Onboard Holiday Festivities 2016

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 2016, 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.

Here's what you can you expect onboard:

Christmas garners the most attention. But of the four major types of holiday sailings -- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's -- New Year's cruises are often most expensive and sell out first.

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. They start 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 standard. A Champagne toast is, too.

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 2016, Thanksgiving falls on November 24. Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 24 and ends on January 1. Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are, as always, on December 25 and December 31, respectively.


Azamara Club Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: If Thanksgiving falls on a sea day, a traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served at brunch. On port days, Thanksgiving dinner is offered in both Windows Cafe and Discoveries. Themed cocktails may also be available.

Hanukkah: There will be a menorah at the Guest Relations desk, and special treats including doughnuts and latkes will be available onboard.

Christmas: Both ships will offer special holiday-themed meals in the Windows Cafe and Discoveries, as well as special menu items in the main dining room on December 24 and 25. There will be a holiday-themed show in the Cabaret Lounge on Christmas Eve. Santa will be onboard on Christmas Day to give each child a small gift.

New Year's Eve: Both ships will feature special dinner menus on December 31 and January 1. If weather permits, a themed dinner buffet and the traditional New Year's Eve White Party will be held on deck. In the event of inclement weather, the party will be held indoors.


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.

As part of Carnival's Seuss at Sea program, there will also be special Grinchmas activities to take part in onboard, including an appearance by the Grinch himself, arts and crafts and face painting.

New Year's Eve: On 2016 New Year's Eve cruises, 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 a 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: There is only one Costa ship sailing in North America during Hanukkah; no Hanukkah-specific activities have been planned.

Christmas: Costa Deliziosa will sail round trip from Fort Lauderdale on December 21. During this sailing, the ship will feature holiday decorations throughout, and there will be photo opportunities with costumed crew members. A seven-course Christmas dinner featuring Italian specialties will be served on Christmas Eve, and a mass will be held onboard. Christmas caroling and holiday arts and crafts will be available for children. On Christmas Day, Santa will hand out gifts to all the kids 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, daily 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 2016 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 roast goose, 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 roast 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. Midnight snacks and Champagne will be served in all bars. 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 jazz brunch. Bloody Marys and mimosas will be served in all bars and on deck.


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 2017, featuring sparkling wine in commemorative flutes and music.


Holland America Line

Seasonal Style: Traditional

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 guest get-together is held each night of the holiday and a rabbi will lead a menorah lighting. Electric menorahs also will be showcased at the front desk and in the Neptune Lounge. Passengers can enjoy traditional dishes, such as latkes.

Christmas: On 2016 Christmas cruises, holiday cookies and cider are offered in the atrium and Explorer's Lounge upon embarkation. Holland America has also 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 onboard, 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. A gingerbread village will also be on display either in the Explorer's Lounge or on the Lido deck.

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: MSC Divina will sail to the Caribbean over Thanksgiving. Passengers can enjoy a traditional dinner and holiday entertainment, while multiple large-screen TVs will be dedicated to Thanksgiving football games for sports fans. A Thanksgiving Day parade and themed cooking class will entertain kids ages 3 to 11, while children 12 to 17 can enjoy a holiday-themed scavenger hunt, flash mob and party.

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. A large menorah will be displayed in the main atrium.

Christmas: MSC Divina will feature traditional decorations, Christmas trees and a gingerbread village created by the ship's pastry chefs. Christmas carols will be played and there will be a Broadway-style Christmas show. There will be a Christmas market set up onboard offering gifts and decorations for sale. Seasonal movies will be played on big screens and there will be special themed cooking classes, arts and crafts sessions and holiday parades. Santa will be onboard to present each child with a gift. A Christmas mass will also be held on the ship.

On Christmas Eve, there will be a gala dinner and a special lunch on Christmas Day, complete with holiday specialties and festive cocktails.

New Year's Eve: There will be a special New Year's Eve gala dinner onboard MSC Divina, followed by a dance party on the ship's deck, which will feature a countdown to midnight and Champagne. The kids' club will offer extended hours for parents hoping to stay out for the festivities. On New Year's Day there will be a special celebratory lunch featuring themed cocktails.


Norwegian Cruise Line

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: The main dining rooms and buffet restaurants will serve seasonal favorites and offer an extended Champagne menu. 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 an extended Champagne menu. 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! On New Year's Eve cruises in 2016, 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 2017. Passengers will enjoy live music, noisemakers, party hats and a Champagne toast at the stroke of midnight.


Princess Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditional

Thanksgiving: All ships will feature festive decor and a typical Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey, stuffing and pie. Activities include turkey-carving demonstrations and a turkey-calling contest. Princess' atrium also will feature a Tree of Thanks, where passengers can add special messages of gratitude. 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, traditional songs and special holiday meals that will feature Jewish foods, such as latkes, matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. Themed activities for kids might include holiday stories, 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. On Christmas Day, Santa will deliver a wrapped gift to all kids ages 12 and under.

New Year's Eve: Clackers, hats, streamers and Champagne will all be on hand as the captain counts down to 2017. 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 featuring gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, latkes, roast chicken and cheesecake, 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. There will even be Christmas cookie decorating classes for children.

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. Featured entertainer, comedian Yakov Smirnoff, will be performing aboard Seven Seas Voyager during its holiday sailing.


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." There will even be artificial snow falling in certain areas of all ships.

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, featuring a balloon drop and confetti.


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 and a rabbi will be onboard to lead nightly services.

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 will be 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. Seabourn singers will sing Christmas carols throughout each ship.

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 will 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 2017.


Viking Ocean Cruises

Seasonal Style: Elegant celebrations with little fuss

Thanksgiving: Viking Star will offer a special Thanksgiving menu for dinner on November 24, while the ship is docked in St. Kitts. The ship will depart the island at 11 p.m., but there will be no ship-sponsored excursions scheduled that day.

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

Christmas: Ships will sport elegant holiday decorations during most of December. Holiday-themed activities include caroling, special readings and a holiday show. 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, casual elegance

Thanksgiving: Windstar will offer a special Thanksgiving menu featuring roast turkey and a traditional dessert. Each of the line's six yachts will feature a different menu based on each chef's creative interpretation of holiday classics. For instance, in Tahiti, pork roasted in a pit and served with Polynesian pineapple roast pilaf will be featured alongside dishes created with other local ingredients like breadfruit.

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 will put on a caroling show. The ships' executive chefs will go all-out with a special holiday menu, featuring roasted celery and garlic soup, rack of lamb and gingerbread souffle with rum raisin sauce or chocolate Yule log with cherry drizzle for dessert.

New Year's Eve: A special New Year's Eve dinner will feature a seasonal salad, spiced carrot and pine nut soup and beef filet with foie gras. 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.

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