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What to Expect on a Carnival Christmas Cruise

By Carnival Cruise Line

The Christmas holiday is a wonderful time to get together with friends and family, many of whom you may not have seen for a while. Although you get to spend time with loved ones, you know it often comes with added stress: namely, lengthy travel and meal preparations.

What if there was a better way to celebrate the season? A way that didn’t require long drives or hours in a warm kitchen. Thankfully, there is! Have you considered a Christmas cruise ? A family cruise to an exotic destination could be the perfect way to celebrate the season.

children on their parents’ shoulders wearing santa hats while walking on a beach

Where Will You Be This Holiday Season?

When you cruise with Carnival over Christmas, you’ll spend the holiday doing whatever it is you love best. You’ll have plenty of time to catch up with friends and family, plus you’ll get to vacation in a warm, exotic destination at the same time! Whether your regular Christmas scene features buckets of rain or a howling snowstorm, you’ll get the opportunity to escape it all and enjoy the tropical sunshine instead. From Mexico to the Caribbean and right over to The Bahamas , there are plenty of holiday cruise destinations just waiting for you. Rest assured, this Christmas season is ready to bring you plenty of tropical joy.

Making Your Christmas Plans

Where will you depart from? Carnival has numerous departure cities depending on your preferences or travel requirements. Are you close to Galveston, Texas , or Charleston, South Carolina ? What about Miami, Florida or Baltimore, Maryland ? You’ll have plenty of options to choose from, even if you live elsewhere. Whether you want to travel to the Caribbean, Mexico, The Bahamas or another destination, you’ll discover numerous ways to enjoy a Christmas cruise in the tropics.

an aerial view of carnival glory departing from miami

Embarkation Day

As you embark on your first day, you’ll immediately notice the Christmas decorations found throughout the ship. From wreaths to jingle bells to the ever popular mistletoe (pucker up!), each ship will leave no doubt that the holiday season is well underway. Stunning Christmas trees are set up in various parts of the ship too.

While at Sea

Carnival team members will go out of their way to keep you and your family well entertained and in the Christmas spirit with festive activities. From the tree lighting ceremony on the first evening to the Christmas carol sing-a-longs and special Holiday show (featuring appearances by Santa and the Grinch!), we have plenty up our sleeves for this most joyful season of the year. Both you and your kids can participate in our arts and crafts events, where you can make your own decorations and other festive trimmings. We bet your kids will love the opportunity to drop off their letter to Santa in the North Pole mailbox. Why not write a note yourself? You never know what type of response you’ll get!

Have you been waiting for the right season to enjoy all of those holiday movies? Good news! Join your fellow cruise guests and settle in for all of those Christmas favorites. Plus, now’s your chance if you’ve always wanted to join in on an Ugly Sweater Contest. Winners will receive a special prize.

Carnival holds a special, non-denominational Christmas service either December 24 or 25, depending on the cruise itinerary. This service will feature hymns, prayers and plenty of stories to bring everyone closer together during the holiday season.

The Christmas festivities, which begin the day after Thanksgiving and run through December 25, culminate in a delicious Christmas dinner. This dinner features traditional favorites like the Christmas turkey (oven-roasted with all trimmings) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

a christmas tree in the atrium of the carnival vista

Regardless of your port of call, you’ll have numerous opportunities to enjoy the Christmas season, tropical-style. Exploring the streets and beaches of each city might reveal unexpected festivals and celebrations sure to delight the senses. You’ll also want to join in on shore excursions that let you get up close and personal with nature, take part in extreme adventures and enjoy unforgettable local cuisine. While everyone back home may be dealing with snowstorms and freezing rain, you’ll be surrounded by warm temperatures and plenty of vacation adventures.

This Christmas season, join your friends and family on a cruise vacation. You’ll get a chance to experience new destinations and traditions at the same time. You might even make a Christmas cruise the next family tradition!

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The Most Festive Christmas Cruises

A decorated lobby and staircase of an American Queen Voyages ship.

Courtesy of American Queen Voyages

These festive cruises are full of activities, food and destinations to make your holiday special.

If you're ready for a break from holiday traditions and family gatherings at home, consider booking a Christmas cruise. What makes a better present than the chance to leave all the planning, cooking, cleaning and decorating behind – and celebrate the holidays in beautiful destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean or other countries around the globe?

If you're dreaming of a white Christmas, you can book a festivity-filled river cruise along Europe's iconic waterways and bundle up in your winter gear to explore the Christmas markets in the snow. If you prefer sunshine and warm temperatures, celebrate the holidays in an exotic locale, sailing crystal-clear turquoise waters and relaxing on white sand beaches surrounded by palm trees.

Whether you prefer to stay close to home or jet off for a bucket list adventure, one of these cruises may just be the perfect gift to celebrate your holidays in style.

Book a Christmas cruise on  GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise

Put your name on the waiting list for November 2024 if you want to set sail on what Hallmark is touting as the "jolliest vacation ever." The Hallmark Channel – known for its year-round holiday-themed programming with Christmas in July, Countdown to Christmas and Christmas Fridays – will host the first-ever Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise sailings in November 2024 from Miami to the Bahamas . Lucky fans of the television channel will travel with their favorite Hallmark stars on one of two four-night cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line 's Norwegian Gem during the 2024 holiday season.

Highlights of the Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise include photo opportunities and panels to meet the stars. Attend Christmas craft workshops or tastings with Hallmark's winemaker – the wines have names like Jingle (cabernet sauvignon) and Joy (sauvignon blanc). Guests can also look forward to "carol-oke" singalongs, cookie decorating, an ugly sweater contest and a world premiere viewing of a new Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Read: The Top Party Cruises


A Christmas market stand at an AmaWaterways cruise destination.

Courtesy of AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways offers seven itineraries to visit the Christmas markets along the Rhine and Danube rivers – and to see the holiday splendor of Europe's grand cities, such as Vienna and Prague . Travelers can stroll through snow-dusted beautiful medieval squares and fairytale markets with chalet-inspired stalls, thousands of colorful lights, festive decorations, ice skating rinks, whimsical handmade gifts, Christmas carolers, carousels and more.

The eight-day Iconic Christmas Markets itinerary from Nuremberg, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary , features a visit to Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, one of the world's oldest and most famous Christmas markets. Sip glühwein (hot mulled wine) and sample savory specialties like currywurst (curried sausages) and kartoffelpuffer (fried potato pancakes). Be sure to save room for sweet delights like schaumkuss, a chocolate-covered marshmallow, or lebkuchen, a traditional spiced cookie.

While on board the ship, guests can participate in festivities like tree-trimming, caroling and "Shoes for St. Nick." This European tradition encourages passengers to leave their slippers outside their stateroom door before bed. In the morning, they wake up to slippers filled with tasty treats like the children find in Europe on Saint Nicholas Day.

Celebrity Cruises

The Celebrity Infinity ship on the Celebrity Cruises' Canaries, Morocco, Spain Holiday itinerary.

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Celebrate Christmas Day in the Canary Islands and ring in the new year on the Mediterranean Sea during Celebrity Cruises ' Canaries, Morocco, Spain Holiday itinerary. The 13-day round-trip voyage from Barcelona embarks a few days before Christmas 2023 on Celebrity Infinity. It features eight ports of call, including the Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Tangier as well as Seville and Valencia in Spain.

On the ship, guests can revel in the joyous spirit of the season with festive Christmas trees, traditional holiday meals, themed shows and pop-ups, carolers, gingerbread winter villages, and even a visit from Santa. The onboard bars serve up holiday-inspired cocktails like candy cane and gingerbread martinis as well as other seasonal favorites, including spiked apple cider and classic mulled wine. On New Year's Eve, plan to join in the merriment with fellow cruisers during the big countdown bash.

If you want to cross South Africa off your list of must-visit destinations , consider spending Christmas and New Year's Eve sailing round-trip from Cape Town on Azamara 's 14-day South Africa Intensive Voyage. The 2023 voyage departs Dec. 21 on Azamara Pursuit and includes stops in Port Elizabeth, home to one of the densest elephant populations in the world, and Richards Bay, which is teeming with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes.

Guests on board the holiday cruise will be treated to Christmas performances, including singalongs and carols performed by the crew. There will be special menus in the restaurants, holiday-themed buffets, religious services and a tree-trimming party. Festive treats like hot chocolate, cookies and snacks are provided throughout the cruise. The New Year's Eve White Night party, where all the guests don their best white attire, will take place throughout the ship and on the pool deck with entertainment, music and light bites.

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People stand on the front deck of a Viking Christmas cruise on the Rhine.

Courtesy of Viking

Viking's 12-day Christmas on the Main & Moselle cruise sails between Paris and Prague in 2023 and 2024. The adults-only sailing affords passengers 18 or older the opportunity to visit four European countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic. In addition to browsing the boutiques in Paris and a variety of Christmas markets in Germany, you'll want to explore iconic landmarks like Reims Cathedral in France and the Luxembourg American Cemetery. Don't miss the famed wines produced in the region, including Moselle, riesling, Müller-Thurgau and gewürztraminer.

The holiday spirit continues on board the ship with Christmas-themed cooking demonstrations in addition to festive decorations with garland, lights and gingerbread houses. Guests will also taste regional cuisine, enjoy cultural performances on board the ship and ashore, and learn about the history of the Christmas markets and local holiday traditions.

Read: Bucket List Cruises for Seniors and Retirees

Disney Cruise Line

Goofy, Mickey and Minny characters on a Disney Cruise Line Very Merrytime cruise.

Kent Phillips | Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line offers dozens of Christmas-themed cruises in November and December of 2023 and 2024. Cruisers looking to celebrate the holidays with Disney's cast of characters in 2023 can book a Very Merrytime cruise as short as a four-day sailing from Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Bahamas. For an extended getaway, consider Disney Cruise Line 's eastbound eastbound 15-day voyage that embarks in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico , and transits the Panama Canal, disembarking in Galveston, Texas .

On the first evening of every sailing, guests can gather around the three-deck-tall Christmas tree for the tree lighting ceremony, a holiday singalong and the introduction of Santa Claus. Other festivities include the fun-filled Mickey and Minnie's Holiday Party, themed Very Merrytime activities for children of all ages, carolers singing songs, and Christmas-inspired food and beverages. Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse will be sporting jolly new holiday attire during the special voyages.

Read: The Top Themed Cruises

Windstar Cruises

Exterior of Windstar Cruises ship on Overwater Bungalow & Tahitian Paradise Cruise Tour.

Courtesy of Windstar Cruises

Celebrate the holidays with a once-in-a-lifetime getaway to the sun-drenched islands of Tahiti . You'll set sail a few days before Christmas aboard the four-masted sailing yacht Wind Spirit. Windstar's 10-day Overwater Bungalow & Tahitian Paradise Cruise Tour also includes a three-night stay in overwater bungalows on the island of Moorea. Resort perks include a half-day private car tour and a romantic beach dinner where you can watch a spectacular French Polynesian sunset over the South Pacific Ocean.

Guests can join in on the holiday spirit around the ship with festive Christmas trees and decorations and holiday-inspired cocktails and treats. Special programming for the voyage includes a Christmas movie, a gala tea, an interdenominational Christmas service and a Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas morning brings more celebrations throughout the day, with holiday meals, a Yuletide afternoon tea and a Christmas dinner followed by a variety show in the evening.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Interior of Norwegian Cruise Line's The Haven Suite.

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Grab the swimsuit, flip-flops and sunglasses for a tropical holiday on Norwegian Cruise Line 's newest ship, Norwegian Viva. The line's nine-day Caribbean voyage departs round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico , several days after Christmas. There are eight ports of call, including stops in the beautiful islands of Curaçao , Bonaire , St. Lucia and Aruba . For a special celebration, splurge on luxurious suite accommodations in The Haven. The ship-within-a-ship retreat features a private restaurant, a lounge, a sundeck, a concierge desk and 24-hour butler service.

Holiday-themed activities on Norwegian's ships vary by itinerary and ship. Still, guests will find plenty of festive fun on board, including traditional holiday fare and holiday-inspired musical sets, trivia, and family and youth programming. Guests are invited to offer interdenominational services for fellow passengers during the sailing. You'll also find Hanukkah services listed in the Freestyle Daily Program. Plan to sleep in on New Year's Day and spend a blissful day relaxing at sea after a late night celebrating New Year's Eve on board the ship.

American Queen Voyages

A holiday decorated building at an American Queen Voyages Christmas Markets Cruise destination.

The holiday-themed, eight-day Roundtrip New Orleans voyage on American Queen begins with an overnight in the city and disembarks just in time to spend Christmas Eve in the Big Easy . The ship – a 417-passenger paddlewheeler that is the largest steamboat ever built – will call on four ports during the sailing on the Lower Mississippi River. In Natchez, Mississippi, guests will find holiday markets exclusively created for the voyage, where you can shop for gifts and sweet treats. You'll also be greeted with bonfires along the riverbanks at the historic Nottoway Resort in White Parish, Louisiana. Join in the real spirit of Christmas with donations to Giving Trees in the port towns that help local charities.

There are plenty of cheery activities on board the ship with Christmas shows, singalongs, caroling and cooking demonstrations. Guests can also put their creative talents to work decorating gingerbread houses, ornaments and cards while sampling holiday-themed cocktails or sipping hot chocolate. Specially prepared dishes will celebrate the traditions of Hanukkah, including traditional foods like homemade latkes (fried potato pancakes).

Read: The Top Mississippi River Cruises

Aerial of the Silver Endeavour in Gibraltar.

Courtesy of Silversea

For a life-changing experience and the merriest Christmas of all, spend the holiday with several species of waddling penguins, giant seals and majestic whales while visiting the ice-covered shores of The White Continent. The 10-day Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams expedition on Silversea 's Silver Endeavour sets sail from Chile a week before Christmas in 2023 for the Antarctica Peninsula. Five days of excursions allow travelers to explore this surreal and magical part of the world. Weather permitting, guests will even take a Zodiac cruise with the expedition team in the South Shetland Islands on Christmas Day.

Festive touches on board the ship include Christmas trees and lights, gingerbread houses, holiday arts and crafts, caroling, religious services, and musical performances by the crew and professional entertainers. Guests will also enjoy a traditional holiday dinner on Christmas Day.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed to destinations around the globe on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, luxury yachts, expedition vessels, and river ships in Europe and on the Mekong River. She used her extensive knowledge and experience with the cruise industry to write this article. Pratesi covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications, including U.S. News & World Report.

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top River Cruise Lines
  • The Top Cruises on Small Ships
  • Cruise Packing List: Essentials for Your Cruise
  • The Top Christmas Lights Displays in the U.S.
  • The Best Christmas Vacations

Tags: Travel , Cruises , Winter Vacations , Christmas

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Celebrating Holidays

What better way to celebrate the holidays and sporting events but on a Carnival Cruise with family and friends. You will enjoy specially-planned events, timely decorations and special seasonal dishes. Events and activities may vary by ship and are subject to change.

Black History Month When: Month of February This month long observation recognizes the contributions, influence and important of African Americans.

  • Black History Month trivia
  • Black History Month: Meet Up
  • Dance Classes
  • Motown Atrium Party 
  • Guess That Song 
  • Coloring at Sea

Super Bowl Sunday When:  February 9, 2025 | February 8, 2026 It’s America’s biggest sporting event and the reason for America’s biggest party! Join the fan zones, grab a bucket of beer and get ready for a tailgate bash, Fun Ship-style! Super Bowl LVII will include the following experiences:

  • Super Bowl Trivia  
  • Sailgate Party with VIP Seating Challenge and Junior Cruiser Touchdown Dance
  • Viewing locations are in select bars, lounges and  Carnival's Seaside Theater  
  • Themed Casino activities
  • Themed Youth Activities
  • Support your team and wear your favorite football attire! 

Valentine’s Day When: Fe bruary 14 Love is defiinitely in the air this time of year! Come join us for a fun-filled day of love and activities.  

  • Carnival's Largest Vow Renewal at Sea
  • Valentine’s Day Bingo, Trivia, Cupid Contest and Conversation Heart Scavenger Hunt
  • Valentine's Card Craft
  • Valentine's Dance Class
  • “All Paired Up” Casino Event
  • Steakhouse Valentine's Day Lunch on ships with a sea day on the 14th ( $ )
  • Divas Nightclub Hour
  • Divas Atrium Party / Guess That Song
  • Influential Women Trivia
  • Women’s History Month: Meet Up
  • Dance Classes  

Mardi Gras When :   March 4, 2025 | February 17, 2026 It’s time to celebrate Fat Tuesday and party New Orleans style!

  • Mardi Gras Parade
  • Mardi Gras Party
  • Mask Making Workshop 
  • Mardi Gras Games 
  • Mardi Gras Bingo and Trivia
  • To celebrate, don't forget your beads and wear your favorite purple, green and gold attire!

Dr. Seuss' ™ Birthday When:  March 2 Hooray, hooray! It’s Dr. Seuss’ big day! Join The Cat in the Hat and your Cruise Director for a fun, family Seussian birthday celebration. Hurray, the cake is on the way! 

  • Special Seussian Celebration of Everyone's Birthday!
  • Dr. Seuss Family Trivia
  • The Cat in the Hat makes a special appearance during the Wave Morning Show
  • Seuss at Sea™Programs, including Seuss-a-Palooze™ Story Time and Parade
  • Dr. Seuss Dive in Movie (on ships that feature Carnival's Seaside Theater )
  • Themed Youth Activities 

March Madness When: March/April March Madness Basketball is finally here! It's bracket time! Grab a bucket of beer and join us for the buzzer beaters, upsets and the Cinderella stories!

  • March Madness Trivia   
  • Support your team and wear your favorite team's attire!
  • Check the Carnival HUB App for viewing times and locations.  

St. Patrick's Day When: March 17 It's time to celebrate the luck of the Irish! Come join us for a day filled with St. Patrick's Day festivities. 

  • St. Patrick’s Day Pub Party (18+)
  • St. Patrick’s Day Mega Deck Party
  • Family Shamrock Hunt
  • St. Patrick’s Day Bingo
  • St. Patrick’s Day Games
  • 'Shamrock Shuffle' Casino Event
  • Wear something green and be all things Irish for a day!

Holi When: March 14, 2025 | March 4, 2026 Hindu festival of colors celebrating the arrival of spring in India.

  • Morning Fitness Class
  • Bollywood Family Dance Class
  • Trivia: Colors
  • Coloring at Sea (Rangoli)
  • Holi Creativity at Sea 
  • Bollywood Nightclub Hour
  • Themed Youth Offerings  

Easter When:   April 20, 2025 | April 5, 2026 Activities for guests of all ages and some specific for children and their families will take place on Easter Sunday. 

  • Family Easter Hop N’ Stop Hunt 
  • Family Easter Flower Hunt
  • Easter Egg-stravaganza Bingo
  • Easter Traditions Trivia
  • Non-denominational Easter Service (excluding those ships in their home port on Sunday)

Passover   When:  April 12-20, 2025 | April 1-9, 2026

  • A Passover Sedar Service will be hosted on the first night of Passover by a Cruise Staff team member.

Earth Day When:  April 22 Happy FUN Earth Day! Today the whole Carnival family is celebrating Earth Day. Please join us in “caring for our awesome planet” each and every day by saving energy, reduction water consumption and minimizing waste.

  • Earth Day Cake Celebration
  • Earth Day Digital Scavenger Hunt
  • Earth Day Trivia
  • Earth Day Quiz Activity with Cruise Director and Environmental Officer
  • Themed Youth Activities  

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month  When: Month of May

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Meet-Up
  • Dance Class
  • Music sets featuring songs from AAPI artists

Mother’s Day When:  May 11, 2025 | May 10, 2026 Time to show Mom some love! Come join us as we celebrate Mom with fun for the entire family.

  • Mother’s Day Appreciation Event
  • Mother’s Day Remembrance 
  • Famous Moms Trivia
  • Mother’s Day Craft
  • Family Digital Scavenger Hunt
  • Family Face Off Game

Pride Month When: Month of June Pride Month is celebrated during the entire month of June and we are excited to announce that it will be celebrated on board. 

  • LGBTQIA+ Mixer 
  • Pride Nightclub Hour
  • Themed Trivias
  • Themed Movie Programming

World Ocean Day When: June 8 On World Ocean Day, people around our blue planet celebrate and honor the ocean which links us all. Be a part of this growing global celebration!

  • World Ocean Day Celebration 
  • World Ocean Day Family Fish Hunt
  • Family Fishing Challenge Game
  • Ocean Themed Trivia
  • Ocean Themed Puzzle and Coloring Sheet
  • Ocean Themed Guess That Song
  • Ocean-themed Dive in Movie  (on ships that feature Carnival's Seaside Theater )  

Father’s Day When: June 16, 2024 | June 15, 2025 | June 21, 2026 Time to show Dad some love!  We have lots of fun for the entire family, Dad-worthy activities planned so come and join us. 

  • Father’s Day Appreciation Event
  • Father’s Day Remembrance 
  • Famous Dad’s/Dad Joke Trivia
  • Father’s Day Craft Card

Independence Day/4th of July When:  July 4 Come celebrate the red, white and blue with us today! We aren’t just talking about Carnival… we are talking about the good ol’ USA! We are having a party in honor of Independence Day! 

  • Independence Day Fun featuring activities such as ice cream eating contest, patriotic parade contest and American themed pool and deck games, etc.
  • 4th of July Bash Deck Party
  • Country Line Dancing Class
  • Independence Day Bingo and Trivia 
  • Themed  Dive in Movies  (on ships that feature Carnival's Seaside Theater )    

NFL Football Season When: September-Superbowl Sunday You won’t want to miss the live sports action, so put your game face on, grab a drink and get ready to cheer!  We moved the tailgate from the parking lot to the open decks! 

  • NFL Games ( select games on Sundays, Thursdays, Thanksgiving, Playoffs and Superbowl )

National Teddy Bear Day When:  September 9 As part of Carnival's partnership with Build-A-Bear Workshop® and our on board program, Build-A-Bear Workshop at Sea, we will celebrate this special day with our guests - the young and young at heart. 

  • Cruise Director Welcome featuring the heart ceremony
  • Treats, Photos and Dancing
  • Latin/Hispanic Guess That Song/Music Trivia Party
  • Latin Nightclub Hour
  • Hispanic/Latin Heritage Trivia
  • Coloring at Sea 
  • Pop Salsa Dance Class

International Talk Like a Pirate Day When:  September 19 Scouring the seas for a good time? Weigh anchor! X marks the spot! Celebrate Pirates' Day with our Fun Squad ...yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

  • Pirate Deck Party 
  • Pirate Scavenger Hunt
  • Pirate’s Day Bingo
  • Pirate’s Trivia and Themed  Puzzles
  • Pack your black, white and red attire and don't forget your eye patch! 


World Series When:  End of October  It’s that time of the year again! Come cheer for your favorite teams as they go head-to-head in the Fall Classic of America’s Favorite Pastime. Play Ball!

  • Baseball Trivia
  • World Series Games
  • Día de los Muertos Festivities
  • Remembrance Event
  • Calavera Scavenger Hunt
  • Themed Coloring at Sea
  • Creativity at Sea Skull Mask
  • Themed Trivia

Diwali  When: November 1, 2024 | October 20, 2025 | November 8, 2026 We are excited to celebrate Diwali, India's 5 day festival of lights.

  • Creativity at Sea 
  • Trivia: Good vs. Evil

Thanksgiving Day When: November 28, 2024 | November 27, 2025 | November 26, 2026 Enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thursday evening, featuring roasted turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, giblet gravy and pumpkin pie.

  • Turkey Trot with Your Cruise Director
  • Thanksgiving Day NFL Football
  • Thanksgiving Turkey Hunt
  • Thanksgiving Trivia
  • Gratitude Box
  • Fall-themed Creativity at Sea 
  • Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Themed Youth Activites

Hanukkah (Chanukah) When: December 25, 2024-January 2, 2025 | December 14-22, 2025 | December 4-12, 2026 Hanukkah, otherwise known as the 'Festival of Lights' is the Jewish celebration of miracles, whereby oil that was only supposed to last for one day, burned for eight days. Join us for the lighting of the menorah and a special service in honor of the Jewish celebration of miracles.

  • Each night of Hanukkah, services will take place in the atrium lobby at sunset, including prayers and songs.  

Christmas Holiday Season When: December 25  (early December through Christmas)                                                        With a festive on-board atmosphere, elaborate decorations and an array of traditional cuisine, entertainment and activities, Carnival’s ‘Fun Ship’ holiday cruises are the ideal option for reconnecting with friends, families and loved ones. A festive mood is created as soon as guests arrive on board, with the ship’s atrium and promenade areas lavishly decorated in the spirit of the season starting early December. There’s even a special mailbox for letters to Santa! Guests will gather for the lighting of the Christmas tree in the ship's atrium, caroling to Christmas classics and for fun, trying their luck in an Ugly Sweater Competition. An extra-special, live-on-stage Holiday Show puts everyone in the spirit!         

  • Noon Year’s Eve Family Party with the Cruise Director
  • New Year's Eve Atrium Party with the Cruise Director 
  • New Year's Eve Countdown
  • NYE Bash with House Rock Band 
  • NYE Piano Bar Sing-Along 
  • NYE Nightclub Party 
  • NYE Lido Bash with Cruise Director 
  • NYE After Party (in the Nightclub for adults 18+)
  • New Year’s Eve Trivia and Bingo
  • Rolling Into the New Year Casino event

Religious Services and Clergy Policy

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Holiday Celebration Cruises

As each year draws to a close, Princess guests look forward to enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday season, those age-old traditions of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's... as they visit exotic locales, soak up the sun and participate in the many other activities a cruise has to offer. The ease with which Princess enables guests to enjoy these special days has made the holidays one of the most popular times to take a seagoing vacation, as Princess ships make the season particularly festive.

Princess' fleet offers a wide range of Christmas and New Year's cruises across the globe each year, typically sailing to the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Australia/New Zealand, South America and the South Pacific during this holiday period.

A Merry Christmas at Sea

It's not hard to get into the Christmas spirit right from the start, as ships are trimmed from stem to stern in festive holiday decor, complete with wreaths, holly, mistletoe and, of course, Christmas trees, which often even decorate the ship's mast. It's not uncommon to see Yuletide carolers strolling the decks singing favorite holiday tunes, or waiters wearing Santa hats on our Christmas cruises. Seasonal entertainment abounds, as guests may enjoy themed production shows, live music and films during the voyage. Guests can also attend Catholic mass and inter-denominational church service.

A special Christmas dinner features traditional favorites such as roast turkey or goose, and guests will enjoy a range of seasonal sweet treats such as gingerbread mousse, mincemeat pie, chocolate Yule logs and special Christmas cookies.

With kids out of school, holiday cruises have become a popular getaway for families. And to keep younger guests busy, youth counselors provide a wide array of activities including parties, sing-a-longs and arts and crafts classes, where they can create ornaments to decorate the ship's Christmas tree. Junior cruisers can also participate in an endearing holiday play, which they perform for guests. On Christmas day, Santa Claus makes a surprise appearance, bringing joy (and gifts) to each child on board.

Hanukkah Cruise Celebrations

For guests who celebrate Hanukkah, a special area of the ship is reserved for those participating in services, and ships display menorahs and fresh flower arrangements decorated in the Hanukkah colors of blue, silver and white. Kosher meals are available throughout the sailing when requested in advance, and dining rooms feature specialty items such as potato latkes, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and matzo during the holiday.

Ringing in the New Year

Princess New Year's cruises welcome each new year in style with a fun-filled New Year's Eve party complete with music, confetti, noise-makers and, of course, champagne to join the ship staff in a toast to the arrival of January 1. These always-popular festivities can range from casual to black-tie affairs, depending on the ship and itinerary.

And once the new year arrives, football fans will be pleased to know they won't miss the day's traditional college bowl games, as the telecasts will be shown (if available) in a shipboard lounge, complete with a full buffet of "munchies" such as popcorn, chips, mini hot dogs or burgers and other assorted goodies.

In all, Princess' holiday celebration cruises are the perfect way to enjoy a joyful and stress free "what you want, when you want" holiday away from the usual hustle and bustle of the season.

15 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

15 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

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Fun Ways to Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

Taking a Christmas cruise is a fun and festive vacation for the whole family! But how can you make it even more meaningful, than an average Caribbean cruise?

In this post, I’ve listed 15 ways to bring some Holiday traditions on board, to make it extra special to celebrate Christmas on a cruise.

Last year, our family took our first Christmas cruise and it was awesome!

The cruise ship was decorated beautifully and there were some special activities – such as decorating gingerbread cookies, Holiday movies, traditional meals and desserts (like a Christmas log) and a visit from Santa of course!

If you’d like to know more about what to expect when cruising during Christmas , I’ll leave a link at the bottom of this post.

regal princess piazza decorations

15 ways to make celebrating Christmas on a cruise even more special

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click and buy that I may make a commission, at no cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

1. Decorate your cabin

One reason that some people hesitate to leave home during the holidays, is that it just won’t feel like Christmas. Let’s face it, at home we have the Christmas tree and all the decorations and lights.

So how can you get this on a cruise?

Firstly, your cruise ship will be decorated with a big Christmas tree (sometimes more than one), and lots of gorgeous festive decorations.

However, nothing stops you from decorating your own stateroom with Christmas decorations. Some people even bring a miniature Christmas tree that props up on a coffee table or the desk!!

christmas day on a cruise ship

Rather than bringing a lot of stuff that takes up a lot of room in your suitcase, consider easy things such as Christmas theme or snowflake decals for glass balcony doors. Make your cabin as festive and fun as you can handle!

Recommended: Snowflake window decals (Amazon – Verify reviews and price)

2. Wear Santa hats

Why not have some fun and pack some Santa hats to wear?

On our Christmas cruise last year, many passengers and crew wore Santa hats on Christmas day (or before). It was so festive to see this holiday spirit.

Even if you don’t wear them the Santa hats all day, they can be a lot of fun Christmas eve or Christmas morning. They could even be fun worn with a bathing suit ;-)!

There’s something about seeing so many Santa hats in red and green on a Caribbean Cruise that’s pretty fun!

christmas day on a cruise ship

Recommended:  Plush Santa Hats (Amazon 4.5* rewiews)

If you love the head wear idea, but think it may be hot in Santa hats, consider these fun Christmassy headbands.

christmas day on a cruise ship

Why do a Christmas Cruise?

When I asked about Holiday cruises on the Life Well Cruised Facebook page , community members had lots to say!

“This was the best cruise EVER!  No other cruise could top Christmas. The shows, the decorations, the smiles, the music… EVERYTHING was perfect!” explained Saeed Seed. Thank you Saeed for sharing this amazing family photo!! 

Christmas family cruise photo - Carnival Cruise

3. Bring your Christmas gifts onboard

Families may want to bring gifts on board and open them in your cabin Christmas morning, later in the day, or on Christmas Eve. If you have room in your luggage, a little gift exchange on your cruise can be a great way to adapt a tradition.

If you’re cruising with your kids, perhaps bring one small gift on board that can be useful during the cruise, like snorkeling equipment or a new bathing suit.

Do you have a surprise gift for your kids? Let me know in the comments below :-)… they won’t see, lol.

4. Christmas shopping on your cruise

christmas gifts

Rather than bringing gifts on board, you may find something special on the cruise ship or even on an island.

Outside of fun souvenir type stuff, there’s some great duty-free deals to be had!

Tanzanite jewellery, brand name luxury watches, and other gems can be really well priced on-board your cruise ship. A special handbag or perfume purchased on board may always remind you of this special time.

Always use due diligence when making a large purchase on the ship or in a port of call.

Tip: Check for Christmas specials on board. On our recent Princess Cruise , the watch my son was eyeing (he had saved his money), was an additional 10% off an already great price!

5. Give a gift of a special activity or shore excursion

This might be the year of minimalism and you don’t need lots more “stuff” in your house.

Some families we spoke to told us they decided to lots of gifts and enjoyed the cruise and excursions as a family instead.

Bucket list or wish list experiences like swimming with dolphins can be really expensive, and can be an amazing gift to share together.

There’s something about memories – they last longer than any things we can buy.

Vacation memories and experiences remain meaningful long after the things we buy are forgotten

6. Christmas gifts for your cabin attendant (or other special crew)

During our holiday cruise, something we thought about is how for many staff, they’re spending Christmas and the holiday season without their families.

Consider bringing a small gift to say Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings to some of the ship staff or your cabin steward. Even some special candy or chocolates can be a special treat for those working on board.

A note of thanks in a Christmas card, with a gift of cash is always appreciated, though not expected, by staff.

Tip: I’ve seen some comments from well meaning cruise passengers, noting that not all cruise staff celebrate Christmas. While this is very true, the sentiment of the season and good wishes are well received, I believe. 

7. Hang Christmas stockings in your cabin

Bring Christmas stockings that you prepare at home and hang on your cabin walls or balcony doors. Many families do this and it’s so much fun!

If you’re wondering how can you hang stockings in your stateroom, the cabin walls are metal, so anything magnetic works.

You can do this by purchasing heavy duty magnet hooks from Amazon (link here) or your favorite store.

Do make sure that they are “heavy-duty” to hold up the weight. They can be used on future cruises to hang backpacks, extra sweaters and more.

Recommended: You can find more Cruise Cabin Hacks in this post .

15 Things to do on a Holiday Cruise PIN image

8. Cabin door decorations

You can decorate your cabin door with festive Christmas decorations or personalize with something custom made.

I’ loving these cute banners, that are available in lots of different designs and can be personalized. It makes a nice Christmas gift too, as it can be reused in the future. This one below is from Amazon.

Recommended:  Personalized cruise cabin door banners (check for different styles)

christmas day on a cruise ship

Tip: Some cruise lines have restrictions on cruise cabin door decorations, so check your cruise line policy.

9. Participate in decorating a Gingerbread House and other Holiday traditions

So when you’re not celebrating Christmas at home, you may think that your kids will miss out on some of the fun Holiday traditions. However check your daily schedule for all the different types of Christmas themed activities you can participate in.

From decorating a gingerbread house to joining the cruise ship Holiday Choir (and performing!!), there are ways to bring Christmas into your cruise days on board.

10. Order milk and cookies for Santa Claus 

santa claus on a cruise

Yes!! Santa will visit on Christmas morning!

Do your children prepare milk and cookies for Santa at home?

Keep that tradition and make it extra special by ordering milk and cookies from room service on Christmas Eve, as of course Santa will come down the ship chimney and love it ;-)!

Something to note is that some cruise ships do have an extra charge for room service, so here’s a tip.

Pick up some cookies from the cruise ship buffet or cafe, along with a carton of milk  at breakfast. Store the milk in your cabin fridge and get it ready on Christmas Eve before bed.

11. Wear your Christmas Jammies

If you’re cruising with your kids, bring the Christmas Jammies. Santa will usually visit (check the cruise schedule for time and location) on Christmas morning.

He may even have some small gifts for the children. Keep your phone charged to catch great photos and video.

12. Dress up in Holiday cruise outfits

xcite the band princess cruise

Consider bringing some special outfits for Christmas eve or Christmas Day. Many cruise lines will have a formal or chic dress code that evening, but do check with your cruise line.

Ladies, if you’ve been wanting to wear that gorgeous red dress, now is your time to shine! If you can convince the family to dress up, consider having a professional photo take.

Most cruise lines charge between $20-25 for a single photo. Even though we can all take out own with our smartphones, there’s still something to getting a professional photo done. It will be a great mememto and can even be used on future Christmas Cards.

**Don’t forget to also bring your comfy clothes (Christmas Jammies for the fam?) or your ugly Christmas sweaters for a late night buffet visit. It’s the holidays after all ;-)!

13. Sing Christmas Carols

Celebrtate Christmas on a cruise PIN

This might sound really corny, but when many cruise passengers and crew gathered and sang Christmas carols in the cruise ship atrium, it was one of the most meaningful moments during our Christmas cruise.

Children and adults, officers, entertainers and bartenders – everyone singing together was very special (definitely film this for the family vacation video).

For those that wonder, “How religious this is?” , in our experience it is not.

Those of different faiths could feel comfortable as holiday celebrations felt very inclusive. There were a couple of Hanukah songs both during the carols and during the Holiday show onboard that evening.

For those that did want a more religious experience, there may have bee services in the chapel, however I’m not aware.

14. Family Cruise t-shirts

christmas day on a cruise ship

Is this a large family and friends cruise? If so, or even if you’re a smaller bunch, consider your own cruise t-shirts.

There are so many fun ones that will might make celebrating Christmas on a cruise even more special.

Whether you wear it on embarkation day, Christmas day, or for a special excursion day it will be fun to look back on the photos and have a great souvenir!

Recommended:  Christmas Cruise T-shirt (Amazon)

15. Create a family vacation video

Take photos and videos create a special Christmas vacation video to share with the family. If you’re taking a multi-generational cruise, you’ll likely be so happy to have captured these times when everyone is together.

I wish we had taken more video when our kids were younger. However we didn’t have smartphones several years ago. Now it’s so easy, so why not?

If you’ve done family and friends cruise, or even if you simply want to share with friends and family, consider starting a free YouTube channel where you can easily upload your vacation videos.

Tip: Don’t forget to turn your phone sideways (yes, I learned this the hard way ;-).

P.S. Did you want to see our YouTube videos ? If you like cruise tips, cruise fun and vlogs, please check it out (and subscribe if you want to see more).

15 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas on a cruise PIN image

Recap: 15 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

I hope these ideas have been helpful if you are planning or thinking about a cruise over the Christmas Holidays.

In this post we went over how Christmas is celebrated on a cruise, as well as how you can bring your holiday traditions with you on your vacation.

Here are the links to the other related posts I mentioned earlier:

How is Christmas Celebrated on a Cruise (with details)

Regal Princess Cruise Review; A Back to Back Holiday Sailing

Here is our Youtube channel, if you enjoy cruise tips and vlogs on video:  Life Well Cruised YouTube Channel

Have you cruised during Christmas before or will you be taking a holiday cruise this year? What ideas do you have to bring along family traditions and make it feel like Christmas on a cruise?

Happy Cruising!!

P.S. If you found this helpful, please don’t keep it to yourself ;-). Please share on Facebook or PIN to your favorite Pinterest board (share buttons at the top). Thanks so much!

What To Wear on a Cruise – The Ultimate Guide 2019

30 Cruise Cabin Hacks Every Cruiser Needs to Know

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  • EXPLORE Random Article

How to Celebrate Christmas on a Cruise

Last Updated: May 11, 2022 References

This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff . Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 25,832 times.

If you are hoping to do something different this holiday season, celebrate Christmas on a cruise! This is great way to escape the whirlwind of cookie baking, being stuck in traffic, and wrapping presents all night long. To make sure you and your family have the perfect celebration, book early with the cruise line that fits your family’s needs. You’ll also need to pack for some holiday fun, and then get ready to enjoy a festive and fantastic voyage across the sea!

Booking Your Cruise

Step 1 Discuss your plans with family members to get their approval.

  • This conversation is especially important for smaller children. While some may be super excited about celebrating Christmas on a boat, others may need some convincing to abandon their holiday routine.

Step 2 Choose large ships for small children and lots of activities.

  • Carnival, Princess Cruises, and Norwegian have several popular large ships. [3] X Research source
  • All of the Disney Cruise Line ships hold 2,000+ passengers. [4] X Research source
  • You can also enjoy a wide variety of other amenities on large ships, including several pools, lots of dining options, and luxury spas and gyms. [5] X Research source

Step 3 Pick mid-size ships for a mix of activities for adults and kids.

  • Princess Cruises and Celebrity both have popular mid-size ships. [7] X Research source
  • These ships may be less expensive to book than either large ships or small ships. [8] X Research source
  • Mid-size ships may have less variety than larger ships, and they won’t offer the personal touch of smaller ships. However, they’ll be less crowded and will have much shorter lines to get on and off the boat. [9] X Research source

Step 4 Go for small ships for luxury and less children.

  • SeaDream Yacht Club and Regent Seven Seas cruises both have popular small ships. [11] X Research source

Step 5 Find out about different cruise lines’ holiday plans.

  • Don’t forget to look up the itinerary. It’s important to pick a cruise that’s visiting ports of call that make you excited! Since some destinations may have limited activities during the holidays, do some online searching on potential ports before you make your choice as well.

Step 6 Call the cruise line or go online to find deals.

  • Don’t wait to buy your tickets because you’re hoping that a deal will come up. It’s best to book as early as possible, as Christmas cruises will quickly sell out. Prices will also usually go up the closer you book to the departure date.

Step 7 Book about nine months to a year in advance.

  • The earlier you book, the more likely it is you’ll get the cabin you want. If you can afford it, go for a cabin with a balcony. Families may also want to book family suites with adjoining rooms.

Step 8 Buy plane tickets early to avoid travel problems.

  • Consider flying into the city the day or night before the cruise leaves. You don’t want to miss the cruise because of a delayed flight!
  • If you’re traveling to or from a city that may have problems with winter weather, you may even want to arrive a few days ahead of time.

Prepping for Departure

Step 1 Have a small celebration at home before you leave.

  • Since this cruise is all about minimizing stress, try not to let things get out of control. Your mini-celebration doesn’t have to be exactly like Christmas if that’s going to be too much work! Just do whatever makes you and your family happy.

Step 2 Bring special outfits for the holiday.

  • Green or red clothing is perfect for the Christmas season. You can also pack gold or silver items if you’re hoping for a fancier look.
  • A Santa hat or some reindeer antlers can also be fun for children and adults.

Step 3 Make a plan for gifts.

  • Since the cruise may be your family’s big gift this year, you can also skip gift-giving entirely!

Step 4 Leave room in your suitcases for souvenirs.

  • Don’t try to sneak it on. It probably won’t work, and it may even prevent you from being allowed to board. At a minimum, your nice champagne is going to be confiscated and wasted.

Step 6 Make sure you’ve packed your IDs before you leave.

  • Having a few small decorations in your cabin could be especially comforting for small children who may miss home during the holiday.
  • You can probably pick these things up in your departure city right before you get on board. This will make the packing process a little easier.

Enjoying Your Holiday

Step 1 Bask in the holiday decorations.

  • Be sure to snap lots of photos among the decorations with your family members.

Step 2 Check your ship’s daily newsletter for scheduling details.

  • If there are disagreements over activities, resolve the conflict by suggesting taking turns picking each day.

Step 3 Take advantage of holiday-themed meals.

  • Adults can also enjoy holiday-themed drink specials and holiday parties. [21] X Research source

Step 4 Look for daily activities for children.

  • On some ships, you may also be able to join in for some Christmas sing-alongs and storytimes.

Step 5 Take part in onboard religious services if you choose.

  • Mid-size ships will also offer plenty of entertainment, but the theater (and the performance) may not be as large-scale.
  • Smaller ships pride themselves on their exclusive entertainment, which is usually aimed at adults.

Step 8 Participate in local festivities when you’re docked.

  • Most islands in the Caribbean, for example, will have lots of festivals you can attend during this time of year.
  • Even if restaurants and shops are closed, you can still walk around and get a feel for the city.

Expert Q&A

  • Remember that most cruise prices include your food and non-alcoholic beverages. You will need to tip your servers and staff before you leave. Be kind and generous by tipping a little more than usual since the staff worked over the holiday. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Consider celebrating other holidays on your cruise, too. Hanukkah often falls near Christmas, and cruises have celebrations and festivities that include Hanukkah traditions. You could also extend your cruise to the New Year's holiday. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Christmas cruises are generally much pricier than others throughout the year. If you’re looking for the best deal, you may want to consider going on a cruise during a different season. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0

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Why You Should Spend the Holidays at Sea

Royal caribbean will make your spirits merrier and brighter..

Calling all elves with a sense of adventure: The zip lines on Royal Caribbean cruise ships let guests soar nine decks above the Boardwalk neighborhood, stretching 82 feet from end to end.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

This year (and every year, in fact), consider taking a break from the usual routine and carve out a new holiday tradition—at sea. Imagine this: Every detail taken care of—from your room being tidied up twice a day to enjoying the ultimate holiday dinner—without you having to lift a finger. A holiday cruise is all about making memories with your friends and family—anything but time-consuming tasks. The only thing on your “to-do” list is to maximize your quality time and spend each day the way you want to spend it. You’ll easily get into the spirit with  Deck the Holidays , Royal Caribbean’s biggest celebration during the most wonderful time of the year.

Royal Caribbean decks the halls with holiday décor, transforming the Royal Promenade into a winter wonderland guests of all ages will love.

Throughout December, on Caribbean cruises, enjoy festivities that include special appearances by Santa’s elves, gingerbread-cookie decorating ,  family story time  and much more. Each ship will celebrate with tree and menorah-lighting ceremonies, and every Centrum, Royal Esplanade or Royal Promenade—the center for fun and thrills on board—will be transformed into a winter wonderland.

A favorite for many, the Holly Jolly Holiday Parade is a must-see, and don’t miss the festive photo opportunities, caroling , holiday movie screenings  in the AquaTheater on Oasis Class ships (wear your pjs!), craft making and games for all ages —including ugly sweater contests and scavenger hunts.

The staff at Adventure Ocean , our award-winning youth program, has everything the youngest of guests need to write letters to Santa to hand-deliver them to the man himself at the “North Pole!” Fun fact: For a different type of family activity, you can also sign up to join a walk on deck in support of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic programs.

The festivities continue with a holiday-inspired menu in the main dining room, and, on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, lobster specials at Chops Grille , Giovanni’s Table and  150 Central Park . Kosher options will also be available on board. Of course, what really makes this time of year so magical are the treats: Every evening of December, guests can indulge their sweet tooth at the Milk and Cookies Corner in the Windjammer .

Everyone gets a much-deserved break on board our holiday cruises.

Cap it all off with New Year’s On Deck, the celebration to remember, featuring favors at every venue, private parties, elevated eats in the main dining room and across specialty restaurants and the exciting ball drop in the main Promenade, Esplanade or Centrum (for cruises that sail through January 1).

Holiday cruises range in length from three to seven nights and are bound for tropical, bucket-list locales, including our private island destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay ; San Juan, Puerto Rico ; Philipsburg, St. Maarten ;  Cozumel, Mexico and more.

Looking forward to spending the holidays at sea? Find the cruise for you and your crew  here —trust us, you’ll be the hero of the year!

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  • Carnival Cruise Lines

Has anyone spent Christmas Day on a Carnival ship?

By clairentommy , February 25, 2013 in Carnival Cruise Lines

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50+ Club


If so, can you tell me what it was like? Myself and my husband are travelling on the Splendor this Christmas and I've no idea what to expect.

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We have spent 2 Holiday's aboard Carnival ships. Our first on the Miracle, Christmas Day was a day at sea. There were lots of Christmas themed activities, and they offered a Turkey dinner along with other selections for dinner. On our second aboard the Destiny, we were in Cozumel on Christmas Day, so we missed the 'activities', but enjoyed our day in Cozumel. On both ships during the day before Christmas, all the kids from Camp Carnival performed on-stage, with songs etc, as well as a reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The ships are fully decorated, and look beautiful.


Have spent the last 3 Christmas' on a Carnival Ship. :D On all 3 Christmas was on a Sea Day which was really nice. :) Everyone including the staff were happy and in good moods, there is a special show in the afternoon with the CD, dancers & singers plus all the kids from the different Camp Carnival age groups. The kids from each age group do a song and dance and at the end Santa shows up with gifts for the kids that are in the show. (Santa can also be spotted around the ship on Christmas Eve.) There is a special dinner in the MDR that night also. The ship will be decorated before you board and it's always been beautiful to me. Some ships carol Christmas Eve some Christmas Day it's in the Atrium area and it snows real snow during the caroling. ;) We always decorate or cabin door and I have a small tree and a couple of other items for the vanity area. A lot of people do the same. This year we'll be in Montego Bay for Christmas Day so it will be a different schedule.

Thanks for the replies, really looking forward to it now.


You won't be disappointed. Its a very special time and it seems everyone on board is in the xmas spirit with decorated doors, clothes, and extra decorations in their cabin. They do have a special christmas show, caroling, and the ship is beautifully decorated. I enjoy taking pictures of the xmas themed things that I see at the ports. Its fun to see how different countries and cultures celebrate and decorate for this special holiday!

Yes and it was horrible! I was hungover. Bwahahahahaha


We are considering it.


several nites in the loved it!

500+ Club

I am considering it too! Just tell all the family, no presents from us and you just paid for our cruise!!:D :eek:

250+ Club

We took our first Christmas cruise in 2011 - it wasn't with Carnival - but I would recommend a Christmas cruise. The ship is beautifully decorated and on our cruise, Santa visited and had gifts for all who talked with him. The official photographer was there but they allowed anyone with a camera to take photos during Santa's visit.

We are planning a Christmas cruise for 2013 - we haven't yet decided on which ship or cruiseline. I would think they all would do a wonderful job celebrating the holiday.

Don't forget about the Gingerbread Houses displayed. The usual turkey dinner and a christmas tree in the atrium. Yeah, I think they had Santa in the theater but since I had not been good didn't go--he can keep that lump of coal.

My family and I are taking our first Christmas cruise this coming Christmas on the Sunshine. We are really looking forward to it! :)



We've sailed twice over Christmas. Once on the Spirit and once on the Pride. Our experience was much like what was described by others. We really loved it. My favorite was on the Spirit because Christmas was a sea day.

When we travel over Christmas, we have one rule: no one buys any Christmas gifts until we're on vacation! Then all the gifts are from ports we've visited. It adds to the fun for us. The exception to that was when DD still believed in Santa Claus. That Christmas, I had the gifts from Santa packed in my suitcase. I had explained to her before she made her list for Santa that while he could bring anything, no matter the size, on the ship, Mama had to be able to get it off so ask for small things! LOL.

One more thing, I have a small Christmas tree that travels with us and I bring small decorations (like window clings) to do a little decorating in the cabin. Makes it feel even more like the holidays. The ship is decorated beautifully and I loved walking around seeing all the beautiful decorations. :D

OMG thanks everyone, your posts have got me all excited about my Christmas cruise....

Quilting_Cruiser - I love your post. I think I will pack some decorations in my case and put them up in our cabin, I love Christmas and it wouldn't be the same without some decorations, I can't wait to see the ship. Best get a bigger memory card for my camera I think :rolleyes:

OMG thanks everyone, your posts have got me all excited about my Christmas cruise....   Quilting_Cruiser - I love your post. I think I will pack some decorations in my case and put them up in our cabin, I love Christmas and it wouldn't be the same without some decorations, I can't wait to see the ship. Best get a bigger memory card for my camera I think :rolleyes:

I hope you have a wonderful holiday! Enjoy! :D

Personally, I couldn't do it without decorating. You should see my house at Christmas time. LOL. It's decked out--I absolutely love the holidays!



We have cruised Christmas 3 times and loved it, had to miss last Christmas as we bought a new house last year.

I am already looking for this Christmas, everyone is in a wonderful mood, ships are decorated lovely and dont forget to decorate your cabin and cabin door. I bought I small 2 ft Christmas tree with lots of mini ornaments, Christmas lights around the mirror, looked very pretty. Make sure you go to the sing along Carols they have in the atrium - it may even snow!!

Above all else you cant beat someone else cooking Christmas dinner while you relax by the pool or on a beach somewhere!!!

And dont forget your Santa hats, we all had different ones and had our boarding picture taken wearing them and also one of the elegant evening we had photos taken with them :)


Having been on 7 CCL Christmas cruises (looking for #8 right now!) we love cruising this time of year - except for the premium prices they charge!! Ships are festive, lots of families, beautiful decorations, champagne as you board, Santa and snow in the atrium on Christmas Eve, holiday music playing, holiday turkey meal, the list goes on and on! And we don't even celebrate Christmas!!:D


What better way to spend the holiday. Tried it once would love to be able to afford to bring the whole family every year.


DD and I will be on Sunshine for Christmas and New Years too (B2B).

We have battery operated light strings (from BIG LOTS) with suction cup clips we put around the mirrors, windows and even in the bathroom (makes a great night light) and decorations in the cabin and decorate the cabin door too since it's just DD and I now.

Love the decorations on the ship, we bring christmas t-shirts and hats and take photos (christmas back drops) to us for the next years photo christmas cards ............. love the fact that I do not have to cook christmas dinner and deal with left-overs.

Back in 2005 DD asked about making a christmas wish list ............... told her she was already getting her gift, 88,000 tons with white hull with a red stipe down the side named Carnival Pride! We do bring stockings with us and give each other "stocking style" stuff on Christmas morning then head off to the Lido for breakfast ........... awesome way to start christmas day!

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christmas day on a cruise ship

christmas day on a cruise ship

What to Wear on a Cruise: Daytime, Formal Nights & More

W hen it comes to cruising in style, packing the right attire for every occasion is essential. Including a few key versatile items on your cruise packing list will prevent your suitcase (and the limited closet space in your stateroom) from becoming overcrowded – and keep you looking appropriate for all events.

Although most cruise lines outline their suggested dress codes in the FAQ sections of their websites, be sure to also review the specifics of your cruise itinerary. Not only will the destination and weather factor into what you should wear on your cruise, but you'll also want to know if formal nights require black-tie attire, themed dress parties need costumes or shore excursions necessitate unique clothing or footwear.

Whether you'll be lounging by the pool or attending a glamorous dinner, our list of must-have items and suggestions from industry experts will help you navigate dressing for your next cruise vacation.

For relaxing sea days, prioritize comfort above all else. Depending on your planned activities, any of the following casual options are considered acceptable attire:

  • Skirts or skorts
  • T-shirts and tank tops
  • Breezy lounge pants
  • Bathing suits
  • Cover-ups 
  • Sun hats or baseball caps

Travel writer Jill Schildhouse always packs her VOTEPRETTY sundress . "This is my go-to cruise workhorse," says Schildhouse. "It's light and breezy, and the pockets come in very handy." She adds that the sundress can be worn to casual dinners on the ship or on shore excursions, and it can even double as a swimsuit cover-up. "I've taken it all over the world and it always arrives wrinkle-free," she says. Schildhouse has received many compliments on this classic sundress, which is available in multiple colors.

Sheri Griffiths, host of YouTube series CruiseTipsTV , suggests wearing comfortable, broken-in shoes on a cruise. She recommends avoiding brand-new footwear during your voyage to prevent blisters and daily discomfort. A basic sneaker can be worn for just about any cruise itinerary, from Alaska to the Caribbean . Griffiths says, "We love these Adidas Stan Smiths because they wear in quickly and have a timeless style."

Read: The Top Walking Shoes for Travel

In the evening, most cruise ships adopt a dress code in their main dining rooms and specialty restaurants that incorporate smart-casual or resort-wear attire. The following clothing choices will suffice:

  • Maxi dresses
  • Elegant tops
  • Long- or short-sleeved button-down shirts
  • Polo shirts
  • Blazers and ties (typically optional, unless otherwise stated)
  • Shawls or wraps
  • Closed-toe dress shoes
  • Sandals or heels

Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief at Cruise Critic, shares her best advice for cruise footwear. "I always pack my Rothy's shoes for any cruise because they're infinitely comfortable, work as both a formal and [an] informal shoe and can be tossed in the laundry if they get dirty." She notes that she has several pairs, but two of her go-to styles are The Point and The Ballet Flat . McDaniel adds that the shoes work in every occasion, from strolling along the ship decks to perusing cobblestone streets on shore. "I bought both [pairs] 5 years ago, and they look as new today as they did out of the box despite literally hundreds of hours of wear," she says.

Jason Leppert, founder of YouTube channel Popular Cruising , always packs his signature Hawaiian shirts to wear day or night. He says, "I love the RSVLTS collection because they can play casually with shorts or more dressy with slacks for dinner."

Formal Nights

While more casual these days, cruise formal nights still call for a bit more sophistication and style. Appropriate options include:

  • Cocktail dresses
  • Evening gowns
  • Dress shoes

Ashley Kosciolek, senior cruise writer for The Points Guy, always packs a gown or a fancy cocktail dress for a formal night. "I work from home and don't have a reason to dress up otherwise, so I look forward to it." Still, Kosciolek is a firm believer that travelers should wear what is most comfortable for them while on vacation. She adds, "My dinner won't taste any better or worse based on what others are wearing."

Mikkel Woodruff, editor of cruise site Sometimes Sailing , always brings her Omega Sailing Bracelet on cruises. She says, "I like to bring jewelry that reminds me of the ocean and being on the sea." Woodruff appreciates the bracelet's versatility, noting how easily it can go from shore excursions to formal evenings to everyday activities.

Explore cruise deals on  GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Shore Excursions

When heading off the ship for a shore excursion, opt for comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear to make the most of your adventures on land. Consider packing the following items:

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Mesh water shoes
  • T-shirts or tank tops
  • A waterproof jacket

Freelance travel writer David Swanson shares his favorite versatile cruise shoes. He discovered a comfortable pair of Danner multitasking shoes that worked for dinners, casual events and multiple days of cycling on a recent European cruise. "I didn't think I'd find something to do dual duty, but I love this comfy pair from Danner, an outdoor brand [that is] new to me but has been around since 1932," says Swanson.

Paul Thornton, host of The Joy of Cruising Podcast , always packs his Coofandy linen shirts and shorts for hot Caribbean days and breezy cruise ship evenings. "I love Coofandy because they enable this senior to look 'youthful' on the beach and excursions," says Thornton. He adds that the brand is also his go-to retailer for White Party-themed nights on board.

Read: Beach Packing List

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Cruise Line Dress Codes

Dress codes can vary significantly from one cruise company to the next, so it's a good idea to check with your specific line before filling up your suitcase. Once you're on board, be sure to read the daily program for reminders about the dress codes required at the events and dining venues during your voyage.

Azamara Dress Code

  • Daytime: Fairly casual attire is suitable throughout Azamara 's ships during the day. However, baseball caps, distressed denim, tank tops and bathing suits cannot be worn at Discoveries, Aqualina and Prime C restaurants (and shoes are required).
  • Evening: At night, women typically wear casual dresses, skirts, pants, capris, blouses and knit tops, while men are welcome to wear collared golf and polo shirts, shorts and pants. Sport coats are optional. Note: There are no official formal nights on Azamara's voyages.
  • Themed Nights: Be sure to pack an all-white outfit for Azamara's signature White Night dinner and deck party.

Carnival Cruise Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: Pack casual, comfortable attire to sail with Carnival Cruise Line , such as T-shirts, polo shirts or relaxed tops paired with shorts, capris, khakis or jeans. Athletic wear paired with a lightweight sweater or jacket are suitable for those looking to stay active. 

Evening: After 5:30 p.m., attire ranges from "cruise casual" to "cruise elegant."

  • "Cruise casual" attire for men typically suggests longer dress shorts, pants or jeans and a collared polo shirt. Women usually wear sundresses, blouses, skirts, dress shorts and capri pants.
  • "Cruise elegant" typically translates to dress slacks, dress shirts and sports coats (suggested) for men, with some wearing suits, ties or tuxedos. Women choose dresses (party or cocktail), pantsuits and elegant skirts with blouses, while some may wear evening gowns. Kids should follow the adult dress code, opting for school dance- or party-appropriate attire. Note: Jeans, men's sleeveless shirts, shorts, T-shirts, sportswear, exercise clothes, baseball hats, flip-flops and bathing suits are not permitted. The number of "cruise elegant" evenings varies based on the length of the cruise.

Themed Nights:

  • Carnival Journeys cruises feature a "Throwback Sea Day," where guests can relive the '80s by day (outfits included) and dress up for a themed Captain's Cocktail Party by night. 
  • Cruises between early December and Christmas Day feature an "Ugly Sweater Contest."
  • Costumes are suggested for Halloween cruises between the end of September and October. However, when choosing a costume, keep in mind that full masks are prohibited (masks covering half of the face are allowed).

Celebrity Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: During the day, smart casual resort wear is suitable throughout Celebrity Cruises ' ships. (Think: sundresses, shorts, polos and button-down shirts paired with sandals, low heels and loafers.) Bathing suits with cover-ups, T-shirts, tank tops, hats and sunglasses are only appropriate poolside. Cruisers should avoid wearing these items in the dining areas.
  • Evening: Most evenings, guests are expected to wear comfortable yet tasteful attire. This entails dresses, skirts, long pants or jeans, stylish tops and button-down shirts. Shorts and flip-flops do not meet the evening dress code. Depending on your voyage, there will be one or two formal nights that require "evening chic" wear. Passengers can dress to impress in formal gowns, tuxedos, cocktail dresses, dressy jeans or blazers.

Costa Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: During the day, Costa Cruises ' passengers may wear casual clothing like T-shirts, shorts and sundresses. Beach clothing and flip-flops are not permitted in ship restaurants. Depending on the itinerary, some shore excursions may have specific dress codes.
  • Evening: Most nights require resort attire; however, Costa hosts one or two Elegant Evenings per cruise, when men may wear dark suits or tuxedos and women can wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses.
  • Themed Nights: Costa recommends that guests pack white clothing for its White Night events and white, red and green clothing and accessories for its Italy-themed evenings.

Cunard Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: Shorts, T-shirts and sundresses are appropriate daytime wardrobe options on sailings with Cunard Line . Swimwear is acceptable by the pool but should not be worn in indoor dining areas.
  • Evening: In the evenings, passengers are asked to wear smart attire, which includes dress shirts and trousers for men, and cocktail dresses or sophisticated tops and skirts for women – similar to what you'd choose for dinner at a trendy restaurant or a special occasion. Voyages lasting seven nights host at least two Gala Evenings, during which guests are requested to adhere to a more formal dress code. 
  • Themed Nights: Gala Evenings employ themes ranging from specific colors (such as black and white or red and gold outfits) to the roaring '20s to masquerade balls.

Disney Cruise Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: On Disney Cruise Line sailings, cruise casual attire is acceptable during the day; outfit options include sundresses and shorts and tees. Swimwear and tank tops are not permitted in dining venues.
  • Evening: After the sun sets, polished attire like collared shirts and jeans without rips are acceptable. Bathing suits, tees, tank tops and sports attire are not allowed. Adult-exclusive dining venues on Disney ships call for elegance; formal or semiformal wear is recommended.
  • Themed Nights: On three- and four-night sailings, there is typically a pirate-themed deck party and one optional dress-up night for guests of all ages. Sailings lasting seven nights or longer add one formal and one semiformal night, when women may wear a formal dress or pantsuit and men can opt for a suit or dress pants with a jacket.

Holland America Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: Plan on wearing casual attire aboard Holland America Line 's ships during the day. When indoors, guests must wear shirts, cover-ups and footwear.
  • Evening: On most nights, smart casual clothing is acceptable. However, in table service restaurants, shorts, bathing suits, distressed jeans and tank tops are prohibited. Grand Voyages cruises host formal nights, when suits and dresses are appropriate.
  • Themed Nights: Once per cruise, Holland America hosts an Orange Party in celebration of King's Day. Pack your favorite orange clothing and accessories for this event, which honors the cruise line's Dutch heritage.

MSC Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: Guests of MSC Cruises dress fairly casual during the day in T-shirts and shorts.
  • Evening: Collared shirts, dresses and tailored pants are expected at night in the main dining rooms, specialty restaurants and entertainment venues. There is one optional Gala Night, when varying levels of elegance are acceptable. Guests should wear what makes them feel comfortable, ranging from tuxedos or ball gowns to dressy jeans and polo shirts.
  • Themed Nights: MSC hosts a White Night Party (where guests wear all white) and a Sunshine Party, where guests don cheerful colors.

Norwegian Cruise Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: During the day, plan to wear cruise casual attire like summer dresses, jeans, khakis, shorts and casual shirts on Norwegian Cruise Line voyages. At the buffet and outdoor restaurants, swimwear can be worn with a cover-up and footwear. In dining rooms and specialty restaurants, Norwegian does not permit tank tops for men, jeans with rips or tears, flip-flops, baseball caps or visors.
  • Evening: In Norwegian's upscale specialty restaurants, smart casual attire is the norm. Women can wear slacks, jeans, dresses, skirts and tops, while men should opt for jeans or slacks, a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes. Children ages 12 and younger may wear shorts in all restaurants. On each cruise, there is one particular "Dress-Up or Not Night," when guests can wear fancier clothing (if they choose).
  • Themed Nights: Pack an all-white outfit for the White Hot Party and formal attire for Norwegian's Night Out.

Princess Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: In Princess Cruises ' restaurants and public spaces, casual resort wear is required. Shoes must be worn in the dining areas, and pool or beach attire, ball caps and frayed jeans are prohibited in restaurants.
  • Evening: On most nights, smart casual attire is acceptable in restaurants. However, on formal evenings, women may wear evening gowns, cocktail dresses or elegant pantsuits; while men may opt for tuxedos, dark suits or dinner jackets with slacks. The number of formal nights per cruise depends on the length of the sailing.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: Elevated resort wear, including jeans, shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes, is appropriate before 6 p.m. on Regent Seven Seas Cruises ' ships.
  • Evening: At night, elegant casual attire is recommended. Women typically dresses, pantsuits or slacks paired with blouses or sweaters; a collared shirt and dress pants for men is the norm, with the option for sport jackets and ties. On cruises lasting 16 nights or longer, there are two evenings when guests can choose to wear formal or semiformal attire. Wardrobe choices include dark suits and cocktail dresses or tuxedos and gowns. Note: On the last night of every voyage, the dinner dress code is "relaxed casual" to accommodate guests packing for early morning flights.

Royal Caribbean International Dress Code

  • Daytime: A relaxed, casual style is acceptable during the day on cruises with Royal Caribbean International . However, swimwear should be limited to the pool deck. 
  • Evening: On most nights, guests wear smart casual attire, which includes collared or button-up shirts, dresses, skirts, blouses and pantsuits. Jackets, sports coats and blazers are encouraged but not required. On formal evenings and for the Chef's Table dining experience, cruisers are expected to wear black-tie attire, which includes tuxedos, suits with ties, cocktail dresses and evening gowns. The number of formal nights per cruise depends on the length of the sailing.
  • Themed Nights: Offered on cruises lasting four nights or longer, themed nights may include toga parties, masquerade balls, decade themes and black and white nights.

Silversea Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: Casual attire akin to what you'd wear at a five-star resort is suitable during the day aboard Silversea Cruises ' ships.
  • Evening: Evening attire is categorized into three groups: casual, informal and formal. On casual evenings, women wear pants, blouses, skirts, and casual dresses, while men wear open-neck shirts and slacks. On informal evenings, ladies often choose dresses or pantsuits, and gentlemen typically wear jackets (ties are optional). Formal night is always optional; if you choose to participate, outfits may include cocktail dresses, gowns, tuxedos and suits. The number of formal nights per cruise varies by voyage length.

Seabourn Cruise Line Dress Code

  • Daytime: Casual resort wear like jeans and shorts are welcome in all lounges and dining venues on Seabourn Cruise Lines ' ships. Athletic apparel and swimwear should only be worn in the pool area, on the deck or at the spa and fitness center.
  • Evening: After 6 p.m., the dress code is "elegant casual." Men are expected to wear slacks with collared shirts or sweaters (jackets are optional), while women can choose pants, skirts, pantsuits or dresses. Elegant jeans are allowed in all dining venues except The Restaurant. On formal evenings in The Restaurant, men may wear tuxedos, suits or slacks and jackets, while women can opt for evening gowns and cocktail dresses.

Viking Ocean Cruises Dress Code

  • Daytime: On Viking Ocean Cruises ' ships, casual daytime clothing such as shorts, pants, jeans and comfortable walking shoes are acceptable. Athletic wear including exercise clothing, swimsuits and cover-ups may only be worn in the fitness center, pool zones and sports deck.
  • Evening: While there are no dedicated formal nights, the dress code after 6 p.m. calls for elegant casual attire for all dining venues, lounges, bars and theaters. Jeans are not permitted (with the exception of the World Cafe, where the dress code remains casual in the evenings). For women, wardrobe options include dresses, jumpsuits, skirts or slacks paired with elegant tops. Jackets and ties are optional for men, but trousers and collared shirts should be worn in the evenings.

Virgin Voyages Dress Code

  • Day or night, cruisers on Virgin Voyages ' ships are encouraged to wear attire that expresses their personal style. Just note: In restaurants, bathing suits are not permitted, and shoes are necessary. There are no formal nights; guests can dress up or down, depending on what makes them feel their best.
  • Themed Nights: Pack something scarlet red for the Scarlet Night Party, which occurs once per voyage.

Why Trust U.S. News

Dana Freeman is a highly experienced cruise writer who embarked on her first cruise with her grandmother when she was just 12 years old, and she hasn't stopped since. Having sailed on more than 20 different cruise lines and completed over 30 voyages, Freeman's cruise expertise spans from small ships accommodating only eight passengers to massive ones accommodating over 5,000. To curate this article, she leveraged her extensive knowledge of the cruise ship industry, combined with her strong research skills.

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top Themed Cruises
  • The Top Party Cruises
  • The Top Gay Cruises
  • The Most Festive Christmas Cruises
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans

Copyright 2024 U.S. News & World Report

Woman listening music while traveling with ferry boat on the sea

Resort day pass for cruisers: Why I still love the idea despite the rain wrecking my first experience

Gene Sloan

Editor's Note

It was only after I had settled into my cabana at the Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau, a signature margarita in hand, that I realized I had made a terrible mistake.

It had started out as a lovely day. Sunny and warm. But glancing up through the cabana's slatted wood roof, I spotted something I hadn't considered a possibility when planning the day: storm clouds approaching.

Menacingly dark storm clouds.

The sort of storm clouds that can ruin a beach day in an instant.

For more cruise news, guides and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

It was at that moment, just minutes after arriving, that I knew: I wouldn't be wasting away again in Margaritaville for the day as I had thought. My grand plans for a fun-filled resort day in the midst of a seven-night cruise were about to be washed out.

And, to steal another line from the Jimmy Buffett song, it was my own damn fault.

When I booked the cabana weeks earlier through ResortPass , at a cost of $324, including fees, I had noted with approval the fine print that said I could cancel for a full refund up until the night before arrival. That's an unusually generous cancellation policy.

christmas day on a cruise ship

If I had just checked the weather forecast the night before, I could have canceled the booking and made other plans. But I didn't, so I didn't see that a monster storm was on the way.

Now all my $324 payment was going to get me and a traveling companion was a good soaking.

Within minutes, the tempest began. My companion and I, as well as everyone else on the beach and around the pool fronting the Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau, scrambled for shelter inside the resort's main building.

I can't blame ResortPass, an 8-year-old company that an increasing number of cruisers are using to arrange day visits to beach resorts during cruises.

christmas day on a cruise ship

As I'll explain below, ResortPass gets high marks in my book for its offerings. For a cruiser, it's a useful, if still relatively unknown, tool to arrange a fun day at a beach, pool or water park during a sailing.

The blame for what turned out to be a disastrous day was all on me.

That said, my epic fail, which came as part of an assignment to test ResortPass' value to cruisers (it actually was The Points Guy footing the $324 bill, not me), did point out an important caveat to consider when using ResortPass or another day pass service when cruising: The weather could easily ruin your plans.

You'll want to keep an eye on the weather as the day (and cancellation deadline) for your outing approaches.

It wasn't the only caveat I saw to such bookings (more on that below).

christmas day on a cruise ship

The good news is that after being thoroughly drenched (and spending more than an hour hiding from the storm in a hallway), I was able to salvage part of the day at the resort's small water park. The rains eventually let up. The sun returned. And that gave me a chance to get a good sense of the value that ResortPass offered.

Here's everything I experienced from start to finish during my test of using ResortPass to book a day visit to a resort during a cruise. I conducted the test anonymously — ResortPass wasn't alerted — during a Royal Caribbean cruise from New York to the Bahamas.

The booking process

Booking a resort day pass with ResortPass was a breeze. I simply went to the site's cleanly designed main page, typed in the destination where I wanted one (Nassau in the Bahamas) and marked a date on a calendar. With a single click, I was shown an easily sortable array of resorts and hotels in the area with day passes available.

christmas day on a cruise ship

From there, with just a few more clicks, I locked in a day pass at one of them.

Picking from the list of available properties was the hardest part of the exercise. In all, there were five within a reasonable distance of the Nassau cruise port — an impressive number:

  • Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau
  • British Colonial Hotel Nassau
  • Baha Bay Waterpark at Baha Mar Resort
  • Graycliff Hotel
  • Courtyard by Marriott Nassau Downtown/Junkanoo Beach

What stuck out to me right away was the variety of options at some of the locations. For two of them (the Baha Bay Waterpark and the Courtyard), only a day pass was available. But for the rest, there were additional choices — in some cases, a surprising number of choices. These included spa passes and specific spa treatments, cabana rentals, day room rentals and — at one of the properties — even winemaking and cigar-rolling classes.

christmas day on a cruise ship

The wide variety of options was a pleasant surprise and sent me down a rabbit hole of clicking on the individual pages for each of the options on the site to learn more.

It was one of these additional options — a beachside cabana in addition to a day pass at the Margaritaville Beach Resort — that finally ensnared me (more on this in a moment), and I quickly booked it.

It was a simple process to enter my credit card on the checkout page to complete the booking.

In general, the day pass costs were quite reasonable. For me, and surely for many other cruisers, this is probably the biggest argument for using the ResortPass site instead of booking a beach or pool excursion through a cruise line.

The day passes for Nassau hotels on offer at the site ranged from $70 per adult for the British Colonial Hotel Nassau to $146 per adult for the Baha Mar Resort — the latter notably higher than the others as it included access to the resort's massive water park.

In all cases, there were lower rates for children, typically half the cost of the adult price.

In most cases, the pricing was significantly less than the cost for a beach excursion in the Nassau area offered through Royal Caribbean, which operated the ship that took me to Nassau. Royal Caribbean's Pearl Island Beach Escape, which included just four hours at a private beach in the Nassau area, cost $139 per adult ($89 for children ages 4 to 12). Another Royal Caribbean-sold beach break at the Nassau area's Blue Lagoon Island cost $104 for adults ($74 for children ages 4 to 12).

Even the priciest ResortPass option, the pass to the Baha Mar Resort's water park, was notably less than a similar pass to the Nassau area's Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark offered by Royal Caribbean ($219 for adults; $114 for children ages 4 to 12).

Why I picked what I did

As noted above, the hardest part of using ResortPass to book a day pass was choosing among the available properties. With all the options available, it took some time.

I was able to rule out one of the choices quickly: the Courtyard by Marriott Nassau Downtown. I had stayed there once before boarding a ship in Nassau, and I wasn't impressed. It's a dowdy property with a sorry-looking pool area.

Looking over the others, I also soon ruled out the Graycliff Hotel, which wasn't along a beach. I was looking for a beach experience.

The Baha Bay Waterpark at Baha Mar Resort, with a wave pool, 1,400-foot lazy river and 24 waterslides, looked amazing. But it also was pricey, and I made an assumption that it would be packed with kids — something a quick look at online reviews confirmed. I was looking for more of an adult experience.

christmas day on a cruise ship

That left the Margaritaville Beach Resort and the British Colonial Hotel. The two properties are side-by-side in the same beach area. Both are so close to where ships dock in Nassau that you can walk to them. You see them as you sail in.

In the end, it was the availability of a cabana at the Margaritaville resort that tipped the balance. At $273 for two before fees, it was just $73 more than two day passes to the resort (the latter priced at $100 a piece). That seemed like a great deal for what was clearly a major upgrade.

Compared to the beach and pool cabanas that cruise lines sell to passengers during sailings, it was a steal.

Royal Caribbean, by contrast, was charging $1,199 to $1,399 for cabanas at the Hideaway Beach area of its private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay , for a visit scheduled the very next day. The Royal Caribbean cabanas were more elegant than what I would get at the Margaritaville resort, for sure. They also came with more amenities and access for up to eight people. But, still, that's an incredible price differential. If I was going to get a cabana experience on this trip, the value option was obvious.

The Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau it would be.

The experience

Getting poured on aside, my day pass experience at the Margaritaville resort went smoothly.

Going into it, I was worried about how the handoff would work between ResortPass and the Margaritaville resort. Would they have my cabana booking on file when I arrived? Would it be a hassle to check in? But such worries were unfounded. It was easy-peasy.

Upon arrival, I told the first employee I saw, a porter at the front door, that I had booked a day pass for the resort, and he pointed me to a check-in window a few steps away. From that point, it was just a handful of minutes until I was lounging in my cabana. The attendant at the check-in window had my name on file, and he quickly ushered me and my companion into the resort's pool and beach area. A pool attendant gave us the choice of a cabana around the pool or along the beach. We picked the beach.

christmas day on a cruise ship

A few minutes later, another attendant stopped by to take our food and drink orders.

As promised on the ResortPass site when we made the booking, the attendant said she would bring us two bottles of water, two sodas and snacks at no charge as part of the cabana rental. Anything above that would be extra.

This being Margaritaville, we promptly ordered two margaritas, which were priced at $14 apiece.

christmas day on a cruise ship

It was soon after the drinks and snacks arrived that we saw the storm clouds in the distance. We then noticed the beach area starting to clear out — not a good sign. What did everyone else know that we didn't?

Just to confirm that things were about to get bad, we also got an unexpectedly quick return visit from the attendant, who said she needed to close out our tab early "because of the coming storm." She might not get another chance to see us, she said, implying that our day at the beach was about to come to an end less than an hour after it began.

It was around then that I remembered the ResortPass cancellation policy. What a dope I had been to not check the weather. That said, I didn't have long to dwell on it. I was soon getting soaked.

For the next hour or so, my companion and I took refuge inside the Margaritaville resort — first in a not-in-use restaurant and then, when a cleaner kicked us out of the restaurant so she could clean, a cluster of chairs in a hallway.

We ate one of the free snacks we had brought with us from our cabana, a bag of Doritos, and watched the rain pour down in sheets. It was truly epic.

christmas day on a cruise ship

All the while, we watched the clock. Our time at the resort was quickly running out.

One major caveat to using ResortPass to book a day pass at a resort during a cruise is that the hours that the day passes are valid don't always align with the hours ships are in port.

In our case, our ship — Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas — docked in Nassau in the afternoon, with the gangway to get off the vessel opening at 1:30 p.m. All aboard time was 7:30 p.m.

The cabana rental sold by ResortPass was for the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Factor in the 20 minutes or so it would take us to walk from the ship to the resort, and that meant that even in the best of circumstances, we would have had about four hours at the cabana.

We knew this going in, of course. But we hadn't factored in the storm. In the end, we only spent about 45 minutes in the cabana. While the storm eventually passed, the cabana was too soaked afterward to enjoy.

christmas day on a cruise ship

I did spend some time after the rain floating in the resort's lazy river and taking a nice walk on the beach, but it was less time than I had expected.

The resort itself was essentially as it looked in the pictures on the site. It wasn't a high-end resort. Its beach area was modest in size and didn't feel particularly private or luxurious. The margaritas? I've had better. But the water was warm, and the sand inviting.

If I'd had kids with me, they would have loved the resort's waterslides and lazy river, which were open to day pass holders.

christmas day on a cruise ship

Our cabana was fine for what it was — a sheet-covered day bed with four posts at its corners, a slatted wood roof and fabric curtains that could be closed around it for privacy. But its location in a high-traffic area just steps from the beach attendant hut, with other beachgoers in lounge chairs all around and a giant beach buggy partially blocking the view of the ocean, wasn't all that inviting.

While it hadn't cost much more to book the cabana instead of booking two day passes (which would have gotten us access to lounge chairs by the beach or pool), I didn't think the cabana was worth the upgrade cost — even for a day with perfect weather.

Bottom line

ResortPass is a solid option for cruisers looking to book a day at a beach, pool or water park during a voyage. As I saw during my test, its site is easy to navigate and lists a wide range of resorts and hotels with day passes available — at least in top cruise destinations such as Nassau in the Bahamas. Its pricing is reasonable, and it has a generous cancellation policy.

The latter could come in handy if, unlike me, you remember to check the weather before your resort day to be sure it's still going to be a good day to do it. It'll also save the day if your ship has to change its itinerary at the last minute, as sometimes happens. In that case, you will be able to cancel your resort day pass without penalty.

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Don't be dissuaded: Days at sea can be the best thing during a cruise

christmas day on a cruise ship

I woke up on the last morning of a cruise last month with big plans to do nothing.

The ship, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Venezia , was making its return to New York from Bermuda and I was staring down an entire day at sea. I found the ship’s remote position in the North Atlantic Ocean made a great excuse to be lazy.

After several early mornings in a row with jam-packed daily agendas, I slept in late, lounged on my stateroom balcony and caught up on my reading. Surrounded by water, the restless impulse that would have prompted me to run errands or do chores at home eased, too, even with a long list of available activities on the ship’s daily schedule.

“There’s plenty of stuff to do on a sea day as far as I'm concerned,” said Valerie Dorsey, a franchise owner and travel adviser at Cruise Planners. “And there's nothing to do if that's what you want.”

Unlike some other kinds of travel, cruises can be as much about the journey as their destinations, and sea days are different from port days. Here’s how to make the most of them.

Check the ship’s sea day schedule

Cruise ships can feel relatively quiet on port days when guests disembark to explore. “But on a sea day, you're going to have everybody occupying every available space and doing many more activities,” Dorsey said. To meet that demand, cruise lines generally offer more programming.

On my cruise, Carnival’s Hub app showed various kinds of trivia, volleyball and dodgeball tournaments, an art auction, a seminar on improving posture, karaoke and more on the docket.

Cruise lines may also offer sales at onboard shops during sea days, Dorsey said, and she even took a mixology class on a recent Antarctica cruise with Celebrity Cruises.

Kevin and Frank Cefalu-McNamara have a strategy for narrowing so many options down. The couple, who have been on more than 30 cruises and make cruise content under the name Cruising With Wheels , mark up the daily program cruise lines distribute with different colored highlighters over breakfast.

Frank might have a yellow highlighter, for instance, while Kevin has blue, which the Rochester, New York, pair use to note agenda items that look appealing. “And yellow and blue make green, so all the green things we know we're going to do,” said Kevin, 48, who also works as a hairdresser.

Mother Nature can also dictate what the ship offers. In bad weather, cruise lines often cancel activities on outside decks and replace them with others inside, Kevin said.

Watch out for crowds

More guests on the ship also mean more crowds. On sea days, cruise passengers may find themselves scouring the pool for open lounge chairs or waiting in longer lines for food.

Many passengers try to sleep in on those days, according to Dorsey. “But if the pool is your destination, getting there and claiming a seat right away is important,” she said. However, travelers should note that cruise lines ask guests not to save seats they aren’t using.

Dorsey recommended exploring the ship after boarding, which can help passengers find quieter areas to sunbathe. “I would say scope out where you want to go and keep it in mind for the day that you know you're going to be at sea,” she said.

The very back of the ship often provides a reprieve from congestion elsewhere on board.

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The Cefalu-McNamaras also avoid certain parts of the ship at certain times. “We don't go to the buffet for breakfast, and we don't go to the buffet for lunch because it is going to be the most crowded area during those times,” Kevin said. Instead, they might start the day at a sit-down restaurant, which tends to be less packed.

Dorsey said “timing is everything.” If lunch opens at 11 a.m., for instance, the rush may have died down by 1 or 2 p.m.

As alternatives, the main dining room is usually open for lunch, as are some specialty restaurants, according to Dorsey – though the latter comes with an extra charge . There may also be small venues around the ship “nobody thinks of,” she said.

“So, you kind of need to scout around,” she said. “If you're not set on what you want to eat, and the buffet looks crowded, start walking.”

For extroverted travelers, though, sea days can present an opportunity. “If you don't mind the crowds, it’s a good day for meeting people,” Dorsey said.

Seize the opportunity to chill

Just because a ship stacks its schedule doesn’t mean you have to partake, though. Guests may find the days between ports of call provide a chance to get the rest many travelers seek on vacation.

“There's a lot to be said for finding quiet spots to read on a sea day,” Dorsey said. “If you've got a balcony, you're more likely to sit out there and put your feet up and maybe take a nap, because that is something that you don't get to do when you're working every day.”

Some trips may also lend themselves to chilling on board more than others. On a Mediterranean cruise, Frank said his days in port were “go go go go go, and on the ship (during) sea days, it is mostly drinking and relaxing.”

Caribbean cruise port days, on the other hand, may be more relaxed, leaving guests extra energy for when they get back on the ship.

Even in the face of so much to do, consider giving yourself permission to relax. “We're so trained to be alert and aware and ever vigilant that sometimes just resting is an activity,” Dorsey said.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at [email protected].


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