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Are Christmas Cruises Worth It? – Full Review – Food, Entertainment, and More

I love cruising and I love Christmas but when I booked an MSC cruise that included Christmas day onboard I didn’t know what to expect.

Christmas is a big deal and the decision to spend it on a cruise was definitely a risk of sorts – you can’t re-do Christmas if it goes wrong. 

MSC Meraviglia Toulon Mediterranean Cruise

My Christmas Cruise – Itinerary and Ship

MSC are an Italian cruise line and I’m from the UK so I did expect Christmas to be different.

I don’t think I was prepared for quite how different though, the Christmas dinner wasn’t anything like the Christmas dinner we would have at home and the entertainment was definitely a change from what I’m used to. 

Ship: MSC Meraviglia (MSC Cruises)
Duration: 7 Nights
Itinerary: Mediteranean Loop from Genoa
, Italy

I didn’t know if it would be strange being away from home over the holiday and I had no idea if it’d still feel like Christmas if I was somewhere hot. 

Why Did We Book This Cruise?

We booked the MSC cruise because it was relatively cheap, we wanted to try a Christmas cruise and it was onboard a brand new ship, the MSC Meraviglia. 

I say cheap – it was cheap considering the fact that it sailed over Christmas. Usually, you pay a big premium to be on a cruise at Christmas just because the demand is higher.

We flew to Genoa in Italy to embark the ship and boarded on Christmas Eve.

My First Impressions – Ship Decorations

I have to say I was both disappointed and amazed when I embarked the MSC Meraviglia.

I was amazed by the huge promenade street that runs through the centre of the ship, I was amazed by the swimming pools, the ropes course and the general design of the ship – but I was disappointed with the Christmas decorations.

MSC Meraviglia central street
MSC Meraviglia Central Street

When you think about Christmas cruising you probably picture a ship with big Christmas trees in the Atrium, and Christmas decorations lining the stairs -but there really wasn’t any of that with my MSC Christmas Cruise.

There were a few small Christmas decorations around and some big sparkly angels in the atrium – but it didn’t feel as Christmassy as I expected. 

cunard christmas tree
Cunard decorate their ships beautifully for Christmas

It really didn’t make a difference to our cruise how decorated the ship was, but I was just surprised they hadn’t made more of an effort.

Top Tip: If you do want to get the Christmassy cruise feeling but don’t want to pay the premium price, cruising earlier in December can be a great way to do it. Most ships will be decorated by the start of December – some start decorating even earlier.

I took a cruise with Costa in early December and it was amazing to see the ship decorated like this.

True, you won’t get the Christmas dinner or Christmas entertainment but it’s still really nice to be on a ship like this when it has all its Christmas decorations up.

The Crew Wore Christmas Hats

One thing that did make the ship feel Christmassy was that all of the waiters and all of the crew were wearing Christmas hats for our entire cruise.

It definitely helped to make the ship feel like Christmas – and I hope it wasn’t too annoying for the crew. 

If you do ever take a Christmas cruise remember that it’s also Christmas for the crew. They’ll probably work 12+ hours on Christmas day and their families are back at home, so be EXTRA nice.

msc meraviglia main dining room

I always think cruise lines are too tolerant of guests being rude to the crew. If I was in charge, there would be a zero-tolerance approach. As my mum always said to me “Good manners cost nothing!” 

MSC’s Itineraries Are Different From Other Cruise Lines

MSC are a little different from most cruise lines because guests can board and disembark in almost every port, there isn’t a start and end to the cruise in the way that there usually is on other cruise lines.

That meant that when we got onboard on Christmas Eve some people had already been on board for a few days, maybe some had even been on for a week or more. 

We were very much thrown straight into Christmas by boarding on Christmas Eve.

There were a few Christmas activities on the daily schedule – including Christmas carols and a Christmas theatre show.

Let it Snow! A Christmas Show

I had cruised with MSC before this and I have to say they don’t have my favourite theatre shows, I was excited to see what they’d do for Christmas though.

Even though they’re not my favourite I still go most days, they’re included in the cruise fare and fairly short. I do find them entertaining, just not one of my favourites. 

msc meraviglia christmas show snowmen elves

We saw a show called “Let it Snow” which definitely put us in the Christmas mood.

There were colourful costumes and Christmas songs with dancing. Somebody was dressed as a snowman and there were lots of elves.

The show was on 3 times that evening so that everybody had the opportunity to see the show.

Does Santa Visit Cruise Ships?

Santa does visit cruise ships and he will usually be available to take photos with and to give out presents. He usually visits on Christmas Eve.

I did wonder, if I was on a cruise ship and it was Christmas Eve how would Santa find me to give me my Christmas presents?

Luckily he was in the promenade that evening to take photos with the children.

On lots of cruise lines Santa will be there to give out presents too,

I don’t remember if there were presents on this cruise, but sadly I think I’m a little too old for Santa to give me a gift. 

Christmas Activities and Entertainment on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve there was also a Christmas musical game, Christmas party and Christmas DJ.

The entertainment definitely made us feel like it was Christmas although it was still very different from being at home in chilly England

Usually here on Christmas Eve we would watch a movie, have some nice snacks and leave out a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for the reindeer. In the US it seems that Santa usually gets cookies, but here – it’s a mince pie.

Personally, I’d much prefer the cookies but mince pies are very popular, they’re made of fruit, not meat mince. 

We went to sleep very content and happy but I was thinking about the next day, would Christmas be the same without seeing my extended family? Would it be the same without presents and what would be for Christmas dinner?

If You Take a Cruise Over Christmas Will You Have a Traditional Christmas Dinner?

American and British cruise lines will serve traditional American and British Christmas meals.

Cruise lines from Italy, Greece and other countries will serve dishes local to the origin country of the cruise line which may not be what American or British guests are used to.

In the UK, Christmas dinner is usually some sort of roasted meat, roast potatoes, sprouts, gravy, that kind of thing – but I didn’t expect an Italian Christmas dinner to be like that.

MSC have guests from all over the world so I’m sure they had a lot of different people expecting different things for Christmas dinner. 

We Visited 4 Countries in 7 Days

The cruise was sailing around the Mediterranean and it visited ports in Italy, Malta, Spain and France.

I did have some concerns about if the ports would be open as usual, given that we were visiting on the Christmas holiday. 

We Spent Christmas Day in Civitavecchia

We actually had a port day on Christmas day, we were in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. 

civitavecchia christmas day cruise rome msc meraviglia

In the UK over Christmas it’s usually pretty chilly, maybe something like 5c (40f) it very rarely snows here on Christmas but it definitely is cold

It was INCREDIBLE to feel warm on Christmas day, I’d definitely recommend it if you live somewhere cold.

We decided not to go into Rome, it’s quite a long way, we’d been before and we wanted to experience Christmas on the ship.

We did get off in the port of Civitavecchia and wandered around for a few hours, surprisingly most places were open but I suppose when a megaship like the MSC Mervaiglia arrives in port it makes sense to open the shops and cafes. 

The MSC Meraviglia holds 4500 passengers so she’s a pretty big ship. 

We Didn’t Bring Many Christmas Presents

We decided not to really do Christmas presents, each person had one present to open – but really being on the cruise was the Christmas present.

I got some new pyjamas and fluffy socks which really is the best thing you can get for Christmas.

If you are cruising at Christmas and you can make your presents usable on the cruise, like clothes, that’s a great way to make sure you’re not wasting space in your suitcase. 

For this week-long cruise, I only bought a small carry-on/cabin-sized suitcase because we had to fly to Italy and I usually just take a small suitcase when flying.

It was really nice not to have to think too much about presents and to skip all of that “do I have everything I need?” panic feeling that I’m sure a lot of people feel before Christmas.

There Were Christmassy and Non-Christmassy Events Happening Onboard

After our walking about in Civitavecchia, we came back to the ship, there were quite a few Christmas activities happening onboard but it wasn’t overwhelmingly “Christmas.”

There were still usual things like dance classes, quizzes and exercise classes happening as normal. 

Even though our MSC cruise had guests from all over the world, speaking lots of different languages the majority of the entertainment and the music was in English. 

MSC’s Dress Codes Are Pretty Relaxed

There was a dress code in the main dining room but it wasn’t enforced at all.

I recently asked in our Facebook group if you thought MSC’s dress codes were relaxed and 96% of you answered yes.

I think that’s pretty conclusive.

To learn more about MSC’s dress codes and to see photos of what others have worn on MSC cruises, check out this post:

MSC Dress Code Photo Guide – 96% Agree The Dress Codes are Relaxed

I decided to wear a spotty black dress because well, it was Christmas and I thought why not?

The relaxed dress codes are one of the things that I like about MSC, I like the opportunity to dress up but don’t really like to be told what to wear.

msc virtuosa cruise monkeys cruise buoys cruising pete drinks
Me with friends on an MSC Cruise.

My Christmas Dinner and Christmas Menus on MSC

The main Christmas dinner menu on my MSC cruise featured a lot of seafood – which makes sense for an Italian cruise line. I had the roast suckling pig and from what I remember it was good.

It was good. No Turkey though- that’s what we would normally have for a traditional Christmas dinner in the UK.

Below is my Christmas day dinner and dessert, it was very nice!

I Had a Traditional Roast When I Came Home

I usually eat a LOT when it comes to Christmas dinner, I pile the roast potatoes high and LOVE Yorkshire puddings.

When I came back from this cruise I did cook myself a traditional roast dinner, because that part of my Christmas cravings weren’t satisfied. 

It’s really cheap to buy the stuff you need for a Christmas dinner after Christmas though because everybody else is fed up with sprouts!

I Booked Another Christmas Cruise With P&O

Having tried the Italian Christmas experience with MSC, I booked another Christmas cruise with the British Cruise Line P&O.

The ship was decorated beautifully for Christmas, and I got a very traditional British Christmas dinner onboard.

christmas cruise canary islands

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great for that Cruise, as we sailed from the UK down to the Canary Islands. There were many storms during our trip.

Find out about that cruise and see how P&O decorate their ships for Christmas here:

River Cruising At Christmas

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go on a Christmas river cruise, to visit the German Christmas Markets.

I sailed onboard the Tui Skyla. Tui offer budget-friendly river cruising from the UK and I have sailed with them before, so i knew what to expect.

The trip didn’t go entirely according to plan, with delayed flights, and very high river levels.

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We had a really enjoyable time, despite the constant changes in itinerary – It was like a magical mystery tour!

Find out all about River Cruising at Christmas here:

Are Christmas Cruises Worth it?

The many benefits to Christmas Cruises make the price worth it.

Christmas Cruises provide a relaxing experience while allowing guests to visit new places on Christmas day. The passengers don’t have to worry about presents, shopping, cooking or cleaning.

Christmas cruises are usually more expensive than cruises at other times of the year, but it is possible to find a bargain if you are looking for one.

I would definitely book another Christmas cruise – I really enjoy them.

p&o ventura christmas cruise decorations gingerbread
Christmas Gingerbread Village onboard P&O’s Ventura

Before You Go

Find out about all the free things you should try if you book an MSC cruise here:

12 Free Things You Have to Try on MSC Cruises (Tried and Tested!)

Find out about nineteen essential tips you should try on your next MSC cruise:

19 Essential MSC Cruise Tips That I Use Everytime (Freebies, Money Saving & More)

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.