Christmas on a cruise ship

Christmas scene in New York, (photo by Neil Buchan-Grant)
Christmas scene in New York

In our search for the finest winter wonderlands around the world, we asked one of our key photographers, Neil Buchan-Grant, to tell us about the Christmas break he spent on the Queen Mary II heading to New York.

In December 2011, I boarded Cunard's flagship cruise liner, the Queen Mary II, at Southampton, bound for my first Christmas in New York

The ship is enormous and, once on board, I felt as if I was in some vast city, a strange landscape of science fiction and nostalgia. Warm honey-coloured glossy wood panelling and plush carpet stretched as far as the eye could see, and off in each direction lay a multitude of swanky bars and restaurants.

Before dinner one evening, as dusk settled, the Christmas lights shone brightly and reminded us of what lay ahead in New York. As pre-dinner guests arrived, most dressed in formal wear and elegant gowns, the room took on a very decadent buzz. Liveried staff served cocktails and canapés, and the atmosphere was completed when a New York jazz quartet started playing the sort of nostalgic but subtle standards that made you feel you were in an exclusive party in Manhattan.

Daytime activities included filling my lungs with bracing sea air up on the seventh deck, where 15 laps around the ship equalled a whopping five miles. There’s not much to see on a trans-Atlantic trip of course and, being December, I had to wrap up well. But, with a good playlist on my iPod, it was a joy to walk the polished wooden deck for an hour or two each day. This also brought the extra benefit of helping to shift those extra calories that came from the indulgent food on offer.

Approaching Manhattan by ship


Our arrival in New York was timed precisely to coincide with the sunrise. As we entered the outer reaches of the harbour it was quite dark and we could see the famed New York skyline twinkling away and the illuminated Statue of Liberty set against an almost pitch black backdrop. By the time we docked, the sun was starting to rise and Brooklyn and Manhattan were slowly revealed. Our view from an enviably high vantage point was magnificent.

I stayed in Midtown Manhattan and my Christmas experience started with an evening stroll up 6th Avenue towards West 57th Street and back along to 5th Avenue. The shop windows in New York at Christmas time are a marvel in their own right. Some were nothing short of awe-inspiring displays – this short walk on its own would be enough to turn even Ebenezer Scrooge into an evangelist for Christmas!

My visit on Christmas Eve to the Mecca of Christmas in New York, the Rockefeller Plaza tree and ice rink, was genuinely astounding. Without wanting to sound too Capra-esque about it, sheer wonderment and joy were painted on almost every face of the seemingly millions of people crammed into that relatively small plaza. It was a wonderful place to spend Christmas.

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Neil Buchan-Grant is a travel and portrait photographer who has done many shoots for Insight Guides. You can see his website at

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