Spending the Festival of Lights on the water

The Cunard Cruises ship "Queen Elizabeth." Cunard tailors on-board offerings for Hanukkah during voyages that take place during the holiday. Credit: Brian Burnell via Wikimedia Commons.
The Cunard Cruises ship "Queen Elizabeth." Cunard tailors on-board offerings for Hanukkah during voyages that take place during the holiday. Credit: Brian Burnell via Wikimedia Commons.

Holidays and cruises, which both accentuate good times, are a natural match for passengers and service providers alike—and Hanukkah is no exception. When you sail during the holiday season, you are treated to built-in parties and feast-quality meals, with the added bonus of trained staff members being there to cook, decorate and entertain, and even take care of the cleanup afterward.

Most operators, without offering specific Hanukkah-themed cruises, tailor onboard offerings to the Festival of Lights for their general voyages that take place during the eight-day holiday.

“We don’t promote the cruises that fall under the holiday as actual theme cruises, but we do decorate the ships with menorahs, dreidels, and other festive decoration,” Britt Rabinovici, spokesperson for American Cruise Lines, told “The chef will offer a festive meal which includes brisket, potato pancakes, challah, and for dessert, jelly doughnuts or ‘sufganiyot.’ At the discretion of the cruise director, sometimes festive activities [such as music and games] are offered onboard as well.”

American Cruise Lines voyages that fall during Hanukkah include the New Orleans Roundtrip (Mississippi River) starting Nov. 23; New Orleans Roundtrip on Nov. 30; Historic South & Golden Isles on Nov. 23; Great Rivers of Florida on Nov. 23; and Great Rivers of Florida on Nov. 30. All of the cruises last seven nights and eight days. American offers its newly built 150-passenger paddle wheeler boat, the Queen of the Mississippi, and the operator is building a second, 165-passenger paddle wheeler that will enter service in early 2014.

Cunard Cruises, like American, offers onboard Hanukkah commemorations.

“Hanukkah items should already be on board all vessels, set up in high traffic areas,” Laurel Davis, spokesman for Cunard, told Davis said rabbis would be sailing on all of the Cunard ships—Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

Davis said the Hanukkah menu on board would be a selection of kosher meals, including potato latkes.

Evily Giannopoulos, spokesperson at Disney Cruise Line, said Disney ships offer Hanukkah services each day from Nov. 28-Dec. 5, the duration of the holiday this year.

To kick off the holiday season, Giannopoulos said, special “Very Merrytime Cruises” begin Nov. 9, with a seven-night western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy ship and a seven-night cruise of the Bahamas on the Disney Wonder, followed by a five-night western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic and a four-night Bahamas cruise on the Disney Dream departing Nov. 10.

“Holiday storytellers share tales of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa,” Giannopoulos told “The storytellers are from our entertainment team and vary by ship.”

Giannopoulos said the Hanukkah storytellers aboard the cruises cover the importance of Hanukkah, including speaking about the history of the menorah and the dreidel.

“The storyteller talks of some of the customs around Hanukkah celebrations, including the family meal, and also tells the story of the Maccabees that is often told at Hanukkah Celebrations,” Giannopoulos said.

Nov. 28, the first day of Hanukkah this year, coincides with Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever on the Gregorian calendar. As such, Hanukkah falls during this year’s Thanksgiving-themed voyages offered by Crystal Cruises—meaning more of everything for passengers traveling during that time.

“More educational programming, more unique local ingredients, and more guest chef dinners—including, for the first time ever, two Vintage Room Dinners—distinguish Crystal Cruises,” Susan Wichmann, manager of public relations at Crystal Cruises, told

Crystal’s fall wine and food-themed voyage, from Miami to Rio on Nov. 23, features an expert line-up with Hans Neuner, Portugal’s 2012 Chef of the Year; Rob Wilson, Culinary Institute of America graduate and master/executive chef at the Montage Laguna Beach; renowned mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim; and wine historian Nina Wemyss.

For Thanksgiving, Crystal offers a twist on the traditional five-course feast, which Wichmann said would be the highlight of the day on board. The Crystal Symphony ship’s Miami-Rio voyage is also a wine and food cruise, with renowned chefs and beverage experts hosting tastings, classes, and dinners featuring South American specialties throughout the journey. The Crystal Serenity ship, meanwhile, delves into Iberia, sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona by way of the Canary Islands and Morocco.

“Hanukkah will be festive with blue, white and silver floral arrangements,” Wichmann said. “There will be lightings of six-foot-tall menorah, morning get-togethers with a rabbi, and Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) for kids of all ages. Special Hanukkah meals will include gefilte fish, kosher chicken, matzo ball soup, and latkes.”

The exotic cruise aboard Crystal Symphony features six Brazilian ports (including one maiden call), two Caribbean islands, and a local overnight in Rio de Janeiro. Staff members source local ingredients and products during port visits, and experts incorporate them in new seven-course Vintage Room Dinners, prepared by each of the guest chefs, with wine pairings and edification offered by the guest wine expert.

Award-winning chef Neuner will showcase his modern, art-meets-technology approach to the Portuguese flavors that have influenced traditional Brazilian cuisine. In addition, guests can enjoy intimate hands-on cooking classes in Crystal’s galley as well as hands-on cocktail-crafting sessions, where guests learn how to make the local libations for friends and family back home.

Abou-Ganim, the mixologist, will give his twist to traditional local cocktails like the batida and caipirinha, using cachaça and local spices—with guests receiving a souvenir muddler to take with them.

“Without even leaving the ship, guests can see, taste, smell, feel, and learn about the ingredients, dishes, and beverages that only local foodies would know best, from an obscure ingredient to the gourmet side of regional culture,” said Toni Neumeister, vice president of Crystal’s food and beverage operations.

Besides Hanukkah, Wichmann suggested that New Year’s Eve—when Crystal travels around Antarctica—could be another holiday when one might consider spending time on the ocean.

“Both [of Crystal’s] ships will offer passengers a gala black tie optional dinner, followed by drinks, dancing, live music and a midnight countdown, with balloon drops in the atrium,” Wichmann said.

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