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Deck the hulls: 6 cruise lines that will make your Christmas magical

Dec. 15, 2021
8 min read
Eastern Caribbean
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Cruise ships cheerfully celebrate Christmas, creating festive winter wonderlands for those who decide to be away for the holidays.

Never mind that you may be cruising in the Caribbean or another tropical locale. When you book a holiday cruise you will be immersed in a world of special decorations such as lavishly decked out trees, traditional holiday food and a plethora of fun holiday activities. There may even be “snow.” You’ll find interdenominational services on board and visits from Santa.

Christmas cruises are popular on every line, but these six cruise lines go all-out to make your holiday away from home truly magical.

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Tip: Consider picking up ornaments at each port of call. It’s a fun way to remember your special Christmas cruise experience.

Carnival Cruise Line

(Photo by James Morgan/Carnival Cruises)

Carnival Cruise Line embraces fun with everything it does, so it’s no surprise its Christmas celebrations are action-packed. From the ugly holiday sweater contest to the slow-roasted Tom turkey with Christmas stuffing and pecan pie available on Christmas Day, its ships go full blast with celebrating.

Passengers can participate in holiday-themed bingo, trivia and scavenger hunts, and watch classic holiday movies on the giant outdoor Dive In movie screens. They can sing along to Christmas carols and write letters to Santa, which they can drop in a special Santa-bound mailbox. The man himself will also make an appearance.

The resident Playlist performers do special live onstage holiday shows to get everyone in a holiday mood, and cruisers can rock out at a Jingle Bell Jam event with live holiday music while sipping festive cocktails. Passengers can share the festive spirit by writing holiday cards to crew members, part of Carnival’s Operation Happy Holidays.

Even the ships themselves get in on the fun. Carnival cruise ship atriums are transformed with Christmas trees complete with “dancing lights.” Wreaths, holiday lights and mistletoe are sprinkled throughout the public areas.

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Related: The ultimate guide to Carnival Cruise Line ships and itineraries

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

(Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas)

Luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises immerses its posh travelers in the holiday spirit on ultra-luxe Christmas cruises.

The ships are decked out in traditional style complete with over-the-top decorations, from handcrafted gingerbread villages to lavishly decorated Christmas trees. Striking festive flower arrangements deck each ship’s halls.

Roaming carolers in Victorian garb make the rounds on the ships. Santa even stops by for a visit — and perhaps a glass of Champagne.

Regent’s chefs outdo themselves to serve cruisers memorable holiday meals. Decadent menus feature European-themed dishes on Christmas Eve and American favorites on Christmas Day. Passengers can stuff themselves with baked ham with traditional trimmings, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing, pumpkin pie with cranberries and cinnamon-vanilla sauce, and classic English Christmas pudding with vanilla and whiskey sauce.

Look for Christmas-themed cocktails, which are always complimentary with Regent Seven Seas’ always inclusive cruise fares. Cap off a glorious holiday with a colorful, specially crafted Santa Clausmopolitan.

Related: 5 luxury lines that'll make you rethink everything you thought you knew about cruising

Celebrity Cruises

(Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Celebrity Cruises deploys its culinary chops so cruisers can eat their way through the Christmas holiday without having to clean a single dish. Passengers can choose from specialty holiday restaurant menus in the main dining room and restaurants such as Murano, Blu and Finecut. Christmas-themed buffets are filled with everyone’s holiday favorites.

The culinary team adds to the holiday merriment with its gingerbread “Winter Wonderland” villages displayed on board. Each ship’s Gelateria scoops up special holiday flavors such as peppermint and eggnog.

Special entertainment also abounds. On Celebrity Edge, thanks to the cruise line’s partnership with the American Ballet Theatre, passengers can catch dance performances that include excerpts from “The Nutcracker.” Across the fleet, special holiday activities include caroling, tree decorating crafts and youth and family coloring sessions. Another must-do is Santa’s grotto and parade on Christmas day.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Celebrity Cruises ship

Disney Cruise Line

(Photo by Matt Stroshane/Disney Cruise Line)

Disney Cruise Line goes just as big with holiday entertainment at sea on its Very Merrytime cruises as it does in its theme parks.

Character appearances are at the forefront of the line’s family-friendly Christmas celebrations. Mickey, Minnie and other Disney characters appear in their finest holiday attire, and Chip and Dale pose with passengers in front of the Christmas tree while wearing their holiday scarves and hats.

Santa is planning a visit for some socially distanced selfies. Mrs. Claus is on board, as well, to read well-known Christmas stories during a special storytime event.

Disney ships get decked out for the holidays with festive decorations, including a 24-foot Christmas tree, a gingerbread house display in the atrium, garlands, poinsettias and twinkling lights. Dickens-style characters sing carols.

A guest favorite is the Winter Wonderland Celebration, with special holiday fireworks appearing in the sky to a soundtrack of classic holiday tunes. Kids can participate in themed activities that include holiday crafts. Pick up Christmas gifts in the ship’s shops, where special holiday-themed Disney Cruise Line merchandise is available.

Even Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, gets the holiday treatment with special decorations including “snow” flurries and a Christmas tree.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for families

Princess Cruises

(Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Princess Cruises is a favorite line for multigenerational holiday celebrations. Grandparents, grandchildren, cousins and aunts can enjoy such special events as a Holiday Wishes variety show, performances by yuletide carolers and an ugly sweater competition.

Families can join together for gingerbread making and snowman making (with “snow”) competitions. Family movie night featuring Christmas films is a guest favorite, as are holiday crafts, such as design-your-own keepsake ornament and cardmaking. A reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is a Princess Cruises tradition, as is a visit from Santa. Cookies and carrots are left for him to assure his appearance.

If you turn on your stateroom TV, you’ll find special holiday programming such as a fireplace channel so you can pretend you are gathered around a cozy fire. Evergreen garlands strung with red ribbons decorate the decks and the ship’s masts, and Christmas trees sparkle in the piazza atriums.

Of course, the chefs do all the cooking, with traditional dishes such as roast turkey and goose plus all the trimmings on the Christmas dinner menu.

Related: The ultimate guide to Princess Cruises ships and itineraries

Cunard Line

(Photo courtesy of Christopher Ison/Cunard)

British cruise line Cunard has been sailing for more than two centuries, and on the company’s ocean liners, tradition rules the waves. The ships are decorated by an onboard team according to a designer’s plans. Poinsettias and seasonal flowers, sparkling trees and displays of carefully crafted gingerbread villages are all part of the special holiday decor.

Children can participate in workshops such as decorating cookies and gingerbread, while adults can compete in holiday-themed trivia and special game nights. A fun tradition is a contest to see which guests can create the best-dressed stateroom door.

On the culinary front, Cunard’s celebration starts with a festive brunch on embarkation day and continues with special menus at a gala dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas lunch, in the British tradition. Don’t miss the mince pie.

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Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.