Best Winter Cruise Destinations
Think cruises are just for summertime?
Why Wintertime is the Best Time to Go Cruising
Anytime is a great time to go on a cruise, but winter cruises often offer you less crowds, shorter lines, more elbow room at the buffet, more attention from wait staff, and generous off-season discounts and special offers. What could be better? Escape the cold winter months by journeying down to the warm Caribbean, or embrace the chill and be rewarded with an unforgettable Northern Light show. Enjoy Christmas without the hassle of cooking and cleanup, or ring in the New Year with that special someone at an exotic location.
How to Pick the Right Destination
With so many great winter cruise deals, it can be hard to determine just where to travel to. How to decide?
Ask yourself these questions:
Are you traveling solo? Going with a significant other? Taking the family? Your answers can help determine if a romantic or remote location will do, or if you need to factor kid-friendly activities into your plans.
What are your favorite activities? Are you an adrenaline junkie or do you prefer more relaxing pursuits? While the best locales will offer both, Alaska and the Great White North can’t be beat as far as adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities and jaw dropping scenery go – while the Caribbean is world-renowned for its relaxing beaches, snorkeling, and charming town tours.
Are you looking to escape your local weather? If looking at falling snow makes you dream of pina coladas and swaying palms, then a southern destination would be a good bet. There is a reason why Caribbean cruises are some of the best December cruises around!
Conversely, if you’re in a city where you run the air conditioner practically year-round, then the brisk Alaska air might be a welcome change. In addition, the longer winter nights give you more opportunities to see those famous Northern Lights.
With those thoughts in mind, read on to see which winter break cruise will work best for you.
Best Destinations for Winter Cruising
Listed below are some popular cruise destinations for families and sun seekers in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Central America:
Costa Maya – this stretch of Mexico’s Yucatan coast is the best place to explore the lesser-known Mayan sites including the recently opened Chaccoben ruins and the extensive remnants of Konhunlich with its pyramids, citadels, and plazas. Offshore you’ll find reefs perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving; alternately, you can just stretch out on the warm, white sand with an unlimited cocktail bar on site.
Cozumel – this beloved island off the coast of Mexico, well known for its Mayan ruins, also has a 65 million year-old underwater cave system to explore. An underground river cruise excursion is a truly amazing experience. Foodies will be in heaven with the hands-on salsa making tour where they can whip up pico, guacamole, and serious salsa dance moves. Snorkeling, kayaking, e-bike tours, and sea lion and dolphin swims are also favorites here.
Nassau – this capital city of the Bahamas, located in the western Caribbean, will charm you with its white-sand beaches, historical walking tour and dolphin encounters. Or you can design your own adventure with a private island getaway. While here, make plans to visit Graycliff Restaurant – the island’s first winery – and learn all their winemaker’s secrets!
Grand Cayman – the largest of the three Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman features rum making, crystal caves, horseback riding, and an amazing stingray and starfish snorkel.
Belize – this diverse Central American country offers cave tubing, zip lining, barrier reef snorkeling, and the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich and Altun-Ha. Animal lovers and kids of all ages will love the Baboon Sanctuary as well as the Belize Zoo.
If cooler climes and brisk, outdoor adventures are more your style, check out these exciting Alaskan excursions:
Juneau – situated between the Gulf of Alaska and British Columbia, the city of Juneau is a great place to go whale watching. Sail along the snow and ice on the back of a thrilling dog sled or try your hand at panning for gold, followed by a delicious salmon bake. Not to be missed is the famed Mendenhall Glacier with its photo-worthy blue colors.
Skagway – this tiny town nestled in the upper reaches of the Inside Passage is the setting of the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-99. Numerous falls and the breathtaking White Pass Summit are a photographer’s delight, while a glacial ATV tour or self-guided Jeep drive to Yukon will satisfy the thrill seeker in you.
Ketchikan – also known as the Salmon Capital of the World, Ketchikan is Alaska’s southernmost settlement and home to an abundance of wildlife thanks to the nearby Tongass National Forest. Gaze up at the massive totems at Saxman Native Village, feast on buttery Dungeness crab, or get a first-hand look at the life of a commercial crab fisherman while on the deck of a ship featured in Discovery Channel’s series “Deadliest Catch.”
How to Best Pack for Your Trip
Now that you have picked the perfect cruise, you may be wondering how to best pack for it.
Generally winter is a great time to visit the Caribbean and nearby areas, as it remains relatively warm but it’s not as humid; average winter day temperatures can vary between 77 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit with a cool dip into the 60s in the evenings.
Think of filling your suitcase with t-shirts, shorts, and sundresses with sandals. Thin sweaters, long-sleeved shirts or a lightweight shawl will help you feel comfortable with cool breezes. Workout wear and sneakers are good to include if your plans include hiking or a lot of walking around town. Make sure to pack a couple of swimsuits or swim trunks and a cover up for the pool or the shops (men can don a t-shirt or casual front button-up). A wide-brimmed hat is excellent to shield you from the sun and keep you cool.
Up in Alaska the average daily highs can range from the low 20s to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on location. Dryer air, less snow, and shoulder-season prices make this area one of the best places to cruise in March. Expect lows in the teens to the 30s.
Dressing for winter cruises involve three very important goals: warmth, comfort, and staying dry. The trick here is to dress in layers, so you can add or peel off clothing as needed. Flannel shirts and turtlenecks fit the bill nicely. A water-repellant outer jacket is a must – especially if you plan on any extended outdoor activities. Keep in mind, your cruise excursion operator might provide any necessary outerwear.
Thermal underwear (tops and bottoms) will keep you warm and are essential under your clothes as an extra layer to keep you warm – and to keep you dry when hiking, skiing, or sledding in the snow. Socks should be a moisture-wicking Merino wool blend. Don’t forget wool hats and scarves, hats, and gloves or mittens for warmth and to protect you from frostbite.
Shoes should ideally be waterproof boots to keep your feet warm and dry.
Afraid of Overpacking?
We get it – wrangling stuffed suitcases is no fun and can injure your back, shoulder, or neck before you even get to the cruise ship. Follow these tips to limit what you bring … and to save room for that special souvenir or two to take back with you:
Limit your colors – stick to 2 or 3 neutral shades that you can mix or match.
Roll instead of fold – rolling your clothes actually saves space and helps minimize wrinkles. Packing cubes can also help with this.
Choose (and use) your shoes wisely – opt for shoes that can do double-duty (e.g., hiking boots that can hit the trails and pair nicely with a sundress). Better yet, wear those boots on the plane so there is more room in the suitcase for other items.
Layers, layers, layers – they don’t only help keep you warm; you can wear a neutral top layer repeatedly while rotating the layers underneath. Another tip: wear (or carry) your outer coat to save even more room.
Make a beach bag your carry on – your waterproof bag will protect your carry on items nicely.
Size down the toiletries – those full size products take up precious packing space; transfer them to carry on bottles or purchase travel size versions to give you more room.
Whether you are headed north or south, remember to bring:
Carry on bag or duffel – include a spare change of clothes, any medicines, and must-have items such as a phone charger in case your bags get delayed to your ship or your cabin.
Sunscreen – sun protection isn’t only for the beach; you also need it to protect your skin from sunburn on those cold, overcast days on the glaciers or the boat deck.
Hand sanitizer – need we say more?
Dry bag or pouch – keep your phone, keys, ID, credit card, etc safe when you go to the beach; many versions include a lanyard or handle so you can keep it with you while in the water.
Photocopy of your passport – as a backup in case your passport gets lost or stolen; you can also use the copy in lieu of your actual passport when you are in port.
Ziplock bags – bring a few of these to keep wet and dry items separated, or to contain small items such as a broken necklace.
Lanyard – use this for your multi-use room key card so you won’t have to search for it every time you want to access your room or order another round of drinks.
Refillable water bottle – top it off with water before you head out to port so you don’t get stranded without a means of hydration.
Formal or semi-formal attire – many cruise lines offer a “cruise elegant” evening, giving you the option to enjoy a fancier night on board. Cocktail dresses, evening gowns, dressy pantsuits, or elegant skirts and blouses work well for women. For the men, attire can range from suits or dress shirts, dress slacks and a sport coat to a tuxedo. As with anywhere, you will probably see the full range of these examples on display! (again, this evening is entirely optional and up to you).
Ready to start planning your winter cruise adventure?
Let us help you make the most of your winter break with an unforgettable winter cruise vacation!
Shore Excursions Group can help match you with the perfect shore excursions at your chosen port(s) of call. We will find you the best price, provide 24/7 emergency assistance during your trip, and guarantee your return to ship. Click here to get started!
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