Priest on a River Cruise?

It is pretty unlikely that you will find a priest on a river cruise.  At least, we don’t know of any river cruise lines that place a priest on their cruises.  You might get lucky and find some folks who have paid for their priest to accompany them and they will undoubtedly ask you to join them.  If they have done some advance planning they may have a Mass scheduled at various churches along the way. It is possible that Mass could be held on the boat, it just depends upon the circumstances.  

The difference between river cruises and ocean cruises, as we have pointed out before, is the amount of time on land.  Almost no days are “sea days” since you are just cruising along the river.  This has tremendous appeal for those who want to explore the local culture and history rather than just entertain themselves on board the ship. Many of these stop include places of interest to Catholics as well. 

And, in fact, many river cruise lines aim particularly at this market.  A year or so ago the chairman of Viking River Cruises,Torstein Hagen, created a bit of a stir when he pointed out that he wanted to cater to a well-healed, English-speaking, over-50 crowd with no children on board.  Some took offense at this (seems like nowadays people are eager to be offended by something or someone) but the fact is he clearly stated his demographic and it makes perfect sense to us.  River cruises are almost all conducted in English and there is not much for children (or adults for that matter) to do to keep them occupied while on board the ship. But there are not normally any “sea days”, most activities are off the ship anyway. 

Now that Viking has expanded from river cruising to ocean cruising beginning in 2015, we still expect the same group of passengers.  Their new ocean-cruising ships are much smaller than other cruise lines (928 passengers on the new Viking Star versus 4,000 passengers on some of the newer ocean ships).


Combining a cruise with the Canonization in April

We’d like to suggest an exciting possibility for those of you who like to cruise and also want to attend the Canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII in April. You might spend a few days exploring Rome and then join a cruise departing Civitavecchia (Rome’s seaport) for a Mediterranean cruise.  

If you happen to be traveling with a group, your tour operator can probably arrange your return flight so that you fly home after the cruise returns to Rome or wherever the cruise ends.  

For example, Holland America has a 12-night cruise leaving on April 29th (the Canonization is on the 27th) going from Civitavecchia, calling at Cartegena, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon, Vigo, Portland, Cherbourg, Zeebrugge and ending in Copenhagen.  If you choose one like this you would need to get an open-jaw ticket…no need to buy a separate ticket.  The really good news is that Holland America does have a priest on all its cruises.  

Costa Cruises has a 7-night cruise leaving April 29th, and departing from Civitavecchia, stopping in Naples, Barcelona, Marseilles, Savona, Livorno (Florence,Pisa) and back to Civitavecchia.  Costa also has a priest on all cruises.

In addition, there is a cruise on Azamara departing April 30th round trip from Civitavecchia, that will include Taormina, two nights in Siracusa in Sicily and two nights in Sorrento.  We cannot verify that there will be a priest on board this cruise.  Azamara uses a manning agency when they do have priests, and these priests are not screened the same way that priests are through the Apostleship of the Sea.

You find a few other possiblities as well….these are just the ones we came across after a brief search.


Ever heard of a Re-Positioning Cruise?

If you have not, you may be missing out on a great way to stretch your dollars, assuming you have a little more time than the average 7 to 10 days that most cruises take.  Because many cruises are seasonal, it becomes necessary for cruise lines to move (re-position) their ships from one area to another.  For example, many Mediterranean cruises normally run from May through October.  After that the ships are moved to the U.S. or other destinations for the winter sailing season and then back again for the summer.  

Since the ship has to sail anyway, the cruise lines naturally want to make some money on the voyage.  And that is where your chance to save comes in. These cruises are usually longer (therefore not suited to those with limited vacation days) and with more days at sea (again, not suited to those interested in visiting many ports).  As a result, they appeal to only a limited number of people and so the price is lower in order to attract passengers. But you get the same services as a shorter cruise…same restaurants, same entertainment options, etc.  

One example would be a 14-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona departing March 21, 2014. An inside cabin is $840, ocean view is $1040 (includes all taxes & fees).  There are 9 days at sea and then several ports of call in Spain before reaching Barcelona.

 And, of course you do have to fly to the departure or arrival port.  But with a bit of shopping around…perhaps using a good travel agent…you can generally come up with a reasonable fare.  We did a quick check using Kayak.  If you lived, for example in New York you would have to fly to Fort Lauderdale and back from Barcelona.  Right now that fare would be about $1000.00.  If you were leaving from Florida, then you only need the return flight and that would run about $600.00.  

For a re-positioning cruise with a few more ports of call we found a 16 night cruise on September 25, 2014 departing from Los Angeles to Houston via the Panama Canal.  Cost is $1396 inside cabin, $1749 for ocean view, all taxes & port fees included.  This one has 8 sea days and 6 ports of call.  

There are a lot of options out there, so you should be able to find something that fits your time frame.  Some of them are as long as 60 days or more!

Mass on a cruise ship
Mass on a cruise ship. Holland America has a priest on every cruise & some other lines have priests on their re-positioning cruises.

As Catholics, one things we want to know is how do we attend Mass when on a re-positioning cruise.  Only one or two cruise lines have a Catholic priest on every cruise (Holland America and Costa) but several cruise lines do offer to have a priest on their re-positioning cruises, so that attending daily Mass is an option in addition to any Sunday Masses.

For more about finding a re-positioning with a priest on board click here.


Attending Mass at Christmas while on a Cruise

Hard for some of us to believe, but it is only a little over six weeks until Christmas.  If you plan a cruise for the period over-lapping Christmas you will surely want to attend Mass.  Depending upon the cruise line’s itinerary, you may be in port and be able to attend Mass at a local church.  Be sure to check out your port of call and see what time the ship will arrive and depart. You may not be able to attend a Mass if the ship sails away in the early evening.

Many river cruises include the chance to attend the local Christmas market and attend Mass
River cruises include the chance to attend attend Mass

In the case most river cruises in Europe you overnight in most cities and, attending Mass in one of the local churches or cathedrals is not only easy but would be a special treat.  The cruise line should be able to help you arrange transportation to and from the ship.

But for some ocean cruises that may be a sea day and you won’t have that opportunity.  So we recommend you consider a cruise line that will have a Catholic priest on board.  Only a couple of lines have a priest on every cruise, but several others have a priest on their Christmas cruises as well.  

So check out our page on which cruise lines will have a priest on board at Christmas.



Cruise on a barge?


When we mention barge, most of us have an image that is certainly not likely to make us hop on one and float away.  But the kind of barge we are talking about….more properly called “hotel barges” is nothing like you might think.

True, these were once used for hauling lumber and other commodities along the rivers of Europe.  The rivers were the main means of transport back then and so a series of canals and locks were built to help expedite the shipment of goods.  

The barge Anjodi cruising under a bridge.
The barge Anjodi.

Nowadays many of those barges have been converted to floating hotels that offer every modern convenience.  They offer a chance to really slow down and enjoy the scenery. Most of these are in the U.K. or Europe from the Netherlands all the way south to Venice, so there are bound to be Catholic churches, cathedrals and other places of interest to Catholics.  

Such hotel barges hold only 6-20 passengers, so there is obviously a closeness that develops among passengers.  An in many cases you can charter the whole barge and have a private hotel barge cruise.  

Biking and Barging go together
Biking and Barging go together

The cruises almost always include a chef on board and 3 or more crew members as well.  And normally almost everything is included in the price (even bicycles), so you don’t have to worry about those hidden extras that can sneak up on you and ruin you budget.  As you can see, the atmosphere is definitely relaxing.  

For more about hotel barging click here.


Celebrity & Azamara cruises drop Cruise Ship Priest Program


According to our sources at Apostleship of the Sea, Celebrity Cruises, and their sister cruise line Azamara, have recently announced that beginning in 2014 they will no longer participate in the Apostleship of the Sea cruise priest program.  

Apostleship of the Sea is an Apostolate of the Catholic Church that screens priests for certain cruise lines to be sure that they are priests in good standing.

Celebrity and Azamara have announced that they will be using a manning agency to get priests for their sailings. However, manning agencies do not have the ability to do the screening process that Apostleship of the Sea does to ensure valid priests in good standing on board.  

If being able to attend Mass while on a cruise is important to you, then you have some fairly limited choices.  The only lines to promise a priest on every cruise are Holland America, Costa Cruises and Crystal.  The first two do participate in the Apostleship of the Sea program so you can be sure of a priest in good standing.  We are not sure about Crystal and have asked them for clarification, but do applaud their efforts to have a priest on board.  

Some other lines, such as Royal Caribbean, do have priests on board for Christmas, Easter and re-positioning cruises.  These priests have been provided to them through the Apostleship of the Sea priest program.

We realize that choosing a cruise involves many factors, but if having a priest on board is important to you, then let the cruise line know it.  Thank them if they do, and if the don’t, politely ask them to consider it in the future.  

There are millions of Catholics who cruise every year, so make your voice heard!  Or, as Pope Francis might say, go out there and shake things up.




How do you handle those hiccups when traveling?

There can…and probably will be…”hiccups” that arise when traveling. Most, thankfully, are minor but some can be major.    You might know people who are like Oscar the Grouch and are sure to find a cloud behind any silver lining.  Others are the ones who decide that when life hands them lemons, it’s time  to make lemonade!

An example would be a problem Celebrity Cruises encountered on an Alaska cruise scheduled to begin Friday, August 9th. Only a few hours before it was due to leave, the cruise was cancelled. The reason being….propulsion problems. This came as a shock and a big disappointment for every one, I am sure.

Although Celebrity hopes to have the ship repaired by Tuesday, August 13th, they had to bypass any ports of call on the original itinerary and  sailed directly to Vancouver.  So it is definitely not what people had planned on.

Celebrity handled it very well, in our opinion.  Celebrity offered passengers the option to stay on board the ship and use it as their floating hotel. The ship’s bathrooms are working, and all on-board activities and dining options are available.  The cruise line is also bringing on additional entertainers and is working with local tour operators to offer  shore excursions at deeply discounted rates.  Those who chose to stay will get a full refund for the cruise plus a 100% discount on a future cruise. 

Or, if they chose to leave, they will get a full refund and a 50% discount on a future cruise.

Not sure what Oscar the Grouch did….probably said “I’ll never sail with them again” and flew home in a huff.  Meanwhile those who were flexible and stayed with the ship, were enjoying dog sledding trips, salmon fishing excursions, etc while the ship was being repaired.  They did not get the vacation they planned….but they had an experience they will always remember.  And oh the stories they’ll have for their friends and family back home!

So…..are you Oscar or the Lemonade type?  If you are like Oscar you might be  missing out on life’s joyful and unexpected adventures.  


Is there a priest on my cruise?


That is the question often asked by Catholics who are going on a cruise.  The answer depends upon which cruise line you are using and when you are going.  Only two cruise lines promise a priest on every cruise:  Holland America and Costa Cruises.  Some others do offer a priest on select cruises, mainly Christmas, Easter and re-positioning cruises.  For a complete list of cruise lines that have a priest on board click here.

Mass with the crew on board
Fr. Jack Treacy after Crew Mass onboard the Celebrity Mercury. Crew members often spend weeks or months at sea without the opportunity to attend Mass, so having a priest on board is a real blessing.

My first inclination when looking for a cruise with a priest aboard is: “this is great, a priest all to myself for the entire cruise”.  But equally important, maybe more, is that a priest onboard helps to provide for the spiritual needs of the crew members.     Often from predominantly Catholic countries such as the Philippines, crew members spend months at sea without the opportunity to attend Mass, go to confession, or receive spiritual guidance. 

Fr. McCarthy on a Holland America cruise.
Fr McCarthy with a group on Holland America’s Veendam. A great experience for priest and parishoners alike.

If you find a cruise that you love, but the cruise line does not offer a priest on board, then we encourage you to consider taking a priest along with you. Often times you find a group of friends who want to cruise together and you can all chip in a bit, pay for the priest’s cabin and not only have the benefit of Mass daily but also be doing a good deed for the priest who probably could use a bit of relaxation himself.  

And finally, make your preferences known to the cruise line. There are probably 25% of cruisers who are Catholic.  If enough people let the cruise line know that having a priest on board would impact their decision on which line to choose, it can make a difference.   

So if you had a priest on board be sure to write the home office and thank them.  If you did not, be sure to indicate that you would have preferred to have a priest on board and that may enter your buying decision next time around.  You will no doubt get some sort of form letter or email in return, but you can bet if they get enough of these they will start to pay attention.

Photos courtesy of Apostleship of the Sea.


Attending Mass while on a cruise–will there be a priest on board?

One of the most frequent searches we get are from Catholic cruisers who are wondering about attending mass while on a cruise.  This is certainly a concern if the cruise is taking place over a weekend, as most do.  At one time several major cruise lines did offer to have a priest on board but I suppose due to political correctness or just lack of interest many of those lines no longer do.  There was quite a bit of fuss on some Catholic forums back in 2010 when Celebrity Cruises announced that they would no longer have priests on board their ships.  Now only two cruise lines have priests on board every cruise:  Holland America and Costa.  Several other cruise lines promise to have priests on board for special cruises such as Christmas, Easter or re-positioning cruises.

The rationale for have a Catholic priest on board is different from other Christians in that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sunday unless there are very unusual circumstances.  Being on a cruise…or en-route somewhere…can be a valid reason for missing Mass but still many people want to make this part of their week regardless.

Mass on board a cruise ship for the crew
Mass photo courtesy of Apostleship of the Sea

Many crew members of these ships come from predominantly Catholic countries such as the Philippines and are gone for months at a time.  Since the ships are rarely in port for more than a day they have very limited opportunity to attend Mass.  We would like to see Catholics stand up not only for themselves as customers of the cruise line but also for these crew members by letting the cruise lines know that the presence of a priest on board will enter into their decision whether to cruise with them or not.  It would not take many people to get the message across, but if we don’t stand up and express our opinion with our money then nothing will change.  Naturally that cannot be the only deciding factor but it can be one of the reasons you choose a particular line.  You can then make your vacation part of your vocation, which is to evangelize.