ABOARD THE OCEANIA INSIGNIA — Santa Claus arrived at Oceania’s Insignia right on schedule on Christmas morning, but this being a luxury cruise line with no facilities or programs for children, there was only a handful of youngsters aboard. Still, each was called by name to meet the Jolly Old Elf seated in the stairway landing of the great hall surrounded by garlands and Christmas greenery. And each received a wrapped gift and was invited to sit on Santa’s lap.
After the kids took their turn, the adults filed in for photos with Santa, selfies and posed shots taken by family and friends. Twenty- and thirty-something gals got the giggles seated on Santa’s thigh, something the white-bearded gent seemed to enjoy. Up one level, servers poured eggnog for all.
The Insignia was decked out in tasteful holiday finery when we boarded two days earlier. Gingerbread houses stood at the entrance to each of the four restaurants and an entire gingerbread Christmas village depicting scenes right out of Dr. Seuss was tucked into the corner of the upper hall. The kitchen staff was still working on it when I took my first walk through the ship. White icing was spread on miniature paths to simulate snow and meringue mushrooms were gently positioned along the route to pose as snowmen.
Throughout the ship Christmas trees dotted public spaces, poinsettias brightened tables and stairwells. A few passengers got into the act, decorating their stateroom doors. Returning to our stateroom after dinner we found a wrapped gift on our bed: a lovely glass ornament in a velveteen box.
With both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day full days at sea, we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the festivities, quite a contrast from past holidays spent driving in a snowstorm to a relative’s house or sweating over a hot oven in my kitchen and diving into a counter full of dirty dishes. Still I missed spending time with loved ones, especially the youngest in our family.
Christmas Eve happened to coincide this year with the lighting of the first Chanukah candle. Jewish passengers gathered for a simple, intimate service in a café off the pool deck. With no rabbi on board, passengers took matters into their own hands, taking turns leading readings, lighting the menorah and singing traditional songs. Someone asked where everyone was from, and voices rose from around the deck: New Jersey, Arizona, Florida, Mexico, Germany, France.
Two Christian services took place in the ship’s main lounge. Passengers attending the larger, beginning at 11 p.m. Christmas Eve, filled two-thirds of the seating. The ship’s band, string quartet and performers provided music and led the singing of traditional carols “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” In place of ordained clergy, the cruise director led the hour-long nondenominational service with Bible readings and sermon by passengers and crew members. A shorter version of the service drew a smaller group of passengers on Christmas morning.
Plenty of secular holiday diversions filled the roster of activities, too: a screening of the 2009 remake of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” starring Jim Carrey, a Christmas sing-along lead by the ship’s pianist in Martini’s Lounge in the morning followed by a White Christmas Martini Tasting in the afternoon.