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Best Cruises for Celebrating the Holidays

A cruise vacation is extra fun around the winter holidays when both river and ocean cruises include a sleigh full of decorations, festive-themed events and activities, seasonal treats, gourmet meals, and even special ports of call—all of which will make you feel like "not home for the holidays" might sound pretty good this year.

Magical Winter Holidays with Disney Cruise LineCourtesy Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line’s Very Merrytime Cruises

Unwrap a holiday adventure for the whole family with a cruise aboard the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, or Disney Fantasy, all decked out with holiday cheer starting in early November and continuing through the New Year’s celebrations. The Very Merrytime Cruises include “Turkey Day” feasts, Christmas banquets, “snow flurries,” and special treats. Some of the seasonal highlights include a sparkling tree lighting with Disney characters singing carols, a Winter Wonderland Ball with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and seasonal crafts including gingerbread decorating. Even Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, is decked out for the holidays. A Disney cruise would make an incredible gift for Disney fans.

Christmas-on-board-MSC-Seasidecourtesy MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises Holiday Sailings

Here’s something you can’t say every day: Martha Stewart cooked me holiday dinner! But thanks to a new partnership with the domestic diva, MSC’s ships sailing in the Caribbean—MSC Armonia, MSC Divina, MSC Seaside, and the brand new MSC Meraviglia (launching in the United States in October)—Martha Stewart’s culinary flair will flavor the restaurant menus onboard for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s. Other holiday cruise highlights include nightly menorah lighting for Hanukkah (plus plenty of potato latkes); sparkling lights and decorations, holiday games, and a meet and greet with Santa himself, including gifts for little guests for Christmas; and a special New Year’s Eve Gala and dance party, complete with a champagne toast.

Uniworld-holiday-courtesy Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Uniworld’s Rhine Holiday Markets Cruise

Uniworld offers a number of holiday cruises to soak up the European holiday spirit, including Rhine Holiday Markets, traveling to Switzerland, France, and Germany where you can explore charming villages to experience the best of the winter holidays in Europe. Discover Christmas traditions at Basel’s Christmas Market along its Christmas Street lined with more than 100 decorated and lit trees. Enjoy Uniworld’s “Taste of Christmas” walking tour in Strasbourg to see panoramic views of Old Town. Visit more Christmas markets in Heidelberg, Mainz, Rüdesheim, Koblenz and Cologne to find the best Christmas decorations and traditions and sample all the festive food and wine, too. Here are some more reasons River Cruises are Europe’s best-kept travel secrets.

1220ZU_1653KPcourtesy Kent Phillips, photographer

Adventure by Disney’s Danube River Cruise

Send them rolling on the river with a festive holiday cruise along the scenic Danube through Germany, Austria, and Hungary with Adventures by Disney. Stops include iconic landmarks like the rolling hills made famous in The Sound of Music, not to mention Europe’s famed holiday markets filled with local crafts and festive seasonal treats. Back on board, there are holiday-themed activities, including gingerbread cookie decorating and a Junior Adventurer gift exchange, for total holiday spirit immersion. These are the ultimate VIP Disney vacations.

Royal Caribbeancourtesy Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean’s Deck the Holidays

Instead of waiting for snow, head out this holiday to the warm and wonderful islands of the Caribbean with Deck the Holidays on Royal Caribbean. Throughout December, on any RC Caribbean cruise, guests can enjoy festivities that include special appearances by Santa’s elves, crafts and cookie decorating, family storytime, a Holly Jolly parade, and even special holiday movie screenings in the AquaTheater. Holiday cruises range in length from three to seven nights and are bound for destinations including the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Mexico, and more.

QM2-Christmas-Treecourtesy Cunard

Cunard Holiday Cruise Celebrations

For a luxurious holiday at sea, it’s hard to beat the trio of royal itineraries Cunard offers including a journey to Australia on the Queen Elizabeth, a sunny sailing from New York City to the Caribbean on the Queen Mary 2, and a holiday voyage from England to the Canary Islands (a great opportunity to try the local Christmas delicacies of Spain and view traditional nativity scenes) on the Queen Victoria. All three break out the tinsel and all the trimmings for a wonderful winter holiday experience including a dazzling Christmas tree, gingerbread village, Santa, carolers, and gourmet dining filled with delicacies.

Uniworld-S.S.-Joie-de-Vivre-courtesy Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Uniworld’s Parisian Royal Holiday Cruise

Paris is always a good idea, as the saying goes, especially at the holidays. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collections’ Parisian Royal Holiday itinerary begins and ends in Paris and travels through Northern France where you can experience the “City of Light” by peering at the animated window displays on Boulevard Haussmann or the lit trees lining the Champs-Élysées. Then take a “Taste of Christmas” walking tour along the Paris Left Bank. In Rouen, explore on a walking discovery tour of the Christmas market and indulge in delicious holiday treats at La Couronne, made famous by Julia Child. C’est bon!

Holiday-Season-Let-It-Snow-courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival’s Funtastic Holiday Cruises

These cheerful getaways are some of Carnival‘s most popular cruises. Every ship is decked bow-to-stern with wreaths, lights, Christmas trees, and, mistletoe. There’s even a special mailbox for letters to Santa. Cruise activity highlights include caroling, ugly sweater competitions, special shows, and even appearances by Dr. Seuss’ Grinch.

XMAS-1-1024x683COURTESY VIKING

Viking’s Christmas Market Cruises

Charming villages covered with twinkling lights, Christmas markets filled with unique gifts and crafts, special winter treats from hot spiced wine to gingerbread to chestnuts. There are few experiences as festive as a holiday cruise down the rivers of Europe. Plus, if you want to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s on board a river cruise, you’ll be greeted with special holiday feasts and beautifully decorated ships. Viking’s Christmas Market Cruises, which sail from late November to late December, help spread the cheer with onboard festivities: You can bake gingerbread cookies with the executive chef, decorate the ship’s Christmas tree, and enjoy live, regional holiday music from a local ensemble.

Vienna-at-ChristmastimeCourtesy Tauck

Tauck Christmas Market River Cruises

In addition to visiting and shopping at some of Europe’s most charming Christmas markets along the Danube and Rhine rivers, Tauck’s Christmas Market River Cruises are highlighted by special holiday touches on board. These include festive seasonal decor and music, caroling, gingerbread house decorating, and seasonal treats such as glühwein, the traditional mulled wine of the region. Tauck also hosts a tree-trimming party aboard each riverboat where guests are given euros for a scavenger hunt in various markets to find ornaments to decorate the trees on board.

Holland America Linecourtesy Holland America Line

Holland America Holiday Cruises

Cruiseline Holland America rolls out a festive atmosphere on its sailings ranging from the manmade wonder of the Panama Canal, the stunning Great Barrier Reef, from the sunny beaches of the Caribbean, and the ice spires of Antarctica. No matter where you are in the world, you can expect to sing carols by the piano, attend your choice of religious service, and be entertained with a yule log parade, holiday movies, and international choir. Santa also makes a special appearance in the kids club while parents enjoy a festive meal in grown-up style.

christmasmarketsdanube_vienna_ss160445150_VIEXmasMarket_gallerycourtesy Ama Waterways

AmaWaterways’ Christmas Markets

AmaWaterways luxury river cruises make the holidays extra festive with Christmas cookies delivered to our stateroom, mulled wine on the deck, and twinkling holiday lights overhead. Holiday excursions whisk guests away to experience the colorful market stalls offering whimsical handicrafts, traditional treats, and glittering decorations of Europe’s Christmas markets along the Danube in Austria, Germany, and Hungary and in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland traveling on the Rhine River. AmaWaterways itineraries include the Iconic Christmas Markets, Christmas Markets on the Rhine, Christmas Markets on the Danube, Magical Christmas Markets, and New Year departures of Melodies of the Danube, Romantic Danube, and Enchanting Rhine. Before you book a December cruise, memorize these sanity-saving holiday travel tips.