Spending Christmas on a Cruise: What To Expect

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A lot of people like to spend some of the winter months on a cruise, especially around Christmas – it’s nice to escape the cold weather at home, and get away from the stress of a hectic time.

But what about cruising over Christmas itself? Is that a good idea?

Family Spending Christmas on a Cruise

Last year, I spent Christmas on P&O’s newest ship Arvia, and we had an incredible time – but I know it’s not for everyone, too.

So let’s take a look at spending Christmas on a cruise – the pros, the cons and the alternative options.

Christmas is a GREAT time to go on a cruise

Christmas is a fantastic time to go on a cruise. Everyone onboard is in the festive spirit, and the ships are beautifully decorated. You get to enjoy a fantastic meal with no stress or clean-up, and there are lots of fun activities you can take part in.

Cruise lines tend to go all-out for Christmas, so here’s a look at what makes it such a special time to cruise:

Beautiful Decorations That Will Wow You

One of the best things about Christmas is the way that everything looks so pretty when decorated – whether that’s your own home, your street, or your town. But trust me, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a cruise ship decked out for the festive season.

Cruise lines hire specialist teams to come on board and decorate their fleet, typically towards the end of November. The end results are spectacular, with all the public areas made to look stunning and really bringing that festive spirit onto the ship. 

Christmas decorations on cruise

The highlight is always the tree, which is typically placed in the atrium and acts as a fantastic centrepiece. You’ll just love walking around your ship and taking all the decorations in.

Cruise ships don’t just have one tree though, they have hundreds! In fact, you can pretty much always see a tree, wherever you look. There was even a real, potted mini tree in every cabin!

real Christmas trees in the cabins

Dine On Incredible Food

Is it really Christmas if you don’t enjoy some delicious festive fare, both on the run-up to the day itself and for a delicious Christmas dinner? Well, you won’t be disappointed on a cruise ship. 

Expect a selection of themed treats to enjoy throughout your cruise, such as special holiday cookies, and then on Christmas Day you’ll be able to head to the Main Dining Room for a traditional turkey dinner, with most cruise lines offering some excellent vegetarian alternatives that still remain very much in the spirit of classic Christmas meals.

This is what my vegan Christmas dinner looked like…

And the best part? You don’t have to lift a finger – no starting early on peeling all the veg, and no clean up. Bliss.

Enjoy Festive Entertainment Programmes

Cruise ships are already a great place to unwind with entertainment, but it all gets a Christmas twist on these special itineraries.

Movies (in the onboard cinema or screened on the giant pool deck screens) will include Christmas classics, while any quiz nights will usually become Christmas-themed. Depending on the cruise line there may also be carol singers, holiday-themed theatre shows and more.

My son enjoying the magic show on Christmas morning

The kids will get to enjoy special Christmas crafts and storytime events, and Carnival does a fantastic performance featuring the kids onboard and the decorations they make in the kids clubs – a charming and sweet event that families won’t want to miss.

Jovial Christmas Spirit

Part of the reason to book a Christmas cruise is just to soak up the Christmas spirit. While the crew will be working hard to make sure you have an incredible time, it’s also the rest of the guests onboard who contribute to a special atmosphere.

My family Spending Christmas on a Cruise and meeting Wallace and Gromet

Make sure you pack your Christmas jumpers/sweaters, as it’s always fun to walk around a ship where everyone is wearing theirs, greeting each other with a smile and well-wishes. Christmas cruises can just feel a little more like a community than a regular cruise, and it’s lovely to be a part of it.

Meet Santa Onboard

While Santa Claus has a lot of very busy work around Christmas, including his epic journey on Christmas Eve night, he does make time to visit the cruise fleets around the world to make sure that everyone onboard doesn’t miss out.

Kids Spending Christmas on a Cruise with Santa

Depending on the cruise line, Santa may appear on the days leading up to Christmas or on the actual day itself, handing out gifts and being available for special photo opportunities.

On some ships, you can even see him abseiling down the funnel!

Cruise line Santas tend to be pretty authentic too – these aren’t the Santas you’d meet in a shopping centre where you can spot the fake beard from a mile away. It all makes for a more magical experience for the kids (and the big kids) in your group.

Experience New Cultures

An exciting part of cruising over Christmas is the melting pot of traditions and cultures that come together. Everyone has their own Christmas traditions that they do every year, and on a cruise ship you’ll see elements of those everywhere as you get chatting with other guests, or see the events taking place onboard.

It might be trying traditional Panettone on an MSC ship or American-style Pecan Pie on a Carnival ship. Or there may be craft activities that you’ve never tried but that other families are delighted to see on the ship as it’s something they always do together.

Kids Spending Christmas on a Cruise with gingerbread houses

Cruise lines will also typically have special Hanukkah events running alongside Christmas so if you’re on a longer cruise that crosses the Jewish festival as well as Christmas, you can take in the lighting ceremonies, sample the traditional foods, and enjoy themed craft activities on some ships.

Make Special Memories

I’ve had some wonderful Christmases with my family and friends, but my Christmas cruise will always hold a special place in my memories – it was something different, it was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed some great activities.

I think that’s part of what makes a Christmas cruise worth trying – you get to break from the norm and try something different, while still preserving the spirit of what makes Christmas such a wonderful time of the year.

Add in the rest of the vacation memories you’ll make – the great food on the other days, the entertainment, and the destinations you visit – and you’ll have an experience to treasure.

Family Spending Christmas on a Cruise

Religious Services Are Available

If you are religious, then you don’t need to worry about a cruise preventing you from taking part in traditional services and celebrations. 

Cruise ships tend to offer religious services throughout the year anyway, but will add additional events for the Christmas season so that guests can properly partake in their worship at this meaningful time of year.

People hide a LOT of ducks!

Cruising Ducks is a tradition that happens all year round. People hide little ducks and when you find one, you can keep it or rehide it.

We might see one or two ducks on a regular cruise, but on our Christmas cruise there were hundreds! Many of them were handmade and they came with little Christmas messages to say where they came from.

Christmas duck on cruise ship

This is such a fun tradition and the kids love it. If you don’t have the time to knit your own (who does?) then you can get lots of cute Christmas ducks on Amazon.

A Christmas cruise isn’t for everyone

A Christmas cruise isn’t the best choice for everyone, though. While there are certainly a lot of reasons to consider a Christmas cruise, you have to bear these downsides in mind, too…

Christmas Cruises Are Pricey

Unfortunately, all of the little extras you get as part of a Christmas cruise – the special dinners, the gifts, the additional entertainment – don’t come free. You can expect a Christmas cruise to be a little more pricey than a cruise during the rest of the year, since it’s seen as such a special event.

And, of course, the festive season is often expensive enough without a cruise holiday. So you do have to bear the cost in mind. It’s best to book a Christmas cruise early, so that you give yourself as much time as possible to spread the cost.

Kids Spending Christmas on a Cruise

Time Away From Loved Ones

One of the best parts of Christmas for many people is the opportunity to come together with friends and family, and spend some quality time together. That’s something you will likely have to sacrifice for a year if you book a Christmas cruise, or at least reschedule to before or after you sail.

The alternative is to try to convince your loved ones to all cruise with you – now wouldn’t that be a special way to celebrate? Maybe start planting the seeds of the idea this Christmas to get everyone onboard with the idea (pun intended).

Loss Of Family Traditions

Like I already said, everyone has their own traditions related to Christmas, and when you’re on a cruise you might not be able to keep those up.

Maybe you watch The Muppets Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve before bed. Or you have to have turkey curry on Boxing Day. Or you insist on breakfast being in your PJs. 

That’s not to say you can’t do these on a cruise – though it would be frowned upon if you went to the buffet or dining room without getting properly dressed. But they’re examples of some traditions that might be harder to uphold.

There are always workarounds though, or compromises that are worth making because of how special a Christmas cruise is. We ordered room service for breakfast on Christmas Day so that we could enjoy it in bed with our presents.

Kids Spending Christmas on a Cruise

It Complicates Gift Giving (Especially With Kids)

One of the biggest headaches with a Christmas cruise, especially if you’re sailing with kids, is what to do about gifts.

Nobody wants to cart all of the Christmas presents onboard with them. Sure, if you’re on a no-fly cruise, you’re technically able to bring as much luggage as you want, including gifts. We took a whopping six suitcases for the four of us, and one was stuffed with presents!

If you’re flying, you could bring only small presents and save any larger items for when you get home. It helps to extend the magic when you return home to all the gifts under the tree. My kids were thrilled to see that Santa had left a foosball table by the tree at home!

Alternatives to Christmas Cruises

If you’re not sure about cruising over Christmas Day itself, here are some other options to explore:

Pre-Christmas Cruises

A cruise in December in the run-up to Christmas is still an exciting experience, but lets you enjoy the day itself at home with your loved ones and your normal traditions. You’ll still get to see all the decorations and try some of the festive food and activities, and the price won’t be as high either.

Me and My Friends on a pre-Christmas cruise.

You will miss out on some of the magic of being onboard for Christmas Day itself, though. Plus it means you (or someone else) still has to do all the food prep and cleaning – there’s no crew at home to do all that for you.

But this is a good option if you want a taste of a Christmas cruise without splashing out.

Christmas Markets Cruises

Another great option is a Christmas Markets cruise. These take place from November onwards, and incorporate festive ports of call that have some wonderful Christmas markets. Here you can sample local delicacies and buy all kinds of trinkets and ornaments to give your loved ones as their Christmas gift.

European Christmas market

Ocean cruises tend to focus more on Northern Europe, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, for these cruises.

For the best markets, you should try a river cruise on the Rhine – the German Christmas markets are famous the world over, and in ports such as Cologne, Rudesheim, Koblenz and Bonn you’ll sample the best of them.

New Year Cruises

A New Year cruise lets you get Christmas at home out of the way first, and then escape for a fantastic cruise. If you’re the kind of person that loves Christmas but finds the cooking and the organisation a bit stressful, this is a great option – you can have all the Christmas fun, but then get away from it all to recharge your batteries.

Family Spending Christmas on a Cruise

There are some great New Year’s Eve parties onboard cruise ships too, if you like to see in the 1st January with a glass of fizz and a dance. The party onboard Arvia was honestly the best New Year’s Eve party we’ve ever been to!

It’s also wonderful to watch the sun set on a year – literally – from the deck of a ship in the calm ocean waters.

The Bottom Line

I’d really recommend a Christmas cruise, having sailed on one myself and had a fantastic time. It’s something everyone should try at least once – even if you go back to your traditional Christmas the following year.

There’s definitely a little touch of magic in the air when you’re on a cruise ship at Christmas. Even if you’re a cruise regular, you’ll notice how it just feels a little different – and it’s something I’d suggest you try.


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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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