It's Not Too Early to Think About a Christmas Cruise
"But Juliet, it's August". In the midst of summer, the holiday spirit is probably far from your thoughts. But by the time the idea of a European Christmas-market river cruise comes to mind – maybe after your post-Thanksgiving dinner nap – the soonest available sailings will likely be more than a year away.
Jetting off to Europe for a holiday-themed river cruise isn’t generally a spur-of-the-moment decision. These sailings sell out fast, especially when you consider the fact that most European river ships only hold around 150 passengers. Book early and you’ll be rewarded – with more time to get excited about your upcoming trip, of course, but in many cases, with complimentary upgrades and surprise savings as well. Centuries-old church squares are an integral part of European river cruises, with timeless architecture that once witnessed the heartbeat of history. Each year, these meeting places come alive with the bustle of winter Christmas markets. Each market has booths offering local products, food, and crafts that provide a real sense of place. Most markets are open from the last week of November through December 22nd. Here are four reasons to start planning for a Christmas cruise now.
1. Europe in December is magical.
During the holiday season, the Danube and Rhine rivers take on a special glow, each with a distinct personality. A festive atmosphere envelops the Danube as ships weave past some of the continent’s grandest cities, including Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. The Rhine captivates cruisers with snow-dusted storybook towns and castles lining the riverbanks of historic cities such as Basel, Strasbourg, and Cologne. The scenery and holiday decorations make up for the cooler weather during the winter season and Christmas markets are filled with wonderful and unusual handicrafts and gifts to please even the pickiest shopper.
2. Holiday shopping has never been so fun.
With a piece of gingerbread in one hand and a mug of hot mulled wine (or cocoa) in the other, travelers are ready to explore Europe’s timeless markets. In Vorosmarty Square in Budapest, where more than half the vendors at this “handmade-only” Christmas marketplace are part of the Hungarian Artisan Association, you can purchase gifts from jewelers, potters, bookbinders, and even furriers. Choir music pours from the 150 vendor stalls at Vienna’s nineteenth-century Christkindlmarkt. The snacking is just as fun as the shopping: Try the pan-fried Reibekuchen (potato pancakes with applesauce) in Cologne and fresh Bretzels with Emmentaler cheese at Strasbourg’s Marché de Noël.
3. Don’t worry, it will still feel like Christmas.
Nostalgic holiday traditions (tree-trimming parties, hanging stockings by the fireplace) can sometimes get shunted aside in the holiday frenzy at home, but on a Christmas-themed cruise, those moments are celebrated. On AmaWaterways sailings,for example, guests can hang tinsel and garland to their heart’s content during onboard celebrations, take part in ornament scavenger hunts, and leave their shoes outside their staterooms for Saint Nicholas to fill. (My favorite: the freshly baked Christmas cookies delivered to your stateroom.)
4. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
To keep the Christmas cheer going, guests can choose to lengthen their holiday with pre- or post-cruise land extensions in port towns with guided excursions and helpful service of the cruise manager. Spend two nights in Budapest before sailing the Danube; extend your stay in Zürich after cruising the Rhine; or plan to arrive in Prague early for some extra sightseeing
Cruise through the heart of Europe during the most festive time of year and you’ll experience the timeless tradition of its magical Christmas markets. Browse colorful market stalls filled to the brim with whimsical handicrafts and take in the aromas of baked goods beneath endless strands of twinkling lights. In my next article, I'm thinking I'll tell you about specific European cities on the Christmas market routes, so you'll know what to expect (or what you're missing!)
'til next week.
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I create indulgent, transformative vacations for people who crave immersive travel. If you don't have the time to plan the details of your own well-deserved escape, don't know where to begin, or are simply longing to make unforgettable memories with those you love, then don’t wait another day. Let's talk.
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