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Cruise Guide: Festive holiday voyages in vogue

By Mike Coleman

A dazzling variety of festive holiday voyages are only a few weeks away for cruise ship travelers. Discovering the great Christmas markets of Europe, waltzing to Strauss in Vienna or enjoying a champagne toast on an elegant beach in St. Barts, awaits the few lucky souls who will celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or New Year’s Eve on the high seas.

The mass market lines – Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Holland America, NCL, Princess and Royal Caribbean – each features elaborate Christmas trees, wreaths and other traditional touches, along with special entertainment and programming created specifically for the season.

Ultra-luxury lines – Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream and Silversea – will offer extravagant holiday meals and festive onboard camaraderie from some of the world’s most alluring destinations.

The biggest holiday splash will in all likelihood occur aboard the shiny, new Queen Victoria, Cunard Line’s latest vessel. The ship’s 10-day maiden “Christmas Markets” voyage begins Dec. 11, followed by her 16-day maiden “Canary Islands Festive Celebration.” Both itineraries sail roundtrip from Southampton. Other Cunard liners, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2, will each be spending holiday time in the Caribbean.

The holidays on Disney Cruise Line, meanwhile, come with an extra dose of pixie dust, snow flurries on a tropical island and more. Offering the option of a seven-day Caribbean cruise or a four-night Bahamian itinerary, the voyages are highlighted by Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, which will be transformed into a Magical Wonderland, complete with snow, Christmas trees, Mr. and Mrs. Snowman in tropical attire, and a sleigh full of presents. Other festive touches onboard include a three-deck-tall tree, snow flurries, caroling, family gingerbread making, traditional feasts and ship-wide parties to ring in 2008.

God Jul is Norwegian for “Merry Christmas,” and it will be heard frequently aboard Hurtigruten (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage) during the line’s “Discover Winter Norway” cruise tours. Look for six- to eight-day holiday voyages, departing from Bergen and Tromso, between Dec. 19 and 26, featuring Norwegian yuletide festivities with local holiday delicacies, a Christmas Eve feast with an extravagant Scandinavian smorgasbord, caroling, Christmas trees, and a visit from Santa Claus himself. For New Year’s Eve, there will be a gala dinner, dancing and midnight champagne toasts. The seven-day Bergen-Tromso sailing can be extended to include the traditional Christmas market in Oslo.

Uniworld Grand River Cruises is also enticing travelers to Europe this upcoming season. The line is offering “two-for-one” special fares on seven- and nine-day voyages departing Dec. 19. Featuring the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers, itineraries include Nuremberg to Vienna and Cologne to Nuremberg. Many of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets in cities like Rudesheim, Mainz, Wertheim, and Bamberg, will no doubt prove to be a shopper’s delight.

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