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How To Make Gift Giving Actually Delightful On Family Christmas Cruises

Christmas Cruises - Photo of Santa waiting on beach with pile of gifts


Planning holiday gift exchanges on Christmas cruises warrants some advance thought and planning — particularly if you are traveling with kids.  After taking numerous holiday cruises with family and friends over the years, I have learned some otherwise simple lessons the hard way.  You can now benefit from these prior errors and oversights. Here are a few tips to make gift-giving on your family Christmas cruises go more smoothly.

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1. Pack All Gifts Unwrapped On Your Christmas Cruises.

Rule No. 1:  Pack all gifts unwrapped. This is particularly true if you will be flying to your embarkation port. Don’t assume that an x-ray machine will provide a sufficient inspection of your wrapped packages. If TSA agents feel like they need to take a closer look inside your gift boxes, your pretty bows and carefully applied beautiful wrapping paper will not fare well.  If you would like to see some examples of TSA re-wrapping at work, check out the photos with this article: The TSA May Unwrap Your Holiday Presents If You Don’t Follow These Rules.  The generous use of TSA security tape adds a special touch.

Also, all of your luggage and carry-ons will be inspected when you board the cruise ship. Although the inspections at embarkation don’t begin to compare to what you find at the airport, they still take place. Anything that looks like potential contraband (e.g., alcohol) will receive a closer look.

Related Post: Kids Love These Awesome Travel Gifts On Family Holiday Cruises.

2. Pack Your Own Wrapping Supplies For Christmas Cruises.

If you are packing gifts, then you should also pack your own wrapping supplies.  Do not, under any circumstances, assume that you will be able to buy any wrapping supplies on board the ship or at a convenient port.  The odds are much more likely that you will come up empty-handed.  So, unless you want to “wrap” your gifts in the paper/plastic shopping bags that the ship uses for customers’ purchases, plan ahead.

The easiest thing to pack are gift bags. They are quick to assemble once on board.  They don’t require much in the way of extra materials.  And, when flat, they can fit in most any luggage.  But, if you prefer traditional wrapping paper, you need to remember to pack not only the actual wrapping paper, ribbons and/or bows, but also your tape and scissors.  These are also items that you are unlikely to find readily accessible on-board.  So toss a pair of scissors and a roll of tape in your checked luggage.

I usually pack all wrapping supplies and gifts in one piece of luggage that can be stored under the bed away from prying eyes. We have a large rolling duffle with a drop bottom.  I place the gifts in the drop bottom which provides added protection against snooping.  Any gifts received can be stored in the same luggage for return home.

3. Don’t Forget The Batteries.

Pack any batteries that may be needed for gifts you are giving and a few extras for gifts you might receive. (non-lithium) Don’t assume that any “tester” batteries that may come with toys will hold up for your entire trip.  Don’t assume that you will be able to buy any batteries on board.  Although you may occasionally find some standard batteries in the gift shop or the camera shop, this is not as common as you may think.  Plus, any that may be on hand can sell out quickly.  And, you really don’t want to spend your shore time running around looking for batteries.

4. Definitely Pack A Screwdriver.

This may not be obvious, but you should really pack a travel screwdriver.  Even if you think that the gifts you are bringing don’t require a screwdriver, you might receive gifts that do.  Plus, it’s amazing how many toys require a screwdriver to get up and running, and that simple fact is not disclosed on the outside packaging.  For instance, many times the battery compartment is secured by a small screw.  Also, many times some theft-deterring devices require the use of screwdriver to gain access and full use of a toy.  I have found this to be particularly true as to toys with wheels. This could be screws that actually secure the toy to the inside packaging, or various pieces of frustrating plastic that keep the wheels from moving freely, and can only be removed with a screwdriver.

Christmas Cruises - Two Mischievous boys with santa hats and gifts

I have a vivid recollection of fruitless attempts to liberate a 3-year-old’s awesome fire truck from its packaging.  No screwdriver, or access to a screwdriver, could be found in the gift shop, the camera store, guest services or through passionate entreaties to random crew members.

Was it the end of the world that said three year old ultimately had to wait until we got home to really play with his toy?  Obviously not.  But would the whole experience have been a lot more fun without the unexpected drama of an unobtainable screwdriver? Yes.  It is easy to find a small screwdriver suitable for travel. This is the travel screwdriver that I use.  (affiliate link disclosure).  But any small one that you may have on hand should do just fine.  Also, if you carry or pack a swiss-style army knife, that may have a screwdriver type tool as well.

5. Don’t Take Bulky Or Expensive Gifts on Christmas Cruises.

Leave any gifts that are bulky or expensive at home. You want to avoid bulky items to save space in your luggage and to avoid or minimize excess baggage/excess weight charges. You want to avoid toting along expensive items because there is always a risk that they won’t make it to your destination, or won’t make it home in one piece (if at all).

One alternative idea is to take a picture of the item and place that in a small box or envelope to be presented at gift-giving time.  This could be your own picture of the actual gift or a representative photo from online or a catalog.  For folks that live in your household, the actual gift will be waiting for them upon your return.   For folks not living in your household, you can ship it to them the day before you leave home or shortly after your return.  This same idea works well for things that you wanted to buy, but were out of stock or could not arrive in a timely fashion.

6. Pack A Few Gift Cards Just In Case.

Finally, consider bringing a few universal gift cards for folks that you may have missed when packing for Christmas cruises. This is more relevant when traveling with extended family and/or other friends and families. A handful of cards in the $10 to $50 range are a great back-up. Gift cards from Amazon, iTunes, Visa and/or Amex can always come in handy. You can use them yourself later, if they turn out to be unneeded.  Or, you could include them with a “tip” for staff.

Are you planning to take your baby or toddler on a cruise? Download our printable Prep & Pack checklist that is filled with tips and strategies to help you get ready.  Get your free copy now!

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Closing Thoughts:  If you are planning to exchange gifts on your family holiday cruise, be sure to pack the items discussed above.  Although this might add a little more weight to your overall luggage, it will be worth it for a frustration-free gift giving experience.


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