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Christmas market in Frankfurt, Germany (Photo: S.Borisov/Shutterstock)

5 of the Best Christmas Cruises

Whether you need a break from holiday overkill or are contemplating a new family travel tradition, cruising for Christmas may be exactly what you need. You can utilize the kids' long winter break to explore new cultures or escape on your own while letting the cruise line handle the party planning. The best way to ho-ho-ho might be to go-go-go. Here are five options to consider as you make your holiday cruising plans.


Updated October 24, 2018

Christmas Markets

The top-of-mind cruises for celebrating Christmas are likely to be those that call upon European Christmas markets in the weeks leading up to December 25. There are numerous river cruises dedicated to exploring the markets and even a few oceangoing sailings that include ports known for their Christmas markets.

The river cruises sailing during the holiday season typically immerse you in the traditions of each country on the itinerary with food, music and decorations. The outdoor markets themselves include a variety of handmade items, as well as an abundance of food and beverage. The atmosphere is far more relaxed and congenial than your average crowded shopping mall at home, making it easy to shed holiday stress and slip into a jolly attitude.

Polar Cruises

For a little more excitement during the holiday season, you can escape either north or south for an adventure that includes wildlife viewing, stunning scenery and possibly even the northern lights. Arctic cruises are more popular during the summer months, but a few select sailings are now possible during the holiday season, specifically designed for viewing the northern lights. Cruises to Antarctica take place during fall and winter months -- the only time of year when travel to the region is manageable. In addition to the adventure, you can expect some holiday decorations and festivities onboard most ships.

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Christmas in the Caribbean and Mexico

If your goal for Christmas is skipping both the cold and the kitchen, a relaxing cruise in the Caribbean might be to your liking. The warm weather can be a welcoming change from winter at home (though expect the possibility of cooler temperatures and choppy seas on your way out of and back into the northern U.S. homeport). Many cruise lines move ships into the Caribbean (from Europe and Alaska) prior to the holiday season, so there is an abundance of choices, ranging from small to mega-ships, with cruises in almost every price range.

Unless you sail with an adult-only cruise line, there will be lots of children onboard for the week of Christmas. (You can avoid some of the crowds by sailing earlier in December, when prices are also lower.) Count on holiday decor throughout the ship plus traditional meals and treats served onboard. You will also find the holiday spirit in abundance in the ports of call. There's nothing cheerier than "Jingle Bells" played by a steel drum band or with a Latin flair.

Exotic Beaches

A total escape might involve beaches a little farther from home. Think Tahiti and Bora Bora or maybe South America. The travel season in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia is in full swing in December, so it's easy to find yourself on a beach in Bali, far from the last-minute holiday frenzy. Some far-flung destinations will have Christmas celebrations like those at home, while others (like those in Asia) may have little or no sign of the Christmas holiday. Either way, you'll find celebrations onboard and lots of relaxation, away from the cold.

Christmas and New Year's Combo Cruises

You can opt to party all week on a cruise that encompasses both Christmas and New Year's celebrations. There are 10-day cruises that catch both December 25 and January 1 in almost every region of the globe, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia. Cruise lines transition between the two holidays seamlessly, allowing you to focus on enjoying the fun without the chores of taking down decorations and planning the New Year's Eve party.

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