During the winter holidays, cue the lights, the festive music, and the endless amounts of food. From the showiest mansion to the tiniest apartment, if you slap up some decorations and bake some cookies, you have instant holiday warmth.
That goes for cruise ships, too. During the holidays, many cruise lines celebrate the season with special decorations, entertainment and meals, programming on cabin TVs, kids' activities, religious services, and more. We've already picked the best holiday decorations aboard cruise ships.
Read on to find out how cruise lines celebrate the holidays with special shows, kids' crafts, parties, music, and more.
This holiday season, the mid-size Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest will offer Christmas carolers, a holiday turkey dinner, and a special year-end variety show.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Ho, ho, ho! On Carnival, Santa Claus makes a special appearance during each holiday cruise, toting a bag of gifts that he distributes to the kids onboard. There's also an elaborate production show in which kids are invited to participate (and in which decorations made by kids in the "Camp Carnival" kids' program are used). Enjoy a special menu on Christmas Day featuring traditional oven-roasted turkey and pecan pie. Listen to traditional holiday music via the in-cabin music system and in the live music presented around the ship. Take in showings of Christmas-themed movies like Polar Express. On New Year's Eve, ring in 2012 with free champagne, party favors, and noise makers.
Stylish Celebrity takes the edge off the season with special holiday-themed cocktail specials from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. More traditionally, there's a visit by Santa, distributing toys to all kids ages 3 to 17; a cute Celebrity tote bag for every guest on board; ornate gingerbread houses created by the line's pastry chefs; professional singers performing Christmas carols throughout the holiday season; pre-Christmas trunk shows in the ships' shops, featuring luxury brands, holiday music, and fresh-baked cookies; special holiday-inspired menus; a midnight "Tree Trimmers Buffet" on Christmas Eve and a special brunch on Christmas Day; rabbis, priests, and ministers conducting holiday services; and a New Year's celebration with champagne and party favors.
On Christmas morning, Costa staff and passengers sing Christmas carols, and kids can get their picture taken with Santa. Afterward, guests can attend a Christmas mass; learn to make Christmas decorations; grab a Christmas-themed cocktail; take in a "Classical Christmas Concert" performance or a crew show presented by the cruise director; and enjoy a special holiday dinner. On sailings in the Mediterranean and the United Arab Emirates, the special meal is being created by Michelin-starred chef Carlo Cracco and popular Italian TV chef Benedetta Parodi. The recipes and tips from the chefs will also be posted on Costa's Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages. For New Year's, Costa ships will offer a variety of themed parties, including a traditional New Year's Eve party; American Swing New Year's Eve; Classic New Year's Eve; Teenagers New Year's Eve; Spanish, Latin & Caribbean New Year's Eve; Glamour New Year's Eve; and Disco House New Year's Eve.
Luxe line Crystal's holiday voyages will offer seasonal parties, dances, carols, menorah- and tree-lightings, Santa sessions, holiday movies, religious services, and traditional feasts featuring Christmas goose, roast turkey, and chestnut stuffing; potato latkes and chocolate Hannukah gelt; and for New Year's, a champagne countdown at midnight followed by a Bloody Mary party and a mimosa brunch the next morning.
For the holidays, Cunard's three-ship fleet will have traditional Christmas trees, evergreen garlands, lights, and poinsettias throughout all public areas on board. Queen Mary 2 will have periodic snow showers in its atrium, courtesy of modern technology. Each ship will also display a special gingerbread village, with the one on QM2 themed on Kenneth Grahame's classic children's novel The Wind in the Willows.
Guests aboard all three Cunard ships will be able to enjoy special Christmas variety shows; holiday music broadcast throughout the ship; traditional British Christmas crackers; Christmas films in the theaters; Christmas carolers; holiday parties for kids and teens; cookie-decorating sessions; Catholic and Protestant services; and special Christmas dinners. Santa will pay a visit and bring gifts for kids, while Cunard will provide the presents for adults in the form of a commemorative Wedgwood plate. For Jewish passengers, all three ships will have Hanukkah decorations, kosher holiday meals, and a rabbi to conduct services.
Disney Cruise Line
Throughout the holiday season, Disney's three ships are offering nightly tree-lighting events in their atria lobbies; family holiday craft sessions focused on decorating stockings, building gingerbread houses, making holiday cards, and creating holiday animation cels; and storytelling sessions with traditional Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa stories. On Christmas, there's a traditional holiday feast. At the end of each holiday cruise, there's a special, seasonally themed holiday edition of Disney's farewell show. On Disney's private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, guests can enjoy faux snow flurries, decked-out Christmas trees, Disney character meet-and-greets, holiday carolers, and holiday-themed activities and crafts for kids.
Holland America Line
From the Caribbean to Antarctica, Holland America's holiday sailings include special holiday meals; holiday-themed culinary demonstrations featuring seasonal items; sing-alongs with classic holiday songs; clergy to conduct Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish services; and for kids, a visit from Santa. New Year's Eve sailings feature a holiday ball with a champagne toast.
Italian line MSC's ships will offer traditional holiday decorations; a Christmas Eve Catholic mass; a visit from Santa for the kids; a New Year's Eve disco deck party by the pool; and a traditional countdown to the New Year.
Norwegian Cruise LineNCL sailings over Christmas and Hanukkah will offer Christmas trees, menorahs, and other traditional décor; rabbis, priests, and ministers to conduct holiday services; and holiday dinners featuring menu items like honey-glazed Black Forest ham with sweet potato mash, pumpkin soufflé, and a pear-and-chestnut torte. For New Year's, guests can partake of offerings like Blue Point oysters in the main dining restaurants; a countdown by the captain, live from the bridge; and free champagne, hats, noisemakers, and streamers.
Oceania CruisesFor Christmas, Oceania's four ships will offer Christmas Eve caroling and midnight mass, seasonally themed entertainment, special guest performers, and a reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." On Christmas Day, there's an ecumenical worship service; a visit from Santa, bringing gifts for all the kids on board; and holiday menus that include roast turkey, goose, or ham, plus traditional trimmings, sweets, and eggnog. For Hannukah, the ships will offer activities planned by a guest rabbi, a nightly menorah lighting, and a holiday menu that includes potato latkes, matzo ball soup, and challah bread. For New Year's Eve, weather permitting, the ships will offer a deck party featuring live music, noisemakers, party hats, and champagne.
Princess CruisesPrincess decks the halls in a big way, with Christmas trees mounted on the ships' masts, faux snow flurries in the ships' atria, strolling Christmas carolers, and a slew of activities, entertainments, and meals. Passengers can join a competition to build the most creative gingerbread house; make holiday cards in a crafts session; learn how to use a blade in a turkey-carving demo; take in a Christmas variety show; join a choir to sing holiday songs; watch Christmas movies on the ships' big, outdoor "Movies Under the Stars" screens; or turn on a 70s-style Yule Log broadcast on their stateroom TVs (or catch it on the big outdoor screen, between flicks).
For kids, there are holiday crafts sessions and the chance to perform in a Christmas choir. Santa brings gifts for all the kids on board, all passengers get their own stockings, and a senior officer reads "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve. Clergy are aboard to conduct Catholic mass and a non-denominational service, and Christmas dinner will include slow-roasted Vermont turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry chutney, English Christmas pudding, gingerbread soufflé, and Christmas cookies. There are also special decorations, meals, activities, and services for Hanukkah, and a traditional festive New Year's Eve, with music, confetti, noisemakers, and a balloon drop. On New Year's Day, broadcasts of the college football bowl games on the big giant Movies Under the Stars screens or in shipboard lounges.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent's three ships will offer special holiday meals featuring European and American Christmas favorites like roast turkey, roast goose, traditional pies, Bûche de Noël cakes, Christmas cookies, and for Hanukkah, potato latkes, matzo ball soup, and challah bread. On Seven Seas Navigator, there will be oversized gingerbread house, a special Christmas Eve show, and a visit by Santa on Christmas morning, bringing gifts for the kids on board. Weather permitting, New Year's Eve will see a gala deck party with live music, noisemakers, party hats, and Champagne.
Royal Caribbean International
For a white Christmas, Royal Caribbean can (at least on 10 of its ships) offer something no other cruise line can: holiday ice skating at the ships' indoor ice rinks. The line has also planned parades by Santa and his elves; Christmas caroling by the ship's crew and staff; special holiday shows; holiday movies and music; holiday cookie-decorating sessions; and traditional Christmas religious services. For Hanukkah, there are special holiday shows; Hanukkah games, songs, and sing-alongs; and a Hanukkah service. New Year's Eve will see themed parties in every lounge, party favors and decorations, a countdown by the captain and cruise director, and countdown parties for kids and teens.
Seabourn's six luxury vessels are duded up for the holidays with traditional decorations (including evergreen swags draped on stair railings and balusters); a gingerbread village; a special Christmas Eve goodie basket or plate delivered to each suite; a special Christmas show in the main show lounge; and Christmas Eve dinner featuring a duck main course. On Christmas Day, there's a brunch buffet crowned with a Yuletide Log cake and cookies; an eggnog, Glogg, or Gluhwein party; a Christmas High Tea featuring stollen and Christmas cake; and a Christmas dinner featuring roast turkey, English pudding, and mince pies. New Year's Eve dinner is a gala, formal-optional affair, with marzipan clovers and horseshoes at each table. After, there's a gala ball in the main show lounge and, at midnight, hot goulash soup served in all the ships' bars.
SeaDream Yacht Club
Luxe SeaDream is planning to have its two little yachts sailing in virtual tandem for the holidays, spending Christmas at anchor off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands and New Year's Eve in Gustavia, St. Barts. For Christmas, they're planning a special dégustation menu at dinner featuring items like L'Oeuf Poule au Caviar Surprise, steamed lobster on marinated king crab tartar with orange dressing and herb phyllo crisp, cappuccino of white tomato soup with basil dumpling, slow-roasted turkey on bread stuffing with gravy and cranberry-orange relish, and a whole raft of desserts. Décor onboard is elegant, with white poinsettias accented by crystal, glass, and silver ornaments.
Windstar CruisesWindstar's three motor-sail vessels will be in Costa Rica and the Caribbean for the holidays, and will offer elegant decorations and a holiday menu featuring roast turkey and traditional accompaniments. On New Year's voyages, each ship will put on a New Year's Eve party complete with party favors, live music, an official countdown by the captain, and a champagne toast.