Yule is more cool on a lux­ury liner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

I LOVE Christ­mas at sea. There is such a fes­tive at­mos­phere on board, with beau­ti­ful dec­o­ra­tions, a crew choir singing car­ols, a tra­di­tional Christ­mas din­ner with all the trim­mings, eggnogs and mulled wine.

A pri­est is usu­ally on board to cel­e­brate mass at mid­night on Christ­mas Eve and an in­ter­de­nom­i­na­tional ser­vice is al­ways held on Christ­mas morn­ing.

One of my most mem­o­rable ship­board Christ­mases was a seven­night round-cruise from Honolulu on the lux­u­ri­ous Con­sti­tu­tion of the nowde­funct Amer­i­can Hawaii Cruises.

This was the ship that Grace Kelly’s fa­ther char­tered to take her and fam­ily and friends across the At­lantic from the US to the Prin­ci­pal­ity of Monaco for her mar­riage to Prince Rainier.

I had met Princess Grace in 1971 when I was work­ing for Woman’s Day and cov­ered Shah Reza Pahlavi’s spec­tac­u­lar cel­e­bra­tions for the 2500th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Per­sian em­pire.

On board Con­sti­tu­tion, I spent many hours in the read­ing/writ­ing lounge ded­i­cated to her mem­ory and had many Princess Grace cock­tails, a de­cep­tively in­no­cent-tast­ing drink of melon and ba­nana liqueurs served in a re­gal high­ball glass, topped with a pur­ple orchid.

A farewell deck party was in full swing when Con­sti­tu­tion sailed past the Christ­mas lights of Honolulu at 9.15pm on De­cem­ber 20 to re­turn the fol­low­ing Satur­day, De­cem­ber 27.

The first day was a sea day, when the cruise di­rec­tor gave a talk about shore ex­cur­sions.

He was very funny when he came to the part about he­li­copter tours.

‘‘We don’t want to know what you weigh to­day,’’ he told would-be fly­ers. ‘‘We need to know what you think you are go­ing to weigh af­ter a few days on this ship.’’

A de­light­ful young Amer­i­can stew­ard named Austin, who was tak­ing a gap year, taught me to say ‘‘Mele Ka­liki­maka’’, which is Hawai­ian for Merry Christ­mas.

He also taught me the words to a song that was most ap­pro­pri­ate: ‘‘Just hang loose / just have fun / sip­ping on a drink / ly­ing in the sun / don’t try to fix it, it ain’t no use / ’cause when you’re in Hawaii you should just hang loose.’’

I must ad­mit I re­neged on singing Austin’s song at the pas­sen­ger tal­ent show. How­ever, I did at­tend the hula and ukulele grad­u­a­tion, wear­ing the lei I had made.

Calls at Hilo and Kona fol­lowed in quick suc­ces­sion, and then there was an overnight on De­cem­ber 24 at the is­land of Kauai, where the place to dine in those days was Grace Gus­lan­der’s fa­mous Coco Palms Ho­tel, a trop­i­cal fan­tasy be­side a sil­very la­goon that at­tracted guests from around the world. It was the lo­ca­tion for the Elvis Presley film Blue Hawaii.

Still at Kauai next day, De­cem­ber 25, we cel­e­brated Christ­mas in grand style at the cap­tain’s ta­ble with roast tur­key and giblet gravy, plum pud­ding with brandy sauce.

My hus­band and I had de­vel­oped a kind of celebrity sta­tus by then, sim­ply be­cause most of the other 796 pas­sen­gers were from the US and we were Aus­tralians.

While I was de­lib­er­at­ing whether to take a slice of the choco­late yule­tide log or have another de­li­cious mince­meat pie, a par­tic­u­larly cu­ri­ous lady with a loud voice who had been bom­bard­ing me with ques­tions through­out the voy­age said: ‘‘Hey, He­len, there’s some­thing I hope you can tell me.’’

On a pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sion she had com­pli­mented me on my com­mand of the English lan­guage and asked where I had stud­ied it.

Another time she wanted to know if kan­ga­roos hopped hap­pily along Syd­ney’s main streets.

But this ques­tion took the Christ­mas cake.

‘‘When do you have Christ­mas in Aus­tralia?’’ she asked.

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