Of all the possible months to take a European river cruise, late November through until the Holidays remains our favorite time to take trip down the famed Blue Danube. Although fall comes with cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain and or snow falling, these “off-season” river cruise departures also have some major advantages going for them, including fewer crowds, more affordable pricing, and Europe’s famous Christmas Markets.
Typically in operation between November 25 and December 24 of each year, these festive, open-air markets are a tradition dating back hundreds of years in countries like France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary – among others. Filled with festive crafts, traditionally-baked goods and more food and beverage options than you could ever possibly enjoy, Europe’s Christmas Markets are a trip back in time to a simpler way of life, where socializing in a square over a piping hot cup of gluhwein – spiced, mulled wine – fills in for time spent battling for parking at the local shopping mall.
Nowhere are these markets more on-display than the Danube. While Christmas Markets river cruises are also quite popular on the Rhine River, the Danube Christmas Markets river cruises offer an incredible mix of small-town charm and big-city bustle during the Holiday season. Vienna alone offers nearly a dozen different Christmas Markets throughout the Ringstrasse and beyond; while smaller towns like Regensburg and Passau offer cozy markets with plenty of small town charm.
The granddaddy of them all, however, is in Nuremberg, Germany – reportedly one of the first, oldest and largest Christmas Markets throughout Europe. Held in the main Hauptmarkt square, meticulously reconstructed after the town’s devastation during World War II – this is Europe at its most festive and charming.
As the table below illustrates, these Christmas Markets river cruises are also some of the most affordable, particularly when compared to summertime voyages on the Danube. That value runs throughout all of your travel costs: hotels can be had for a fraction of their summer rates, and airfare can drop considerably in price, particularly in late November and early December, before the onslaught of the Christmas travel rush that occurs later in December in the run-up to the Holidays.
Although these December 2018 voyages are a long way off at this point, Christmas Markets river cruises have only grown in popularity over the intervening years. Five or six years ago, it was possible to book one of these sailings relatively late in the year. Nowadays, despite the increased number of ships on the Danube, the prime cabins (mainly, the value-leading “riverview” staterooms and higher-end balcony staterooms and suites) tend to book up well in advance.
Who’s offering what on the Danube during the Christmas Markets of 2018? Have a look at our table:
|AmaWaterways||Avalon Waterways||Crystal||Emerald Cruises||Scenic||Uniworld||Viking River Cruises|
|Ship||AmaLea||Avalon Illumination||Crystal Ravel||Emerald Destiny||Scenic Amber||S.S. Maria Theresa||Viking Gullveig|
|Sailing Date||December 2, 2018||December 4, 2018||December 6 2018||December 8, 2018||December 9, 2018||December 2, 2018||December 1, 2018|
|Number of days||8||11||8||8||8||8||8|
|Cabin Category||Category CB||Category A, B, P||Petite Suite with Panoramic Balcony Window||Vista Deck Balcony C||Balcony Suite BA||Category 3||Veranda B|
|Balcony||French||French||French||French||Step out||French||Step out|
|Per diem/per person||$406||$288||$474||$368||$518||$687||$368|
|Port Charges||$168 ($21 per day)||$168 ($21 per day)||$175 ($25 per day)||Included||Included||Included||Included|
|Gratuities (on ship - non-compulsory)||$136 ($17 per day)||$90 ($11.25 per day)||Included||Included||Included||Included||$127 ($15.87 per day)|
|Gratuities (on shore - non-compulsory)||$20 ($2.50 per day)||Included||$20 ($2.50 per day)||included||Included||Included||$20 ($2.50 per day|
|Beverages||$80 ($10 per day)||$80 ($10 per day)||Included||$80 ($10 per day)||Included||Included||$80 ($10 per day)|
|Laundry||$24 ($3 per day)||$24 ($3 per day)||Included***||$24 ($3 per day); included for suites.||Included*||Included*||$24 ($3 per day)|
|Optional Shore Excursions||all excursions included||$100 ($9 per day)||$300 ($43 per day)||$100 ($12.50 per day)*||all excursions included||all excursions included||$100 ($12.50 per day)*|
|Incentive (links may have expired depending on end date of promotion)||n/a||n/a||n/a||Fly to Europe for $495pp. Source: Emerald Cruises||Economy Air from $995. Source: Scenic||Economy air included for those who book by September 30, 2017. Pay in full by September 30, 2017 for an additional 10 percent discount. Source: Uniworld||Economy air from $495 per person
|Our Estimated Value of Incentive||$0||n/a||n/a||$1100 ($137 per day)||$600 ($75 per day)||** $1,595 ($199 per day), plus $620 ($77 per day) for paying in full by incentive end date.||$1100 ($137 per day)|
|True Per Diem||$459||$342||$544||$256||$443||$411||$275|
Jim Sissine says
Do you prefer Viking or Crystal for a Christmas Market cruise on the Danube? Is there a cruise you would recommend like that includes both Vienna and Nuremberg before Christmas in 2019. Thank you!
Elsa Nystrom says
Love the Christmas Markets and would go again, but two things I observed that you don’t mention. The days are short, it gets dark around 3:30, especially if it is raining, which it often does. Also, the Christmas Markets in the Catholic areas traditionally begin on the First Sunday of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, this does not always fall on the same day.
Finally, the Christmas Markets are mainly for the people who live in the area, not for the tourists, and so although there are many handcrafted items, in the biggest markets, much of the ornaments come from China and elsewhere, and are, of course cheaper.
The one exception I found was in Budapest where all the products sold had to be certified as being made in Hungary.
Still, the decorations are great and worth seeing in themselves.