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Hanukkah and Christmas Cruises: A Guide to Onboard Festivities

Hanukkah and Christmas Cruises: A Guide to Onboard Festivities (Photo: alex_gor/Shutterstock)
Hanukkah and Christmas Cruises: A Guide to Onboard Festivities (Photo: alex_gor/Shutterstock)

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Whether you relish a visit from Santa or celebrate by lighting a Hanukkah menorah, you can celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah on a winter cruise. Cruise lines go all-out with seasonal decor (generally from Thanksgiving through New Year's), holiday activities, religious services and festive food and drink. Even better, you don't have to cook, clean or make nice to your least favorite relatives.

Of course, every cruise line puts its own spin on holiday cheer. Keep reading for a line-by-line roundup of onboard celebrations to find the best Hanukkah and Christmas cruises for you or your family.

Updated December 17, 2019

Azamara

Azamara Pursuit (Photo: Azamara Cruises)

Christmas: Azamara 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 and a priest will be onboard to lead religious services. The cruise director will have a special Christmas Show on Dec. 25.

The ships will offer holiday-themed buffets in Windows Cafe, as well as special menus in the main dining room and specialty restaurants on Dec. 24 and 25.

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


Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Spirit (Photo: Carnival Cruise Line)

Christmas: On Carnival's Christmas cruises, 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, such as "The Polar Express," will be shown. 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, including arts and crafts, face painting and an appearance by the Grinch himself.

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


Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Edge (Photo: Celebrity Cruises)

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 versus 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.

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


Costa Cruises

Costa Victoria (Photo: Costa Cruises)

Christmas: During Costa Luminosa's Caribbean and Bahamas Christmas 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.

Hanukkah: There will be a nightly menorah lighting aboard Costa Luminosa's sailing over Hanukkah.


Crystal Cruises

Crystal Serenity (Photo: Crystal)

Christmas: Each Crystal 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 and Day services.

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

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).


Disney Cruise Line

Disney Dream at Castaway Cay (Photo: Disney)

Christmas: Disney's "Very Merrytime Cruises" run from early November through the New Year. During these sailings, passengers can enjoy holiday-themed activities like gingerbread cookie-making, 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 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.

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.

Hanukkah: Candle-lighting services will be held each day.


Holland America

Veendam (Photo: Holland America Line)

Christmas: On Christmas cruises, holiday cookies and cider are offered 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 children, complete with a holiday sing-along and presents for kids. A gingerbread village will also be on display. A priest will be onboard to hold services, including a midnight mass.

Hanukkah: A passenger get-together is held each night of the holiday. Electric menorahs will also be showcased at the front desk and in the Neptune Lounge. Passengers can enjoy traditional dishes, such as latkes.


MSC Cruises

Bellissima (Photo: MSC Cruises)

Christmas: On MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Armonia, passengers get a photo opportunity with Santa himself, while the big man will provide gifts to kids. The ships will feature traditional decorations, Christmas trees and lights, while staff will sport Santa hats. Holiday entertainment includes a Christmas parade, evening Christmas show and holiday-themed trivia. Passengers can also participate in an onboard Christmas mass.

On Christmas Day, a special dinner on the four ships will feature roast turkey, Panettone and a Yule log. Also on Christmas Day, passengers can dine on a festive brunch with buffet additions like Christmas cookies and a "Happy holidays" cake.

Hanukkah: For those celebrating Hanukkah, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Divina and MSC Seaside will host a nightly menorah lighting, with a large menorah on display in the main atrium; there will also be daily prayer service. The ships' buffets will serve some traditional Hanukkah foods, and special kosher meals can be ordered in advance.


Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Jade (Photo: Norwegian Cruises)

Christmas: Norwegian ships are to be decorated throughout with poinsettias, Christmas trees, twinkling lights and other holiday decorations. 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.

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


Oceania Cruises

Oceania Regatta (Photo: Oceania)

Christmas: Oceania ships will be decorated with festive yet tasteful holiday decor, with trees, garland and gingerbread villages for passengers to admire. Christmas dinner will include a seven-course feast including a roast turkey with apple stuffing and sweets like Christmas pudding. On Christmas Eve, there will be a special reading of "The Night Before Christmas" along with Christmas caroling and a festive Christmas show in the lounge. Santa and his helpers will make a special appearance aboard each of the ships on Christmas Day.

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


Princess Cruises

Star Princess in Alaska (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Christmas: A tree lighting ceremony will take place early in the season, and passengers can take wreath-making and gift-wrapping classes. 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). 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 an onboard reading of "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

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."


Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Seven Seas Navigator (Photo: Regent)

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's dinner menu will feature a roasted goose, 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.

Hanukkah: There will be candle-lighting services each night of Hanukkah, as well as a Hanukkah dinner, featuring gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, latkes, roast chicken and cheesecake, concluding the eight-day celebration.


Royal Caribbean International

Enchantment of the Seas (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

Christmas: On Royal Caribbean's Christmas cruises, ships will be decorated for the holiday season. Christmastime activities include a tree lighting ceremony, holiday movies shown poolside and at the Aqua Theater (come in your PJs), an ugly sweater party, cookie-decorating class, holiday-themed scavenger hunts and trivia, a special event (a party or parade) to celebrate Santa's arrival, family time with Santa's elves and holiday arts and crafts in the Adventure Ocean kids club.

Hanukkah: A rabbi will be onboard for services. Hanukkah will be celebrated with a daily candle lighting and holiday-inspired food.


Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Quest (Photo: Seabourn Cruises)

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, Seabourn singers will sing Christmas carols throughout each ship and there will be an eggnog, glogg or Gluhwein party scheduled. A Catholic priest will be onboard during these cruises.

Christmas Eve dinner is a traditional meal with a duck main course. Christmas Day brunch includes extras such as Yuletide log cake and cookies, and there will be Christmas High Tea featuring stollen and Christmas cake. The feasting continues with a Christmas Day formal dinner featuring a traditional roast turkey, as well as decorations, paper crowns and Christmas crackers.

Hanukkah: Several menorahs will be on display, and a rabbi will be onboard to lead nightly services. A menu of Hanukkah dishes -- featuring latkes, matzo ball soup, oven-baked chicken, chopped liver and herring -- will be available nightly.


Silversea Cruises

Silver Shadow in Shimizu, Japan (Photo: Silverseas)

Christmas: Not only will Silversea's 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.

Hanukkah: Hanukkah will be celebrated with a menorah display and lighting.


Viking Ocean Cruises

Viking Sun (Photo: Viking Cruises)

Christmas: Viking ships will sport elegant decorations for the festive season. Various onboard activities and culinary surprises will be holiday-themed. On Christmas, a festive dinner, which varies by ship and chef, will feature classic holiday dishes.

Hanukkah: Ships will have a menorah onboard that is lit each evening of the holiday.


Windstar Cruises

Wind Star at Sea (Photo: Windstar Cruises)

Christmas: Each Windstar ship will be decorated with beautiful holiday decorations, including trees, wreaths, garlands 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.

Hanukkah: A menorah will be on display.

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