Holidays Afloat

Nuremburg Christmas Market has more than 180 decorated stands offering ornaments and delicious holiday treats, among other attractive goods.
 
Nuremburg Christmas Market has more than 180 decorated stands offering ornaments and delicious holiday treats, among other attractive goods.

River cruising isn’t just for warm weather. On European “Christmas markets” cruises, cruisers eagerly don jackets, hats and gloves to stroll through fair-like holiday markets. They smell the aroma of cinnamon, taste gluhwein, watch craftspeople making gifts and hear seasonal music.

During 2015, Uniworld Boutique Cruise Collection’s new S.S. Maria Theresa offers an eight-day “Danube Holiday Markets” itinerary (among others) between Budapest and Passau departing December 1, December 8 and December 15. Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square market has gorgeous hand-made porcelain and yummy “kurtos kalacs,” pastries baked on rods over an open fire and coated in sugar.

To sail in style, the Royal Suite on the 150-passenger S.S. Maria Theresa offers 410 square feet of space; a separate living room and bedroom; and a bathroom with a mirror TV, dual sinks, a tub, shower, and a bit more private toilet and bidet area. This suite has floor-to-ceiling French balconies in both the living and sleeping areas. Desire a walk-out balcony? A good option is one of the 305-square-foot suites.

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Uniworld also offers many other 2015 holiday cruises with market visits including River Queen’s eight-day Nuremberg to Frankfurt cruises on multiple dates, with the December 13 sailing as a multigenerational family program. The line also offers many 2016 holiday voyages. We recommend travelers staying in Nuremberg pre- or post-cruise make a reservation at Essigbratlein, a two-star Michelin restaurant in a pretty historic townhouse in Nuremberg. This small restaurant is famed for Andree Kothe’s and Yves Ollech’s so-called “spice cuisine.”

Tauck’s MS Treasures will sail “Christmas Markets along the Danube” voyages between Nuremberg and Vienna.
Tauck’s MS Treasures will sail “Christmas Markets along the Danube” voyages between Nuremberg and Vienna.

Special perks? Uniworld’s “Classic Christmas Markets” 2015 (Nuremberg to Frankfurt) cruise includes a Wertheim walking tour with mulled wine plus a complimentary Christmas Stollen demonstration by a master baker in a private village wine estate.

For 2015, AmaWaterways will operate 24 separate Christmas Markets voyages with either Rhine or Danube itineraries; two ships will operate each itinerary. Among them are the new 164-passenger AmaSerena and AmaReina, both launched this year. These luxurious vessels have a heated swimming pool with swim-up bar, salon services, fitness rooms, elegant glass elevators and alternative dining, among other amenities.

Top AmaSerena accommodations? It’s the 300-square-foot suite with a spacious living room plus bedroom area and bath with a separate shower and tub. We like AmaWaterways’ twin balcony concept, in this suite and also many other accommodations. When it’s drizzling outside, guests can sit comfortably indoors, slide open the French balcony door and watch the landscape. Or, on a nice day, they can relax on their outdoor balcony.

Holiday carolers in the lobby of an AmaWaterways ship. For 2015, AmaWaterways will operate 24 separate Christmas Markets voyages with either Rhine or Danube itineraries.
Holiday carolers in the lobby of an AmaWaterways ship. For 2015, AmaWaterways will operate 24 separate Christmas Markets voyages with either Rhine or Danube itineraries.

One AmaWaterways’ itinerary this year is both holiday- and beer-themed. It starts in Prague on December 12, and guests board AmaPrima in Nuremberg on December 14. The ship sails to such Christmas markets as Regensburg, Salzburg, and Vienna. It also overnights in Vienna so guests can ask onboard staff to book optional Mozart and Strauss concert tickets. On the final evening in Vienna, guests enjoy an included farewell dinner and “Illuminations Cruise” along Budapest’s glittering riverfront.

Desire to take a family holiday cruise? AmaWaterways has inked a new partnership with Adventures by Disney; seven-night “Christmastime” sailings on December 15 and December 22, 2016 will be holiday family cruises between Vilshofen, Germany, and Budapest, Hungary; they’re bookable through Adventures by Disney. These family offerings will sail on the new 170-passenger ship, AmaViola, launching in 2016 with six sets of connecting staterooms and some rooms and suites accommodating three- and four-person families.

Viking Cruises launched 12 new river vessels this year, 10 of those 190-passenger Longships with such features as the indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace. The Longships will operate Christmas markets itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers this year. The other two new ships are smaller and designed for the lower draught Elbe River, doubling Viking’s capacity for holiday cruises there this year.

Viking’s “Romantic Danube” sailings will take passengers to the Budapest Christmas Market.
Viking’s “Romantic Danube” sailings will take passengers to the Budapest Christmas Market.

In total, Viking offers 12 holiday-experience itineraries this year. At press time, the 445-square-foot Explorer Suites (ES) and 275-square-foot Veranda Suites (AA) still had availability for 2015 on Viking’s “Romantic Danube” Christmas markets sailings between Nuremberg and Budapest. Viking Freya, Viking Atla and Viking Njord are among the vessels operating this itinerary, which includes calls at Vienna and Melk, Austria, and Passau, Nuremberg and Regensburg, Germany. Add-on stays are available for Prague, Nuremberg or Budapest.

Top Explorer Suite feature? We love the private wraparound veranda off the living room; it provides 270-degree views. The bedroom also has a French balcony. Viking’s Christmas markets cruises feature sing-alongs, tree decorating and holiday music. Travelers can also learn baking secrets from Viking’s executive chef who will share freshly baked gingerbread cookies. The line’s concierge also can arrange tickets for a Vienna holiday concert.

Scenic Cruises, which launched Scenic Jasper and Scenic Opal this year, has new “Danube Discovery Christmas Markets” and “Treasures of the Rhine Christmas Markets” itineraries this year, along with other holiday cruises. Space was still available on some departures. The “Treasures of the Rhine” itinerary sails from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf, Cologne, Rudesheim, Bamberg, Miltenberg and Nuremberg.

An Amawaterways Passenger indulges in ornament shopping.
 
An Amawaterways Passenger indulges in ornament shopping.

The top accommodation on Scenic Jasper is the 445-square-foot Royal Panorama (RP) Suite. Guests enjoy a separate living room lounge, master bedroom and bath and an all-weather balcony (an outdoor balcony with glass that drops and rises by remote control). The Royal Suite (RR) is also roomy with 360 square feet of space.

During Scenic’s Christmas markets sailings, guests onboard will taste Bamberg’s famous “smoked beer,” listen to “live” Bavarian music and watch a glass blowing demonstration. At Miltenberg, Germany, Scenic provides an exclusive experience ashore — a chance for cruisers to be part of village life through Scenic’s Free Choice program. For example, guests can tour a private castle, bake a German chocolate cake or visit a winery. 

Hand-Crafted Ornaments will be a huge attraction for cruisers heading to Nuremberg.
 
Hand-Crafted Ornaments will be a huge attraction for cruisers heading to Nuremberg.

On November 23, 2015 and November 21, 2016, Christmas markets-themed voyages from Amsterdam to Budapest will feature a special experience in Vienna; guests will be transported to Palais Liechtenstein, enjoy a glass of Austrian Sekt and listen to a private Viennese concert with Strauss and Mozart selections. Also in 2016, a 21-day Paris-to-Prague holiday season itinerary by Scenic includes land stays in both cities plus a Christmas markets cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. For 2015, Tauck will deploy four ships on two different eight-day sailings. Inspire and Swiss Jewel will operate “Christmas Markets along the Rhine” between Cologne, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland, while Savor and Treasures will sail “Christmas Markets along the Danube” voyages between Nuremberg and Vienna.

The Baroque Restaurant on Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa.
 
The Baroque Restaurant on Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa.

On Inspire, just launched in 2014, the “top digs” are the Diamond Deck’s 300-square-foot Category 7 suites (22 on the ship). They offer two floor-to-ceiling French balconies, a seating area with pull-out couch and chair, plus a pillow-topped queen bed with 400-thread-count sheets. The bed’s padded headboard with reading lamps is a nice touch. We also like the bath’s roomy shower with a rainfall showerhead.

On Tauck’s 2015 Danube sailings, guests will visit Vienna, which historically has operated a December market since 1294 and now boasts more than two dozen Christmas markets citywide. Don’t miss the Schonbrunn Palace Market to smell freshly baked Vanillekipferl, crescent shaped biscuits/cookies made with ground almonds or hazelnuts and vanilla sugar.

Viking Longships feature soaring, atrium-style lobbies.
 
Viking Longships feature soaring, atrium-style lobbies.

On Tauck’s Danube voyages, guests often dine at the iconic Stiftskeller St. Peter restaurant, located within the walls of St. Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg, Austria. Did you know it’s one of the world’s oldest restaurants and the oldest in Europe, mentioned by the scholar Alcuin in 803 A.D.? The menu varies by season, with one recent offering including veal duet, cream soup, risotto, duck breast and strawberry mousse.

Within the past five years, Avalon Waterways has doubled its Christmas-themed departures and, for 2016, it will operate seven different holiday itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. These range from five-night “Christmastime in Alsace & Germany” sailings to a 17-day Zurich to Budapest cruise. Launching in April 2016, the new Avalon Tranquility II will operate some of these holiday sailings.

We’d suggest the 300-square-foot Royal Suite for its spacious, six-person seating area plus a master bedroom with king bed. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows push aside to create a full open-air balcony that guests enjoy while seated inside the suite. We also like this suite’s bathroom design; two sinks and the shower are behind one door, with a separate door and compartment for the toilet.

Avalon Impression’s nine-night “Christmastime on the Danube” voyage in 2016 will take luxury travelers to holiday markets in Vienna, Austria, and Regensburg, Passau and Nuremberg, Germany. Guests are also transported to Prague for a land stay. Prague’s Christmas market has brightly colored huts selling wooden toys, ornaments and other Czech crafts. Why not warm up with a cup of svarene vino (hot mulled wine) and snack on a Czech sausage?

If cruisers prefer a shorter Christmas markets cruise so they can combine that with a city stay and create a week-long vacation in Europe, A-Rosa Cruises is offering four-night Christmas markets cruises this year on Flora as well as Viva.

On multiple dates in late November and December, Flora sails roundtrip from Cologne to Rudesheim, Frankfurt and Mainz, Germany. Also roundtrip from Cologne, Viva operates “Rhine Christmas” sailings to Mannheim, Strasbourg and Mainz. Top accommodation on Flora is the 300-square-foot Balcony Suite – Double, with a French balcony. It’s located on Deck 3.

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