol Singing for guests, held in the Grand Lobby before each evening dinner sitting. We had (hopefully) rehearsed for this for a few evenings beforehand, under the watchful eye and guidance of the Entertainment Director!
Also in the Grand Lobby would be the Gingerbread Village – beautifully made and presented by the Executive Chef and his Pastry Chefs. This was always an amazing sight to see and a great backdrop for some festive family and group photos for the guests.
After that, just about all that remained in the day was of course the Christmas Dinner and as Captain I would either host a guest dinner table in the main Dining Room – particularly if we had good friends or some of our regular guests sailing with us. Otherwise, some years it was equally pleasant to take Christmas Dinner in the Officers Mess and enjoy the atmosphere in there – perhaps pulling crackers and exchanging our gifts with each other.
Most of our voyages itineraries would mean that we were arriving into a port the next morning on December 26th, so that would be about it for the day, due to the inevitable early rise the next morning. I truly recommend that you spend at least one festive season on a Cunard voyage, as it really is one of those things that should be on everyone’s list!
Having retired from sea in September, at least I know for sure that I will be spending this Christmas at home, but wherever you are in the world I wish you a very happy and peaceful Holiday Season and safe travels.