Travel: Thinking of going on a cruise around the holidays? Here’s what you need to know

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may make Julie Andrews happy at Christmastime, but this story is for those who sing a different tune — one that goes something like this:

Tanning on beaches and cocktails at poolside; exploring places alone or with a guide; fantastic shows, food and plenty of fun; having a blast under moonlight and sun.

If these are a few of your favorite things, perhaps a cruise over the fall or winter holidays is the perfect gift for yourself and those with whom you want to celebrate the season. Even with unprecedented demand for bookings since the end of a 15-month pandemic-caused industry shutdown, it’s not too late to snag a stateroom this close to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and a host of other approaching holidays.

OK, so the 16-night Panama Canal cruise on Regent Seven Seas’ Splendor from Miami to L.A. before Christmas is sold out. But based on availability at press time, there’s still a substantial selection of seasonal sails that start in the Southland.

How substantial? Well, let’s just say that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s weekends, the harbormasters of Los Angeles and Long Beach will be singing “Here We Come A-Wassailing” about 75 times. Another 23 cruises will go out of San Diego during that time. Even more ship decks will be decked with boughs of holly from San Francisco.

Carnival goes all out around the holidays. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Disney cruise ships become the merriest places at sea at Christmastime. (Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

A Princess officer gets into the holiday spirit on the bridge. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The eighth night of Hanukkah is celebrated aboard the Carnival Miracle. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Visiting a foreign port on Christmas, like Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, shown here, adds to a cruiser’s enrichment. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Elaborate gingerbread villages are a common site on holiday cruises. (Photo by David Dickstein)

A Carnival cabin steward adds holiday cheer to a towel animal. (Photo by David Dickstein)

A holiday cruise is a bubbly way to ring in the new year. (Courtesy of Princess Cruises)



In all, 15 ships from seven major companies — Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International — will raise anchor for nearly 100 itineraries in California waters over the holidays, spreading cheer with every nautical mile.

“The holiday season is a time when families and friends come together to celebrate, spend quality time together, and relish in the spirit of the season,” said Peter Grant, NCL’s vice president of Entertainment Operations. “There’s no better way to celebrate than on board a cruise where you can have the opportunity to explore a new destination and enjoy a variety of dining options, fun amenities, activities and more while at sea with loved ones.”

With cabins being gobbled up faster than a HoneyBaked ham for Christmas, let’s waste no time in checking out which holiday sailaway you might want to put on layaway.

Carnival Cruise Line

When a one-horse open sleigh isn’t available, oh what fun it is to ride on a Carnival “Fun Ship” over the holidays. Carnival ( goes so all out with seasonal decorations you’d think they were a team effort of Buddy from “Elf” and Cindy-Lou Who from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” It’s a winter wonderland from bow to stern with an abundance of lights, wreathes, Christmas trees and mistletoe. Midship there’s typically a Christmas village made of food, a “Letters to Santa” box and a nightly menorah lighting at sunset. Family activities include caroling, after-dinner holiday trivia, fun duck “hunt,” an ugly sweater competition and, for a different kind of spirit, Christmas and Hanukkah services.

New Year’s Eve will have your live DJ dance music and other adult activities, and parents can feel guilt-free about jettisoning the kids before midnight thanks to a special NYE celebration for youngsters.

Out of Long Beach, the 4,008-passenger Panorama, Radiance (3,874) and Miracle (2,124) will embark on 26 Mexican itineraries of three to seven nights from Nov. 18 to Jan. 1, many stopping at Catalina Island, in addition to one 14-night sail leaving for Hawaii on Nov. 27.

Celebrity Cruises

The 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice is making a half-dozen roundtrips of seven or eight nights from San Pedro to the Mexican Riviera during the heart of the holiday season. The premium-class cruise line ( is planning to serve up traditional menus that include turkey with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving, peppermint and eggnog gelato a bit later, and special activities ranging from yuletide caroling and crafts to festive music and movies. A priest and either a rabbi or cantor will be on board to lead Christmas and Hanukkah services, respectively, and everyone can enjoy fall harvest décor that will transition to a winter wonderland featuring a gingerbread village built by the culinary team.

Cruisers ringing in the new year will be supplied with holiday favors, a glass of champagne or something nonalcoholic at midnight, and multiple public venues to watch college bowl games.

Disney Cruise Line

All Disney ( sails in November and December will be a “Very Merrytime Cruise.” What that means to us on the West Coast is it’s jingle all the way aboard the 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder. On these jolly journeys, families will delight in seeing Mickey Mouse and friends dressed in their finest holiday attire. Also scheduled to make an appearance is St. Nick, and word is he’ll be making a list to find out which young passengers are nautical or nice.

While a 24-foot Christmas tree, crafts for kids and aerial fireworks show will make spirits bright, making wallets light will be exclusive, holiday-themed Disney Cruise Line merch.

All but one of the Wonder’s 10 itineraries between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s weekends are short roundtrip hauls of three to five nights out of San Diego. The outlier is a weeklong cruise leaving Nov. 20. Hungry after a fun day in Puerto Vallarta, where it will be just a normal Thursday, American passengers who spend their day in port can salvage their holiday with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner onboard. From Butterballs to footballs, the NFL’s tripleheader will be broadcast live on Thanksgiving in multiple Wonder venues, though cheering might be quelled as no team west of Dallas is in action that Thursday.

New Year’s Eve will rock with a fireworks display shot off from the ship at midnight, so good luck to parents hoping to stick to a normal bedtime for little ones.

Holland America Line

Holland America ( stays classy in San Diego with two holiday cruises high on yuletide tradition. On a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise over Christmas or a nine-nighter ushering in 2023 in Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, the culinary team aboard the stately 2,650-passenger Koningsdam will prepare a special dinner menu featuring turkey, goose, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Another palate pleaser will be a holiday-themed Royal Dutch high tea.

Carols sung by a piano will add to a festive atmosphere with lights, trees and wreaths scattered throughout the ship along with a yule log parade, holiday movies, international choir and choice of religious services. The New Year’s cruise is planned to host a gala on the ship’s lido deck with party favors and champagne toast at midnight.

Children may partake in making seasonal crafts and a visit by Santa in Club HAL.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Between the holidays of Miles Standish and Father Time, NCL ( is sailing seven roundtrips from Southern California to the Mexican Riviera of five and seven nights. Servicing those itineraries are the 4,004-capacity Bliss, Joy (3,804) and Jewel (2,376). The mainstream-class cruise line also has a 15-night Panama Canal adventure leaving L.A. on Dec. 2. Before disembarking in Miami, the Bliss will make calls in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama and Colombia.

NCL is planning special menus on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s in addition to providing guests a venue for interdenominational services on the religious holidays.

Princess Cruises

With Princess ( sailing six ships in California over the holidays, perhaps a line in the poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” should be changed to “Now Ruby! Now Royal! Now Diamond and Crown! On Discovery! On Sapphire! Santa Claus is comin’ to town!” And so are a lot of roundtrips out of San Pedro between the Thanksgiving and New Year’s weekends.

The DJ aboard the Crown will undoubtedly play Jimmy Buffett’s version of “Christmas Island” when the 3,080-passenger ship heads to Hawaii for a pair of those return journeys. Most of Princess’ cruises embarking from LA within that timeframe will be weeklong trips to Mexico on Discovery, the fleet’s 3,660-capacity flagship that debuted in March. Further north, a handful of roundtrips of four to 15 nights will sail to Hawaii or Mexico out of San Francisco.

Passengers on Princess holiday cruises can expect sparkling Christmas trees in the piazzas, menorah lighting, an ugly holiday sweater contest, variety show, family movie night and gingerbread house decorating along with a fireplace channel on stateroom TVs.

Royal Caribbean International

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Royal Caribbean ( will host 10 holiday cruises of three to seven nights, all that go south of the border from San Pedro aboard the 3,286-passenger Navigator of the Seas. The weeklong, year-end adventure that embarks on Dec. 30 promises to be extra memorable with a titanic balloon drop at midnight on the second evening. Anyone in the Promenade and Centrum will want to have their cameras ready for that.

On all of Royal Caribbean’s holiday cruises before New Year’s, more memories can be made while decorating ornaments and gingerbread cookies.

With so many ships fa-la-la-la-lalling out of La La Land and other California ports this fall and winter, clearly there’s no place like a cruise for the holidays, no matter how far away you roam.

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