Your Ultimate Cruise Guide

Onboard Holiday Festivities 2015

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 be 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 Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's Eve in 2015, and whether they were offering anything new and different. 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? Here's what we learned:

Of the four major holidays -- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's -- Christmas garners the most attention, but New Year's cruises are often most expensive and sell out first.

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: In 2015, Thanksgiving falls on November 26. Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 6 and ends on December 14. Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are, as always, on December 25 and December 31, respectively.

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Azamara Club Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional.

Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served on Journey and Quest.

Hanukkah: A rabbi is onboard both ships for the Hanukkah celebration.

Christmas: Both ships will offer special holiday-themed buffets in the Windows Cafe, as well as special menus in the main dining room on December 24 and 25. The cruise director will have a special Christmas Show on December 25. Christmas cookies will be served the entire voyage. Both ships will also have a crew video that features Azamara's employees wishing passengers "Merry Christmas" in their native languages.

New Year's Eve: Both ships will feature a special dinner menu on December 31. If weather permits, the traditional New Year's Eve White Party will be held on deck. On New Year's Day, a brunch will be held in Discoveries.

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 the kids club 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

Seasonal Style: Traditional.

Thanksgiving: A variety of activities will take place on Thanksgiving, including games, a turkey pardoning by the captain and a special "I'm thankful for" video montage of quotes from passengers, created and played prior to a production show and available on stateroom TVs. There will be special Thanksgiving activities, trivia and crafts for kids, and a Thanksgiving dinner. 

Hanukkah: Rabbis will be onboard to celebrate the holiday with daily menorah lightings.

Christmas: During the season, Celebrity ships will feature pop-up atmospheric performances, featuring "winter escape elves," choir performances, a holiday-themed show and a holiday celebration with a snow machine and an emulator DJ system, as well as "port vs. starboard reindeer games," Christmas movies, gingerbread houses and cookie decorating, and a Top Chef holiday Quickfire challenge. For kids, there will be a Santa parade leading to a winter wonderland, gifts for kids and teens, kid-friendly interactive classes and a Fun Factory holiday carnival. There will be Christmas services on the holiday itself.

New Year's Eve: Celebrity is planning celebrations in multiple venues, with bands and DJs, pop-up performances, a poolside celebration, a countdown and a balloon drop at midnight.

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: On Costa Deliziosa's December 21 cruise from Fort Lauderdale, passengers can enjoy holiday decorations throughout the ship. Children can go caroling and do holiday arts and crafts, and everyone will have opportunities to pose for photos with costumed crew members. On December 24, a seven-course Christmas Eve dinner will feature Italian specialties, and passengers can attend an onboard mass. On Christmas Day, Santa will hand out gifts to all the children onboard.

New Year's Eve: New Year's Eve celebrations kick off with a lavish six-course dinner followed by a holiday party with live music and a DJ. A countdown clock will be displayed in all lounges and on the poolside movie screen. The festivities will carry on after midnight with a special midnight buffet and dancing in the disco until the early morning.

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. 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 roasted duck with chestnut stuffing, religious services and an evening holiday show. Christmas Day will bring eggnog, a visit from Santa in the morning with gifts for youngsters onboard, and a gala luncheon. A traditional Christmas Day dinner, featuring roasted turkey, will also be served.

New Year's Eve: Both ships will offer passengers a black-tie-optional gala dinner, followed by drinks (Champagne), dancing, live music and a midnight countdown with balloon drop. On Crystal Symphony, passengers can celebrate in Rio with fireworks and Champagne on Copacabana Beach. On Crystal Serenity, passengers will ring in the New Year at sea. On New Year's Day, celebrations will continue with a special brunch with Champagne, bloody Marys and mimosas.

Disney Cruise Line

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

Thanksgiving: Onboard dining rooms will serve up turkey dinners, and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse will make appearances dressed in traditional Thanksgiving attire. Those interested in football will be able to catch NFL games on jumbo LED screens by each ship's family pool.

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

Christmas: "Very Merrytime Cruises" run from early November through the New Year. During these sailings, passengers can enjoy holiday-themed crafts like making gingerbread houses and decorating stockings, Dickens-inspired carolers, holiday storytellers and a tropical deck party. Disney characters will host Mickey's Tree-Lighting Magic on the first night of the cruise, when the three-deck-tall Christmas tree will be lit. At Santa's Winter Wonderland Ball, passengers can celebrate the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus with Broadway-style entertainment, holiday music, dressed-up characters and a "snowfall" in the atrium, courtesy of the "Frozen" princesses.

A midnight mass is planned for Christmas Eve. Church services are also planned for Christmas Day, along with visits from Santa Claus in the atrium and Christmas feasts in all three main restaurants. Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, will become a tropical winter wonderland -- complete with "snow," a Christmas tree, Disney character meet-and-greets and holiday island music.

New Year's Eve: There will be a shipwide party on New Year's Eve with a countdown to 2016, featuring sparkling wine in commemorative flutes and music.

Holland America Line

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. Electric menorahs also will be showcased at the front desk and in the Neptune Lounge. Passengers can enjoy traditional dishes, such as latkes.

Christmas: Holland America has planned a full range of family activities -- including holiday decoration-making and special movie screenings. There will be carolers, a tree-lighting ceremony, eggnog served in the atrium, a holiday-themed Royal Dutch High Tea 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 (except on Miami-based MSC Divina, which offers traditional celebrations in a Caribbean setting).

Thanksgiving: Passengers onboard MSC Divina can enjoy a traditional dinner and holiday show, while multiple large-screen TVs 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. In addition, all passengers can enjoy a variety of Thanksgiving-themed pool games with a chance to win prizes.

Hanukkah: For those celebrating Hanukkah, MSC Divina will host a nightly menorah lighting and serve traditional Hanukkah foods. Special kosher meals can also 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, Christmas mass, visits from Santa Claus -- who will present a gift to every child onboard. A special Christmas menu created by world-acclaimed chef, Carlo Cracco, will feature roasted scampi, caramelized beef, and saffron risotto. Additional Christmas activities for adults include everything from a Super Chef Christmas Edition culinary competition and holiday-themed arts and crafts to a seasonal talent show. Special events for kids and teens include Christmas-themed cooking classes, arts and crafts, a talent show, teen party and prom, and a parade.

New Year's Eve: Star chef, Carlo Cracco has also created a special New Year's Eve dinner menu that will feature high-end dishes such as steamed sea bass fillet and lobster tail au gratin. In addition, passengers will enjoy New Year's Eve parties, dancing and a Champagne toast as they count down to midnight.

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, crew members 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 festive yet tasteful 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. An interdenominational service will be held on Christmas Eve. Santa will visit Christmas morning with gifts for children onboard.

New Year's Eve: Weather permitting, there will be a New Year's Eve celebration held out on deck, as well as all the lounges throughout the ship, to ring in 2016. Passengers will enjoy live music, noisemakers, party hats and a Champagne toast at the stroke of midnight.

Princess Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional and well-rounded.

Thanksgiving: All ships will feature festive decor and a typical Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey, stuffing and pie. Activities include turkey-carving demonstrations, a turkey-calling contest and pumpkin-themed Junior Chef@Sea for kids. Princess' atrium also will feature a Tree of Thanks, where passengers can add a special message. Football fans can catch the games on the Movies Under the Stars outdoor screen.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be celebrated on each of the eight nights with the lighting of a menorah, religious services (only if a passenger volunteers to lead the service), traditional songs and special holiday meals that will feature Jewish foods, such as latkes, matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. Passengers also can engage in a number of themed activities, such as a reading of "Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah."

Christmas: Christmas Eve will include a special show, caroling, parades and music throughout the ship. There's a midnight mass (only if a passenger volunteers to lead the service); 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 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 snowmaking 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 as the captain counts down to 2016. A balloon drop will commence when the clock strikes midnight. Passengers will enjoy a special New Year's Eve menu. So parents can party, Princess offers free group babysitting 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.

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 will feature a 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 International

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

Thanksgiving: Expect the usual: a special menu with roast turkey and all the fixings, 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, caroling, 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. On ships featuring the DreamWorks Experience, passengers will have the chance to take holiday-themed photos with characters from "Kung Fu Panda," "Shrek" and "Madagascar."

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 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. From Christmas Eve through the day after Christmas, an additional display made up of a gingerbread house, themed chocolates and candy, Christmas cookies, and dried and fresh fruits will adorn all the buffet service areas. On Christmas Eve, a basket or plate of holiday goodies is delivered to each cabin at turndown. 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. Extras such as Yuletide log cake at the brunch buffet and holiday drinks are also included.

New Year's Eve: The gala evening will be made festive with a formal-optional 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 2016.

Viking Ocean Cruises

Seasonal Style: Elegant celebrations with little fuss

Thanksgiving: Viking Star will offer a special Thanksgiving menu for dinner on November 26, which also happens to be embarkation day. The ship will be overnighting in Venice on Thanksgiving, so passengers who choose to participate in an evening excursion might miss the celebrations.

Hanukkah: A menorah will be lit each evening of the holiday.

Christmas: Viking Star will sport elegant holiday decorations during most of December. Holiday-themed activities include caroling and special readings. Cruises departing between December 8 and December 30 will feature a holiday show in addition to the regular entertainment program. On Christmas, a festive dinner will feature dishes like anise-spiced butternut squash soup, roast turkey, stuffing, pumpkin mash and a Holiday Yule Log cake.

New Year's Eve: On New Year's Eve, passengers will be treated to a special dinner and celebrations including live music (with Auld Lang Syne), dancing and a midnight Champagne toast with the captain.

Windstar Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional, though low-key.

Thanksgiving: Windstar will offer a special Thanksgiving menu. Culinary delights are to include pumpkin soup; turkey with apple-and-sage stuffing, candied sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce; and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Hanukkah: A menorah will be on display.

Christmas: Each Windstar ship will be decorated with beautiful holiday decorations, including trees, wreaths, garland and lights. The crew also put on a caroling show. The ships' executive chefs will go all out with a special holiday menu, featuring Nutcracker salad (mesclun and radicchio lettuce, orange segments, pine nuts and orange dressing); golden roasted turkey with gravy, cranberry-orange zest sauce, chestnut-and-sage stuffing and sweet potatoes; and a chocolate yule log or gingerbread souffle for dessert.

New Year's Eve: A special New Year's Eve dinner will feature Alaskan King Crab legs, slow-roasted beef tenderloin, and a bombolini and Oreo parfait. It is tradition on Windstar ships for the oldest crew member 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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