The Best Cruises To Take In December

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December doesn’t have to be cold and miserable. Why not get away from it all and enjoy a cruise? 

Christmas cruise

There are plenty of great places to go for a cruise in December, here are my top choices.

1. Caribbean Cruises

The Caribbean is always a great place to visit on a cruise and December is no exception. In fact, it’s probably the best place to go on a cruise in December.

Christmas beach

Of course, the weather is a big reason to cruise to the Caribbean and in December you can expect warm weather, very little rainfall and low humidity.

You’re looking at temperatures around 25-28°C (77-82°F) in the daytime and around 18°C (64°F) at night. So more or less ideal!

Cruise mummy taking a picture with a giant christmas tree
Me on a Caribbean cruise in December

The atmosphere on board cruises in the Caribbean tends to be more relaxed and less formal than you will find in many other locations (if you prefer a dressier cruise, consider Cunard or Celebrity Cruises). 

If you plan to go around Christmas time, you’ll find that most cruise ships will embrace the Christmas spirit and have lots of events to celebrate the festive season. The ship will be decked out with Christmas decorations, there will be special Christmas meals, choirs, Christmas carols and visits from Santa himself. 

Giant christmas tree

If you are on board a cruise ship at the end of December you can expect to celebrate New Year with deck parties, live music and dancing. You may even get the chance to view spectacular fireworks in port. 

December is the start of the peak season for cruises in the Caribbean so don’t expect to have the ship to yourself (actually, don’t ever expect this!) If you are looking for a slightly quieter and cheaper time for your cruise then the start of December is your best bet as prices will climb for the Christmas and New Year period. 

2. European Christmas Markets

Obviously, Christmas looms large over the whole month of December and if you’re looking for a cruise that really gets you in the holiday spirit then it doesn’t get much more Christmassy than visiting some European Christmas markets. 

European Christmas Markets
Hamburg Christmas Market

You can visit Christmas markets on either a river cruise or an ocean cruise. By taking a river cruise you’ll be able to travel into the heart of Europe where many of the most famous and picturesque Christmas markets can be found.

By taking a cruise on the Rhine or Danube you can visit several famous markets on one holiday. A Rhine Cruise takes in places like Rüdesheim, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne and Strasbourg.

The Cologne Christmas Market is one of the most famous in Europe and is set against the stunning backdrop of the Cologne Cathedral. The Strasbourg Christmas Market claims to be the oldest Christmas market in Europe. It’s definitely among the most picturesque as the medieval old town is adorned with lights.

European Christmas Markets with a huge church behind
Cologne Christmas Market

A Danube cruise will visit markets in places like Linz, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.

Vienna’s Christmas markets are known for their elegance. The city has several markets, but the Christkindlmarkt on the central Rathausplatz square is the most famous. Here, you can enjoy ice skating, classical music performances, and a wide variety of festive treats. 

If you prefer an ocean cruise, you can enjoy Christmas markets in Tallinn, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Bruges amongst others, and there are some cruise lines still offering Northern Europe cruises during these months – although your choice will be more limited than in the summer.

Me with friends on a Northern Europe cruise on Iona in December
Me with friends on a Northern Europe cruise in December

The great thing about visiting Northern Europe in the winter is that it’s nice and cold, but not too cold. You can expect the temperature to be somewhere around the zero degrees C mark, so expect a dusting of snow, without getting frostbite!

3. Antarctic Expeditions

December is the start of summer in the Antarctic which, combined with the holiday season, means that it’s the peak season for Antarctic cruises.

Hurtigruten cruise ship behind penguins

The weather in December is ‘relatively’ mild with average temperatures between -2 and 1°C (29-34°F degrees). Ok, it’s not T-shirt weather, but for Antarctica, this is pretty warm and daytime temperatures can get up to 10°C (50°F) on a warm day. Which means it could well be warmer than December in the UK! 

As it’s the height of summer, you can also enjoy constant daylight and a midnight sun. Around the solstice, you can actually see the sun 24 hours a day. 

The good weather in December means that animals are more active and entering their breeding season. You’re very likely to see seal pups on ice floes, while for most of December, penguins will be laying and incubating their eggs. 

Penguin chicks begin to hatch toward the end of the month in Antarctica but if you want to see these super cute babies, they begin hatching earlier in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. 

December is also a good time to cruise the Antarctic as you have a decent chance of a calm voyage in an area famous for rough seas. 

The atmosphere onboard is a bit more quiet and serious than some other cruise destinations with the main focus being on animal encounters, scientific monitoring, education and exploration. This isn’t a party destination!

Hurtigruten cruiseship travelling the antarctic ocean

As it’s a busy month, it’s worth booking your cruise well in advance (over a year). There are a few companies that specialise in cruises to the Antarctic.

Hurtigruten offers eco-friendly expedition cruises in vessels equipped with science centres and expert guides. Hurtigruten ships carry around 500 passengers. 

Quark Expeditions provides small-group experiences that focus on in-depth exploration and wildlife encounters. They have helicopters on board to get you really close to the action!

Silversea Expeditions combine luxury with adventure, offering all-inclusive cruises on specialist expedition ships with highly trained naturalists, zodiac landings, and comfortable accommodation. If you don’t fancy sailing across the notorious Drake’s Passage, they will fly you over instead. 

Ponant is a French company that sails some of the most luxurious expedition ships in the world. These tend to be smaller ships carrying around 250 passengers. A new carbon-neutral ship is set to launch in 2030.

4. Australia and New Zealand Cruises

December is also the start of summer for cruises to Australia and New Zealand so you’ll get nice long warm days (not quite as long as in Antarctica!). There are lots of different itineraries to choose from that visit Australia, New Zealand, or both. 

Sydney Australia

The most popular ports to visit in Australia are:

Sydney

One of the nicest harbour cities in the world, with a stunning skyline and the famous bridge and opera house. 

Cairns 

Cairns serves as the starting point for many to make the short trip to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s in northern Queensland so it’ll be hot due to the tropical climate.

Hobart, Tasmania

This port has a fascinating history as an old penal colony and a spectacular natural environment with spectacular national parks. 

Other ports you can visit include Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. 

New Zealand lake
New Zealand

In New Zealand you may call in at:

Auckland 

A bustling city of sails and a popular destination for cruises. 

Milford Sound 

The most famous area in the Fiordland National Park. There is no dock here but the views alone make this one of the highlights of a New Zealand cruise. 

Wairangi/Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a spectacular collection of islands located just off of the northern tip of the North Island. 

Wairangi/Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands

There are a lot of possible destinations in New Zealand, including Port Chalmers, Christchurch (Lyttelton), Wellington, Gisborne and Tauranga for Rotorua.

You should be able to find a cruise to suit any budget since there is a wide range of options for shorter or longer-duration cruises. 

Holland America Line offers some of the lowest price cruises in Australasia, despite their premium service. Cunard is a mid-range option while Oceania and Silversea provide a more high-end experience.

5. Asia Cruises

December is a great time to explore Asia on a cruise. The weather in this region is generally warm and humid, with temperatures ranging from 24°C to 32°C (75°F – 90°F).

Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore are popular destinations for cruises and you can call in at ports like Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, Langkawi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Hanoi. 

Spectrum of the Seas in Singapore

Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean all run similar itineraries in this area. Royal Caribbean tends to be the best value.

If you are looking for a luxury option, Seabourn runs all-inclusive small ships with gourmet food, but they are not so family-friendly. 

6. Middle East Cruises

For most of the year, the Middle East is just too hot to be comfortable to visit. Which is why December is the perfect time for a Middle East cruise. 

At this time of year, you can escape the chill at home while enjoying the hot, but not too hot, weather in this part of the world.

MSC Musica cruising the middle eastern ocean

You can expect temperatures around 27°C (80°F) and can leave the raincoat at home since there is minimal rainfall.

Visiting this part of the world is a bit different to somewhere like the Caribbean. When you spend days on land, you need to be more aware of the local cultural norms and ensure that you dress appropriately for the situation. 

Lady taking a picture on a muslim architecture

Before you go it’s also worth reading up on personal considerations in a part of the world, where things like hand-holding and kissing in public can be discouraged or banned, even amongst heterosexual couples. Alcohol consumption often isn’t allowed except in hotels catering to Western tourists.

There are a few different itineraries that cover the Middle East. Some of the places you can visit include Doha in Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas in the United Arab Emirates, Dammam in Saudi Arabia, Salalah in Oman, and Safaga (for the spectacular temples of Luxor) in Egypt.

Doha Qatar

Cruises can be combined to include Mediterranean sites or exploration of the Indian or African coasts.

Cruising the Middle East is rapidly gaining in popularity. MSC Cruises has the largest presence in the region, but you will also find plenty of sailings from Costa Cruises and AIDA (German language). Royal Caribbean, Scenic and Windstar also have limited sailings in the Middle East. 

7. Panama Canal Cruises

The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel. But, to really appreciate it you need to get inside the canal. And the best way, in my opinion, is to go on a cruise.

Coral Princess Panama

The best time of year to cruise the Panama Canal is December. The rainy season in Panama runs from mid-April to mid-December. That makes January to March very crowded, and also very expensive. So December is the sweet spot between good weather and avoiding the crowds.

The Panama Canal is 82 km (48 miles) long and connects the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. There are 3 locks large enough to accommodate cruise ships (not the very largest cruise ships, but pretty big still) and you’ll experience being on a ship that has to rise 85 feet within a lock. 

people on a Panama Canal cruise

I suggest combining a Panama Canal cruise with sights on either side to create an epic cruise taking in North America, the Caribbean, South America, Galapagos, Australia… the choices are pretty much endless! Plus, you can travel the canal in either direction, or both!

You don’t even have to travel all the way through the canal, you can do a partial crossing where your ship enters the canal and allows you to disembark for shore excursions.

There are also loads of cruise companies to choose from including Princess, Oceania and Silversea.

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The Bottom Line

Whether you are looking for a festive atmosphere, good weather or just to get away from it all, December is a great time to take a cruise. There are some lovely festive ports to cruise to at Christmas, but if you visit earlier in the month you can expect the same, welcoming atmostphere.

Whether you cruise over Christmas, or earlier in the month, there are so many different options for a December cruise that I’m sure you’ll find the perfect cruise for you!

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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