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If you’re ready for a break from holiday traditions and family gatherings at home, consider booking a Christmas cruise. What makes a better present than the chance to leave all the planning, cooking, cleaning and decorating behind – and celebrate the holidays in beautiful destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean or other countries around the globe?
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you can book a festivity-filled river cruise along Europe’s iconic waterways and bundle up in your winter gear to explore the Christmas markets in the snow. If you prefer sunshine and warm temperatures, celebrate the holidays in an exotic locale, sailing crystal-clear turquoise waters and relaxing on white sand beaches surrounded by palm trees.
Whether you prefer to stay close to home or jet off for a bucket list adventure, one of these cruises may just be the perfect gift to celebrate your holidays in style.
Book a Christmas cruise on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.
Put your name on the waiting list for November 2024 if you want to set sail on what Hallmark is touting as the “jolliest vacation ever.” The Hallmark Channel – known for its year-round holiday-themed programming with Christmas in July, Countdown to Christmas and Christmas Fridays – will host the first-ever Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise sailings in November 2024 from Miami to the Bahamas. Lucky fans of the television channel will travel with their favorite Hallmark stars on one of two four-night cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem during the 2024 holiday season.
Highlights of the Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise include photo opportunities and panels to meet the stars. Attend Christmas craft workshops or tastings with Hallmark’s winemaker – the wines have names like Jingle (cabernet sauvignon) and Joy (sauvignon blanc). Guests can also look forward to “carol-oke” singalongs, cookie decorating, an ugly sweater contest and a world premiere viewing of a new Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.
(Courtesy of AmaWaterways)
AmaWaterways offers seven itineraries to visit the Christmas markets along the Rhine and Danube rivers – and to see the holiday splendor of Europe’s grand cities, such as Vienna and Prague. Travelers can stroll through snow-dusted beautiful medieval squares and fairytale markets with chalet-inspired stalls, thousands of colorful lights, festive decorations, ice skating rinks, whimsical handmade gifts, Christmas carolers, carousels and more.
The eight-day Iconic Christmas Markets itinerary from Nuremberg, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary, features a visit to Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, one of the world’s oldest and most famous Christmas markets. Sip glühwein (hot mulled wine) and sample savory specialties like currywurst (curried sausages) and kartoffelpuffer (fried potato pancakes). Be sure to save room for sweet delights like schaumkuss, a chocolate-covered marshmallow, or lebkuchen, a traditional spiced cookie.
While on board the ship, guests can participate in festivities like tree-trimming, caroling and “Shoes for St. Nick.” This European tradition encourages passengers to leave their slippers outside their stateroom door before bed. In the morning, they wake up to slippers filled with tasty treats like the children find in Europe on Saint Nicholas Day.
(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrate Christmas Day in the Canary Islands and ring in the new year on the Mediterranean Sea during Celebrity Cruises’ Canaries, Morocco, Spain Holiday itinerary. The 13-day round-trip voyage from Barcelona embarks a few days before Christmas 2023 on Celebrity Infinity. It features eight ports of call, including the Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Tangier as well as Seville and Valencia in Spain.
On the ship, guests can revel in the joyous spirit of the season with festive Christmas trees, traditional holiday meals, themed shows and pop-ups, carolers, gingerbread winter villages, and even a visit from Santa. The onboard bars serve up holiday-inspired cocktails like candy cane and gingerbread martinis as well as other seasonal favorites, including spiked apple cider and classic mulled wine. On New Year’s Eve, plan to join in the merriment with fellow cruisers during the big countdown bash.
If you want to cross South Africa off your list of must-visit destinations, consider spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve sailing round-trip from Cape Town on Azamara’s 14-day South Africa Intensive Voyage. The 2023 voyage departs Dec. 21 on Azamara Pursuit and includes stops in Port Elizabeth, home to one of the densest elephant populations in the world, and Richards Bay, which is teeming with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes.
Guests on board the holiday cruise will be treated to Christmas performances, including singalongs and carols performed by the crew. There will be special menus in the restaurants, holiday-themed buffets, religious services and a tree-trimming party. Festive treats like hot chocolate, cookies and snacks are provided throughout the cruise. The New Year’s Eve White Night party, where all the guests don their best white attire, will take place throughout the ship and on the pool deck with entertainment, music and light bites.
(Courtesy of Viking)
Viking’s 12-day Christmas on the Main & Moselle cruise sails between Paris and Prague in 2023 and 2024. The adults-only sailing affords passengers 18 or older the opportunity to visit four European countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic. In addition to browsing the boutiques in Paris and a variety of Christmas markets in Germany, you’ll want to explore iconic landmarks like Reims Cathedral in France and the Luxembourg American Cemetery. Don’t miss the famed wines produced in the region, including Moselle, riesling, Müller-Thurgau and gewürztraminer.
The holiday spirit continues on board the ship with Christmas-themed cooking demonstrations in addition to festive decorations with garland, lights and gingerbread houses. Guests will also taste regional cuisine, enjoy cultural performances on board the ship and ashore, and learn about the history of the Christmas markets and local holiday traditions.
(Kent Phillips/Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)
Disney Cruise Line offers dozens of Christmas-themed cruises in November and December of 2023 and 2024. Cruisers looking to celebrate the holidays with Disney’s cast of characters in 2023 can book a Very Merrytime cruise as short as a four-day sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Bahamas. For an extended getaway, consider Disney Cruise Line’s eastbound eastbound 15-day voyage that embarks in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and transits the Panama Canal, disembarking in Galveston, Texas.
On the first evening of every sailing, guests can gather around the three-deck-tall Christmas tree for the tree lighting ceremony, a holiday singalong and the introduction of Santa Claus. Other festivities include the fun-filled Mickey and Minnie’s Holiday Party, themed Very Merrytime activities for children of all ages, carolers singing songs, and Christmas-inspired food and beverages. Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse will be sporting jolly new holiday attire during the special voyages.
Celebrate the holidays with a once-in-a-lifetime getaway to the sun-drenched islands of Tahiti. You’ll set sail a few days before Christmas aboard the four-masted sailing yacht Wind Spirit. Windstar’s 10-day Overwater Bungalow & Tahitian Paradise Cruise Tour also includes a three-night stay in overwater bungalows on the island of Moorea. Resort perks include a half-day private car tour and a romantic beach dinner where you can watch a spectacular French Polynesian sunset over the South Pacific Ocean.
Guests can join in on the holiday spirit around the ship with festive Christmas trees and decorations and holiday-inspired cocktails and treats. Special programming for the voyage includes a Christmas movie, a gala tea, an interdenominational Christmas service and a Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas morning brings more celebrations throughout the day, with holiday meals, a Yuletide afternoon tea and a Christmas dinner followed by a variety show in the evening.
(Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)
Grab the swimsuit, flip-flops and sunglasses for a tropical holiday on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, Norwegian Viva. The line’s nine-day Caribbean voyage departs round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, several days after Christmas. There are eight ports of call, including stops in the beautiful islands of Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Lucia and Aruba. For a special celebration, splurge on luxurious suite accommodations in The Haven. The ship-within-a-ship retreat features a private restaurant, a lounge, a sundeck, a concierge desk and 24-hour butler service.
Holiday-themed activities on Norwegian’s ships vary by itinerary and ship. Still, guests will find plenty of festive fun on board, including traditional holiday fare and holiday-inspired musical sets, trivia, and family and youth programming. Guests are invited to offer interdenominational services for fellow passengers during the sailing. You’ll also find Hanukkah services listed in the Freestyle Daily Program. Plan to sleep in on New Year’s Day and spend a blissful day relaxing at sea after a late night celebrating New Year’s Eve on board the ship.
(Courtesy of American Queen Voyages)
The holiday-themed, eight-day Roundtrip New Orleans voyage on American Queen begins with an overnight in the city and disembarks just in time to spend Christmas Eve in the Big Easy. The ship – a 417-passenger paddlewheeler that is the largest steamboat ever built – will call on four ports during the sailing on the Lower Mississippi River. In Natchez, Mississippi, guests will find holiday markets exclusively created for the voyage, where you can shop for gifts and sweet treats. You’ll also be greeted with bonfires along the riverbanks at the historic Nottoway Resort in White Parish, Louisiana. Join in the real spirit of Christmas with donations to Giving Trees in the port towns that help local charities.
There are plenty of cheery activities on board the ship with Christmas shows, singalongs, caroling and cooking demonstrations. Guests can also put their creative talents to work decorating gingerbread houses, ornaments and cards while sampling holiday-themed cocktails or sipping hot chocolate. Specially prepared dishes will celebrate the traditions of Hanukkah, including traditional foods like homemade latkes (fried potato pancakes).
(Courtesy of Silversea)
For a life-changing experience and the merriest Christmas of all, spend the holiday with several species of waddling penguins, giant seals and majestic whales while visiting the ice-covered shores of The White Continent. The 10-day Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams expedition on Silversea’s Silver Endeavour sets sail from Chile a week before Christmas in 2023 for the Antarctica Peninsula. Five days of excursions allow travelers to explore this surreal and magical part of the world. Weather permitting, guests will even take a Zodiac cruise with the expedition team in the South Shetland Islands on Christmas Day.
Festive touches on board the ship include Christmas trees and lights, gingerbread houses, holiday arts and crafts, caroling, religious services, and musical performances by the crew and professional entertainers. Guests will also enjoy a traditional holiday dinner on Christmas Day.
Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed to destinations around the globe on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, luxury yachts, expedition vessels, and river ships in Europe and on the Mekong River. She used her extensive knowledge and experience with the cruise industry to write this article. Pratesi covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications, including U.S. News & World Report.