The holiday season is a busy time of year for the cruise ship industry. According to Skip Fortier of MacNair Travel Management in Alexandria, Virginia, the holidays are an ideal time to take a cruise vacation. He explains, "As families get together to celebrate the holiday season, being on a cruise is a perfect setting to spend time together, get away from the cold weather, explore new destinations and experiences, and avoid the stress of cooking and cleaning."
When to Start Looking for Holiday Cruises
Trips over the winter holidays are very popular with vacationers. Departures are in high demand because vacation dates and times are limited to a short two week window. Because of this, these sailings tend to have a higher per day price than other times of the year and available space is limited. In her Holiday Cruising Basics article on Cruise Critic, Erica Lamberg recommends booking holiday cruises nine months to a year in advance. Since most cruise ship itineraries are released for a two year period, this is a feasible thing to do.
Christmas and New Year Sailings and Packages
A cruise in December or January can provide a warm weather oasis from the winter chill. Still, traveling to and from cruise ports during the winter months can pose a challenge. Keep snow and other winter weather concerns in mind when you select your departure port, considering the conditions you'll have to travel through to get there. Fortier advises, "Flying during holiday season can be a challenge, so we always suggest a departure port that has direct flights or have your travel professional schedule you to arrive a day prior to the cruise so you won't miss your cruise if there are flight delays".
U.S. East Coast Departures
For East Coast travelers, Disney Cruise lines offers four, five or seven day holiday cruises for Christmas and the New Year, as well as Halloween and Thanksgiving. These holiday sailings all have special amenities and events. Christmas brings the 'VeryMerryTime' festival and winter wonderland aboard their ships, with destinations in the Bahamas or the Caribbean departing from Florida. Fortier points out, "The Caribbean the most popular winter cruise destination because of the warm weather."
New York City Departures
During the holidays, Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship the Breakaway and Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas will both host seven day sailing from New York City (NYC) to the Bahamas, while Cunard's Queen Mary II sets sail for 12 nights to the Caribbean. The budget option is NCL's older ship the Gem, with a seven day Caribbean sailing. All these warm water destinations are perfect after a freezing wintertime departure from NYC.
U.S. West Coast Departures
West Coast holiday travel often heads south to Mexico, though longer sailings to Hawaii, the Pacific islands, South America or Australia are also available. Both the Norwegian Star and Crown Princess offer seven day sailings to destinations in Mexico from Los Angeles, California throughout the winter holidays.
Holland America's ship the MS Amsterdam offers a unique trip in December 2015 - an eighteen day Panama Canal crossing from San Diego, California to Fort Lauderdale Florida. This trip visits nine different ports in North America, Central America and South America. The itinerary has guests in Mexico on December 24th, and Aruba on New Year's Eve.
Australia is well-known for its warm weather during the Christmas and New Year's holiday season, so it's not surprising that cruise departures are available Down Under at that time of the year. During the winter holidays, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas features a nine day round-trip from Sydney.
European trips include traditional Christmas destinations in England. P&O Cruises and Cunard host seven day London round trips annually for celebrating the New Year. P&O's Arcadia visits Norway, Belgium and Denmark. For a warmer trip, book a southern European areas in the Mediterranean or southern Italy. The MSC Splendida has a seven day round trip departing Christmas day from Palermo, Italy.
While prices vary greatly, an average sailing at the end of December has a premium of between $160 and $250 per person, per day. The NCL Breakaway's seven day sailing jumps from $799 in the first few weeks of December, to $1,299 over Christmas and $1,599 over New Year's Day. This is true for sailings available in 2014 and 2015. The price is about $186-$228 per person, per day for an interior cabin. This is the cruise fare price only, and does not include taxes, port charges, airport transfers or flights to the departure city.
Onboard Holiday Celebrations
The winter decorations, special menus and overall tone of onboard holiday festivities make the extra fare seem very worthwhile. The ships are decorated with Christmas trees, lights and all the holiday hoopla. On most ships, holiday themed activities are scheduled in the kids club, and grownups can attend special holiday services, or parties. Menu extras include a traditional Thanksgiving feast, Christmas goose or Hanukkah meals.
- Celebrity's pastry chefs lay out a gingerbread village, caroling throughout the ship and of course, holiday themed shows in the theater.
- Holland America Line broadcasts some college bowl games as part of their New Year's celebration.
- Oceania holds their New Year's gala on the deck, weather permitting.
- Aboard the Windstar line, the New Year is rung out by the eldest crew member, and in by the youngest during a champagne and caviar black tie celebration.
Tip: Due to all the holiday celebrations, be sure to pack formal clothing accordingly. Fortier recommends, "You can bring your holiday gifts on board and have your own celebration".
Breaking it to the Family
As a former cruise ship crew member, I've spent my share of holidays at sea. Breaking it to the family is never easy. The best way to soften the blow, is to include them in the travel plans. Booking discounts are available for large parties, and gifts can be brought aboard and opened together on the special days. Better yet, make the cruise the holiday gift for the whole family! Giving family members this opportunity may open up a new tradition, avoiding the wintertime stress, by setting sail aboard a holiday adventure!