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The 5 Best Holiday Cruises: Which One Should You Pick?

Melinda Crow
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust
Carolina Pirola

Last updated
Dec 21, 2023

Read time
4 min read

Whether you need a break from festive overkill or are contemplating a new family travel tradition, a Christmas cruise or Hanukkah cruise may be exactly what you need. You can utilize the kids' long winter break to explore new cultures or escape on your own while letting the cruise line handle the party planning.

As with sailings at any other time of the year, a holiday cruise can be as rowdy or as mellow as you wish, but be warned that most cruise lines go all out for the end-of-year cruising crew. This means that even if each cruise line has its own dress code and vibe, as a rule of thumb, plan to join the festivities donning your smartest attire -- especially if you’re spending New Year’s Eve onboard.

Regardless of whether your ideal holiday season is spent bundled up by the fire or in your snorkeling gear, we’ve got you covered. Here are five holiday cruise options to consider as you make your plans.

1. Christmas Markets: Best Holiday Cruises for Those with Christmas Spirit

Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany (Photo: S.Borisov/Shuterstock)

The top-of-mind December cruises are likely to be those that call upon European Christmas markets in the weeks leading up to December 25. There are numerous river cruises dedicated to exploring the markets and even a few oceangoing sailings that include ports known for their Christmas markets.

The river cruises sailing during the festive season typically immerse you in the traditions of each country on the itinerary with food, music and decorations. But if you want a Christmas cruise that hits all the highlights, you can’t go wrong with a Danube River cruise. Itineraries vary between cruise lines, but most call on top destinations like Vienna and Budapest.

The outdoor markets themselves include a variety of handmade items, as well as an abundance of food and beverages. The atmosphere is far more relaxed and congenial than your average crowded shopping center at home, making it easy to shed the holiday stress and slip into a jolly attitude.


2. Polar Cruises: December Cruises for The Adventurous Type

Silver Endeavour in the Lemaire Channel Antarctica (Photo: Adam Coulter)

Cruises to Antarctica take place during fall and winter months -- the only time of year when travel to the region is manageable. In addition to the adventure, you can expect holiday decorations and festivities onboard most ships during a late December cruise to the Land of Ice.

If you don’t have enough days off, you can cut your travel time by four whole days by booking Silversea’s Fly-Cruise Antarctica Bridge. These flights chartered by the cruise line allow you to avoid the Drake Passage by flying you straight there from Santiago and Punta Arenas in Chile.


3. Cruises in the Caribbean and Mexico: Holiday Cruises to Skip the Cold

Cancun, Mexico (Photo: SVongpra/Shutterstock)

If your goal for Christmas or Hanukkah is to skip both the cold and the kitchen, a cruise in the Caribbean might be to your liking. The warm weather can be a welcoming change from winter at home, and you may find spending your winter holiday on a cruise ship a far more relaxing experience than a family reunion on land.

Many cruise lines move ships into the Caribbean (from Europe and Alaska) prior to the winter season, including P&O Cruises and Marella Cruises, so there is an abundance of choices, ranging from small to mega-ships, with cruises in almost every price range.

Holiday sailings to the Caribbean also vary in length, from quick four-day itineraries to the Bahamas to 10-day cruises around the Eastern Caribbean.

Holiday sailings to the Caribbean are popular choices for cruisers, and a wide range of lines offer December cruises from Florida. If you’re planning on going on a Royal Caribbean, Norwegian or a Carnival holiday cruise to the Caribbean, chances are you’ll be departing from the Sunshine State.

Unless you sail with an adult-only cruise line, there will be lots of children onboard due to having off from school. You can avoid some of the crowds by sailing earlier in December, when prices are also lower. Count on holiday decor for Christmas and Hanukkah throughout the ship plus traditional meals and treats served onboard.

You will also find the holiday spirit in abundance in the ports of call, making this one of the best winter cruises for those who enjoy the season.


4. Exotic Beaches: Christmas Cruises and Hanukkah Cruises to Get Far Away from It All

airlie beach

Some of the best cruises in December for those who want to escape the more traditional seasonal festivities involve beaches a little farther from home. Think Tahiti and Bora Bora or maybe South America.

The travel season in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia is in full swing in December, so it's easy to find yourself on a beach in Bali, far from the last-minute holiday frenzy.

Some far-flung destinations will have celebrations and decorations, while others (like those in Asia) may have little or no sign of the holidays. Either way, you'll find celebrations onboard and lots of relaxation, away from the cold.


5. Christmas and New Years Cruises: Holiday Combo Cruises For Those Who Want It All

Disney Fireworks Display (Photo: Disney Cruises)

If you love the holiday season and want to make the most of this time, opt for a cruise that encompasses both Christmas and New Year's celebrations. There are 10-day cruises that catch both December 25 and January 1 in almost every region of the globe, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia.

Cruise lines transition between the two holidays seamlessly, allowing you to focus on enjoying the fun without the chores of taking down decorations and planning the New Year's Eve party. So, check out which cruise line suits you best, read our top tips for scoring the best deal for your holiday cruise and pack your bags. You’re ready to sail!

Publish date September 26, 2022
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