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Best Holiday Cruise Vacations

By Jane Wooldridge
10/24/2013 1:31:00 PM

Imagine waking up Christmas morning to a view of a medieval European village-its spires and 12th-century bridge dusted with snow-or instead, spending the day transiting the balmy Panama Canal.

These are just two of the memorable holiday vacations that the best cruises deliver, along with the pleasure of having the feasts cooked and the halls decked for you. Towering Christmas trees fill cruise ship atriums; carolers stroll through promenades and lounges; and the air is filled with the scents of cinnamon and gingerbread.

Guests aboard the Azamara Quest will have a front-row view of the New Year's fireworks that light up the harbor in St. Bart's. They'll kick off 2014 with stops in St. Maarten, Nevis, and Virgin Gorda.

Such celebrations do come at a premium. Because cruises over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's are in high demand, they usually cost slightly more than the same itineraries on non-holiday weeks. And like the holidays themselves, bookings for such voyages go fast.

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For those who can't snag a holiday berth or prefer to spend those days at home, river cruises to Europe's traditional Christmas markets offer a cheery start to the season. Read on for a selection of the best holiday cruise vacations.

All prices are per person, based on double occupancy; unless otherwise stated, fares include the cruise, on-board entertainment, and main dining room meals, but do not include beverages, tips, excursions, Internet, or other extras.

For the complete list of holiday cruise vacations, click here.

Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Christmas Mexico Cruise

Kiss beneath the mistletoe, watch Christmas classics on the big screen, and dance amid occasional "snowflakes" aboard Carnival Inspiration's four-night cruise from Los Angeles to Baja Mexico. The 2,054-passenger ship stops at Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to Los Angeles-turkey and pumpkin pie included. Rates from $559 per person; departs Dec. 23. carnival.com

Courtesy of MSC Cruises

Thanksgiving Caribbean Cruise

The 3,959-passenger MSC Divina's seven-night Thanksgiving cruise leaves from Miami, making stops in St. Maarten, the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Youngsters get their own Thanksgiving Day parade; teens can join a scavenger hunt and flash mob; and football fans of all ages won't miss a play thanks to games shown on big-screen TVs. Naturally, there will also be plenty of turkey and dressing. Rates from $499 per person; book by Oct. 31 for special family plan rates on two cabins. Departs Nov. 23. msccruisesusa.com

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Christmas Markets on the Danube River

Warm your hands with a cup of mulled wine and shop for handmade nutcrackers and blown-glass decorations at Christmas markets in Vienna and other Danube cities between Nuremberg, Germany, and Budapest. It's all part of a seven-night sailing on Viking River Cruises' 168-passenger ships. Rates from $1,756 per person, including Wi-Fi, beer and wine with dinner, and six guided tours. Departs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24, with special rates for bookings made by Oct. 31. vikingrivercruises.com

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