Christmas On A Cruise Ship - Aboard the Westerdam, Holland America Line

The Westerdam sitting off of the Mexican Coast during a Christmas cruise.

Many think that boarding a Christmas cruise takes them away from long held traditions and customs.  But on a recent Holland America Line cruise to Mexico, I discovered that isn't always the case.  Sure, cruising an ocean can't duplicate years of holiday memories, but it can create new ones and might be the start of a new tradition.

The Atrium of the Westerdam with Christmas decorations.

At Christmastime on a cruise ship you will definitely see some decorations.  On the Westerdam several of the public spaces were very festive and most of the ship had some kind of holiday adornments.  The central lobby of the ship, known as The Atrium, had a nice tree and poinsettias.  It was often surrounded by groups having photos taken by the ship's photographer.

Stairway leading to the Atrium of Westerdam decorated for Christmas.

The stairs between decks were decorated, as were the railings on the balconies on each level of the atrium.  Since The Atrium of the Westerdam was a central traffic area, it gave plenty of opportunities for viewing these ornaments. 

Decorations around the Lido Market buffet on deck 9.

Holiday flowers, plants, and small Christmas trees were located around the ship, like these in the Lido Restaurant/Buffet.  You can read more about the Westerdam HERE.

A gingerbread village.

On the Westerdam, a portion of one of the lounges was converted into a beautiful gingerbread town depicting landmarks from around the world.  The Holland American Line kitchen staff outdid themselves on this yummy display!

A gingerbread London Bridge with train and lighthouse.

During this Mexico cruise, departing Long Beach California, Christmas Eve was the first evening at sea.  It featured a Vigil Mass, Hanukkah Service, Midnight Mass, and Midnight Interdenominational Services.  In the lounges, the entertainers offered up holiday favorites.  The entertainment staff also spent the evening singing carols in various locations around the ship.  The crew of the Westerdam presented a Christmas Concert featuring traditional songs from their home countries.

Christmas morning in the Atrium of the HAL Westerdam.

December 25th was a day at sea as we headed toward Mexico's Cabo San Lucas.  It had snowed confetti overnight in The Atrium, and everyone was waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus.  The ship's Daily Navigator newsletter said we should expect the arrival of a special visitor that morning in the main theater, the Vista Lounge.

Entertainment staff entertains in the main Vista Lounge stage.

On Christmas Morning, the ship's entertainers took to the Vista Lounge stage and sang carols as passengers awaited the arrival of Santa.  The Captain then made a ship-wide announcement that something unusual was spotted in the water off the port side of the ship.  A boat crew was dispatched to investigate.  Sure enough, they returned with Santa Claus and a few of his helpers.  A video screen in the lounge showed Santa as he moved through the ship, being distracted at every turn.  First it was the buffet, then the casino, then the salon and spa.  His helpers would constantly remind him he had children waiting.  

Santa has arrived at The Main Stage on the Westerdam.

Santa found his way to the Vista Lounge stage and was greeted by shouts of glee from children of all ages.  He took to the stage as the ship's staff passed out cookies to the watching audience.

Santa has gifts for all the children.

A line of excited children quickly formed, and the jolly old man began passing out wrapped packages.  In traditional fashion, most of the kids were excited to meet Santa on Christmas, but others were a bit confused and shy.

Westerdam Atrium lobby after Christmas party.

It was a busy morning on the Westerdam, and someone had a lot of cleaning up to do in The Atrium.  Over the next few days the decorations slowly disappeared, and the ship took on the normal, everyday appearance.  A few other observations of this holiday cruise: As would be expected, lots of families were on-board, and the ship was full.  Wikipedia says the capacity is 1848 passengers; we had 2065.  I'm sure most of this was extra kids staying with parents.  At times the ship felt crowded, but you could almost always find a quiet spot to sit and read or have a drink. 

Mexico as seen from the promenade deck on the Holland America Westerdam.

Mexico is a beautiful country, and the Western coast is a great cruise destination.  During this seven day cruise, we visited Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.  We traveled 2169 NM with an average speed of appx. 16 knots.  You can listen to a podcast about this Christmas Cruise HERE.


(NOTE: Four months after this cruise, the Westerdam entered dry-dock for routine maintenance and some upgrades.  It was nice to see that Holland America Line is keeping this already beautiful ship in tip-top shape.)

Renovations aboard the M/S Paul Gauguin

m/s Paul Gauguin Cruise Ship

As cruise ships go the m/s Paul Gauguin is unique, not just that for the past fourteen years it has cruised the same Tahitian waters, but it was one of the first small luxury cruise ships. I was pleased to read that the ship had just completed a significant renovation. Having cruised on her not long after her original christening my memories were of a sparkling new ship with deep, dark woods and shinny fixtures. Over the years her ownership has changed, as has the paint on her stack, but it is good to hear she is back in all her splendor.

Renovations were completed during a recent 11 day dry dock in Australia. Extensive work was done to both the interior and exterior of the ship. The Gauguin's cabins and public spaces were all enhanced during this $7 million upgrade.  For more details visit the PGCruises website.

With her exotic ports-of-call, this ship is still a favorite for romantics. I suggest a few days in Papeete before boarding to get caught up with the time zone change. Over the years, "arrive early" this been the one suggestion I always hear from ships staffs, especially in far flung locals such as this.

Pamela Ford with Black Pearl necklace.
Memories flood back from that cruise 13 years ago with my girlfriend who would later become my Wife. In one of the little island shops I bought her a Tahitian black pearl. For several years that black pearl graced her neck from around a chain, it then moved to a custom setting on her finger. She enjoyed that pearl for 13 years, but sadly the ring now graces her daughters hand. Last year ovarian cancer took my beautiful wife Pamela Ford at the age of 50.

Seeing the press release on the m/s Paul Gauguin renovation took me back to my photo archives and the memories of what was the perfect start to a fantastic life together.... And the reoccurring question I had for Pamela after every cruise since...."was it as nice at the Paul Gauguin?"... The answer was always "No"....

Pamela Ford, 1960-2011 & m/s Paul Gauguin
All Photos From Archive - Copyright Murray On Travel

Link to Orignal Cruise & Photos