Yule is more cool on a luxury liner
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.