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9 of the best winter cruise holidays for winter sun, city breaks and the Northern Lights

Set sail to the sun kissed Caribbean, frosty Arctic Circle and Europe’s charming Christmas markets this winter

Natalie Wilson
Wednesday 20 September 2023 17:44 BST
<p>Arctic expeditions, Christmas markets and sun drenched islands await</p>

Arctic expeditions, Christmas markets and sun drenched islands await

It’s almost the season for cool cruising to the remote snowscapes of Antarctica on Arctic expeditions, chasing the waltz of the Northern Lights over Norway and floating between the charming capitals of Scandinavia on hassle-free holidays at sea.

Think celebrating Christmas in international waters, souvenir shopping at Yuletide markets on the Rhine and Danube rivers and raising a glass to the New Year on the deck of luxe floating hotels bound for the ultimate bucket list destinations.

Alternatively, to escape to sunnier climates and soak up some vitamin D this December, set sail on a Caribbean island hop or drift down the Nile River’s ancient passage to start a new sun-kissed tradition away from the frigid bite of a UK winter.

Whether an intrepid traveller longing to explore unchartered waters or a beach bum trying to top up a fading tan, from winter sun to festive celebrations, here are the best cruises to watch out for this winter.

Read more on cruises:

Best for: Northern Lights

The North Cape Express, Hurtigruten

Sail the Norwegian coast from Oslo to the Arctic Circle for a chance to see the Northern Lights

Departs: Oslo, Norway

Hunt the celestial ballet of green and purple that is the elusive Northern Lights on a 14-night cruise of Arctic Norway with Hurtigruten’s The North Cape Express from Oslo to the North Cape at the top of Europe. Snow-capped mountains, fjords and stargazing spectacles are aplenty on the way, and in the city of Alta you can learn more about the natural phenomenon at the Northern Lights Cathedral.

A inside cabin on the MS Trollfjord will set you back from £2,003pp, including multi-course dining, international flights and port transfers, entertainment and on-board activities, such as photography workshops. With a Northern Lights promise for free six- or seven-day voyage if you don’t glimpse the borealis light show, this isn’t a voyage you’ll want to miss.

Departing from October to April 2023/2024

Best for: Christmas at sea

Mexican Riviera Holiday, Princess Cruises

Give Santa your wishlist at Christmas in Cabo

Departs: Los Angeles, California

After leaving behind the City of Angels, Princess Cruise’s Discovery Princess has a Christmas Day stop in lively Cabo before drifting to Mazatlan for a laid-back Boxing Day and on to the balmy beaches of Puerto Vallarta.

Prices to splash with Santa in the azure Mexican Riviera start from £699pp for an interior room, including multi-course dining and fast food stalls, Broadway-style entertainment, fitness facilities and youth clubs, with alcohol and spa packages available to purchase separately.

Departing 23 December 2023

Best for: Arctic expeditions

Discovering the 7th Continent, Quark Expeditions

Become an Antarctic explorer from Cape Horn to the Diego Ramírez Islands

Departs: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Onboard Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine, Antarctic explorers get the chance to discover the seventh continent, the historic Cape Horn (or “edge of the earth”), cross the unpredictable Drake Passage and visit albatross nesting grounds at the Diego Ramírez Islands. On board, helicopter rides, hiking frozen terrain and taking the polar plunge into the chilling waters offer a incredible perspective of the Antarctic Peninsula.

With space for just 199 passengers onboard, prices for the 13-day expedition start from £9,690pp. All transfers, meals, cold-weather clothing and official photographs are included.

Departing 6 December 2023

Best for: River cruises

Christmas Markets on the Rhine, Ama Waterways

The timeless Christmas markets of Cologne, Strasbourg and Heidelberg along the Rhine

Departs: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Fancy fusing quaint European city breaks with a decadent cruise and the magic of Christmas? Try Ama Waterways’s seven-night trip from Amsterdam to Basel for a taste of traditional festivities at timeless Christmas markets. Cruise along the Rhine to Cologne, France’s oldest Yuletide stands in Strasbourg, and see the world’s largest advent calendar in Gengenbac.

The seven-night journey to the seasonal delights of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland includes regionally inspired onboard cuisine and immersive tours, such as wine tastings and bike tours. From £2,854pp.

Departing 30 November 2023

Best for: Christmas markets

Christmas on the Danube, Riviera Travel

Yuletide markets, enchanting castles and folklore shows await on the Danube

Departs: Budapest, Hungary

Swap festivities at home for the Danube River’s grand imperial cities on a Riveria Travel cruise to Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest and Bratislava. Spend Christmas Eve in the Slovakian capital at the 17th-century Hviezdoslav Square, drift down the enchanting Wachau Valley on Christmas Day and dance to the hum of Hungarian Christmas folklore during onboard shows.

Full-board dining and afternoon teas pepper the dining menus, and with return flights and transfers, a Christmas Day gala dinner and all Yuletide market excursions thrown in, it’s a hassle-free holiday. Set sail on MS William Wordsworth from £2,199pp for a twin cabin with a superior drinks package worth £400pp included on all 2024 European river cruises.

Departing 22 December 2024

Best for: Winter sun

The Essential of the Caribbean, Ponant

Island hop the heart of the Caribbean to soak up some sunshine

Departs: Fort-de-France, Martinique

This one’s for the sun loungers. Ponant is offering a winter sun adventure in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. White sand beaches meet Creole cuisine on this decadent drift to Antigua, chic Saint Barthélemy and the enchanting Grenadines all wrapped up in days diving into lively corals to explore the underwater fauna.

Ponant offers The Essentials of the Caribbean cruise onboard Le Bellot from £4,830pp for 12 nights, staying in an all-inclusive deluxe stateroom. The Christmas cruise includes guest speakers, scuba diving certifications and à la carte dining at two on-board restaurants.

Departing 15 December 2023

Best for: New Year celebrations

Galapagos Northern Loop, Celebrity Cruises

Ring in the New Year on a loop of the Galapagos Islands

Departs: Baltra Island, Galapagos

Raise a glass to 2024 with Celebrity Cruises on a New Year’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands. Think champagne at midnight and a live band counting down under a sea of stars on a seven-night loop of the Northern Galapagos. Zodiac rides into the coves bring you up close and personal to the teeming marine life and dramatic rock formations of quiet islands, such as Sullivan Bay, Tagus Cove and Santiago Island.

Passengers can secure one of only 16 seats on the Celebrity Xploration from £7,617pp – ideal for an intimate NYE celebration with loved ones. Ocean-view suites, all meals and stops at 14 ports are included.

Departing 30 December 2023

Best for: Charming capitals

Capitals of Scandinavia, Nordic Visitor

Cruise the Baltic Sea with stops in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki

Departs: Helsinki, Finland

Nordic Visitor offers a winter exploration of charming capitals. including Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki. Overnight cruises from Helsinki to Stockholm and from Copenhagen’s colour harbour to Oslo teach the rich naval history of the Scandinavian hotspots at sea and there’s plenty of time to become acquainted with the wealth of Gothic palaces, markets and opera houses on shore.

For £1,789pp, board a Viking Line and DFDS Crown Seaways cruise and take to the Baltic Sea as part of the 10-day tour. Comfortable B&B accommodation (on and off the ships), cruises and the mid-week flight from Copenhagen to Stockholm are included in the price.

Departing October to April 2023/2024

Best for: December vitamin D

Pharaohs & Pyramids, Viking Cruises

Escape dreary December days on a cruise of the Nile

Departs: Cairo, Egypt

Africa’s longest river, the 4,000-mile-long Nile, has been a lifeline for Egyptian travel for thousands of years, and it’s the ideal passage to see ancient relics in mild December temperatures. Sail from Cairo to Luxor, Qena and Aswan on a Viking Cruises voyage for a gentle journey past fertile farmland, tomb-riddled desertscapes and preserved Unesco treasures you’ll never forget.

For £6,545pp you can spend 12 days on board, with 11 guided tours by experts of ancient Egyptian landmarks – such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings – as you travel by traditional felucca boat. A stay in a stateroom with river views, return flights from London, complimentary onshore excursions and al fresco meals on deck are all included.

Departing 14 December 2024

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