Since 2006, I’ve celebrated Christmas with friends and family in an unlikely setting — on the rivers of Europe. It’s a tradition that I have very much enjoyed and one that I plan to continue.
I love the cozy feeling of being on a vessel that transports me, and a hundred or so others, along the main arteries of Europe during this festive time of year. I enjoy bundling up to stroll historic city streets among the Christmas markets and returning to the ship to sip on hot mulled cider or, when the mood strikes, Gluhwein.
If you’re lucky, as I have been on a few Christmas cruises, snow will blanket the villages along the rivers. Last year, I trudged on powder with my family and friends through the uber-charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We felt like we were walking in a fairy tale. Christmas trees were decorated with red ribbons and sparkly white lights. Branches were laden with clumps of snow that had fallen from the rooftops. Icicles appeared like mini-stalactites from awnings, and under them, shop windows presented everything from wurst to gingerbread cookies, baked in Old World tradition.
During the winter, the rivers are magical. I’ve cruised through broken sheets of ice, which appeared as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle from the balcony of my stateroom. And although the sky can be brilliant blue, it’s often diffused, giving the sky the appearance that reminds me of an Impressionistic painting. Surely, this must be the most romantic time of year to cruise Europe.
All of my Christmas cruises have been with AmaWaterways. I appreciate the company’s high standards and its product delivery.
AmaWaterways offers two distinct winter river cruise itineraries: the 11-night Christmas Time Cruise and the 13-night Rhine Winter Voyage.
Departing between November 24 and December 23, 2011, the Christmas Time voyages start off with two nights in medieval Prague, including an optional tour to Prague’s Christmas Market – an event not to be missed.
After leaving Prague, it’s off to the historic city of Nuremberg to board the vessel. Before sailing away, however, you’ll have time to enjoy a city tour and visit the local Christmas Market.
Leaving Nuremburg, cruise the Main-Danube Canal, where you’ll call on the Bavarian town of Hilpoltstein, which dates back to the 10th century.
The next day, you’ll arrive in gothic Regensburg, a picturesque town whose beauty is accentuated during the winter season. I arrived in Regensburg when the city was blanketed in snow, a day I’ll never forget and one that I captured in countless photographs that I snapped. In Regensburg, be sure to take advantage of AmaWaterways’ complimentary city tour and a visit to the Christmas Market.
As your river cruise progresses, you’ll be able to visit Passau, Salzburg (by motorcoach), Linz, Melk and Vienna, where you can enjoy an evening concert and a full complimentary city tour the next day — before your arrival and disembarkation in Budapest, Hungary.
Those looking to spend more time in this veritable winter wonderland may want to consider joining AmaWaterways’ slightly longer Rhine Winter Voyage.
Spanning 13 days, this river cruise begins includes two nights in Zurich, followed by an additional two nights in Lucerne before embarking on a weeklong river cruise. You will have the opportunity to visit Basel, Breisach, Strasbourg, Speyer, Worms, Rudesheim, Koblenz and Cologne before arrival and disembarkation in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Of course, the opportunity to experience some of Europe’s grandest cities is another reason to take a Christmas Markets river cruise. To make your shoreside exploration easier, AmaWaterways include a number of complimentary tours designed to better acquaint you with some of the historic and beautiful cities on your itinerary. These range from walking tours to city excursions, many of which visit the popular Christmas Markets as part of the itinerary. You’re given a personal headset for the duration of the tour, ensuring you can always hear your guide, no matter where you are.
Aboard AmaDolce, AmaLegro, AmaLyra and AmaCello, the mood is festive, warm and welcoming. Each ship features staterooms with river views. Most staterooms have French balconies, and some even have twin balconies: Staterooms that have one French and one traditional-style balcony, which doubles the pleasure of your private viewing venues.
Dinners aboard AmaWaterways are an event on Christmas Markets voyages. Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are served at dinner, and evening piano music is provided; a great way to unwind after an invigorating day ashore.
The rich, breathtaking history of Europe coupled with AmaWaterways’ sumptuous onboard offerings all adds up to an unforgettable experience; a vacation to enjoy in the moment and the fond holiday memories to treasure for a lifetime.
I certainly hope to be back on the rivers of Europe this coming Christmas. After all, cruising the Christmas Markets has become somewhat of a tradition for my family. I hope to see you there.