Your Ultimate Cruise Guide

U.K. Lines' Onboard Holiday Festivities

New Year's Champagne Toast On the Boards: Holiday Exchange Forum

You may not be prepared for it, but the festive season is just around the corner. Yes, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve will soon be upon us, as will the rush of buying decorations and presents while working out how to make this year better than the last.

For some, the season of good will is a great time for a getaway. The stress of the year has taken its toll, so many will pack up the presents and head for sunnier climates or exotic locales.

One great way to escape the cleaning and cooking, yet still enjoy tinsel and turkey, is to take a cruise. The majority of cruise lines get into the festive spirit for December 25, December 31 and the days surrounding, so why not give it a go? Here's what you can expect.

U.K. lines generally offer decorated ships and Christmas-themed events, such as carol-singing and pantomimes. Plus, just think of the Christmas dinner you can tuck into -- all the trimmings and more -- without lifting a finger.

If you are onboard a ship for New Year's Eve, you'll find that festivities vary from a low-key dinner and countdown to glitzy and glamourous celebrations.

Every cruise line puts its own spin on holiday cheer. Keep reading for a roundup of onboard celebrations from U.K. lines, and enjoy! (And, if you're interested in American lines, check out our companion story: Onboard Holiday Festivities.)


Seasonal style: Traditional, classy and British -- with a nod to the Yanks.

Thanksgiving:A traditonal turkey dinner with all the trimmings will be served.

Hanukkah: Cunard will have a selection of Kosher meals for passengers on request including the traditional potato latkes dish. Cunard will also have a Rabbis onboard each of the ships, who will conduct Hanukkah services and a Weekly Sabbath. A Menorah will be lit in all of the traffic areas such as the Grand Lobby. The festival will be celebrated over the traditional eight day period from from December 6 to 14 and a candle will be lit each day. Hanukkah services have been scheduled for 17th December and subsequent days organised by the entertainment director and the Rabbi on board and yarmulkes are also supplied on board.

Christmas: Each ship will feature a different choir to greet you when you arrive onboard during the Christmas period. Queen Mary 2 will feature the Victorian Choir of New York, Queen Elizabeth will feature the Salisbury Cathedral Choir and Queen Victoria will feature the Winchester Cathedral Choir. The Christmas period covers voyages that are over the Christmas/New Year's dates. Queen Mary 2 is from 22 December to 4 January; Queen Elizabeth is from 22 December to 6 January and Queen Victoria is from 17 December to 3 January. All three ships will be festooned with greenery, including trees, wreaths, poinsettias, ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread cottages and twinkling lights. QM2 will be the first ship to be decorated, between November 25 to December 3. The chefs will produce their annual gingerbread village. Father Christmas will visit and lead a parade into the Queens Rooms where he will hand out gifts to the kids. There will also be a Christmas Party and family activities. All passengers will find a Christmas gift and card in their cabin (which is a surprise). There will be caroling and a pantomime, and a gala Christmas supper with roast turkey and Christmas pudding. There will also be choirs on board made up of guests and the individual ship's Theatre Company on Christmas Day.

All the ships will feature periodic "snowing events" whereby special holiday activities are conducted under a light snow fall (simulated, of course); and there will be Christmas smells in the main Atriums. Catholic and Protestant clergy will be in attendance on all three ships, offering a weekly Sunday Mass, a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day Service. Entertainment comes in the form of The Opera Boys on QM2, Jenny Williams on QE and on QV, a Festive Variety Show, featuring a musician, singer and magician.

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

Cruise & Maritime Voyages

Seasonal style: Traditional elegance

Christmas: CMV's Christmas cruises are largely sold out. Marco Polo has a two-night cruise from Bristol to Dublin still available. The 14-night Christmas & New Year cruise on December 22 from Bristol to the Canary Islands and Madeira is wait list only. Magellan's Christmas Markets' cruises in December are on wait list; the 14-night Canary Islands cruise on 22 Dec from London Tilbury has a few cabins left.

Embarkation day: Expect a personalised Christmas card in your cabin on arrival and hot mulled wine will be served on arrival in the terminal.

Christmas Day: The ship will be decorated festively. The day will start with a Christmas Day Morning Service, and the Captain will make a morning Christmas announcement. There will be a formal Christmas Day Gala dinner with Christmas decorations for every table and a glass of wine for every passenger at dinner. This will be followed by a Christmas Show & Pantomime.

New Year's Eve: New Year's Eve Formal Night gala dinner with a glass of wine for every passenger at dinner. There will be a glass of Champagne to be offered to every passenger at midnight, New Year Decorations & Balloons around the ship, New Year Goody bags for every passenger and a New Year's Eve Deck party incorporating the Madeira New Year Firework Display.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Seasonal style: Traditional festivities

Christmas: Fred. Olsen offers a selection of seasonal sailing options aimed at escaping the winter cold for warmer climes. All four of its ships will be taking in the Canary Islands as part of their 2015 yuletide itinerary, with the Balmoral continuing to Cape Verde on an 18-night cruise and a 15-night cruise on the Braemar making it to the Caribbean in time for New Year's Eve. Boudicca's 14-night trip tours the Canaries before docking at Lisbon while the Black Watch sees in 2016 ported in Madeira as part of its 16-night cruise.

Christmas Eve: There is a chaplain onboard each ship conducting services, including Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day: All Fred. Olsen's ships will be at sea on Christmas day and fully decked out in seasonal decorations, not forgetting elaborately adorned Christmas trees. The line will serve a traditional Christmas dinner during the cruise and entertainment will includes Christmas-themed shows, carol concerts, Christmas arts and crafts classes and a seasonal quiz. Extras this year also include onboard gingerbread villages and Christmas cocktails!

New Year's Eve: On New Years Eve there will be a formal dinner with a special menu across the fleet. There will also be fireworks (on all but the Caribbean itinerary) with Balmoral in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, said to have the best fireworks display in the Canary Islands.


Seasonal Style: Christmas Norwegian-style

Santa Claus Northern Lights

Christmas Eve: All Hurtigruten ships will dock in their respective destination ports for 24 hours. Guests are invited to attend Christmas mass at the local churches before coming back onboard to celebrate with fellow guests and crew members, and tuck in to an elaborate Christmas Eve smorgasbord (buffet) and feast (sit-down supper). "Julenissen", the Norwegian Father Christmas, will also pay a visit.

Christmas: "God Jul," the traditional Christmas greeting in Norwegian, will be heard throughout the Hurtigruten fleet as its ships ply the waters along the Norwegian west coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Guests will experience a traditional Norwegian yuletide including caroling. Guests and crew join together to decorate the ship and the Christmas tree with decorations made on board, learn and sing Norwegian carols and decorate gingerbread houses. Traditional Norwegian Christmas food is served, including ‘Julekake', a sweet Christmas bread with rasins, candied lemon peel, nuts and cardamom and ‘Julegrot', a Christmas porridge. A full Christmas buffet is served in the restaurant. Julenissen will make another appearance. Those passengers wanting to experience a true Norwegian winter on shore should join The Wilderness Adventure camp excursion which includes reindeer driving plus dog sledding or a snowmobile safari.

New Year's Eve: "Godt nyttår", the Norwegian New Year greeting, is heard on New Year's Eve on board the Hurtigruten ships when the change of the year is heralded in. The New Year itself is spent in the harbour, lit up by fireworks, with dance and a champagne toast. Passengers on-board MS Vesteralen will be enjoying Christmas in the Arctic Capital of Tromsø, where they can visit the Arctic Cathedral and New Years Eve in Alesund.

P&O Cruises

Christmas Pudding

Seasonal Style: Traditionally British with all the trimmings

Christmas: P&O Cruises certainly enters into the Christmas spirit with unbridled gusto. All eight ships in the fleet are decorated with a total of 249 Christmas trees and over 44,000 decorations. There's also an impressive 12 Christmas itineraries to choose from covering winter sun destinations such as 12 nights touring the Canary Islands, 14-night Caribbean cruises, and even a 29-night trip to the Amazon and South America.

Christmas Day: 158 chefs across the fleet cook a traditional dinner of around 1,100 turkeys with all the trimmings, glasses of Champagne, Christmas crackers and party hats, all rounded off with traditional Christmas pudding with brandy butter, Christmas cake, mince pies or freshly made Yule log. Father Christmas also makes an appearance to hand out gifts, while seasonal onboard entertainment includes crew pantomimes, Christmas grottos, children's choir, and plenty more.

New Year's Eve: There will be a five course gala dinner in the dining rooms followed by live music, West End style shows or comedy acts, casino and then there is a countdown to midnight in all the bars and nightclubs.

Saga Holidays

Seasonal Style: Traditional celebrations for the 50+ crowd

Christmas: Saga Pearl II will be offering 'A Christmas in the Canaries' cruise departing from Southampton on December 21st for 16 nights and calling at five islands. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be spent at sea with a host of festivities and a traditional lunch; Boxing Day will be in Arrecife in Lanzarote.

The Saga Sapphire will be offering a ‘Christmas in the Caribbean' cruise departing from Southampton on December 7th for 34 nights. Passengers will head for the warmth of the Caribbean spending Christmas day at sea and arriving in Tortola on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day will be spent at sea with the ship heading to the tropical Grand Turk where passengers can spend Boxing Day unwinding on its long sandy beaches.

New Year's Eve: Passengers on Saga Pearl II will begin 2016 with a bang watching a stunning fireworks display off Madeira. The Saga Sapphire will be seeing in the New Year in Hamilton, Bermuda before departing on January 1st.

Thomson Cruises

Seasonal Style: Social and fun with a traditional feel

Christmas: The ships are decorated with holiday wreaths, Christmas trees and lights, and signs proclaiming traditional holiday greetings. The cruise director and staff will offer several holiday-themed shows throughout each cruise, and at least one seasonal movie will be shown. Santa Claus makes an appearance with gifts for the kids, and a traditional Christmas dinner -- featuring turkey and Christmas Pudding -- is served. Special carol and multi-denominational services will also be held by Reverends onboard all ships on Christmas Eve at midnight and on Christmas Day.

New Year's Eve: Passengers are provided with hats, party favours and noisemakers, as well as complimentary Champagne to see in the New Year.

Voyages of Discovery

Seasonal Style: Traditional festivities in exotic locales

Christmas: Voyager will be spending Christmas soaking up the winter sun around the Caribbean islands, starting with Barbados on the 20 December before calling at Tobago, Trinidad, and the Venezuelan island of Margarita. Christmas day will be spent en route to Dominica (arriving on 26th), and then further ports of call will include Montserrat, St John's (Antigua), Basseterre (St Kitts), and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) for NYE. New Year's Day is at sea to then final destination is Jamaica's Montego Bay on the 2nd.

Christmas Day: Reverend Tom Leary will offer a traditional Christmas day morning service including readings, Christmas hymns and music. There will also be a Christmas lunch menu with a full traditional Christmas dinner served in the evening of Christmas Day as a formal occasion. The ship's in-house Theatre Company will provide a Christmas variety show on the evening of Christmas Day and a traditional Pantomime will take place. There will also be festive games, events and quizzes; festive cookery demos and a formal ballroom dance evening.

Swan Hellenic

Seasonal Style: Formal festivities in Caribbean climes

Christmas: Minerva will be mostly Caribbean island hopping this Christmas. A 15-night cruise starts with Barbados on the 21 December before calling at Dominica, St Lucia, and then spending Christmas day at sea. Trinidad is the next port of call (arriving on 26th), and it's on to the Venezuelan island of Margarita. After another couple stops (Bonaire and Curacao) it's Aruba for New Year's Eve, before heading to Colombia's Santa Marta and Cartagena as the final destination on the 3rd.

Christmas Day: Reverend Canon Trevor Pitt will offer a traditional Christmas day morning service including readings, Christmas hymns and carols. There will also be a full traditional Christmas dinner served in the evening of Christmas Day as a formal occasion.

--Updated by Adam Coulter, UK Editor

Sponsored links

Get the Secrets the Lines Don't Tell
+ deals, tips and reviews in your inbox

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add to your address book.
We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.