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Christmas Markets

September 27, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent


Nuremberg Christmas market
Clients can browse nearly 200 stalls at the Nuremberg Christmas market.


Putting clients in the holiday spirit may be as simple as qualifying them for a river cruise to Europe’s twinkling Christmas markets. On such a river voyage, clients may stroll among hundreds of Christmas market stalls in different cities, buy handcrafted gifts or holiday ornaments, and savor the tastes of traditional European food, such as sausages, baked apples or roasted almonds. And, since the weather is cool, clients may warm up with a hot mulled cider, gluhwein or hot chocolate.

Many Christmas markets kick off on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays prior to Christmas Eve. Others end in the few days prior to Christmas, while a few continue through Epiphany in the first week of January. Most Christmas markets center around the tradition of an “Advent Market” that through the centuries has filled the square in front of or near the town’s cathedral or city hall. For example, Vienna’s ornate Town Hall, the neo-Gothic styled “Rathaus,” is typically decked out as a gigantic Advent Calendar.

Christmas market river cruises are becoming increasingly popular with repeat river cruisers, former tour guests and those who just want to see Europe in a new way. Short and long options provide flexibility for agents in making the sale. For example, Avalon Waterways offers a weeklong “Christmas in the Heart of Germany” option between Prague and Frankfurt, Germany; fares start at $1,719 per person double. In contrast, the line also has a more robust, 15-night “Grand Christmastime Cruise” from Zurich, Switzerland, to Vienna, which starts at just $4,098. 

For 2012, space is tight on certain ships or lines, but a quick check by Travel Agent magazine revealed reasonable availability on a number of voyages, plus the lines also have put 2013 Christmas market cruises up for sale. Selling a 2013 cruise affords your clients the best range of accommodations choices, not to mention more time to prepare. They also receive early booking discounts. 

Christmas Treats
This market stall in Salzburg displays candies, cookies, ornaments and other Christmas treats.

Why not create a Christmas markets of Europe event, whether an evening cruise night reception in your agency office, at a local German or Austrian restaurant, or at a retirement community clubhouse, church hall or other local venue? Put people in the holiday spirit with appropriate music, serve holiday cookies and treats, put up holiday decorations, and tap into cruise line resources to help sell individual cabins for 2012 or a group cruise for 2013, or both. 

Many river lines have dedicated sections of their websites devoted to Christmas market cruises. For example, agents might go to Viking River Cruises’ website to download or view an online pdf of the line’s Christmas Cruises brochure. Viking has holiday voyages on the Rhine, Danube and Seine.

Regardless of the line selected, how do you sell such cruises? 

Sell the Old World Europe Experience: For historically minded clients, nothing beats the thrill of immersing oneself in fairytale Old World Europe. Destinations like Vienna or Rudesheim, Germany, exude that feeling year-round with their historical architecture. But late in the year, they’re even more appealing as they’re decked out in garland and holiday lighting displays. 

So talk about how travelers visiting German Christmas markets might try the cinnamon-infused gluhwein or the Stollen breads, as Germans have enjoyed for hundreds of years. Let clients know that in Vienna, the city’s “Christkindlmarkt” is distinguished by rows of wooden huts leading to the Town Hall; it’s a tradition that’s continued for more than seven centuries. Clients heading to Salzburg, Austria, on a river cruise day trip might hop onboard a horse-drawn Christmas carriage; paint a picture of Old World Europe and how to replicate that. 

Sell the Holidays: For a certain group of clients, getting into the holiday spirit well in advance of Christmas or New Year’s Eve is incredibly important to them personally; they’re often clients for whom the holidays have been a “big deal” since childhood. In a unique twist to your prospect list segmentation, find clients who typically celebrate for weeks in advance of the holidays. They’re great prospects. 

If your clients say they need to be home to enjoy holiday decorations and traditions, they may not understand the level of celebration that occurs overseas. Most cities along the Danube, Rhine or Mosel, boast amazing holiday displays, thousands of twinkling lights, as well as holiday singers, traditional creches and decorated trees. Rudesheim fields what’s said to be Europe’s largest depiction of the Christian nativity scene.

While most Christmas market voyages are on the Danube, Rhine or Mosel, clients will also discover some unique options elsewhere. On a Uniworld “Parisian Winter Holiday” sailing, cruisers will sample traditional Normandy pancakes and cider while in Les Andelys, France, browse through a traditional Christmas market in the Medieval town of Rouen, and enjoy Paris, the City of Lights, in full holiday regalia. 

Sell the Shopping: Shoppers will find holiday decor and plenty of traditional crafts and ornaments. They may also find unique gifts for sale, including hand-carved puppets, jewelry, honey liquor, handblown glassware, candles, wood figures, and ornate ceramic dishes and mugs.

Some of the Christmas markets have multiple sections, some cover specialties in certain sections, and some cities have multiple types of markets. In Germany, for example, the Nuremberg Christmas market boasts nearly 200 stalls, while Cologne has numerous different markets; one is the Domplatz market near the Cologne Cathedral and another is a Medieval Christmas market. 

Sell the Pampering: When people do holiday shopping in the U.S., they hit the mall, walk all day, and then usually have to return home to cook dinner and do chores. Explain that this doesn’t happen on a river cruise, where shoppers just collapse in style onboard. 

Cruisers are served dinner onboard, they relax with drinks, and they enjoy nightly entertainment. Meanwhile, their cabin steward is cleaning their stateroom or suite and turning down the bed. 

Sell the Onboard Holiday Experience: Typically, river vessels put out holiday treats and even elaborate gingerbread houses. Most decorate public areas with holiday garland and trees. Guests may also discover that even their stateroom or suite doors are decorated, or, at turn down, that they’re given holiday treats.

Onboard cuisine and activities reflect the season. For 2012, Tauck has weeklong Rhine and Danube Christmas market sailings; holiday touches include an onboard tree-trimming party and gluhwein and other treats in the Lido Bar.

Sell the Value: The experience, holiday activities, shopping and pampering are great hooks, but outlining the inclusive value of a river cruise can help close the sale. River cruising typically includes the cruise, meals, onboard entertainment, wine with dinner, and for some lines, walking tours in city centers or specialized visits to attractions. Gratuities, fees and other perks may also be included, varying by line. 

Helping sell the value are diverse itineraries that deliver unique holiday experiences. AMA Waterways, for example, offers a Christmas Time Cruise that combine two nights in Prague with Christmas markets between Nuremberg and Budapest, or the Christmas on the Rhine with two nights in Zurich, two nights in Lucerne, Switzerland, and a seven-night cruise from Basel to Amsterdam.

Using the value of early booking discounts as a hook, it’s a great time to interest clients in purchasing a 2013 Christmas markets cruise. These cruises also make a great holiday gift for a client to give to a spouse, close friend or relatives. It’s the season to go cruising.

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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | September 27, 2012
River cruisers seek out holiday shopping in Europe for off-season fun.