December cruises can swing by Christmas markets for full-throttle festive fun or sail to far-flung lands for a much-needed dose of winter sun.
December cruises can swing by Christmas markets for full-throttle festive fun or sail to far-flung lands for a much-needed dose of winter sun.
December cruises can be taken all over the world depending on whether you seek traditional Christmas merriment or sun, sea and sand – and, let’s face it, nearly everything in between.
We’ve rounded up 10 of the best December cruise destinations, both short-haul and long-haul – so whether you fancy booking a last-minute break or want to plan-ahead to future jollies, we’ve got you covered.
Just remember to let Santa know where you are.
A December river cruise along the Danube to Vienna in is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in all things Christmassy thanks to numerous markets popping up throughout the Austrian city’s streets and squares.
One of the most iconic Christmas markets in Vienna is the Christkindlmarkt in front of the City Hall – expect a dazzling spectacle of lights, decorations and delicious treats including roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and aromatic mulled wine. Meanwhile the Schönbrunn Palace Christmas Market offers a royal setting with its market stalls set against the backdrop of the historic palace.
Festive charm can be found across other Viennese neighborhoods, for example, artistic Spittelberg, elegant Belvedere Palace and Innere Stadt, where the grand architecture and museums are adorned with seasonal decorations. Feeling active? Try your hand at ice skating at Rathausplatz (which will definitely earn you that hot chocolate).
River cruise ships typically dock near the iconic Reichsbrucke or Schwedenplatz in Vienna, providing convenient access to the historic city center and the Innere Stadt’s attractions via the U-Bahn lines 1 and 4, just a few minutes away.
Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Scenic River Cruises, Tauck River Cruises, Emerald Waterways and Avalon Waterways all cruise to Vienna.
The city’s Christkindelsmärik is one of the oldest and most picturesque Christmas markets in Europe, and transforms Strasbourg into a winter wonderland, with magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral providing a stunning backdrop.
On shore excursions during your December cruises, wander through the historic cobbled streets and take in the hundreds of beautifully-adorned stalls bursting with artisanal crafts (perfect for Christmas prezzies), seasonal goodies like spiced mulled wine and traditional bredele cookies (key fuel for all that shopping), and the scent of evergreen trees filling the air (so much better than that scented candle at home, right?).
Cruise ships typically do not dock directly in Strasbourg city center and instead dock at the nearby port of Kehl, Germany, which is just across the river. Kehl is easily accessible from Strasbourg via various transportation options, including buses and trams.
Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Scenic River Cruises, Tauck River Cruises, CroisiEurope and Riviera Travel all cruise to Strasbourg.
Eager for warm, tropical weather with a helping of active fun? Take a December cruise to Honduras, in Central America. With the Caribbean coastline to the north and lush rainforests to the south, the country offers opportunities for both beach relaxation and eco-adventures.
Popular Honduran destinations include the island of Roatán and the Bay Islands, where you can explore eye-catching coral reefs and try your hand at water sports. The sand here is superbly white, making for tip-top snorkeling and diving.
On the mainland, explore the Unesco-listed ancient Mayan ruins of Copán, hike in Pico Bonito National Park (the most biodiverse in Honduras complete with a namesake mountain) or visit the charming colonial town of Comayagua.
December marks the start of the dry season, so it’s the ideal time to visit Honduras for pleasant climes (think, less-sticky), cultural festivities and natural beauty – plus there are fewer tourists than in the ensuing peak months (January to April).
If you’re into birds, you’re in luck on December cruises to Honduras – keep an eye out for hawks, eagles, parrots, hummingbirds and loons.
Cruise ships in Honduras dock at various ports, with Mahogany Bay in Roatán one of the most common and well-developed cruise terminals, providing easy access to the island’s beaches and activities. Some cruise ships also dock at the Port of Roatán (Coxen Hole) to provide access to the town’s local culture and markets.
Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Virgin Voyages and MSC Cruises all cruise to Honduras.
Martinique in December is a delightful tropical escape and a popular Caribbean cruise port of call. The island boasts lush rainforests, pristine beaches and friendly, French-Caribbean culture… oh, and there are average highs of 28C. Nice one.
Roam the vibrant markets and historic sites in Fort-de-France, set forth on hiking adventures in the volcanic peaks of Mount Pelée, breathe in the heady scents of the lush Jardin de Balata botanicals gardens, or simply relax on picturesque beaches – good options include the white sandy sweep at Les Saline and the black shores of Anse Noire.
Cruising in December to Martinique also means you can enjoy a taste of Chanté-Nwel – one of the island’s biggest annual festivities – held throughout the month. Lend an ear to locals singing carols to Creole rhythms and sink your teeth into island favorites such as yams, pâtés, boudin creole (blood sausage) and yule logs.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Caribbean cruise call without a sip of rum, and the good news is that Martinique boasts a Christmas cocktail called shrubb, made from orange peels, sugarcane syrup and white rum (be careful though, it’s powerful stuff!). There’s La Route de Rhum distillery tour too, if you take to the beverage. Hic.
Cruise ships typically dock at the Pointe Simon Cruise Terminal in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. The primary cruise port in Martinique, it’s conveniently located in the heart of the city and provides easy access to attractions, shopping areas and cultural sites.
Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, P&O Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Ponant, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Virgin Voyages all cruise to Martinique.
Opting for December cruises to Florida guarantees an escape from the winter chill. The Sunshine State lives up to its name, offering lovely weather with average temperatures ranging from 14°C to 26°C.
Whether you’re enjoying the theme parks in Orlando, exploring the art scene in Miami or relaxing on the white-sand beaches along the Gulf Coast or Atlantic, there’s something for everyone…including the West Indian manatees who come to enjoy the subtropical climes.
The sea cows migrate to Crystal River National Wildlife Reserve (an hour and a half drive northwest of Orlando) to loll in the warm, clear shallow creeks and pools. The manatees can be viewed from boardwalks and platforms – but there’s also the option to snorkel with the curious but peaceful animals on an ethically run tour.
December also brings Christmas magic to Florida, with festive decorations, events and boat parades so you’ll still get a dose of festive fun – even if there’s no snow in sight.
Cruise ships dock at a selection of ports in Florida, depending on their specific itineraries. Major cruise ports in Florida include Miami (known as the cruise capital of the world and one of the busiest cruise ports globally), Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral (near Orlando), Tampa and Jacksonville.
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Cunard Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises all cruise to Florida.
Hong Kong in December comes alive with festive decorations and cool, pleasant weather (15-20°C) making it an ideal time to explore its dynamic culture and stunning skyline. Plus, if you stay until the 31st, the New Year’s Eve fireworks are spectacular!
Don’t miss the renowned Christmas lights along Victoria Harbour, a symphony of impressive displays and multimedia shows. Take a tram ride to Victoria Peak for breathtaking views of the city or immerse yourself in the city’s buzzy street markets.
The Hong Kong WinterFest adds to the holiday cheer with markets, concerts and seasonal treats while Hong Kong Disneyland also goes big on Christmas celebrations. Stocking up on Christmas presents (for loved ones and yourself!) is gentle on the wallet thanks to the many winter sales held in December. Queen’s Road Central is where you’ll find the big names, Hollywood Road and Cat Street antiques, Sham Shui Po electrical items and fashion finds, and Tsim Sha Tsui well, everything.
Mild temperatures make December perfect for outdoor activities, such as hiking in scenic country parks (consider Lantau island or a section of the MacLehose Trail) or taking a ferry ride to the outlying islands.
Cruise ships dock at Hong Kong’s Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Kowloon, offering easy access to the city’s shopping, dining and cultural attractions.
Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Seabourn, Cunard, Oceania Cruises, Azamara, Windstar, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises all cruise to Hong Kong.
San Diego – a popular embarkation and disembarkation point for cruises traveling to the Mexican Riviera and the Pacific Coast, as well as passages through the Panama Canal – offers a delightful blend of mild weather (average highs of 19°C) and holiday festivities come December.
This makes the last month of the year an ideal time to explore the city’s beautiful coastline, from La Jolla’s pristine beaches and the surf spots at Encintas to the iconic views at Sunset Cliffs. You can also potter around its village-like neighborhoods such as foodie Little Italy, alternative Ocean Beach and bar-packed Gaslamp Quarter on cruises to San Diego.
Other great experiences include the museums in Balboa Park, comprising Air & Space Natural History and Art, while the cliff-top trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are great for spotting dolphins and migrating grey whales which pass here between December and March.
As for Christmas festivities, San Diego’s Parade of Lights sees a festooned flotilla of 80-odd boats take to the streets and the annual December Nights festival at Balboa Park is a must-visit, offering cultural performances, decorations and delicious international cuisine, food-truck style. Don’t miss the festive events at the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld where you can experience the magic of the season.
San Diego cruise ships typically dock at the B Street Cruise Terminal which is located in the heart of downtown and provides easy access to the city’s attractions.
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line, Disney Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises all cruise to San Diego.
Visiting the Southern Fjords of Chile and Argentina in December offers a stunning adventure during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer – and a cruise is absolutely the best way to do it thanks to the month’s ‘warm’ clement weather of 10-15°C and less ice blocking the route.
The Tierra del Fuego archipelago is located right at the bottom of South America – an island-studded destination fringed with towering glaciers and snaked with majestic fjords. Cape Horn is right at the tip and from there it’s on to Antarctica, if your cruise takes you all the way.
Embark on December cruise expeditions to see the awe-inspiring glaciers of Patagonia, such as Perito Moreno in Argentina and the Pio XI Glacier in Chile, both accessible by boat tours or take a Zodiac ride to the Tuckers islets to admire a colony of Magellanic penguins.
Hike through the rare sub-polar forest at Ainsworth Bay and delve into charming coastal towns such as Ushuaia [pictured] – dubbed the “End of the World” – and Punta Arenas, known for its wildlife and historic sites.
Cruise ships visiting the Southern Fjords of Chile and Argentina often dock at the key ports of Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas and Ushuaia.
Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Ponant, Silversea Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions all feature itineraries to Patagonia and the Chilean and Argentine fjords.
Not that far off are the Falkland Islands, which are also a terrific December cruise destination. While the islands’ weather can be unpredictable, it’s a prime time for wildlife enthusiasts as the month marks the breeding season for many bird species, including elephant seals, whales and albatrosses.
Set foot on rugged landscapes, hike along pristine coastlines, and observe incredible wildlife in its natural habitat. Penguins chicks are just starting to hatch at this time of year – visit Volunteer Point for King penguins, Beaker Island for Magellanic and gentoo, and Pebble Island for rockhopper and macaroni. For other seabirds and black-browed albatrosses, take a boat trip to Carcass Island with its imposing 1,247ft cliffs.
Cruise ships visiting the Falkland Islands typically anchor at the capital, Stanley. Passengers are then transported ashore via tender boats to the main jetty, allowing for easy access to the town’s attractions – including iconic red telephone booths and post boxes straight out of London.
Expedition vessels typically incorporate the Falklands into their itineraries as part of a broader route that includes South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Azamara, Holland America Line, Aurora Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions all cruise to the Falkland Islands.
December cruises to Puerto Rico offer a heady mix of warm tropical weather, rich cultural celebrations and outdoor adventures. With temperatures ranging from 14°C to 22°C it’s an excellent time to explore the island’s diverse landscapes, from the lush El Yunque Rainforest (stretch the sea legs on a rainforest hike) to such pristine beaches as Flamenco and Luquillo.
San Juan, the capital, dazzles with festive holiday lights, music and culinary delights, and the Old San Juan district’s historic charm is a highlight too – it was founded back in 1521. Lively second-city Ponce is also worth a visit if you have time on your December cruise Puerto Rico.
Enjoy traditional festivities such as the San Sebastián Street Festival and relish carol singing in the streets and churches – as well as shops bursting with Christmas trinkets. If you’re around on December 28 you’ll be treated the high jinks of Día de los Inocentes – it’s much like April Fool’s Day and everyone tries to play tricks. Hatillo is the best spot for this jolly affair.
Hungry? Savour local festive specialties like lechón (suckling pig), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), pork and potato pasteles (steamed plantain tamales), and coquet (a sweet spiced coconut drink).
For active fun, surfers should head to Rincón while the islands of Vieques and Culebra offer quieter sands and Bioluminescent Bay serves up amazing after-dark kayaking.
Cruise ships in Puerto Rico typically dock at the San Juan Bay Marina and the Pan American Pier in San Juan.
Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn, Explora Journeys, Viking Ocean Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Azamara, Ponant, P&O Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Windstar Cruises all cruise to Puerto Rico.
Sun Princess is the new Princess Cruises ship setting sail this year – we’ve had a look at the entertainment offerings onboard the cruise ship.
February cruises are a great opportunity to spread your wings and seek winter sun as well as the snowy charms of northern Europe.
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