Best Holiday Cruise Vacations
Imagine waking up Christmas morning to a view of a medieval European village—its spires and 12th-century bridge dusted with snow—or instead, spending the day transiting the balmy Panama Canal.
These are just two of the memorable holiday vacations that the best cruises deliver, along with the pleasure of having the feasts cooked and the halls decked for you. Towering Christmas trees fill cruise ship atriums; carolers stroll through promenades and lounges; and the air is filled with the scents of cinnamon and gingerbread.
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Guests aboard the Azamara Quest will have a front-row view of the New Year’s fireworks that light up the harbor in St. Bart’s. They’ll kick off 2014 with stops in St. Maarten, Nevis, and Virgin Gorda.
Such celebrations do come at a premium. Because cruises over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are in high demand, they usually cost slightly more than the same itineraries on non-holiday weeks. And like the holidays themselves, bookings for such voyages go fast.
For those who can’t snag a holiday berth or prefer to spend those days at home, river cruises to Europe’s traditional Christmas markets offer a cheery start to the season. Read on for a selection of the best holiday cruise vacations.
All prices are per person, based on double occupancy; unless otherwise stated, fares include the cruise, on-board entertainment, and main dining room meals, but do not include beverages, tips, excursions, Internet, or other extras.
Christmas Mexico Cruise
Kiss beneath the mistletoe, watch Christmas classics on the big screen, and dance amid occasional “snowflakes” aboard Carnival Inspiration’s four-night cruise from Los Angeles to Baja Mexico. The 2,054-passenger ship stops at Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to Los Angeles—turkey and pumpkin pie included. Rates from $559 per person; departs Dec. 23. carnival.com
Thanksgiving Caribbean Cruise
The 3,959-passenger MSC Divina’s seven-night Thanksgiving cruise leaves from Miami, making stops in St. Maarten, the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Youngsters get their own Thanksgiving Day parade; teens can join a scavenger hunt and flash mob; and football fans of all ages won’t miss a play thanks to games shown on big-screen TVs. Naturally, there will also be plenty of turkey and dressing. Rates from $499 per person; book by Oct. 31 for special family plan rates on two cabins. Departs Nov. 23. msccruisesusa.com
Christmas Markets on the Danube River
Warm your hands with a cup of mulled wine and shop for handmade nutcrackers and blown-glass decorations at Christmas markets in Vienna and other Danube cities between Nuremberg, Germany, and Budapest. It’s all part of a seven-night sailing on Viking River Cruises’ 168-passenger ships. Rates from $1,756 per person, including Wi-Fi, beer and wine with dinner, and six guided tours. Departs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24, with special rates for bookings made by Oct. 31. vikingrivercruises.com
Hanukkah Caribbean Cruise
Hanukkah-themed shows, games, and dishes are part of the nightly festivities during this weeklong southern Caribbean sailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, aboard Royal Caribbean’s 2,500-passenger Jewel of the Seas. Spend your days trying to conquer the rock-climbing wall or snorkeling the Caribbean reefs before attending the menorah lighting led by the rabbi on board. Rates from $639 per person; departs Nov. 30. royalcaribbean.com
Christmas Markets on the Main River
Sniff the cinnamon and gingerbread as you stroll Bamberg’s Nativity Walk and the medieval village of Rothenburg as part of Uniworld’s seven-night Classic Christmas Markets cruise along the Main—a tributary of the Rhine that flows through Germany. Four sailings on the 132-passenger River Queen between Frankfurt and Nuremberg are offered beginning Dec. 1. Solo supplement waived for the Dec. 22 cruise; book by Oct. 31 for special couples’ savings. Rates from $4,299 per person, including excursions, Wi-Fi, and wine, beer, and soft drinks with dinner. uniworld.com
Christmas Markets on the Rhine River
Venture beyond the riverbanks to less-visited markets in Aachen, Germany, and Riquewihr, France, during Tauck’s seven-night Christmas Markets sailings. Cultural performances, walking tours, and lectures are part of the itinerary of the 118-passenger Swiss Sapphire, along with meals ashore at iconic Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg and Hotel Zum Ritter in Heidelberg. Rates from $2,550 per person, including shore excursions and unlimited beverages, with special rates available for solo travelers; departs Dec. 1 and Dec. 8. tauck.com
Christmas Panama Canal Cruise
Silversea’s 17-night Panama Canal voyage leaves Fort Lauderdale and calls at the cobbled colonial city of Cartagena and beachfront Santa Marta, Colombia. On Christmas Day, the 382-passenger Silver Whisper transits the 48-mile-long man-made canal linking the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean, steaming on to Costa Rica and Mexico. It sails from Acapulco just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and ends in Los Angeles. Rates from $8,950 per person; departs Dec. 20. silversea.com
Christmas Costa Rica Cruise
Santa arrives by inflatable raft on Christmas Day to greet guests aboard Star Clippers’ 170-passenger tall ship, The Star Flyer, which sails from Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica. The seven-night cruise grants access to lush nature reserves and national parks, with options for river rafting, hiking, and diving. Rates from $2,180 per person; departs Dec. 22. starclippers.com
Christmas Caribbean Cruise
Spend Christmas Day cruising the tropical seas aboard Oceania’s 12-night Caribbean sailing from Miami. The 1,250-passenger Riviera visits St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Bart’s. Christmas Eve brings caroling and a midnight mass; Christmas Day the ship is at sea, giving passengers plenty of time to hang out with Santa before indulging in goose and turkey with all the fixings. Rates from $4,498 per person; departs Dec. 22. oceaniacruises.com
Christmas New Zealand Cruise
Gingerbread houses, holiday-themed cocktails, a visit by Santa, and religious services are among Christmas festivities on Celebrity Solstice’s 12-night New Zealand cruise. The 2,850-passenger ship departs from Sydney and calls at some of the most dramatic ports on New Zealand’s North and South Islands before ending the trip in Auckland. Save room for the Christmas Day brunch. Rates start at $1,399 per person; departs Dec. 22. celebritycruises.com
Christmas and New Year’s South America Cruise
Regent Seven Seas’ 15-night voyage on the 700-passenger all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Mariner travels along South America’s coast from Buenos Aires to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. Along the way, you can soak up the sun along Paraty’s beaches and Rio’s sweeping harbor. Both Christmas and New Year’s fall on days at sea, so any holiday closures won’t interrupt sightseeing opportunities. Rates start at $7,999 per person and include excursions, bar drinks, wine, gratuities, and Internet; departs Dec. 20. rssc.com
New Year’s Tahiti Cruise
New Year’s Eve brings noisemakers and champagne to the South Pacific, with college bowls on the screen in the ship’s lounge on January 1. The 672-passenger Ocean Princess spends 10 days sailing throughout the Society Islands, with calls at Bora-Bora and Moorea. The ship is at sea on New Year’s Day—perfect for sleeping in and nursing the aftermath of revelry. Rates start at $1,499 per person; departs Dec. 29. princess.com
New Year’s St. Bart’s Cruise
Fireworks will light up the cozy French harbor of Gustavia as St. Bart’s rings in 2014. Guests aboard the 694-passenger Azamara Quest will spend the evening in port, setting sail just before midnight. The cruise departs Dec. 28 from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to snorkeling-rich St. John’s before a two-day stay in St. Bart’s, then cruising on to St. Maarten, Nevis, and Virgin Gorda before ending the eight-night voyage in Miami. Rates start at $2,699 per person; departs Dec. 28. azamaraclubcruises.com