Cruising at Christmas to Make Memories that Last a Lifetime

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Cruising at Christmas - Cruising at Christmas is all about making memories with your family onboard.
Cruising at Christmas is all about making memories with your family onboard! Photo credit: Michele Mulone Butler

Holiday cruises are some of our favorite cruises – you don’t have the stress of preparing holiday meals, no one has to wash dishes and you get to spend quality time with your family. Christmas decorations fill the ships for the holiday season, and you get to dress up because it is a Christmas cruise!

What’s It Like on a Cruise Ship at Christmas?

Some cruise lines go all out for the Christmas holiday season at sea. For example, Norweigan Cruise Line pulls out all the stops. There is typically a massive Christmas tree in the atrium area, and you may find gingerbread houses decorating the main dining room.

And if you need even more inspiration to book that holiday cruise, here are a few more reasons for choosing to cruise for your Christmas vacation getaway:

  • Spectacular holiday shows onboard
  • Christmas caroling 
  • You may catch Santa Claus
  • Fantastic food
  • All-inclusive – fun, food, & accommodations (alcohol is an extra purchase)

Things to be Aware of When Choosing a Christmas Cruise

Book early! Cruise vacations are increasingly popular because families crave the opportunity to make memories together. If you are considering a holiday cruise, book early to ensure you get the dates and itinerary you want.

Consider booking your holiday cruise earlier in December. It’s the way to save money, and you’re likely to have smaller crowds if you sail before most kids get out of school for the holiday break. Holiday sailings begin in late November and last through the New Year.

Cruising during Christmas week will mean higher prices and bigger crowds. But it also will mean a full schedule of holiday-themed activities.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Holiday Season Cruise

Being away from home during the Christmas holidays can seem strange. You don’t have your tree with presents scattered underneath; if you have kids, they may think Santa will not visit.

But spending the Christmas holidays onboard a ship could be the most relaxing Christmas you’ve ever spent! You get a chance to relax and enjoy the holiday with family, and there is something for every family member on a cruise!

Cruising at Christmas - Cruising in the Caribbean usually comes with a stop that includes beaches….the best way to relax, escape the winter chill, and make family memories.
Cruising in the Caribbean usually comes with a stop that includes beaches….the best way to relax, escape the winter chill, and make family memories. Photo credit: Michele Mulone Butler

Why not dress up in matching Christmas outfits? What better way to make memories than to open the photo album next year and laugh as your family remembers all the fun it was cruising during the holidays!

Make new memories. Too often, we get stuck in a rut and celebrate the holidays the same way year after year. Taking a cruise during the holidays shakes things up a little, and you can make brand-new memories!!

You could spend Christmas onboard and then spend New Year’s with your kids and grandkids following your cruise.

Christmas Cruise Offerings

Caribbean cruises are some of the most popular choices for a cruise, no matter the time of year. Our favorite cruises have been to the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Mexico.

Caribbean cruises offer relaxation and time to spend getting your tan on, whether you choose to hit the gleaming white sand beaches, swim in warm turquoise waters, and hang out with family in a relaxed, laid-back island environment, or just lounge by one of the pools onboard your ship.

Of course, you should take on an adventure, like swimming with stingrays in Cozumel or heading to the Atlantis resort for the day in Nassau, Bahamas.

While in Bermuda, we had a fantastic opportunity to see hydrofoil sailboats racing ~ an unplanned adventure but something we will never forget!

Alternatively, if you are traveling with older children or taking a multi-generational cruise, consider a European river cruise or a Central America Cruise during the holiday season.

Cruising at Christmas - Dining Venues
The main dining venues are so beautiful on board, and even more so during the holiday! Photo credit: Jim Hill

What to Expect When Cruising at Christmas

Dining

The main dining rooms will be open on Christmas Day for dinner. Expect an exceptional Christmas menu, with all the trimmings. Specialty restaurants on some lines may close, so it is best to check with your cruise line regarding specialty dining.

Dress Code

The dress code onboard cruise ships has become much more relaxed than in years past. However, this cruiser’s rule of thumb for a Christmas cruise is to dress up more than usual.

Men don’t need to wear suits, but they might want to wear nice slacks and a polo shirt. Women could wear a dress in holiday colors or a glitzy top over slacks.

Consider taking photos (either through the cruise ship or with your camera or phone) to commemorate this time with family. Another plus for getting a bit dressed up is helping to get everyone in the holiday spirit. After all, it’s Christmas!

Cruising at Christmas - Our lovely balcony stateroom onboard the MSC Seaside.
Our lovely balcony stateroom onboard the MSC Seaside. Photo credit: Jim Hill

Accommodations Onboard

The accommodations onboard your cruise will be comfortable, and fairly roomy. Over our years of cruising, we’ve booked interior staterooms, suites, and balconies. Depending on the line you are cruising on each accommodation has certain perks that come with that accommodation.

On Royal Caribbean, we often choose a balcony room in the Aqua Class, which comes with its own dining venue and access to the spa area.

Cruising at Christmas - A lovely gift of champagne and chocolate awaited us in our stateroom onboard the MSC Seaside.
A lovely gift of champagne and chocolate awaited us in our stateroom onboard the MSC Seaside. Photo credit: Jim Hill

On our recent MSC cruise, we opted for a balcony room in the Aurea class, giving us My Choice dining, drink package, wifi, and spa access.

What we have found with upgrading our accommodations is that some lines will have a small surprise waiting for you in your cabin – on our MSC cruise, it was a lovely bottle of champagne and a bar of dark chocolate.

Cruising at Christmas - Christmas shows onboard
The Christmas shows onboard are top-notch, so be sure to factor in a show or three on your cruise! Photo credit: Jim Hill

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Many cruise ships shy away from being in port on Christmas Day, preferring to spend the day at sea. Usually, there is a special holiday show in the cruise ship’s theater on Christmas Eve; they might offer caroling and other special activities onboard.  

Spend your Christmas Day lounging on the ship, slipping into the pool, eating, and spending time with loved ones.                                                                

Celebrating Hanukkah Onboard a Cruise Ship

Cruise lines celebrate Hanukkah onboard as well as Christmas. Carnival Cruises, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Disney cruise lines offer a menorah lighting ceremony each night of Hanukkah.

Celebrity cruises take it up a notch by celebrating Hanukkah with unique crafts in the kid’s clubs, and traditional foods like latkes are on the menu to celebrate Hanukkah.

Princess Cruises also incorporates traditional songs and special holiday meals featuring Jewish foods – latkes, matzo ball soup, and gefilte fish. Themed activities for kids may include some holiday stories as well.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve Onboard

New Year’s Eve is usually spent in port, allowing guests to see an excellent local city fireworks display and, of course, celebrate with a ship-wide celebration including hats, noisemakers, music, dancing, and more!

Remember to catch your favorite College Bowl Championship game on New Year’s Day.

How To Choose a Cruise Line?

When you plan a Christmas cruise, it is vital to choose the right cruise line that offers a diverse selection of activities, because your family has diverse interests. Some might want quiet and relaxed, while others crave being in the midst of a crowded and large party environment.

When we cruise with our extended family, I make a list of everyone’s interests, then I try to find a cruise line and ship that will meet the majority of what everyone is seeking.

Another consideration are the ship cabins. Do we need larger suites, do we need connecting rooms, or can we be scattered on different decks? These are questions that will help narrow down your cabin decisions, and then the activities that people want will help you narrow down the cruise line and/or ship.

2023 Christmas Season Cruise Itinerary Highlights

Disney Cruise Lines

Disney Cruise Line offers many Christmas cruises beginning in November 2023. Families looking to celebrate a Very Merry Disney-style Christmas have lots of choices.

Disney Wish

Leaving from Florida’s Port Canaveral, Disney offers four-day cruises to the Bahamas onboard the Disney Wish during Christmas week. You’ll have stops at Nassau, Bahamas, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.

Disney Cruises during the Christmas season are over the top and include a 3-deck-tall Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the first evening of the cruise, which, of course, has the man of the season, Santa Claus, in attendance! You’ll have fun Christmas caroling during the celebration.

Other holiday events include the Mickey and Minnie Holiday Party, Very Merrytime-themed activities for the kids, Christmas carolers, and delightful Christmas-inspired food.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Viva

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Viva offers a nine-day ABC Caribbean post-Christmas cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico. This cruise hits Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and St. Lucia. The holiday activities vary on each of Norwegian’s ships, but you’ll find plenty of festivities, holiday food, and holiday entertainment.

Norwegian Joy

If you are looking for a cruise that hits some fantastic Central America and Caribbean destinations, this 10-day  cruise ship itinerary hits all the high spots.

Embarking from Panama City, Panama, you’ll transit the Panama Canal (a fantastic experience!), then on to Costa Rica, Grand Cayman, two ports in Mexico, Cozumel and Costa Maya, Belize, Honduras, and debarking in Miami, Florida.

Norwegian Gem

For those looking for a round-trip embarkation/debarkation holiday cruise, look at the Norwegian Gem. This 11-day holiday season cruise leaves Miami with stops in Grand Cayman, Columbia, transits the Panama Canal via Gatun Lake, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Cozumel, returning to Miami.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Independence of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s Western Caribbean 5-night cruise on the Independence of the Seas offers a Christmas week sailing that includes stops on CocoCay, the cruise line’s private island in the Bahamas, and Falmouth, Jamaica.

Some anticipated activities on this cruise include a competition to create the ugliest Christmas sweater, gingerbread cookie decorating classes, holiday games, trivia, and great entertainment.

Freedom of the Seas

Freedom of the Seas offers three-night, four-night round-trip cruise escapes to the Bahamas, embarking from the Port of Miami, Florida, with port calls in Nassau and Coco Cay, the cruise line’s private island. Freedom of the Seas has multiple holiday cruise dates.

This ship also offers a New Year’s cruise to Mexico, embarking from Miami, Florida, with port calls in Coco Cay and Cozumel.

Serenade of the Seas

Serenade of the Seas offers a four-night sea escape to the Bahamas, embarking from Miami, Florida, visiting Coco Cay in the Bahamas, and returning to Miami.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Conquest

Carnival Cruise Line’s four-day Christmas week Bahamas cruise onboard the Carnival Conquest is relatively easy on the pocketbook, and you will be gone for a short while.

You’ll have plenty of time to make memories, relax, and enjoy time together. This Christmas cruise will leave from the Port of Miami, Florida, stopping in Princess Cay and Nassau, Bahamas.

You’ll want to pack your ugliest Christmas sweater for this holiday cruise adventure and ugly sweater competition! You’ll find Christmas caroling and entertainment, including the Grinch and Santa.

Princess Cruise Line

Ruby Princess

Princess Cruises also offers a round-trip Panama Canal cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This holiday season cruise itinerary offers stops in Jamaica, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Grand Cayman.

River Cruising

European river cruising during Christmas is magical, with Christmas markets, mulled wine, and perhaps a sprinkling of snow. River cruising through Europe is an excellent choice for Christmas! River cruising differs from a Caribbean cruise in that you walk right off and are in town, ready to explore.

Family-Friendly River Cruise Lines

River cruise lines typically ask that children be at least 12 years old, so double-check their terms before booking.

Best Christmas River Cruise Lines

AmaWaterways River Cruise Line

AmaWaterways does offer child-friendly cruises in partnership with Adventures by Disney. Their minimum age requirement is 4 years old, and they offer special onboard programs for children (select sailings).

Avalon Waterways Cruise Line

Avalon Waterways will allow children 8 and up to cruise, but they do not offer any special sailings or any onboard programming for kids.

CroisiEurope Cruise Line

CroisiEurope does allow children of any age to sail with them. However, there are no onboard programs for children.

Tauck River Cruises 

Tauck offers family cruises with onboard programs for the kids. Tauck has an age requirement of three years old.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

This family-friendly cruise line offers special onboard programs for children. They prefer that your child be eight years old. However, they allow kids as young as four to cruise with them.

European river cruises offer an immersive experience that brings history alive and the opportunity to experience various cultures. You could visit sites like Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

BOOK YOUR CRUISE

Betsi Hill Avatar
Betsi Hill is your sun-soaked guide to global wanderlust, crafting stories from every corner of the globe and bringing you closer to each destination. Specializing in luxury escapes, multi-generational journeys, and all-inclusive, all-you-can-enjoy resorts, she’s got the inside scoop on unforgettable adventures. Got a passion for fine dining and great wine? Betsi’s got you covered, taking you along to some of the top wine and cocktail bars across Florida and the globe. Eager to paint the world with the colors of each place she visits, Betsi teams up with the top Destination Marketing Organizations and tourism boards to unveil the heartbeat of every location and share its unique narrative. If there’s a travel story out there, trust Betsi to tell it, and tell it well!
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