What to Expect on a Royal Caribbean or Carnival Holiday Cruise

Whether you’re sailing this year or looking to book for 2023, here’s what to expect from the family-friendly cruise lines.

A holiday cruise might be a magical experience that creates a lifetime of memories. But, before you embark on your Christmas or New Year’s Eve sailing, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into.

Both Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Free Report and Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) – Get Free Report offer special holiday cruises, but along with the decorations. holiday events, appearances by Santa Claus, and unique holiday menu offerings, you will also face some unique challenges.   

The first — and you already know this if you’re booked for a 2022 holiday cruise — is that prices will be uniformly high. Even at a time when the overall cruise industry has seen depressed pricing, the holiday season is an exception. Broadly, you’ll pay the most for the newest and largest ships, but there aren’t really any deals on sailings that include either the Christmas or the New Year’s holiday.

Once you come to terms with that, there are some positives and some negatives about taking a Royal Caribbean or Carnival cruise over the holidays.


Here’s What You May Like about a Holiday Cruise

Holiday cruises take place during school vacations and that means lots of families will be onboard — often multiple generations of each family. If you have kids, they will have a lot of opportunities to make friends and no shortage of people their own age to hang out with. Adults traveling without children will be rare, so families will be able to relax without facing the pressure of making sure their kids don’t act like kids in certain situations.

Expect any ship to be decorated for Chistmas (with a token nod to Chanukah) with special events like meeting Santa, parades, and crafts or cookie decorating. Events will vary by ship and activities will change after Christmas.

There will be special main dining room menus for Christmas night and New Year’s Eve featuring holiday classics and an overall expanded offering. Many of these menu choices will also be carried over to the buffet.

In addition, there should be a Christmas mass (maybe more than one) onboard and there will be a daily menorah lighting ceremony during Chanukah.

New Year’s Eve will offer a party that rings in 2023, which often (but not always) includes free champagne as the clock counts down to midnight.

What You May Not Like on a Holiday Cruise  

Royal Caribbean and Carnival cater to families so ships will be above 100% capacity during the holiday season (capacity is based on rooms being double occupancy and many will be above that). Pool decks will be crowded, lines for things like water slides, mini golf, and other activities will be long, and shows will be crowded, sometimes selling out.

Kids will be everywhere and tranquility will be at a premium if it’s possible to find at all. Basically, everything on board will be pushed to its limits. Meals may take longer than usual and flexible dining may have longer waits to be seated.

Holiday cruises also mean that your destinations may not be fully operational. Stops in the Caribbean tend to be largely shut down for Christmas and many shops and restaurants will be closed. It’s also possible that some popular excursions won’t be offered (this varies greatly depending upon the exact day).

Parents of younger kids should also realize that babysitting may be at a premium, which means that making reservations is key. The same may be true for toddlers while teens won’t have an issue other having crowded activity areas.

A holiday cruise, like visiting a theme park over the Christmas season, means having an expectation of waiting. There will be lines, pool chairs will be scarce, and getting a free slice of pizza may take planning (avoid traditional meal times) but if you set your expectations, the festive atmosphere, unique setting, and crowds of people looking to have fun can give you the magical experience you’re hoping for (as long as you go into it knowing what to expect).

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