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.
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 Thanksgiving dinner just like Grandma's or celebrate by lighting a Hanukkah menorah (or all of the above). Plus, look for unique touches, such as atrium snowfalls and midnight balloon drops.
Here's what you can expect onboard this holiday season:
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 holiday meals. Expect latkes (potato pancakes) during Hanukkah, and roast turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving.
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. You can also expect a Champagne toast and New Year's Eve party.
Of course, every cruise line puts its own spin on holiday cheer. Keep reading for a line-by-line roundup of onboard celebrations.
Editor's note: In 2018, Thanksgiving falls on November 23. Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 2 and ends on December 10. Christmas Day and New Year's Eve are, as always, on December 25 and December 31, respectively.
Azamara Club Cruises
Thanksgiving: A traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served in all dining venues.
Hanukkah: A rabbi is onboard all ships for the Hanukkah celebration.
Christmas: Ships will be decorated for the holidays from the beginning of December. Crew will perform carols at various times and in different venues. Christmas cookies will be served the entire voyage. A priest will be onboard to lead religious services.
The ships will offer special holiday-themed buffets in Windows Cafe, as well as special menus in the main dining room and specialty restaurants on December 24 and 25. The cruise director will have a special Christmas Show on December 25.
New Year's Eve: All 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.
Azamara Quest will overnight in Sydney, Australia, on New Year's Eve and passengers will be treated to an air show and the Harbour of Light parade there. Azamara Pursuit will ring in the new year at Copacabana Beach in Rio with a fireworks display.
Carnival Cruise Line
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 2018 New Year's Eve cruises, passengers will be provided with hats, favors and noisemakers, and complimentary Champagne will be served.
Thanksgiving: A variety of activities will take place on Thanksgiving, including games, holiday-themed activities, trivia and crafts for kids, screenings of the NFL football game 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, 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, and gingerbread houses and cookie decorating.
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.
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: Costa Deliziosa will sail round trip from Fort Lauderdale on December 19. During this weeklong Caribbean and Bahamas 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 and Caribbean 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 on Costa Deliziosa -- which departs for a seven-night Caribbean and Bahamas cruise from Fort Lauderdale on December 26 -- 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.
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 2018 Christmas cruise will be kicked off by a tree-lighting ceremony. Decorations will include trees bedecked with shimmering glass ornaments and jewels, gingerbread houses and whimsical reindeer wearing pine harnesses.
Hot chocolate, glogg (mulled wine) and an incredible daily assortment of holiday cookies from around the world will be served throughout the cruise. 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 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
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: Candle-lighting services will be held each day.
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 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 2019, featuring sparkling wine in commemorative flutes and music.
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 passenger 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 2018 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, trivia and special movie screenings. There will be carolers, a tree-lighting ceremony, eggnog and holiday-themed treats served onboard and special activities in Club HAL.
Christmas Eve celebrations will include a special crew concert, a Santa's late-night milk-and-cookies snack and a turn-down gift in passenger staterooms. On Christmas Day, a special brunch is planned, as well as a visit from Santa for the kids, complete with a holiday sing-along and presents for kids. Clergy will be onboard to hold services, including a midnight mass. 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.
Thanksgiving: MSC Divina and MSC Seaside will sail to the Caribbean over Thanksgiving, spending the holiday in port. Passengers can enjoy a traditional dinner, 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, both MSC Divina and MSC Seaside will host a nightly menorah lighting, with a large menorah on display in the main atrium. The ship will serve some traditional Hanukkah foods, and special kosher meals can be ordered in advance. Families can enjoy chocolate coins and games of dreidel.
Christmas: On MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Armonia, passengers can take embarkation photos with Santa and his elves. The ships will feature traditional decorations, Christmas trees and lights. Holiday entertainment includes Christmas carols, Broadway-style Christmas shows throughout the week, holiday music by live musicians, seasonal movies, themed games like trivia and bingo, and holiday music karaoke. Passengers can also participate in themed cooking demonstrations.
On Christmas Eve, a gala dinner on the three ships will feature roast turkey, butternut squash soup and a yule log. On Christmas Day, Santa will arrive by zipline, and passengers can dine on a festive lunch with buffet additions like Christmas cookies and a "Happy Holidays" cake. Christmas mass will be held onboard. Themed cocktails -- like the Christmas Star (limoncello and prosecco) and Snowflake (dark rum and banana) -- will be on offer throughout the cruise.
New Year's Eve: MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Armonia will kick off their New Year's cruises with embarkation Champagne and themed trivia and bingo. There will also be a special New Year's Eve gala dinner, including roast duck, peppercorn-crusted snapper, shrimp ravioli and desserts like nougat glace and chocolate and chestnut indulgence.
Following dinner, there will be dance parties on the ship's deck, with Champagne and a countdown to midnight. The kids' club will offer extended hours and free babysitting 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
Thanksgiving: The main dining rooms and buffet restaurants will serve seasonal favorites and offer deep discounts on select brands of Champagne for the holiday celebration. 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. 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.
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.
New Year's Eve: Party time! On New Year's Eve cruises in 2018, 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.
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, with gingerbread villages for passengers to admire. 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 2019. Passengers will enjoy live music, noisemakers, party hats and a Champagne toast at the stroke of midnight.
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: A tree-lighting ceremony will take place early in the season, and passengers can take classes in mini-wreath-making and gift-wrapping. Ships will be trimmed with festive holiday decor, and cabins will feature virtual Yule logs.
Princess' Christmas revelry will 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.
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 eggnog, a special Christmas feast and themed children's activities. Santa will deliver a wrapped gift to all kids ages 12 and under.
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."
New Year's Eve: Clackers, hats, streamers and Champagne will all be on hand as the captain counts down to 2019. 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
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 free-flowing Champagne. For the New Year's party, passengers can enjoy caviar, chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries and other treats.
Royal Caribbean International
Thanksgiving: Expect the usual: a special menu with roast turkey and all the fixings and seasonal decor.
Hanukkah: A rabbi will be onboard for services. Hanukkah will be celebrated with daily candle-lighting and holiday-inspired food.
Christmas: Ships will be decorated for the holiday season. Christmastime activities include holiday movies shown poolside and at the AquaTheater (come in your PJs), a World Wildlife Fund Walk for Polar Bears, ugly sweater party, gingerbread-man decorating class, scavenger hunts and themed trivia.
Families can enjoy story time and holiday arts and crafts with Royal Caribbean's "elves."
On Christmas Eve, the Windjammer Marketplace will host a milk and cookies corner. On Christmas Day, a special event will celebrate Santa's arrival, and passengers can enjoy a Christmas brunch.
New Year's Eve: New Year's Eve countdown-to-midnight parties will take place throughout the ships. Adventure Ocean will extend its nursery hours to 1 a.m. so parents can celebrate. On New Year's Day, a special brunch will be served.
Seabourn Cruise Line
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. A menu of Hanukkah dishes -- featuring latkes, matzoh ball soup, oven-baked chicken, chopped liver and herring -- will be available nightly.
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 turn-down. 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 on deck or in the main show lounge (depending on weather).
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. During the season, eggnog, mulled wine and hot chocolate will be available.
Christmas services will be led by onboard clergy. 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 2019.
Viking Ocean Cruises
Thanksgiving: Ships will offer a special Thanksgiving menu for dinner on November 23.
Hanukkah: Ships have a menorah onboard that is lit each evening of the holiday.
Christmas: Ships will sport elegant decoration for the festive season. 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.
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 rice 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 holiday talent and caroling show. The ships' executive chefs will go all-out with a special holiday menu, featuring seasonal ingredients; dishes include roasted butternut squash, griddle-seared scallops with parsnip puree, butter-poached lobster tails, herb-crusted beef tenderloin, gingerbread souffle and yuletide logs.
New Year's Eve: A special New Year's Eve gala evening will include dinner and themed cocktails. It is tradition on Windstar ships for the most senior 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, dancing, an official countdown by the captain and a Champagne toast.
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