About the author
Hans M Hirschi loves cruising, always with his husband and their son Sascha. Hirschi is the author of contemporary LGBT fiction and a Stonewall Awards nominee. His most recent novel, The Golden One–Blooming, is a new take on the fantasy genre. Books two and three in the series will be released this year. His travel and cruise experiences tend to find their way into his writing. He’s also working as a tour guide in his beloved Gothenburg. He lives with his family on a small island off the Swedish West coast.
Web: www.hirschi.se / www.gothenburgtours.se
Thinking of spending holiday season shipboard next year? Best to plan early both to get a good cabin on your first choice holiday cruise — and to get the best deals. You might want to give your sweetie a pair of holiday cruise tickets for Valentine’s Day. Wondering what a holiday cruise is like? Below, gay novelist and world traveler Hans Hirschi shares his recommendations after his third holiday season at sea.
Christmas and New Year at sea? Is that something to look forward to? Having experienced holidays at sea three times now, I highly recommend the experience.
Cruising on the Norwegian Gem
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem for a twelve-day Caribbean cruise, leaving New York three days before Christmas. As New York is far from the string of pearl of islands south of the Sargasso Sea, we knew we would be spending three days on the open sea before arriving in Puerto Rico in the afternoon of Christmas Day. We also faced three sea days on the way home, leaving St. Thomas on December 30th.
The Gem is my favorite ship in the NCL fleet — not very big, but large enough to offer plenty of variety. Fifteen decks, built in 2007, completely remodeled in 2015. We had sailed on her, the same itinerary in 2014 and it had been a great cruise. This time was possibly even better, as the crew was simply outstanding.
The food onboard is always delicious and it’s hard to choose where to eat. Even the main dining halls offer delicious choices. There was usually plenty of space in the specialty dining restaurants. Cagney’s and The Bistro offer the best atmosphere, however La Cucina left us disappointed, with a cold and noisy atmosphere, and not very Italian.
Like most cruise lines, NCL has daily LGBT meet-ups. This was the first time we actually met with a group of gay travelers and we had a great cruise together, meeting up in the nightclub every day before dinner for cocktails and a chat.
Gem boasts a big theater with daily performances, a nightclub, plenty of bars, buffet restaurants, lounges, a spa, and a fully-equipped gym. The pool area has two pools, four jacuzzis and a slide for the kids. The ship also offers a basketball court, a climbing wall, chess, checkers and shuffleboard games.
What do you need for Christmas on board?
Not much, really. We had requested a Christmas tree for our suite. It’s amazing to smell the delicate scent of a real spruce tree standing there, fully decorated and colorfully lit every time you walk into your cabin. On Christmas Eve, we also found a cute gingerbread house with a ton of candy in both of our staterooms.
Needless to say, we also needed milk and cookies to help Sascha get ready for Santa’s visit. Our butler Teresa provided us with enough cookies to feed every elf in the North Pole! Christmas on a ship isn’t different from Christmas in a hotel. Carols are blasting from every onboard speaker 24×7, the movie channels play Holiday movies (too) and the entire ship is decorated with Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and on Christmas Day, many crew members wore Santa hats. (Some of them looked quite cute with their holiday head gear.)
How gay are holiday cruises?
Not more than usual, although one might (falsely?) think that more single people might enjoy a getaway. The LGBT get-togethers were well-attended this time, in part because of a large English contingency of cruisers that had combined a trip across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary to continue on the Gem and then return to Southampton on the Cunard vessel again. We met six Brits, two Canadians and a couple from New Jersey, and we quickly bonded. It’s funny how a group of people from completely different backgrounds can have so much fun together.
When we were on the Gem in 2014, it had been a year after my mother had passed away, and to surprise my dad on Christmas Eve (when most Europeans celebrate Christmas), I had asked the head chef to make us our traditional family meal, Beef Wellington. It brought my dad to tears. This year, we asked for an encore, and the kitchen went above and beyond and we ate an exquisite meal in our suite’s dining room. The main dining rooms served regular meals that night, as per American tradition.
We knew that we would only have six hours in San Juan, arriving at four pm on Christmas Day, leaving again at ten pm. So no time really to do much sightseeing. Besides, we had already seen La Vieja in 2014. Instead, I had booked us a table at Marmalade, known as San Juan’s best restaurant. The restaurant lived up to its reputation. If you’re ever in the city, make sure to put it on your “mustn’t miss” list. They provided stellar food and the service.
New Year’s Eve
Celebrating New Year’s Eve on board is spectacular. Amazing menus, and different themed parties in every corner of the ship. The champagne around the ship flowed freely. Parties continued until the early hours of New Year’s Day.
In these “international” days, on a ship with travelers from all over the world, the celebrations kick off early, with Kiwis and Australians calling home early in the day, followed by the Chinese and other Asians, the Europeans before dinner, North Americans later in the evening. Come midnight, making phone calls and texting was almost impossible, as the limited bandwidth of the satellite connection proved unequal to demand.
Maybe because of my age, or perhaps as the result of an excess of excellent food, I felt tired and I went to bed shortly after midnight. It had been a good day, and I have no recollection of my head ever hitting the pillow.
Holiday escapism – to a degree
If you decide to take a vacation on a cruise ship over the Holidays you are an escapist by definition. You either don’t care for or you seek to escape holiday stress, family fights, turkey basking, company parties, etc. You might not even want to see a Christmas tree or hear Christmas carols. If that’s the case, go back to the top of this article. You won’t escape it completely. (If escaping Christmas is your goal, you might want to travel to a country where Christianity isn’t the majority religion. Or ignore holiday traditions from the comfort of your home, by making pizza at home or going out for sushi or Chinese food.)
Holiday cruising as a gay parent
“Will Santa know where I am?”
I can’t blame our son for asking, even though this isn’t the first time we’ve gone on a cruise for the Holidays. Actually, this was our third time, but it was the first time that he seemed to grasp the logistical implications for Santa Claus.
If you travel with children, as we do, there are certain logistical things to consider, depending on your child’s age. When our son Sascha was eighteen months old, and again, when he was three, we brought all of his presents aboard. We didn’t bring gifts this year. Instead, we celebrated a mini-Christmas the weekend before we flew to New York. Our son still got something under the tree on Christmas morning, but those were smaller presents we had purchased on site in New York before boarding the vessel, including–of course–Santa’s gift.
Almost six years old, he understands that it makes no sense to schlep the family presents across the Atlantic. However, had Santa not appeared, at least nibbled on the cookie and had a sip of the milk, Christmas would’ve been ruined! It’s all about priorities. And come up with a story on how Santa gets into your cabin without a fireplace! And where he parks the sleigh…
Choose the right holiday cruise for you
We received a written warning from the cruise line that there would be a lot of kids on the ship. There were supposedly 250 children on the Gem during our cruise. It didn’t bother us, nor did we feel it was a lot. Sascha always got a space at the Kids Club. However, the number of children didn’t diminish the amount of grown-up activities. It also didn’t make the voyage feel noisy or crowded — I enjoyed the time to finally get to read again after a busy writing period.
If you prefer a child-free environment, consider an adult-only cruise, like the upcoming Virgin ship. Smaller cruise ships offering fewer attractions for children and teens are another option. Several cruise lines also offer adults-only pools and/or retreat areas.
Keep in mind that most cruise lines are American and that the celebrations will be heavily influenced by those traditions. If your culture celebrates differently, you have to put in the extra effort to make it happen. The cruise lines follow mainstream culture, so if you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another winter holiday, you’ll want to make your own arrangements.
As for the destinations you visit, how they present themselves, will depend entirely on the dominant culture. We’ve only ever “holiday cruised” in the larger Caribbean area, where all countries celebrate Christmas. If you sail a holiday cruise to this area, you’ll get to enjoy various local traditions. Christmas carols played by a steel-band, decorated palm trees and certain local culinary traditions might just surprise you.
Adam’s 2019 Holiday Cruise Choices
Here are three of Adam’s picks. He can help you with these cruises and many others. Contact him here:
7 Night Caribbean – Western Cruise
Sailing Date: 12/22/2019 – 12/29/2019
Ship: Celebrity Edge
Itinerary: Ft. Lauderdale, Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Ft. Lauderdale
Ocean View From $2,799pp
Booking Window: January 11 – January 31, 2019 • 4 free perks + savings + 50% reduced 3rd/4th guest cruise fares.
Book an ocean-view or above on select Alaska and Caribbean sailings and receive specialty dining for two & additional $50 on board credit if booked through us by January 31st.
AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES
15 Night South American Coast Cruise
Sailing Date: 12/21/2019 – 1/5/2020
Ship: Azamara Pursuit
Itinerary:Buenos Aires, Montevideo (2 Days), Santos, IlhaBela, Parati, Buzios, Rio de Janeiro (2 Days), Copacabana (2 Days), Punta del Este, Buenos Aires
Inside from $4,349 pp
Booking Window: December 8 – February 28, 2019
Second guest 50% off plus Free Unlimited Internet for one device. Additional $200 on board credit if booked through us by February 28th
Christmas Markets On The Danube (2019) 7 Nights December 20th
Cruise from Budapest to Vilsho.Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia
Was $3,099PP NOW $2,599PP