Shiho Fukada  /  AP file
Lisa Westberg, of Sweden, watches dancers aboard a sightseeing boat as it cruises the Hudson River in New York, Thursday, night Nov. 24, 2005.
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updated 12/1/2005 2:41:58 PM ET 2005-12-01T19:41:58

Members of the Cruise Critic community have been busy of late offering tips and advice on the topic of cruising over the holidays. Truth is, in most cases a cruise over the Christmas - New Year's time frame is an utterly unique experience -- in ambience, in onboard activities and even at ports of call.

So, what is it like? What are some of the "must pack" items you'll need? What happens if folks at ports of call are celebrating so hard that nothing's open? Read on. We've compiled a question and answer feature -- we asked the questions and y'all provided the answers -- that reveals some wise and witty tips for getting the most out of your holiday cruise.

CHRISTMAS

Can you decorate your cabin?

"You certainly CAN pack a tree! Go to any craft store or discount store and purchase a six- to nine-inch artificial tree. Usually the base is a block of wood and the limbs are wire covered with plastic 'needles.' Push all limbs towards the top of the tree (you can fluff it back into shape later) and it becomes the size of a coke bottle. You can even fit it into your carry-on.

"You can 'donate' it to the ship if you do not want to take it home. You can use a hot glue gun to glue pompoms or small ornaments to it before leaving home. A small strand of white lights is also easy to pack, although you may want to bring a converter as outlets are usually difficult to come by on a ship. I used to bring a wreath, too, but it was stolen from my door one year so I decided to make a fake foamy one instead for subsequent cruises."

Slideshow: 2005 Holiday Highlights Another thought: "We had multiple pictures of Santa taped to the door, which we had wrapped in foil. Our door also had a few cards from home and even a picture or two of our past Christmas' to share with our fellow cruisers. Inside our cabin we had a huge string of lights taped all around the room and since we had an inside cabin it made the room feel much larger and brighter. We also had an inflatable Rudolf, many different Christmas cards, a whopping 18-inch-tall Christmas tree, a little holly, and -- we stockings we hung by the mirror with care!"

And another tip: "Bring an extension cord since most cabins are short on electrical outlets."

What are some other absolute essentials to pack?

"Pack small gifts for the people you're traveling with -- that way you'll have gifts to open on Christmas."

Or: "Onboard shops can be a godsend but I don’t remember seeing wrapping paper and ribbons for sale -- so stick some festive tissue paper and some tape into your suitcase."

And in the whatever-floats-the-boat category comes this one: "Do they serve eggnog? My mom and I have nog every year (usually while we're cooking Xmas dinner). Or do I have to pack a bottle of Mr. Boston?" The advice: "Some ships do -- some don't. To be on the safe side bring your own."

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What’s the dress code for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

"The Holiday sailings tend to be a bit more dressy. Christmas will be formal, but Christmas Eve (midnight Mass and Carols in the Centrum) is also dressy, though not a designated formal night (bring your Santa hat)."

Since the holidays are such a family-oriented time are ships overrun with kids?

"Some cruise lines limit the number of kids -- I believe Princess sets a limit at 200. Also, Royal Caribbean's new behavior rules should weed out the troublemakers."

What's the best strategy, itinerary-wise, on the debate concerning ports-of-call visits on actual holidays?

"We were fortunate and did not spend Christmas in the port but actually were steaming towards Aruba."

More on this one:

"I have been in email communication with a dive shop (our ship calls at Barbados Christmas Day) who provides snorkel tours which we are interested in. He said the city wouldn't be shut down totally. Sales pitch probably! We may end up just taking a cab around the island if nothing exciting jumps out at us."

Another one:

"Holidays might be a good time to sign up for cruise line's own shore excursions but they won't necessarily offer the regular menu of tours."

"I'm about to throw in the towel trying to find Barbados tour options for Christmas day, other than those offered by Celebrity!"

Still More:

"We were in Barbados last Xmas day on Infinity. The fact that Xmas does limit your options. My wife and I took the submarine tour of the reefs and my brother-in-law opted for a private taxi tour of the island. Not much else to do, but I can tell you that the shops by the pier are open for business as well."

NEW YEAR'S EVE

What’s the big deal about New Year's Eve on a cruise ship?

"We've been on two New Year's cruises and they were phenomenal! After our first, my husband said that he'd like to be onboard for every New Year's celebration if we could. The entire evening is special and festive, and it is like celebrating with a huge family that is just happy to be together. It is a very special happening to be at sea for New Year's. Everyone should do it at least once!"

More: "We sailed New Year's on the Veendam 2002, and will be on the Rotterdam this Xmas and New Year's. Had a great time...lots of party favors, hats and noisemakers, and the free champagne flowed all night."

Traditionally, what's the dress code on New Year's Eve?

"We've cruised New Year's Eve on Holland America a number of times and it has always been a formal night...and a wonderful one at that. Everyone really gets into the festivity and dresses beautifully for the evening."

What is essential to pack for New Year's?

"We packed a nice bottle of champagne and drank it at our New Year's Eve dinner in the dining room. We also packed a can of black-eyed peas (and a can opener) to eat on New Year's Day -- they're supposed to bring you good luck for the whole year."

Cruise Critic, which launched in 1995, is a comprehensive cruise vacation planning guide providing objective cruise ship reviews, cruise line profiles, destination content on 125+ worldwide ports, cruise bargains, tips, industry news, and cruise message boards.

Cruise Critic has been honored by the Society of American Travel Writers with its Lowell Thomas Award and was named in Travel + Leisure's "Best 35 Travel Sites" list.

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