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Onboard Holiday Festivities
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Disney Cruise Line Christmas Holiday On the Boards: Holiday Exchange Forum

Ho, ho, ho and pass the dreidel. The holiday season is upon us, and those who have booked a cruise during this festive time are in for treats aplenty.

Given the number of families cruising over holidays, cruise lines have made special provisions for children onboard during the holiday season -- but it's not just the kids who'll get feted and fed! There's merriment for all ages, whether you relish a visit from Santa, choose to ring in the New Year with some top-notch bubbly, crave a turkey-and-cranberry sauce Thanksgiving dinner just like Grandma's, or celebrate by lighting a Hanukkah menorah (or all of the above).

We queried several cruise lines to see what they have planned for this holiday season, and whether they were offering anything new and different. We were particularly interested in Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's Eve.

For the most part, the cruise lines stick to time-steeped traditions without wandering too far out of the box -- so don't expect elf-tossing competitions on the promenade deck! However, there are some innovative festivities. For example, Princess Cruises employs snowmaking machines to offer daily snowfalls in the atrium throughout the month of December. On Disney Cruise Line's private island, Castaway Cay, the tram will be "magically" transformed into a sleigh. And, luxury line Crystal does a full-on balloon drop in the atrium to ring in the New Year.

What can you expect onboard? In general, here's what we learned:

Of the four major holidays -- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's -- Christmas garners the most attention.

On holidays, cruise lines serve special meals. For instance, expect latkes (potato pancakes) during Hanukkah. On Thanksgiving, you'll find roast turkey, along with such trimmings as stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Nearly all lines decorate to some degree, starting with pumpkins and cornucopias, followed by wreaths and decorated trees. Decorations generally go up around Thanksgiving and stay until the New Year, but the timing does vary from ship to ship.

On New Year's Eve, a shipwide countdown to midnight is to be expected, as is a Champagne toast.

Of course, every cruise line puts its own spin on holiday cheer. Keep reading for a line-by-line roundup of onboard celebrations. And, if you're interested in British and European lines, check out our companion story: U.K. Lines' Onboard Holiday Festivities.

Editor's note: This year, Thanksgiving falls on November 28; Hanukkah begins at sunset on November 27 and ends on December 5. Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are, as always, on December 25 and December 31, respectively.


Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be celebrated with a menorah lighting on each of the eight nights and with a traditional meal, including potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts. A rabbi will be onboard to lead prayers.

Christmas: The ships will be decorated with greenery and ornaments. Christmas celebrations include caroling by the ship's staff in public areas, holiday house music and seasonal movies. Most ships will also have some sort of holiday-themed show. A traditional Christmas dinner will be served. A priest and a reverend will be onboard to lead religious services.

New Year's Eve: New Year's Eve parties will include party favors and a Champagne toast at the dawn of 2014. A special holiday-themed dinner will be served. In addition, passengers on both of Azamara's ships will also have the opportunity to spend New Year's ashore. Azamara Quest will be docked in St. Barts, where passengers will be able to enjoy fireworks. Azamara Journey is slated to be at Phuket, Thailand.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving dinner will be served in the main dining rooms.

Hanukkah: A menorah-lighting ceremony will be held on each night of Hanukkah.

Christmas: The ships will be decorated with holiday wreaths, Christmas trees and lights, and signs proclaiming traditional holiday greetings. Seasonal music will play in passengers' cabins. The cruise director and staff will offer several holiday-themed shows throughout each cruise, and at least one seasonal movie will be shown (such as "Polar Express"). A special holiday performance featuring children and the decorations they made in Camp Carnival will be a highlight. Santa will visit with gifts for the kids, and a traditional Christmas dinner -- featuring turkey and pecan pie -- will be served.

New Year's Eve: Passengers will be provided with hats, favors and noisemakers, and complimentary Champagne will be served.


Celebrity Cruises Christmas Gingerbread House Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be celebrated with the lighting of a menorah on each of the eight nights and with a traditional meal, including potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts. A rabbi will be onboard to lead prayers.

Christmas: The ships will be decorated with gingerbread houses created by the line's pastry chefs. Christmas celebrations include caroling by professional singers in public areas, sing-alongs, holiday scrapbooking sessions and seasonal movies. Most ships will also have some sort of holiday-themed show. The shops will have special holiday shopping events, along with festive decorations, holiday music and freshly baked cookies, while the spa will offer special holiday treatment options. Santa will pay a visit and hand out gifts to kids ages 3 to 17. A traditional Christmas dinner will be served, as well as a midnight "Tree Trimmers Buffet" on Christmas Eve and a special brunch on Christmas Day. Holiday-themed cocktail specials will also be available, and the ships' photo galleries will offer special family photo holiday cards for purchase. A priest and a reverend will be onboard to lead religious services.

New Year's Eve: New Year's Eve parties will include party favors and a Champagne toast at the dawn of 2014. A special holiday-themed dinner will be served.

Costa Cruises

Seasonal Style: Christmas ... Italian style

Thanksgiving: No Costa ship will be sailing in North America during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hanukkah: No Costa ship will be sailing in North America during Hanukkah.

Christmas: The ships will be festively decorated. Some crew will dress in holiday costumes. Santa will visit, and each child onboard will be invited to receive a gift and take a photo with him. There will be a midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

New Year's Eve: All of the lounges will be decorated with streamers and other appropriate decorations. They will host live music and dance parties, and the disco will remain open until early morning. All passengers will receive party favors and noisemakers to add to the festive atmosphere.

Crystal Cruises

Seasonal Style: Family fun in an elaborate and elegant setting

Thanksgiving: A gourmet twist on the traditional five-course feast will be the highlight of the day.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be festive with blue, white and silver floral arrangements. There will be a menorah lighting, morning get-togethers with a rabbi and Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) for kids of all ages. Special Hanukkah meals will include gefilte fish, kosher chicken, matzo ball soup and latkes (potato pancakes).

Christmas: Each Christmas cruise will be kicked off by a tree-lighting ceremony with the captain, featuring carol singers. Hot chocolate, glogg (mulled wine) and an incredible daily assortment of holiday cookies from around the world will be served throughout the cruise. Decorations will include trees bedecked with shimmering glass ornaments and jewels, gingerbread houses, and whimsical reindeer wearing pine harnesses. Special seasonal movies will be shown in the ships' theaters and on the in-room televisions. Clergy will be onboard to lead Catholic and Protestant Christmas Eve services.

Christmas Eve will include a dinner of roast goose with chestnut stuffing, holiday music in the piano bar, religious services and an evening holiday musical production. Christmas Day will bring eggnog in the morning and a gala luncheon and visit from Santa in the afternoon with gifts for youngsters onboard. A traditional Christmas Day dinner, featuring roast turkey, will also be served.

New Year's Eve: Both ships will offer passengers a gala black tie optional dinner, followed by drinks (Champagne), dancing, live music and a midnight countdown, with balloon drops in the atrium. On New Year's Day, celebrations will continue with a special brunch with Champagne, Bloody Marys and mimosas.


Seasonal Style: Traditional, classy and British -- with a nod to the Yank.

Thanksgiving: A turkey dinner will be served.

Hanukkah: Menorahs will be displayed, and rabbis will conduct daily services during Hanukkah (yarmulkes available). A selection of kosher meals will be provided, including traditional potato latkes.

Christmas: All three ships will be festooned with greenery, including trees and wreaths, poinsettias, ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread cottages and twinkling lights. Father Christmas will visit, of course, and hand out gifts to the kids. All passengers will find a Christmas gift and card in their cabins. There will be special shows in the theater, caroling and pantomime, and a gala Christmas supper with roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Queen Mary 2's Grand Lobby will also feature periodic "snowing events" whereby special holiday activities are conducted under a light snow fall (simulated, of course). Since Christmas is a religious holiday at heart, the ships will offer Catholic and Protestant services.

New Year's Eve: Passengers will have a jolly old time at the black-tie gala with horns, hats, streamers and noisemakers.

Disney Cruise Line

Seasonal Style: Traditional family celebrations with Disney's magical twists

Thanksgiving: The ships will be filled with seasonal decorations, and each dining room will provide a Thanksgiving feast. Kids will have the opportunity to make holiday crafts, and characters will wear seasonal costumes. Those interested in football will also be able to catch NFL games on the family pool's jumbo LED screen.

Hanukkah: Services will be held each day. Holiday storytellers will share tales of Hanukkah.

Christmas: "Very Merrytime Cruises" showcase a three-deck-tall Christmas tree in the atrium, replete with "snow" flurries and decorations. Throughout the holiday season, there will be afternoon tropical pool parties to celebrate the island way. Families can also get together to do holiday-themed craft projects. On Christmas Eve, storytellers will share tales of diverse holiday traditions. A midnight mass is planned for Christmas Eve and church services for Christmas Day. Santa Goofy and Santa Claus will visit with children on Christmas Day while elves pass out gifts, cookies and milk. All three themed restaurants will feature traditional Christmas feasts on Christmas Day. Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, will become a tropical winter wonderland -- complete with "snow" and carolers. The island's tram will be transformed into a sleigh. Kids and adults can partake in craftmaking activities along the beach, such as designing snowflake mobiles and creating candy-cane reindeer.

New Year's Eve: There will be a shipwide party on New Year's Eve with a countdown to 2014, featuring sparkling wine in commemorative flutes, confetti and balloons.

Holland America Line

Holland America Christmas Cruise Seasonal Style: Generally traditional with exceptions on Mexican Riviera cruises, which also celebrate Las Posadas (the nine days before Christmas) and Ano Nuevo (New Year's)

Thanksgiving: Traditional Thanksgiving supper will be served, and the ships will be decorated with fall and Thanksgiving icons, such as squash, pumpkins and colorful foliage.

Hanukkah: A rabbi will lead a menorah lighting each evening during the holiday.

Christmas: A full range of family activities -- including holiday decoration-making and special movie screenings -- is planned. There will be carolers, a tree-lighting ceremony, eggnog served in the atrium and special activities in Club HAL. Christmas Eve celebrations will include a special crew show, a Santa's late-night milk-and-cookies snack, and a turndown gift in passenger staterooms. A Christmas brunch is planned, as well as a visit from Santa for the kids. Clergy will be onboard to hold services.

New Year's Eve: A special gala celebration will be followed by New Year's Day college football; Holland America will arrange to broadcast some of the bowl games.

MSC Cruises

Seasonal Style: A blend of Mediterranean and traditional festivities (on all ships, except Miami-based MSC Divina, which offers traditional celebrations in a Caribbean Christmas setting)

Thanksgiving: Passengers onboard Divina can enjoy a traditional dinner and holiday show, while multiple large-screen TV's will be dedicated to Thanksgiving football games for sports fans. A Thanksgiving Day parade will entertain kids, ages 3 to 11, while children 12 to 17 can enjoy a holiday-themed scavenger hunt, flash mob and party.

Hanukkah: A nightly menorah lighting by a cantor or rabbi will take place. Traditional Hanukkah foods and special kosher meals can be ordered in advance.

Christmas: Ships across the MSC fleet will be adorned with Christmas trees, wreaths, garland and lights to celebrate this year's holiday season. Passengers can enjoy carol singing, choir performances, midnight mass, visits from Santa and other holiday-themed activities. Kids and teens will also enjoy special events, including a baby disco, arts and crafts, a talent show, teen party and prom, and Christmas parade.

New Year's Eve: A specially prepared, five-course New Year's Eve dinner and New Year's Day lunch will be served.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: The main dining rooms and buffet restaurants will serve seasonal favorites and specialty Thanksgiving-themed cocktails, such as Pumpkin Pie Martinis. The ship will be dressed in Thanksgiving decorations.

Hanukkah: A centrally located menorah will be lit each evening during the holiday.

Christmas: The ships are to be decorated throughout with poinsettias, Christmas trees, twinkling lights and other holiday decorations. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and crewmembers are slated to perform in the theater and lead carols throughout the ship. Santa visits on Christmas Day, as well. Dinner service on Christmas Day will include a holiday-themed menu, and the ship offers themed specialty cocktails during the season, including eggnog. All culinary teams will create a Gingerbread House and Holiday Village, which will be displayed in each ship's atrium. Special goodies will be available to passengers, including holiday cookies, yule logs, pumpkin pie and more.

New Year's Eve: Party time! Meals in the main restaurants will be festive. Passengers are to be given noisemakers for the party, and the ships' captains count down to the New Year from the bridge.

Oceania Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving dinner is planned.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah activities will include a nightly menorah-lighting ceremony. The holiday menu will include potato latkes, matzo ball soup and challah.

Christmas: The ships will be decorated with traditional festive holiday decor. The holiday menu will include roast turkey, goose or ham, traditional trimmings, sweets and eggnog. There will be caroling on Christmas Eve, themed entertainment and special guest performers. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve will be followed by an ecumenical worship service on Christmas Day. Santa will visit Christmas morning with gifts for children onboard.

New Year's Eve: Weather permitting, there will be a New Year's Eve gala held out on deck, as well as parties throughout the ship, to ring in 2014. Passengers will enjoy live music, noisemakers, party hats and Champagne.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises Christmas Caroling Seasonal Style: Traditional and well-rounded

Thanksgiving: All ships will feature a typical Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey, stuffing and pie.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be celebrated on each of the eight nights with the lighting of the menorah, religious services, traditional songs and special holiday meals that will feature Jewish foods, such as latkes, matzo ball soup and gefilte fish.

Christmas: Christmas Eve will include a special show, caroling, parades and music throughout the ship. There's a midnight mass; Christmas Day brings Santa, eggnog, a special Christmas feast and themed children's activities. Other Christmas celebrations will feature a "gingerbread challenge," a card-making craft activity, a Christmas carol pop star talent show, holiday films and even an onboard reading of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Ships will be trimmed with festive holiday decor, and cabins will feature virtual traditional Yule logs.

Princess' Christmas revelry will also feature a daily snowfall aboard all December sailings (with the exception of Pacific Princess and Ocean Princess). Innovative snow-making machines will create romantic winter flurries in the atrium, allowing passengers to experience a white Christmas without the need for mittens or a coat! A tree-lighting ceremony will take place early in the season, and passengers can take classes in mini-wreath-making and gift-wrapping.

New Year's Eve: Clackers, hats, streamers and Champagne will all be on hand to help the captain count down to 2014. Passengers will enjoy a special New Year's Eve menu. So parents can party, Princess offers free group baby-sitting for children ages 3 to 12 in the youth centers on New Year's Eve.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: A special Thanksgiving dinner is planned. NFL football games will be shown onboard.

Hanukkah: There will be candle-lighting services each night of Hanukkah and a Hanukkah Dinner concluding the eight-day celebration.

Christmas: The ships will be festively decorated for the holiday season -- think magnificent gingerbread house displays -- and passengers can attend holiday-themed entertainment. On Christmas Eve, Regent Seven Seas will feature a festive dinner menu with Christmas dishes from various European countries, and on Christmas Day the line will offer a traditional American Christmas Dinner. An interdenominational service will also be held on Christmas Eve. Christmas cookies, eggnog and Christmas carols will be part of the festivities.

New Year's Eve: A special New Year's dinner is planned. A New Year's party will be held on deck, weather permitting, and it will include complimentary Champagne. For the New Year's party, passengers can enjoy caviar, chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries and other treats.

Royal Caribbean

Seasonal Style: Traditional and vibrant, with special activities for kids

Thanksgiving: Expect the usual: a special menu with roast turkey and all the fixin's, seasonal decor, Thanksgiving arts and crafts, and family activities and games.

Hanukkah: A rabbi will be onboard for services. Hanukkah will be celebrated with lighting ceremonies, songs, games, food and even a kids' history of Hanukkah.

Christmas: Christmas celebrations will feature holiday music and decorations, as well as screenings of holiday movie classics in the theater, an ice-skating party (on ships that have rinks) and a special Christmas menu. Religious services will be led by an onboard priest. Kids in Adventure Ocean can enjoy a parade of Santa and his elves, Christmas cookie decorating, and a professional face-painter or caricaturist.

New Year's Eve: Festive countdown parties for kids and teens are planned, and the children's center will have extended hours. For adults, each lounge will have a New Year's Eve party, complete with party favors and decorations. The captain and cruise director will lead a countdown at midnight.

Seabourn Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: Seabourn will offer a traditional American-style Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey and all the trimmings.

Hanukkah: A traditional menorah will be on display.

Christmas: Seabourn ships will be decked out for the holidays with a gingerbread "village" (complete with cookies to keep passengers from eating the display), Christmas trees throughout the public areas and evergreen decorations on the railings. A special Christmas performance will showcase holiday music throughout the ages, and a formal dinner will include a holiday feast, paper crowns and Christmas crackers. A Catholic priest will be onboard during these cruises.

New Year's Eve: The gala evening will be made festive with a formal dinner and a holiday ball in the main show lounge.

Silversea Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional with an old-fashioned flair

Thanksgiving: Expect a traditional meal of roast turkey and typical fall decor.

Hanukkah: A rabbi will be onboard during Hanukkah to lead services and light the menorah.

Christmas: Not only will the ships be decorated for the season, but the cruise line's master chefs get into the act, as well. Cheery and whimsical gingerbread cottages, chocolate creations and cookies will add to the decor, along with the traditional greenery and ornaments. Christmas services will be led by onboard clergy. During the season, eggnog, mulled wine and hot chocolate will be available. Both passengers and crew can participate in caroling. There will also be a special holiday offering in the show lounge and a visit from Santa Claus for all onboard.

New Year's Eve: Complimentary Champagne, streamers, party hats and noisemakers will all be on hand for the gala New Year's Eve celebrations, which are scheduled to start early with a pre-dinner performance in the show lounge and continue with dinner and dancing in the main restaurant. Live music, gifts and surprises will continue until the countdown to 2014.

Windstar Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional, though low-key

Thanksgiving: Windstar will offer a special Thanksgiving menu. Culinary delights are to include pumpkin soup; Tom turkey with chestnut-cornbread stuffing and native cranberry-orange relish; and American apple pie with toasted pecan ice cream, crab apple coulis and caramel.

Hanukkah: A menorah will be on display.

Christmas: Each Windstar ship will be decorated with beautiful holiday decorations, including trees, wreaths, garland, lights and a gingerbread house in the reception area. The crew also put on a caroling show. The ships' executive chefs will go all out with a special holiday menu, featuring foie gras, roasted butternut squash soup and traditional roast turkey with gravy, cranberry sauce, apple-pecan stuffing and whipped sweet potatoes.

New Year's Eve: Windstar will serve up caviar and Champagne on New Year's Eve. A special New Year's Eve dinner will also be served. It is tradition on Windstar ships for the oldest crewmember to ring out the old year and the youngest to ring in the new. Passengers will be able to partake in a festive New Year's Eve party, complete with party favors, live music, an official countdown by the captain and a Champagne toast.

--Updated by the Cruise Critic staff


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