Imagine all the pleasures of Christmas with none of the hassle. You could escape the crowded shopping malls, the last-minute supermarket dash, the heat of the kitchen and the dutiful eggnog with your Great Aunt Jane. Instead, you could be lounging by the pool on a ship’s deck, sailing into an exotic port, or visiting a traditional Christmas market.
Even better, when the big day arrives, the ship’s chefs have done all the work and produced a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. In short, you can have a great Christmas with very little planning and without visiting relatives. Just pack your presents and a reindeer hat, and set sail.
Not everyone wants to escape family, of course. If that’s the case, then larger ships provide great multi-generational options. Grandparents, parents and children will find plenty to enjoy together, such as water slides, cooking or dance classes, evening shows or outdoor cinemas. At the same time, though, you can pursue your own interests or indulge in ‘me’ time, as many ships have adults-only spaces, such as cocktail lounges, wellness retreats and swimming pools. Unlike staying at home or renting a holiday house, no one is ever on cooking duty, no one has to tidy up and, with plenty to do, there’ll be no Christmas afternoon lethargy or squabbles.
Every ship offers something different, but you can expect festive decorations, traditional Christmas fare (roast turkey, ham, mince pies, gingerbread) and a Christmas dinner, plus themed parties and visits from Santa Claus. Evening entertainment will have a seasonal flavour, carollers might make an appearance and, if the ship runs to a cinema, you can expect old seasonal favourites to be screening, while White Christmas and Winter Wonderland will certainly be tinkling from the bar piano. Religious services are usually offered as a reminder of the season’s reason.
Off the ship, you’ll find the chance to experience different Christmas traditions, music and foods in your ports of call. Europe and North America in particular provide the cold (and occasionally white) Christmases of carols and cards. Old-town squares come alive with Christmas markets, buskers sing, landmarks are draped in fairy lights and, when Jack Frost nips at your toes, a restorative mulled wine or hot chocolate is the solution.
You can cruise many parts of the world at Christmas. Here are four options that might jingle your bells.
Christmas Markets cruise
If you’re going to eat, drink and make merry then December in Europe gets you into the seasonal spirit. Many river-cruise companies offer seasonal cruises on the Danube River. Plunder light-twinkled Christmas markets in destinations such as Linz, Regensburg and Budapest for mulled wine, fat sausages with sauerkraut and bags of roasted chestnuts that make a brilliant hand warmer as you munch. Depending on your itinerary, you could enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride through a Bavarian forest, enjoy a walking tour through old Vienna, or visit the Silent Night Chapel near Salzburg.
Ultimate cruise getaway
Keen to escape the Christmas razzle-dazzle entirely? You can hardly get more remote than the long, indented coastline of South America’s southern tip, where the Andes meet the ocean to spectacular effect. Whether it’s the lake district of waterfalls and volcanoes around Puerto Montt, the icy-blue glaciers of Puerto Chacabuco or the rugged history of Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, this region is impressive. Many cruises also call into irresistible cities, such as Santiago and Buenos Aires. You could also sail to Antarctica for the ultimate white Christmas of snowcapped mountains, glaciers, drifting icebergs and astounding colonies of penguins and seals.
If you prefer your Christmases warm, then the Caribbean provides fine white-sand beaches, the occasional escort of dolphins, lots of water sports and pirate lore that will have you yo-ho-ho-ing for a bottle of rum. This is a destination to sip cocktails under coconut trees, listen to steel-drum bands or calypso music, and take in British, Dutch, French and Spanish colonial history in places such as St Maarten, Bermuda, Trinidad and Martinique. The Mexican coast entices with ancient ruins, while newly opened Cuba is a heady mix of cultures and cuisines.
If jetlag entices as little as the dreaded office Christmas party, then you can always escape straight from an Australian port and cruise to New Zealand, which offers ancient volcanoes, black-sand beaches, steep ranges covered in rainforest, great fluffy clouds and scenery of wild beauty right from the ship’s deck. Coastal showpieces such as Milford Sound and Akaroa’s bay are renowned, but port cities are great too. Auckland has a magnificent harbour setting, and Wellington has a genial oldfashioned atmosphere coupled with surprisingly avant-garde flair. And it comes with tinsel and fairy lights attached, of course.