Why You Should Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

There are many reasons to celebrate Christmas on a cruise, but if anyone in your family needs a little convincing, we’ve got you covered.

Christmas on a Cruise

Cruising and Christmas; two words that are likely to trigger joy, whether you’re young or old. So why not combine them for the ultimate celebration at sea? Sure, many people associate the winter holiday with snow and a toasty fireplace, but it’s never too late to start a new tradition — maybe one with palm trees and frozen hot chocolate.

There are a great many merits to observing Christmas on a cruise vacation, but if anyone in your family needs a little convincing, we’ve got you covered. Here are some benefits of dashing through the sea this year, along with a few tips for making your holiday sailing as merry as possible.

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What are the benefits of celebrating Christmas on a cruise?

Not having to host or clean

Of course a cozy Christmas at home is wonderful when you just have to show up. But for those family members who spend many hours prepping, cooking, cleaning, and hosting the big day (or Christmas Eve), it’s a lot of work!  Maybe your mother-in-law swears that hosting the entire extended family is rewarding, but we promise that she won’t miss accommodating your vegan cousin, dealing with a drunk uncle, or doing piles of dishes.

A cruise caters to your every whim, from dietary restrictions to large dining reservations, special requests and even late-night room service…maybe even some cookies and milk for the Man in Red. You won’t even have to make your own bed in the morning!

Christmas on a Cruise

Gorgeous decorations

We are sure that your Charlie Brown Christmas tree is positively charming. But cruise lines take holiday decorating to another level (they have the budget for it, after all).

Your itinerary might be somewhere decidedly not wintry, but the onboard atmosphere should still be festive and magical. Each cruise line decks the halls in their own unique way, but you can probably expect multiple trimmed trees, garlands, a miniature train or gingerbread display, and lots and lots of lights.

Lavish meals and holiday desserts

It’s widely known that you’re never going to go hungry on a cruise. Some newer and larger vessels have nearly two-dozen dining venues! However, Christmas is an entirely different story. Menus and offerings will vary by cruise line but anticipate a gala dinner on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas day, along with many tasty treats of the holiday season.

On a Christmas markets river cruise, most ships offer gingerbread-making demos and steaming mugs of spiced, mulled wine.

Themed entertainment and events

Adults looking for a subdued and relaxing way to ring in a merry little Christmas can certainly find it on a cruise ship. Although families looking to keep the holiday spirit alive can also seek out cruise lines who lean into kid-friendly festivities, from caroling to crafts, a tree lighting, and character meet-and-greets.

As mentioned, cruise itineraries throughout Europe, for example, will offer plentiful Christmas cheer on and off your ship, with holiday markets, classical concerts, and other portside celebrations of the season.

Tropical weather in December

The wintry wonder of falling snow is less peaceful for those of us who have to dig our cars out of it. Maybe by late December you and your family are a bit fed up with falling temps and the perfect gift is a little surf and sand.

Consider packing your Santa hats and matching swimsuits for a warm-weather Christmas cruise this year. Part of the fun of a cruise is being able to “get away” for a few days and just think how good it will feel to ring in the new year with a bit of a tan. Trade in shovels for shorts and treat your loved ones to some much-needed sunshine.

Christmas on a Cruise

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Tips for planning a cruise at Christmastime

Book in advance

Maybe you’ve never thought to spend Christmas on a cruise before, but plenty of other people have. With limited departures that span December 25, you’ll want to reserve your place early in the year for the best choice of cabin and the chance to track pricy holiday flights (if needed).

Be on the lookout for deals a year or more in advance, with discounts potentially available during promotional periods like wave season (late fall to winter); Black Friday (November); and even Christmas.

Anticipate weather-related delays

It might be a balmy 80 degrees with not a cloud in the sky where you are docked, but it’s important to remember that back home— depending on where you live — it’s still winter. Plan to reach your departure port at least a day in advance to account for any weather-related delays or cancellations.

You don’t want to fixate on the banalities of home while you’re working on your backstroke in the pool but be sure to check in occasionally for the chance of any winter storms while you are away. Be sure that a trusted friend or family member has access to your home in case of emergency (frozen pipe, etc.).

Especially in the wintertime, it might be worth considering a car service to and from the airport or upgrading to a covered lot for airport or cruise port parking. Nothing like coming home from Christmas vacation to find that a snowplow has blocked your car with a wall of ice, and you are temporarily stranded.

Consider bringing festive attire/door decor

Matching T-shirts and door decorations are a hallmark of cruises at any time during the year, so why not go all in with the Christmas cheer? Splurge on those matching family jammies (bonus points for footie pajamas) and don’t forget some spruced-up attire for a formal dinner or family portrait.

Kids will especially love the idea of decorating your door with a wreath, stockings, a basket of candy canes or anything else that will keep your cabin extra festive.

Don’t forget about the crew, including your stateroom attendant. It’s Christmas for them too, and they might enjoy a little extra token of appreciation. After all, giving is the reason for the season.

Decide whether you’re packing gifts

For many couples or families with older children, the cruise itself is the ultimate Christmas present. Discuss exchanging presents at home before or after the sailing. Another great option is to pre-purchase experiences as the gifts, like a shore excursion or additional onboard experience.

However, for a child, there is no substitute for unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. Chances are, even if you don’t pack the entire haul, you will have to bring along a few goodies to open. It’s a logistical move deciding how much to pack, but you could sprinkle in small items or pack carry-ons and check a single suitcase full of toys.

Consider if candy or clothes will need to be repacked and brought home or if the opened gifts might make a little room for souvenirs (and holiday gifts for friends) on the return trip.

Christmas on a cruise

Celebrate a new tradition

Part of the novelty of welcoming the Christmas season on a cruise is that it’s something new and different. Keep that mentality when it comes to local holiday traditions in the ports of call you are visiting.

If you’re in Sweden on December 13 you might learn about St. Lucia Day. If you’re sailing earlier in the month in Germany or even Australia, you might witness the terrifying tradition of Krampus Nacht, which takes place each December 5. Many Central American countries host fireworks displays on Christmas Eve, well before New Year’s. Barbadians enjoy a traditional Christmas ham along with rum cake, of course. New Zealanders take part in an outdoor cookout.

Do cruise lines observe other winter holidays?

The focus of this article is Christmas, but of course the winter holidays encompass the celebrations of other religions and cultures. You are likely to find a menorah onboard a cruise ship during the holiday season, lit accordingly to commemorate the eight nights of Hanukkah. A nightly prayer service might be held for observant cruisers. Also, ask in advance about special Kosher holiday meals.

Cruisers might also find a kinara, or candle holder that represents the African holiday Kwanzaa, observed between December 26 and January 1.

Christmas on a cruise

How cruise lines celebrate Christmas onboard

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival’s FUN ships are certainly no exception from the frolic and festivities of the holidays. Participate in an ugly sweater competition, attend a special on-stage holiday performance, mail letters to Santa with a designated mailbox onboard, and don’t forget to celebrate Grinchmas, in partnership with Seuss at Sea.

Celebrity Cruises

On Celebrity, you can spend a silent night, holy night at the spa or attending a Christmas movie under the stars. Themed shows and music can be found around the ship, as well as traditional foods for your holiday meal. Even in the middle of the sea, Santa and his reindeer find their way onboard for a special visit with kids cruising during Christmas.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line’s Very Merrytime cruises bring the magic of the holidays onboard as only Disney can do. Families can expect character meet-and-greets in their holiday best; a 24-foot-tall Christmas tree with a lighting aboard each sailing; a holiday deck show (with appearances from Kris Kringle himself); Christmas-themed activities and crafts; and of course, plenty of holiday merch to stash under the tree — or in the cabin.

If your ship is calling on a Disney private island like Castaway Cay, prepare to be wowed by tropical “snow flurries” and even a Christmas tree standing tall among the sandy beaches.

Holland America Line

Classy lights will twinkle and wreaths will spread cheer on a decked-out Holland America Christmas cruise. Enjoy a traditional Christmas feast with all the trimmings, join fellow passengers for a tree lighting, and be serenaded by a holiday choir. Adults can attend sophisticated cocktail parties on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, while kids are assured to enjoy a few holiday surprises at Club HAL.

Christmas on a cruise

MSC Cruises

MSC welcomes families to embark on the ultimate Christmas cruise, whether it’s four or 14 days; in the Caribbean or Northern Europe. Mr. Claus is on hand to attend to kids’ wish lists, handing out gifts to each child in partnership with brands like Lego and Chicco.

Families can celebrate together at a holiday show or Christmas karaoke session. Adults might want to participate in a holiday-themed version of the cooking competition MasterChef. A number of themed activities happen throughout the sailing in the kids’ clubs, including a Christmas parade along with mascots Doremi and Lego sailors.

Christmas on a Cruise

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian offers a wide range of Christmastime itineraries with a focus on warm weather, from the Mexican Riviera and the Bahamas to Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

Despite the heat, pack your dodgy jumper and prepare to dance past gingerbread displays and sing along to a playlist of all the top Christmas tunes. Take part in Christmas trivia, enjoy eggnog by the pool, and warm your belly with a yuletide feast. Kids won’t want to miss a visit from Santa, though check in advance as this might be itinerary dependent.

Princess Cruises

Sail the Panama Canal or the South Pacific on a Princess Cruises Christmas cruise. No matter where you are, you will feel in the spirit onboard, with elegant decorations, holiday entertainment, and Catholic mass.

Gorge on seasonal treats like Christmas cookies, a yule log cake, or traditional mincemeat pie. Kids won’t miss their own beds with tons of activities like ornament making, singalongs, a Christmas play, and an appearance from Saint Nicholas with gifts in hand for each child.

Royal Caribbean

Family cruise line incarnate Royal Caribbean comes highly decorated and well prepared to observe all the Christmas tidings. You and your family can expect to visit with a few of Santa’s elves, singalong with carols, screen a holiday movie, make a craft, decorate some Christmas cookies, go on a themed scavenger hunt and more, during your Christmas sailing.

A main dining room dinner during Christmas includes dishes like ham, turkey and beef wellington, with dessert options like spice cake or a traditional French buche de noel. On a holiday cruise, priests are typically present onboard to hold special mass on both Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Viking Cruises

Viking offers a range of ocean, expedition and river cruising, but for the holiday season, it’s bread and butter is its Christmas market river cruises. A hallmark of many river cruise lines, these sailings soak in all the magic of the season with calls on various ports like Vienna or Budapest that host sprawling holiday festivals with enchanting local vendors.

In addition to promises of storybook villages and the sights and smells of these gorgeous markets, cruisers can expect tasty, onboard holiday fare; musical performances; cooking demonstrations; and the slow-moving scenery of Europe in the advent season.

Christmas on a Cruise

Virgin Voyages

Celebrating without kids? Virgin Voyages has the mistletoe and spiked punch ready for you and your friends on pre-holiday getaways as well as their unconventional sailings over Christmas. Special menu offerings and the line’s eyebrow-raising brand of entertainment are sure to wash away the winter blues.

Pack your ugly sweaters, your finest holiday fit, and of course a splash of red for Scarlet Night. Pub crawls and PJ parties will count you down until Christmas morning, though the holiday vibe onboard Virgin is way more subtle than other cruise lines. If you’re looking to escape the holiday drama altogether, this line might be for you.

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Have you ever celebrated Christmas on a cruise? What are some of your pros and cons to spending the holidays at sea? Drop us an anchor below to share your Christmas cruise experiences.

Brittany has covered cruising professionally for more than a decade. She embarked on a world cruise as a college student aboard Semester at Sea, and never stopped sailing. Formerly a Cruise Critic editor, Brittany now writes about ships and their many destinations for various industry and consumer outlets. She is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore.
Brittany Chrusciel, Contributor
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Why You Should Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

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