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.

Is there a priest on my cruise?

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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.

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.  

Missing the Muster Drill on your cruise…..not recommended!

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Here is an article from Cruise Critic that should be an inspiration to anyone who thinks that the muster drill on a cruise ship is just a silly formality.

 In the wake of the Concordia disaster you would not think people would ignore this, but apparently some do and what can happen surprises even us.

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.

Update on priest on your cruise

We have mentioned previously that Apostleship of the Sea is an Apostleship of the Catholic Church that screens priests for cruise lines in order to be certain that they are truly Roman Catholic priests and that they are in good standing.  There are also staffing agencies that provide this service, and our concern in the past has been that they may not be as thorough in checking out the priest as to his background and his standing with his Bishop or Provincial.  

We recently had an email from a staffing company, Compass Speakers and Entertainment Inc.  They stated that they provide priests to the following cruise lines on the following itineraries:  

Azamara (Easter, Christmas)  

Celebrity (Easter, Lent, Ash Wednesday, Holy Land, Christmas)  

Crystal (all cruises..space available….so check with them in advance)

Cunard (QM2 all sailings; QE and QV Easter and Christmas only

Silversea (Easter, Christmas)

They went on to point out that their screening process is at least as thorough as that of Apostleship of the Sea, if not more so.  

Bottom line:  we feel that you can trust that the priests on these specific cruises are legitimate Roman Catholic priests in good standing.  

We encourage priests to consider these cruises as well. 

Mass at the Airport?

Oops…what about Mass?

I’ve found that when I try to arrange my travel plans, the actual day of departure can depend on factors outside my control!  And I don’t like being out of control.   For instance, If a tour I really want to join starts and ends on a specific day, I  have little choice about when I leave.   Or  a business trip, is another instance where I have little wiggle room.  Leisurely traveling on my own?  Depends on the airline, my schedule and a lot of things I just can’t control.

Then, as my travel date gets closer and I realize that I’ll be traveling over a Saturday night, and my flight leaves too early for a Vigil Mass,  it hits me that I may not be able to attend Sunday Mass at all.   Have you ever had the pleasure of trying to find a Catholic Church after getting off the plane in a foreign country with serious jet lag?   I have and I wouldn’t recommend it.

St. George's Chapel, Heathrow, London
St. George’s Chapel, Heathrow, London

So maybe I can help you out.  It took me a while, but I discovered that there are actually chapels at many airports where you can attend Sunday Mass (or even daily Mass at some airports).  You might be able to catch one before departure or possibly upon arrival in your next city….or even between flights.  I once landed in Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 9:00 a.m., attended an 11:00 am. Mass in the airport chapel, and then caught my next flight at 1:00 p.m.

We have just added a page to our website detailing various airport chapels around the world.  Although most of these chapels are non-denominational, they do offer a Catholic Mass on many occasions.

If you are  in a pilgrimage group traveling with a priest, you can usually make arrangements to say your own private Mass in the airport chapel regardless of your day of arrival.

Can’t make Sunday Mass due to travel?  

This is what I’ve been told by a priest friend of mine:  “If you absolutely cannot find a Mass due to traveling, then you are relieved of your Sunday obligation.  But I suggest you attend Mass as soon as possible and offer that Mass up as your Sunday Mass”

 

Sailing from Galveston on weekend of December 1st?…Enjoy Dickens on the Strand

 
Galveston, Texas is a popular cruise ship port for many.  If you will be sailing from the port of Galveston the weekend of December 1, 2, 3, then you will have the opportunity to participate in the Dickens on the Strand celebration that takes place that weekend.

 

Handbell concert at Saint Joseph's Church
Handbell concert at Saint Joseph’s Church

One of the most interesting activities is the handbell concert held in Saint Joseph’s Church.  No longer a Catholic church, it was was de-consecrated in 1968 and many of the interior items auctioned off; however, the Galveston Historical Foundation bought the building and many of the statues and other features so that it now closely resembles the Church that it was before.

For more information about Dickens on the Strand click here

 

Attending Mass at Christmas while on a Cruise

Hard for some of us to believe, but with Advent about to begin, it is not long 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.