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Christmas ornaments spotted on a Uniworld river cruise along the Danube River.

Courtesy of Uniworld River Cruises

Christmas ornaments spotted on a Uniworld river cruise along the Danube River.

12 last minute holiday season cruises

'Tis the season to visit Europe's Christmas markets, laze on Caribbean beaches or explore the Galapagos

Whether you want to escape the winter chill or just need an excuse to duck out of those office holiday parties, it's not too late to pamper yourself this festive season by booking a cruise.

We've made a list and checked it twice and yes, Virginia (and New York, and Ohio), there are spectacular sailings still available on most cruise lines. Santa’s magic sleigh will definitely be able to find you on the seven seas, but whether you choose to take the family is up to you.

Here are our picks for last minute escapes for the holidays and beyond. And remember, it's not too late to plan for your 2016 holiday getaway; talk with a Cruiseable travel advocate.

Bora Bora: Palm trees fringed sandy beaches on a private motuCourtesy of Paul GauguinBora Bora: Palm trees fringed sandy beaches on a private motu ... and you?

Paul Gauguin Cruises

1

Tahiti and the Society Islands — 7 nights aboard the Paul Gauguin. Departing Dec 16, 23 and 30, 2015, from $3,995 (includes air fare from Los Angeles).

Aboard the Paul Gauguin, you can enjoy lavish special holiday menus and festive-themed performances on Christmas Eve, and dance all night as you ring in the New Year on the South Seas. But aside from these festive treats amid Yuletide decor, December’s dreariness will seem a million (or at least, a couple of thousand) miles away. The troupe of Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins arranged by Paul Gauguin Cruises will keep you entertained. You can sunbathe, swim, snorkel, kayak and paddle up to the floating lagoon bar on the private islet Motu Mahana. And families will love hands-on, naturalist-led excursions to swim with sharks as part of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.

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Brightly colored gifts for sale in Morocco's markets
Courtesy of NorwegianBrightly colored gifts for sale in Morocco's markets.

Norwegian

2

Canary Islands and Morocco — 9 days aboard Norwegian Epic. Departing Dec. 19, 2015, from $899, starting in Barcelona. 

All of Norwegian’s ships will be decorated throughout with poinsettias, Christmas trees, twinkling lights and gingerbread houses throughout the holidays. You can indulge in themed specialty cocktails — it wouldn’t be Christmas without eggnog and special goodies such as holiday cookies, yule logs and pumpkin pie for the duration of your sailing. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, in addition to a holiday-themed menu, festivities include a crew member performance in the theater, carols throughout the ship, plus a special visit from the man in red. Stuck for gift ideas? Don’t worry — in Morocco you can shop for special gifts in Tangier’s old walled city of Medina before the big day.

Norwegian also has eight ships sailing the Caribbean this Christmas, including the brand new Norwegian Escape. For more Christmas sailings, try our Bliss Filters.

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Santa! I know him!
Courtesy of MSC CruisesSanta! I know him!

MSC Cruises

3

Caribbean and Antilles — 8 days aboard MSC Orchestra. Departing Dec. 19, 2015, from $399. Starts in Martinique.

When MSC Orchestra sets sail on Dec. 19, it’ll be decked out in the best traditional trimmings, with sparkling lights, shimmering decorations, festive Christmas trees, and a new spectacular gingerbread village created by MSC Cruises’ pastry chefs. This year’s onboard menus — created by world-acclaimed star chef Carlo Cracco — will include caramelized beef top blade with citrus fruit, celeriac and pomegranate and saffron risotto, salmon roe and parsley with rum babà, festooned with panettone cream and almonds, to finish. Extra Christmas touches include traditional carols, a brand new Christmas show, Christmas-themed cooking classes, arts & crafts, and parades and even a visit by Santa Claus who will present a gift to every child on board. All against the sandy bays and azure waters of the Caribbean.

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Ipanema Beach, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
eacuna Ipanema Beach, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Crystal Cruises

4

South America Sojourn Holiday Cruise — 15 days aboard Crystal Symphony. Departing Dec. 19, 2015, from $6,495, starting in San Juan.

Nowhere parties harder than Rio. And on this South America itinerary from luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises, you’ll cruise Trinidad and Tobago and French Guiana before following the length of Brazil’s visually arresting coastline to dock in Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve for a fireworks-studded night to remember. Along the way, you’ll enjoy a traditional Hanukkah celebration and Christmas Day dinner around jungle eco-treks and  excursions. And everything — including free-flowing champagne, fine wines and spirits plus tips for the staff — is included in the price.

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A Viking longship cruises through Budapest
Courtesy of Viking CruisesA Viking longship cruises through Budapest.

Viking Cruises

5

Grand European Tour — 15 days, or go for a shorter 6- to 7-night cruise; please contact your Cruiseable travel advocate for pricing and availability.

This is Viking Cruises’ most popular tour, and for good reason — this 15-day, all-inclusive river itinerary takes you along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers, stopping at nine UNESCO sites as you wind through five countries. From Holland’s windmill-studded tulip fields to Germany’s fairytale castles, from the Main-Danube Canal to the vineyards of Austria’s Wachau Valley, this holiday itinerary serves up experiences in spades. And you’ll also be able to stroll Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Vienna, Passau and Regensburg to boot.
For more holiday cruise departures, click here.

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The skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, at night.
jo.sau / Creative Commons BY-SAThe skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, at night.

Seabourn

6

Thailand and Vietnam — 14 days aboard the Seabourn Sojourn. Departing Dec. 20, 2015, starting in Singapore; please contact your Cruiseable travel advocate for travel pricing and availability.

Seabourn celebrates the holidays in style. Trees are positioned in prime spots all over the ship and evergreen drapes adorn balusters. The galley team prepares a spectacular gingerbread village; windows and alcoves are are warmed by the soft glow of Hanukkah menorahs. You’ll be invited to an eggnog, Glogg or Gluhwein party and receive a special Christmas basket to your cabin during Christmas Eve turndown. Duck is the main feature of a lavish Christmas Eve dinner, and the next day you’ll likely end up feeling more stuffed than the turkey. Christmas Day kicks off with a brunch, followed by high tea and culminating in a festive dinner with all the trimmings. All this with all-inclusive pricing, against the backdrop of the sun-drenched Southeast Asian beaches, temples and vibrant cities.

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Christmas market in Town Hall Square, Vienna, Austria.
Courtesy of Austrian National Tourist Office Christmas market in Town Hall Square, Vienna, Austria.

AmaWaterways

7

Christmas Time Cruise — 10 days aboard Ama Prima. Departing Dec. 20, 2015, from $2,899, starting in Prague.

All aboard the AmaPrima to visit some of the world’s oldest Christmas markets. At Nuremberg, one of Europe’s largest, you can taste mulled wine and spiced cookies as you browse all manner of decorative ornaments sold from over 100 red-and-white roofed stalls. You’ll also visit Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt, made up of 20 separate markets centered in the spectacular Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall. Other cultural nods include a Mozart concert in the composer’s home country and an opportunity to tour the golden gilded hallways of Schönbrunn Palace.

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A farm displays the flags of Patagonia and Chile.
Christine Loomis / Special to CruiseableA farm displays the flags of Patagonia and Chile.

Celebrity Cruises

8

Chile & Argentina — 14 nights aboard Celebrity Infinity. Departing Dec. 20, 2015, from $2,269, starting in Valparaiso, Chile. 

Celebrity offers a range of holiday sailings that combine some of the world’s sunniest ports of call with seasonal experiences, such as choir performances around the ship, a holiday-themed show and a Santa parade to the ship’s Winter Wonderland, including gifts for kids and teens. You can get involved with "Port vs Starboard Reindeer Games" and gingerbread house and cookie decorating, plus enjoy the usual festive indulgences across the ship’s restaurants. New Year’s Eve will be a multi-venue party on the waves, featuring bands and DJs all over the ship and a countdown to a balloon drop. Hopefully you won’t be too tired from the revelry to enjoy exploring Uruguay on Jan. 1.

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A capture of the decorative Opera House ceiling in Budapest, Hungary.
Dom Crossley / Creative Commons BYA capture of the decorative Opera House ceiling in Budapest, Hungary.

Uniworld

9

Grand Christmas &  New Year’s Cruise (Nuremberg to Budapest along the Danube River) — 13 days aboard the S.S. Maria Theresa. Departing Dec. 23, 2015, from $5,894, starting in Nuremberg, Germany.

If you’re looking to get away and relax while also celebrating a more traditional Christmas, this could be the cruise for you. You’ll get to explore cities in Austria, Germany and Hungary — where many of our favorite festive traditions began — and visit five UNESCO World Heritage sites over nine days of excursions, including guided "Taste of Christmas" and "Gentle Walking" programs. On Christmas Eve, you can stroll through Regensburg quiet, medieval streets to attend Midnight Mass at the city’s Gothic cathedral and hear jingle bells — literally — as you ride through the tranquil Bavarian Forest in a horse-drawn cart.

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A sea lion and its pup, one of the close-up encounters possible when exploring the Galapagos.
Courtesy of Silversea CruisesA sea lion and its pup, one of the close-up encounters possible when exploring the Galapagos.

Silversea

10

The Galapagos — 7 day sailing aboard Silver Galapagos. Departing Dec. 19, 2015, from $9,150, starting in Baltra, Galapagos.

If you have a hankering to explore the exotic, it’s hard to imagine a more spectacular destination than the Galapagos. One day you’ll meet the islands’ famous giant tortoises on Santa Cruz; the next, be snorkeling with playful Galapagos sea lions and stepping over jet black marine iguanas that lie, heaped on top of one another all over the path. And let’s not forget the antics of blue-footed boobies — they’d much rather wander through a group of visitors than fly over you. Onboard, Christmas dishes and treats abound and although Silversea Galapagos is an explorer class vessel, you’d never know it — most cabins aboard this all-inclusive, all-suite ship feature a balcony and all are serviced by a butler.

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Pull up a hammock on the beach on Little Cayman.
SF Brit / Creative Commons BY-NDPull up a hammock on the beach on Little Cayman.

Princess Cruises

11

Panama Canal — 10 days aboard Coral Princess. Departing Dec 17, 2015, from $899, starting in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

To step into a Princess ship this holiday season is to step into a festive wonderland. "Snow" falls into the ship’s piazza, blanketing a large, decorated Christmas tree, and Christmas meals and treats are served all over ship. But just because the ships’ interiors take their cue from lapland, that doesn’t mean you have to wrap up warm — Princess has myriad tropical sailings to choose from this holiday season. Princess Cruises was one of the first lines to travel through the Panama Canal and on this sailing you can explore the 16th century piazzas of the walled city Cartagena and linger on the beach in the Cayman Islands.

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On calm days, the deep waters of Milford Sound reflect the landscapes like a perfect mirror. And when clouds linger around the towering peaks, there's a sense of isolation from the outside world. This fJord and 13 others are part of a protected national park and World Heritage site.
Tourism Holdings / Courtesy of Tourism New ZealandOn calm days, the deep waters of Milford Sound in New Zealand reflect the landscapes like a perfect mirror. This fJord and 13 others are part of a protected national park and World Heritage site.

Compagnie du Ponant

12

Christmas in the heart of the Pacific – 11 days aboard Le Soléal. Departing Dec. 19, 2015, from $5,370, starting in New Caledonia. 

Escape the winter chill by heading Down Under, cruising from the New Caledonian city of Noumea across the Tasman Sea to reach Akaroa, the “Land of the Long White Cloud.” You’ll explore New Zealand’s volcanic North Island, home to tropical rainforests, dazzling blue mountain lakes and hot springs with sulfurous geysers. From Tauranga, you can hike to the heart of the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to meet a local Maori group. By contrast, the South Island is home to alpine peaks interlaced with mirror-like fjords, rugged glaciers and oil-painting-perfect snow-capped mountains. Ponant cruises are all-inclusive, so all of your French-influenced festive indulgences are included in the price.

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Your take

How about you? Will you be on a cruise ship this holiday season, or are you planning on a staycation and snuggling up in front of a yule log?

Gemma Z Price
Cruiseable team member Gemma Price left her native England over 10 years ago and has since lived in Japan, Australia and Vietnam, covering all things luxury travel and lifestyle for titles such as WWD, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure, USA Today, WSJ, Time and Departures.

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