Superyacht Crew Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions

24 December 2021 By Laura Shaughnessy
Christmas Presents

Laura Shaughnessy is the former managing editor at Dockwalk. 

With the tagline, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s no wonder why so many owners and charter guests might choose to celebrate Christmas or New Year’s aboard a superyacht. We spoke to seven seasoned superyacht crew who reminisced about their favorite holiday memories.

Week-Long Christmas Festivities

Courtesy of Georgia Rex

“I absolutely LOVE Christmas on board. It's so much fun, especially when there are 40-plus crew on board and you don’t have guests,” says Lead Stewardess Georgia Rex. “It's near enough a week-long event, maybe with one- or two-days work at some point. Christmas Eve was always board games, card games, “pie face” or something along those lines, with a delicious Christmas punch.”

But it’s not all games and no work. “I always offer to do watch on Christmas Eve, so I'll be fresh and up early to set the crew mess up the next morning, as it's one of my favorite parts of the day, seeing everyone's reaction to the extra festivities, with Mariah Carey playing,” says Rex. “I manage to persuade the captain every year to let me spend a FORTUNE online getting the good Christmas chocolate sent in from the UK (Quality Street, Cadbury Heroes, Terry’s Chocolate Oranges, etc!). It cost over €200 last year to get about 15 tins of Heroes & Quality Street online (perks of superyacht budgets!), which are always a fan favorite.”

She adds that though the following isn’t a tradition as such, she does like to do it for her colleagues: “I always make sure I've got plenty of mimosas prepped and ready to hand to everyone as soon as they walk into the crew mess in the morning. Let the chaos begin early, then bring out the mulled wine for lunch,” she says. “Also, the engineers always hosted a quiz night on Christmas Eve, which was great fun and very competitive. Everyone would know exactly who was amazing at quizzes (who you'd want on your team!) then those who are terrible at quizzes (who you definitely didn't want on your team!). Always super good fun though.”

Unforgettable Guest Experiences

Courtesy of Elizabeth Lee

“I love the Christmas holiday season, although for us yacht crew, it is usually one the busiest times of the year. Guests love to join us on board for major holidays so that we can give them a vacation to remember!” says Chef Elizabeth Lee of M/Y Pegasus IX.

As one of her two favorite holidays (the other being New Year’s), Chef Lee says she loves being able to create new dishes that represent a festive Christmas theme. “It is when families come together to celebrate with gifts and festivities and is always a very joyful time of year,” she says.

Christmas Gifts

Courtesy of Grace Dvornik

For Freelance Chef Grace Dvornik, it’s about the presents. “Because I work freelance, I usually arrive to the vessel on Christmas or just before. If I have time prior to flying out, I like to bring little Christmas gifts for the crew! Since we are usually working during the holidays, it’s a fun surprise and makes the day feel a little more festive,” she says. “Being away from family during the holidays can be hard, so my grandparents started the tradition of sending me to work with a card and small present to open on Christmas day. It’s really special to be able to bring a piece of home with me on board!”

When we spoke with Chef Dvornik in mid-December, she told us, “I’m actually going to pick up crew Christmas gifts later today! This year, we will have guests on board for Christmas so I feel the little presents will be extra special. I picked out koozies and sunglass cases from Sunshine State Goods. It’s a great Florida lifestyle apparel brand founded by a friend of mine. A portion of all proceeds are donated to the Florida Wildlife Corridor. I’m really happy to be able to support a friend’s business, give back to my home state, and put a smile on my crew’s faces all in one go!”

Secret Santa

This popular Christmas tradition isn’t just a land-based one, at least not for Chief Stewardess Gaby Jardim, Sole Chef Philippa “Pea” Brown (aka The Nutritious Pea), and former chief stew Randi Barry.

Courtesy of Gaby Jardim

“A few weeks before Christmas, we all pull names from a hat for Secret Santa. There are oftentimes when we are in the Caribbean or some fairly remote places, which means the crew have had to get creative with their gift ideas,” says Chief Stewardess Jardim. “On Christmas day, the chef always makes an incredible roast (with all the bells and whistles) and after eating we hand out our Secret Santa gifts. Each person has to try guess who their gift is from."

“We also have a dress code for the night — this can range from cocktail attire to Hawaiian shirts to ugly Christmas jumpers,” she says, “It usually just depends on where we are and the temperature. Before the real festivities begin, we make sure to do a big crew clean up where everyone gets involved to help clean the galley and crew mess (accompanied by some loud music and drinks to keep the festivities going).”

Chef Philippa with the crew of M/Y Latitude on the bridge
Courtesy of Philippa Brown

Though Sole Chef Brown doesn’t often spend Christmas on board, she does have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas time. “I was once on board a  60-meter Benetti over a Christmas period as crew chef,” she says,  explaining that because the owner was on board, the entire crew had to work.

“However, the captain was determined to make sure the crew didn't completely miss out on their Christmas day and so we made it as wonderful as we could. To start the day, we all got together in the bridge, [where the] captain dressed as Father Christmas and our Secret Santa presents were handed out,” she says. “It was absolutely hilarious to see everything from corkscrews to blow-up shark presents (not to mention impressive given the fact we hadn't been on land for weeks)!”

“Later, the captain organized one hour of the day where no crewmember would be on duty. I cooked a huge Christmas lunch with all the trimmings and we all sat down together. We were at sea, so alcohol was banned, but we did get a one beer/wine allowance — probably the best drink I've ever had [in] my life!! Luckily there were 16 crew, so it was a party atmosphere anyway, but we all did our bit to try and make it a half decent Christmas,” she says.

“We usually did a Secret Santa gift exchange, so each person gets someone they need to think of special gifts for,” says Barry. “White Elephant Christmas Exchange is another fun one I’ve done before as well.”

Hidden Coins

Courtesy of Lisa Mead

Chef Lisa Mead, currently based in Australia, shares her favorite Christmas tradition: “It’s an old family tradition when I make my traditional Christmas pudding,” she says. “I hide coins inside, whoever finds them has good luck for the New Year.”

Courtesy of Lisa Mead

Murder Mystery 

“For New Year’s Eve on board Pegasus IX we have started a tradition of holding a Murder Mystery Evening,” Chef Lee says. “It is so much fun, and allows the guest to dress up, act, and solve the mystery! I create a five-course meal, which represents the different acts that take place during the murderous evening,” she says, adding, “Last year, our guests dressed in 1940s attire complete with wonderful British accents as they read out their scripts at the dinner table. By the end of the evening, we found out who was the murderous one of all! The grand finale, if we can all stay up, are the fireworks at midnight to ring in the new year. It is always a wonderful evening, [and] one that the guests never forget.”

Time Off

Chef Mead also recalls a prior New Year’s event as her favorite  tradition. “[Our] best crew holiday on board was the New Year’s  Millennium Party,” she says, recalling when she worked for a private yacht owner who gave the entire crew the day off for New Year’s Eve. “[He then] arranged for us to dine with him at a swanky VIP party on the island of Anegada in the BVI; we spent the night dancing to a bunch of different bands and watching amazing fireworks displays.”


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