If there's one thing worse than being alone at Christmas, it's being alone in a port at Christmas.

Or so Captain William Kent of the Sun Princess informs me.

"If you're in port you invariably find everything's closed, and there's nothing to do," says the captain.

"Without a doubt Christmas at sea is far more fun because everybody's on board."

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For passengers aboard the Sun Princess during the 13-day itinerary out of Sydney, that goes double.

This year the 857ft ship will be marking the big day at sea on passage between Australia and New Caledonia.

Captain Kent would be the authority on this matter, having spent the last forty years on cruise ships. He has served in the top position aboard Princess cruise ships for the past fourteen and, as captain, he is at the centre of activities in the run up to Christmas.

Christmas at sea: Captain William Kent of the Sun Princess. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Christmas at sea: Captain William Kent of the Sun Princess. Photo / Thomas Bywater

Festive duties include carolling for guests and on Christmas Eve he helps set the mood for the big day at sea: "A bit like an old grandfather – I sit and read a Christmas tale to the children to the atrium."

It's good to know the busiest man on the ship can still find time to prepare the stage for a visit from Father Christmas.

The decorations are everywhere.

The decks are hung with bells and holly, 15000 baubles and a kilometre of Christmas lights. It's a festive display that wouldn't look out of place in Franklin Road.

After the New Zealand leg of this sailing finishes on the 16th there is just one more itinerary to Tasmania before the big cruise itself, sailing out of Sydney on the 24th.

Beneath the tinsel and festive appearance, food is the real star of the holiday cruise.
While on board the Captain is expected to attend a dangerous amount of Christmas lunches and dinners – but it's not at every meal he will be there to eat.

After attending the meals of guests and making sure everyone is well fed "officers then go on to serve the crew Christmas lunch."

"It's a tradition that dates back down for centuries to the British Navy," he explains.

Most of the crew will be working long hours over the festive period and will not be able to see family or loved ones while at sea – so keeping up the crew's spirits is vital to the ships smooth sailing.

"The ship's Christmas spirit is generated by the crew," says the captain. "If the crew are happy so too will be our guests."

One of the traditions specific to the Sun Princess involves the medical staff offering crew members morale-boosting bacon and egg rolls for breakfast.

Executive chef Frederico Femiano and F&B director Clara Nancy Lachaine get into the festive spirit aboard Sun Princess. Photo / Thomas Bywater
Executive chef Frederico Femiano and F&B director Clara Nancy Lachaine get into the festive spirit aboard Sun Princess. Photo / Thomas Bywater

But then again everything at this time of year revolves around food. Even the events and activities for guests to take part in.

Guests onboard the Sun Princess are invited to take part in a competition for gingerbread house building.

"We'll be preparing all their ingredients, and then the competition for everyone to take part," says the ships executive chef, Frederico Femiano.

"Then at the end we pick a winner, which will be displayed in the atrium."

Femiano speaks about the decorative gingerbread houses with great enthusiasm, but you can tell his real appetite is for the massive joint of roast ham.

Around his neck he wears the orange Chaîne des Rôtisseurs medallion – a decoration as bright as any festive bauble and an honour bestowed on the ship by the French guild for roast meat and carvery as table art.

Those looking forward to a Christmas roast will not be disappointed.

Though he warns the ships guests not to fill up on ham: "I believe we should save some space for the desert – It's always the final touch that concludes the meal."

Passengers with a sweet tooth will be treated to a choice of festive puddings including chocolate yule log and traditional panettone with zabaione cream. "It's really something we suggest the guests try," says proud Italian chef.

The Sun Princess will return to New Zealand in the New Year, sailing into Auckland on the 13th of January and 13th of February.