Christmas in the Caribbean
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve here in Australia. It will be very different to last year’s celebration, not only for me, but for people all over the world.
This time last year I was on a Christmas cruise through the Caribbean. It has become one of the highlights of my travelling life. The previous few years had been a very hard time for me, and while I wanted to celebrate the festive season, I wanted to do it far from home.
I boarded Carnival Magic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, six months after the death of my mother. I had also lost my dad around this time two years before. I needed people and laughter, good food, carols and joyful celebration – not a Christmas spent at home alone with my memories.
With cruising off the table until this terrible pandemic is behind us, I am so grateful I got to have this wonderful experience while it was still possible. And while I know there is currently a lot of concern about cruising, and understandably so, there are plenty of people who can’t wait until it is safe to cruise again.
For me this eight day cruise through the islands of the Southern Caribbean was just what I needed. It had been a long time since I had really thrown myself into Christmas. As I’d hoped, everyone on board was filled with the Christmas spirit. A lot of the credit for that must go to Magic’s cruise director, Simon London, who brought such enthusiasm, professionalism, joy and kindness to the job.
A lot of families were travelling so they could meet up on board and spend Christmas together, without the hassle of hosting the big day. Others were cruising during the holidays in order to escape spending time with their families. The remainder had travelled from colder parts of the United States, keen to escape winter, choosing instead to enjoy their Christmas cheer with a dose of sunshine and dazzling white sand instead of snow.
I boarded Magic a few days before Christmas and left her just before New Year’s Eve, which I spent on the beach back in Fort Lauderdale. It was perfect, although a cruise that also included New Year’s Eve would have been even more perfect, but those cruises had all booked out by the time I came up with the idea, or were just too expensive.
Once we were settled on board, staff handed out plush Santa hats and brass jingle bells attached to pretty red velvet bracelets. During times when everyone gathered in the atrium to celebrate, the hats went on and the bells came out. There were more than five thousand people on board, so you can imagine the joyful noise of all those bells combined. When you add to that, thousands of raised voices singing Christmas carols, it becomes something you will never forget.
As we inched closer to Christmas I noticed people had brought along their own Christmas decorations, which they attached to their cabin doors. I’ll have to remember that for next time – and I have to believe there will be a next time.
Soon the people on this cruise, predominantly Americans, began to feel like family. Everyone I met was truly friendly and kind - including me in the fun if they felt I stood back a little too far. Most people wore some kind of Christmas finery, little girls in bright red dresses, boys in suits, dads and grandpas in Christmas sweaters and mothers and grandmas from head to toe in sparkles.
Each night in the dining room at least one of the waiters sang a Christmas song, and I often heard singing in the hallway outside my room. It was joy that was contagious on this ship.
Christmas Eve was definitely a highlight. It was so moving and, yes magical, that I did not want it to end. Dressed to the nines in our hats and jingle bells, we began by singing several Christmas carols together. One little girl came as Lulu from The Grinch, complete with tall hair and striped dress. She was a big hit with guests and staff alike. Her mum had obviously gone to so much trouble to make Christmas special.
As we all stood around the several floors of the atrium – the heart and soul of the ship - and jingled, it sounded exactly like Santa’s sleigh making its approach. People started looking up and pointing, and sure enough Santa was making his way down in one of the glass elevators. Simon, who is over six feet tall and was dressed as Buddy the Elf, started jumping up and down shouting “It’s Santa! I know him! I know him!” It made me laugh. The dazzling tree had been lit, Santa was in the house, and Christmas was just one sleep away.
Christmas morning we met in the theatre to hear British born Simon read Frosty the Snowman from his cosy armchair in front of the fireplace. There were dancing sugarplums, and every child on the ship gathered on the stage to sing carols. It was all quite wonderful. I spent the afternoon wandering around Curacao’s colourful buildings and admiring the stunning Christmas decorations. I returned to the ship in time for dinner and a beautiful acapella performance of Silent Night by the wait staff in the darkened dining room. It nearly brought me to tears.
Afterwards we gathered in the atrium for some more carols. We were all singing our hearts out, when everyone gave a collective gasp and turned their eyes skyward, a cry of excitement rippling through the large crowd. A blind girl stood next to me.
“What’s happening?” she asked me. “What do you see?”
“It’s snowing,” I replied in wonder. “It’s snowing inside the ship.”
As the soft white flakes fell all around us, my heart swelled with gratitude. I had been given the magical Christmas of my dreams.
So wherever you are this holiday season, whether you are home alone, or with family, or friends, I wish you a safe, happy and peaceful Christmas. The last year has been hard, but hopefully through all that, we have learned more about gratitude and kindness, and discovered what is truly important to us. May 2021 bring us all the ability to travel safely once more. I, for one cannot wait.