Image: Goofy as Santa
Disney
On Christmas, Santa (a.k.a. Goofy) visits with kids and doles out surprises on Disney Cruise Lines.
updated 11/29/2006 6:15:07 PM ET 2006-11-29T23:15:07

Ducking under the hanging mistletoe beside the pool bar ... singing carols on deck, overlooking the sea ... decorating cabin doors with foil and staterooms with foldable trees ... enjoying New Year's Eve with enthusiasm (and with no worries about driving home) ... and drinking eggnog, poolside.

Cruising during the holidays is anything but the typical week-at-sea experience during less festive times of the year.

"My family and I agree that our Christmas cruise was the best vacation we've taken to date," says Jim Staggs, a frequent contributor to Cruise Critic's message boards, who notes that he has nine other voyages under his belt. The most memorable experience? "By far my favorite Christmas moment was when crew from the engineering area came around and sang carols in the children's center," Staggs says.

Indeed, many cruise lines — and officers, staff and crew — embrace the holiday season with a cheery vigor that goes beyond the symbolic Christmas tree, occasional Santa appearances, elaborate turkey dinners and New Year's Eve midnight countdowns.

Booking a Holiday Cruise
Typically, cruising during the Christmas-New Year's holiday seasons has carried with it a hefty price tag due to the combination of extra expenses they incur — and high demand by passengers because it's a school holiday time. It has usually been imperative to book a holiday voyage way in advance, but you can still sometimes get a great deal at the last minute — check the holiday page of our bargains section to see some of the options available. Here are a few more tips:

  • Because flights can be booked and overbooked at that time of the year, or simply outrageously pricey, you may want to consider buying the cruise line's air if it's offered, or choosing a departure city close to home if available.
  • Choose itineraries carefully. Ships on a regular weekly schedule are likely to maintain it, so you may end up in a port on Christmas Day where everything's closed but the cathedral and the beach. On the other hand, cruise lines with vessels that sail varying itineraries will often try to arrange for ships to spend big religious holidays at sea. If you want to be at sea on Christmas and/or New Year's, take that into consideration when choosing a trip.
  • In some regions, particularly the Caribbean, the holiday week is a time of island-wide celebrations that can make a trip memorable — and give you a hint of real island life (as opposed to the limited views one normally gets in one day in port). Take a look, for instance, at St. Kitts, where the island's national Carnival runs from December 18 through January 2; activities vary, but expect parades, revelry and folkloric performances.
  • Beware of Boxing Day — many Caribbean islands with British roots celebrate this December 26 holiday, and generally shops and sites are as closed up as on Christmas. One exception: On Nevis, Boxing Day (December 26) is a huge horse racing day at its Newcastle Racetrack.
  • Be prepared: The best cabins — particularly family suites and anything with a balcony — may be booked in advance by true holiday cruise aficionados who celebrate this way every year.

Cruise Critic, which launched in 1995, is a comprehensive cruise vacation planning guide providing objective cruise ship reviews, cruise line profiles, destination content on 125+ worldwide ports, cruise bargains, tips, industry news, and cruise message boards.

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