10 Best Cold-Weather Winter Cruises
Skip the Caribbean. Set sail in search of icebergs, penguins, glühwein and the aurora borealis this winter.
When the weather cools and the snow begins to fall, many heed the call of the Caribbean's warm, gentle breezes on an island-hopping cruise. However, there's much to delight in on a cold-weather cruise, like reveling in joyous Christmas markets in Europe, hunting the Northern Lights in Norway and traipsing across the Antarctic region in search of elephant seals and Gentoo penguins. For cold-weather lovers, we've pulled together 10 of the best winter cruises that allow you to soak in the best of the season. Bundle up, friends.
Europe's Christmas markets are known worldwide as a magical holiday-favorite in December. On a seven-night river cruise with AmaWaterways, guests sail the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland aboard the 156-passenger river ship, AmaStella. A new, joyful Christmas market awaits nearly every day of the sail, enabling passengers to maximize holiday cheer with gingerbread and mugs of glühwein at renowned markets in Cologne, Strasbourg and Heidelberg. In between festive stops for exquisite ornaments and hand-crafted gifts, explore river towns on guided bike tours or head out to vineyards for aromatic hikes. Sample local fare on tasting tours that include Kolsch beer, potato pancakes and applesauce.
Bundle up and set a course for adventure in search of the Northern Lights on a 12-night cruise aboard the 930-passenger Viking Star. This sail departs from London, gradually making its way up the frigid waters of the Norwegian Sea. Savor the natural beauty of coastal Norway as you cruise above the Arctic Circle, making port stops in Bodo, Tromso and Alta in search of the elusive aurora borealis. (Peak viewing season runs from November through March.) Optional excursions allow guests to overnight in an igloo hotel or go dog sledding across the Arctic landscape with a team of energetic huskies. You can even spend the night with these pups in a stove-heated teepee.
It's not hard to love France – Paris, in particular – at any time of year. This sophisticated destination is especially magical, however, during the winter holidays when the city shines that much brighter. Take in the "City of Light" and Northern France on a week-long cruise along the Seine River with Uniworld. Walk the tree-lined Champs-Elysees, explore four historic castles, even be awed by Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sail begins in Paris aboard the S.S. Joie de Vivre, a stylish river ship that makes passengers feel as though they are on a floating pied-a-terre. Original artwork, handcrafted furniture and signature accents inspired by 20th-century Parisian design give guests a truly French experience while on this 164-passenger vessel.
A sail across the Drake Passage to Antarctica may take two days, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to step foot on this strikingly beautiful frozen continent. Your journey with Silversea Cruises begins in Ushuaia, the jumping off point from the southern tip of Argentina to Antarctica. You'll sail aboard the 200-passenger Silver Cloud, making your first stop at the Antarctic Sound where you'll get up-close with massive icebergs and colonies of whimsical Gentoo penguins. From here, sail on to the Antarctic Peninsula for dramatic (if desolate) snow-covered landscapes and a sprinkling of scientific research facilities. The South Shetland Islands wow with elephant seals and captivating penguins aplenty, including Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap varieties.
For those who want to relax and savor first-rate cuisine, live music and entertainment — even wine tastings and afternoon tea — consider a seven-night transatlantic cruise from New York to Southampton, UK with Cunard. Settle in aboard the iconic Queen Mary 2, Cunard's flagship vessel with room for 2,691 passengers. This one-way voyage wows with sumptuous staterooms, grand common areas and elegant dining each day of the sail. There's plenty to do too, whether you want to see the stars in the on-ship planetarium, immerse yourself in one of the largest book collections at sea in the library or enjoy live entertainment that ranges from stand-up comedians to aerial performers to vocalists.
Germany is well-known for hosting the continent's first Christmas markets some 500 years ago. Today, glühwein, currywurst and grog await at festive Christmas markets across the country, from Frankfurt to Wurzburg to Nuremberg. Set sail along the Main River aboard Uniworld's 164-passenger River Queen for glittering holiday festivities each day of the voyage. Browse the jubilant markets in search of one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs; sample sweet and salty treats on walking tours; and take in the history of waterside villages. Disembark in Nuremberg, but not without first exploring what's known as the "Gingerbread Capital of the World," home to the largest and most grandiose Christmas market in Germany.
When you just have time for a long weekend cruise, look to an enchanting four-night ride from Southampton, UK to Hamburg, Germany aboard Cunard's Queen Victoria. A sail on this elegant 2,061-passenger ship allows for a full day of exploration in Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. Take in eye-catching architecture, including the striking Elbphilharmonie concert hall, then stroll art galleries and history museums along the museum mile. There are plenty of vibrant neighborhoods to explore too, like Neustadt for shopping and Blankenese, one of the most picturesque sections of Hamburg. Back on the ship, take in a lively game of shuffleboard or putt around on a mini golf course.
When you've got more time to plan, and more vacay days to burn, consider the three-week voyage in early-2021 with G Adventures that recounts the legend of Ernest Shackleton, a famed explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic region in the early-1900s. This unique voyage aboard a 134-passenger polar expedition ship takes travelers to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, including sites of historic polar expeditioners who sought to uncover the secrets of this vast wilderness. Guest will see large colonies of King penguins and elephant seals on South Georgia, maybe even albatross. In the Falkland Islands, more penguin species await, including Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins.
For a charming holiday cruise, set sail on a three-night voyage from Southampton, UK to Bruges, Belgium aboard Cunard's Queen Victoria. This delightful mini break will get you into the spirit of the holiday season with a full-day spent in Bruges, one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe and home to one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe. Ahead of the sail, make time for port activities in Southampton, like a tour of Windsor Castle, a day trip to Stonehenge or a walk along the Southampton Titanic Trail complete with a visit to the interactive Sea City Museum.
Spend nearly the full holiday break drifting along the famed Danube River – from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary. Uniworld's 10-night sail wows guests onboard the lavish S.S. Maria Theresa, an elegant river ship that sails with no more than 150 passengers. As the river ship glides across four countries, guests have ample opportunities to toast the holiday season and ring in the new year in classic capitals, like Vienna and Budapest, as well as sip cocktails in castles and savor the unique delicacies of the season in each country. Picturesque villages await all along the Danube, making this cruise an unforgettable way to celebrate the magical holiday season.