Taking a cruise around Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific during the Christmas holidays is becoming more popular every year - most cruise lines put on special festive lunches or dinners, the ships are decorated with lights and Christmas trees, and Santa Claus makes appearances bearing gifts for the kids.
However, while Christmas is still several months away, you'd be well-advised to book soon, especially if you're planning a family cruise.
There are 15 ships leaving Sydney in December that will be at sea on Christmas Day: Carnival Spirit, Celebrity Century, Celebrity Solstice, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess, MS Oosterdam, Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Dawn, Radiance of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Seabourn Odyssey, Sea Princess, Sun Princess and Voyager of the Seas.
This certainly sounds as though there's plenty of choice, but as recent CLIA Australasia figures show, most people book six to 12 months in advance, and the Pacific is the most popular cruising destination for Australians.
So when is the best time to book to ensure you secure what you want?
Brett Dudley, founder and chairman of ecruising.travel, and Meg Hill, managing director of Cruise Express, agree there is a steady increase in the number of multi-generational families holidaying together, especially at Christmas.
That means family and interconnecting cabins are in high demand and sell out fast.
"We also see strong and early demand for suites and balcony cabins. We Aussies are used to light, space and fresh air at home, so we look for these features when booking a cruise," Hill says.
Dudley says some couples like to have a balcony cabin and an opposite inside cabin for the children, so these also go quickly. Which ships fill up the fastest? "P&O Cruises restrict the number of children that are allowed on board, so they tend to book out first. By mid-July cabins were already limited for children on P&O Cruises' ships [Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl] during Christmas," Dudley says.
"Ships such as Voyager of the Seas that have a much larger capacity still have plenty of availability."
Can you still snag a bargain if you book at the last minute? You can, but you won't have nearly such a good choice of cabins. Earlybird deals can also include reduced fares and other onboard offers.
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES: PAUL GAUGUIN
LAUNCHED: 1998; the ship has been regularly upgraded and had a $7 million refurbishment in 2012. It is rated four-stars-plus by the 2014 Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships.
PASSENGERS & CREW: 332 passengers, 217 crew.
ACCOMMODATION: There are 166 suites and staterooms; 70 per cent have balconies. There is butler service in staterooms category B and above, and one wheelchair accessible stateroom.
REGULAR HAUNTS: Paul Gauguin sails seven, 10, 11, 12 and 13-night itineraries in French Polynesia and the South Pacific.
PERFECT FOR: Couples, singles and families with older children.
DINING: The elegant main dining room, L'Etoile, is open for dinner only and La Veranda serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with indoor and al fresco seating. Le Grill is a more casual option on the pool deck.
PARTYING: The atmosphere on the Paul Gauguin is relaxed and informal; passengers tend to meet for drinks before and after dinner in the Piano Bar, Grand Salon or La Palette lounge.
DOING: An on-board retractable marina is equipped with water-skiing boats, kayaks, scuba and snorkelling gear. The Deep Nature spa includes fitness centre, steam room and treatment rooms for massages, aromatherapy and facials.
DID YOU KNOW? On-board experts present excellent lectures on topics ranging from the history of the South Pacific to marine life, archaeology and more.
THE DETAILS: Paul Gauguin Cruises has a hotel-cruise package that combines a pre-cruise stay at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa with a seven-night Tahiti and the Society Islands cruise aboard the Paul Gauguin. Departing November 15, the all-inclusive, cruise-only fares include 50 per cent savings and start from $US3844 ($4090). Phone 1800 251 174, see wiltrans.com.au or your travel agent.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
Vive la France 2015 is a 28-day fly-triple-cruise-and-stay holiday from Worldwide Cruise Centres, built around three CroisiEurope river cruises through France and ending with two nights in Nice. Two nights' hotel accommodation in Paris, two nights in Bordeaux and a night in Lyon are also included, plus three first-class train trips and return flights to France. The holiday departs Australia on April 7, 2015, and fares start at $8999 (offer valid until August 31). See worldwidecruisecentres.com.au.
CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES is offering an 11-night round-trip Christmas cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1639 (quad share) and $1829 (twin share). It departs on December 16. Phone 1300 385 625, see carnival.com.au.
CRUISE GURU has an eight-night cruise on Celebrity Century, round-trip from Sydney visiting Melbourne, Adelaide and Port Lincoln, departing on October 22. Fares start at $807 for an inside cabin; phone 13 13 03, see cruiseguru.com.au.
There is a huge range of handy travel apps you can download to your smartphone or iPad - language translators, checklists for packing, maps, city and country guides, Wi-Fi hot spot locators, flight and accommodation finders - if you can think of it, it's probably available. Many are free or as little as 99 cents. A currency converter such as XE is one of the less exciting apps but it's incredibly useful. Apps for iPhones and iPads are available from the Apple iTunes App Store and Android apps can be downloaded from the Google PlayStore.