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Onboard holiday festivities (Photo: Viking Ocean Cruises)

Onboard Holiday Festivities 2017

By Gary Buchanan
Cruise Critic Contributor

You may not be prepared for it, but the festive season is just around the corner. Yes, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve will soon be upon us, as will the rush of buying decorations and presents while working out how to make this year better than the last.

For some, the season of good will is a great time for a getaway. The stress of the year has taken its toll, so many will pack up the presents and head for sunnier climates or exotic locales.

One great way to escape the cleaning and cooking, yet still enjoy tinsel and turkey, is to take a cruise. The majority of cruise lines get into the festive spirit for December 25, December 31 and the days surrounding, so why not give it a go? Here's what you can expect.

U.K. lines generally offer decorated ships and Christmas-themed events, such as carol-singing and pantomimes. Plus, just think of the Christmas dinner you can tuck into -- all the trimmings and more -- without lifting a finger.

If you are onboard a ship for New Year's Eve, you'll find that festivities vary from a low-key dinner and countdown to glitzy and glamourous celebrations.

Every cruise line puts its own spin on holiday cheer. Keep reading for a roundup of onboard celebrations from U.K. lines, and enjoy!

Updated December 27, 2017


Seasonal style: Traditional, classy and British -- with a nod to the Yanks

Thanksgiving:A traditonal turkey dinner with all the trimmings will be served.

Hanukkah: Cunard will have a selection of Kosher meals for passengers on request including the traditional potato latkes dish. Cunard will also have a Rabbi onboard each of the ships, who will conduct Hanukkah services and a Weekly Sabbath. A Menorah will be lit in all of the public rooms such as the Grand Lobby. The festival will be celebrated over the traditional eight day period from from December 6th to 14th and a candle will be lit each day. Hanukkah services have been scheduled for 17th December and subsequent days organised by the entertainment director and the onboard Rabbi.

Christmas: Each ship will feature a choir usually from a nearby cathedral to greet passengers when they arrive onboard during the Christmas period. Christmas voyages with Cunard extend over the New Year. Ships will be festooned with trees, wreaths, poinsettias, ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread cottages and twinkling lights and the chefs will produce their annual gingerbread village. Father Christmas will lead a parade into the Queens Rooms where he will hand out gifts to the kids and there will also be a Christmas Party and family activities. There will be caroling and traditional British Christmas dinner with roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Choirs on board are made up of guests and the individual ship's Theatre Company on Christmas Day. Each ship will feature periodic "snowing events" whereby special festive activities are conducted under a light snow fall (simulated). Catholic and Protestant clergy will also be in attendance offering a weekly Sunday Mass, a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day Service. There’s also seasonal entertainment which can feature well-known names from West End shows and characters from popular television programmes.

New Year's Eve: Passengers will have festive fun at the black-tie gala dinner and ball with horns, hats, streamers and blowers.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages

Seasonal style: Traditional elegance

Christmas: Ships will be decorated festively, and hot mulled wine will be served on arrival in the passenger terminal. All passengers will get a personalised CMV gift (cufflinks for men and a pocket compact mirror for women), delivered on Christmas Eve with a handwritten Christmas card. Christmas day will start with a Christmas service, and the Captain will make a morning Christmas announcement. There will be a formal gala dinner with Christmas decorations for every table and a glass of wine for every passenger. This will be followed by a Christmas pantomime.

New Year's Eve: There will be a formal gala dinner with a glass of wine for every passenger. At midnight a glass of Champagne will be offered to all passengers and there will be balloons around the ship. Goodie-bags will be handed out to every passenger at a deck party to take full advantage of the Madeira Firework Display.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Seasonal style: Traditional festivities

Christmas: Fred. Olsen offers a selection of seasonal sailing options aimed at escaping the winter cold for warmer climes. All four of its ships will be adorned by trees and traditional festive decorations. There is a chaplain onboard each ship conducting services, including Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The line will serve Christmas cocktails before a traditional Christmas dinner and entertainment, which includes Christmas-themed shows, carol concerts, Christmas arts and crafts classes and a seasonal quiz. A gingerbread village will be created by the talented Galley staff.

New Year's Eve: On New Year’s Eve there will be a formal dinner with a special menu across the fleet. There will also be fireworks (on all but the Caribbean itinerary).

Ginger bread houses on Hurtigruten cruise


Seasonal Style: Christmas Norwegian-style

Christmas: Onboard the fleet in Norwegian waters over the festive season, passengers will enjoy a host of seasonal activities, including making Christmas decorations together with fellow passengers and crew and learning Norwegian carols. Other Christmas-themed pursuits involve decorating gingerbread houses with shipmates and crew in addition to decorating the ship's Christmas tree. All Hurtigruten ships will dock in their respective destination ports for 24 hours. Guests are invited to attend Christmas Eve services at local churches before returning to celebrate with fellow cruisers and crew members. Observing Norwegian traditions, they will then tuck in to an elaborate smorgasbord (buffet) with coffee and cake being served in the bar. "Julenissen", the Norwegian Father Christmas, will pay a visit. "God Jul," the traditional Christmas greeting in Norwegian, will be heard throughout the Hurtigruten fleet. Passengers can head to local churches for Christmas Day services before a lavish brunch is served in the restaurant during the day. At dinner there's a Yuletide buffet with Norwegian specialities, including "Julekake", a sweet Christmas bread with raisins, candied lemon peel, nuts and cardamom; and "Julegrot", a Christmas porridge. Passengers wanting to experience a true Norwegian winter on shore can join the Wilderness Adventure camp excursion, which includes reindeer-driving, plus dog-sledding or a snowmobile safari.

Boxing Day: Another buffet will be offered in the restaurant followed by a Boxing Day dance.

New Year's Eve: "Godt nyttar", the Norwegian New Year greeting, is heard on board Hurtigruten ships when the New Year arrives. Passengers are treated to a New Year banquet with dancing after dinner in the bar and at midnight fireworks light up the dark skies.

P&O Cruises

Seasonal Style: Traditionally British with all the trimmings

Christmas: P&O Cruises certainly enters into the Christmas spirit with unbridled gusto. All seven ships in the fleet are decorated with a total of 249 Christmas trees and more than 44,000 decorations. An astounding 158 chefs across the fleet will cook a delicious traditional dinner of approximately 1,100 turkeys accompanied by all the trimmings, which will be washed down with more than 600 bottles of Champagne. Father Christmas will also make an appearance and will hand out more than 21,000 gifts to P&O Cruises' passengers. There will also be a range of Christmas entertainment, including a crew pantomime, a grotto (on family-friendly ships), children's choir and nativity, matinees for families on Christmas Day, festive arts and crafts for children, great British festive films, live broadcast of the Queen's speech, traditional multi-denominational midnight mass and special Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day menus.

New Year's Eve: There will be a five course gala dinner in the dining rooms followed by live music, West End-style shows or comedy acts, and then there is a countdown to midnight in all the bars and nightclubs.

Saga Holidays

Seasonal Style: Traditional celebrations for the 50+ crowd

Christmas: On Christmas Eve, there will be an onboard carol service followed by midnight mass with the crew taking part in singing hymns and recreating the Nativity scene. Passengers can enjoy a host of festivities on Christmas day, including a merry cocktail hour followed by a traditional Christmas lunch.

Marella Cruises

Seasonal Style: Social and fun with a traditional feel

Christmas: The ships are decorated with holiday wreaths, Christmas trees and lights, and signs proclaiming traditional holiday greetings for their festive cruises. On Christmas Eve, special carol and multi-denominational services will be held by clergy onboard all ships at midnight. On Christmas day, the cruise director and staff will offer several holiday-themed shows throughout each cruise, and at least one seasonal movie will be shown. Santa Claus makes an appearance with gifts for the kids, and a traditional Christmas dinner is served. There will also be multi-denominational services on Christmas Day.

New Year's Eve: Passengers are provided with hats, party favours and noisemakers, as well as complimentary Champagne to see in the New Year.

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