River Cruising For the Holidays


Basel, Switzerland
On Rhine River cruises, passengers can stop and enjoy holiday festivities in Basel, Switzerland.


Holiday river cruises deliver a totally different European experience than the same itineraries in peak summer season. Towns take on a festive atmosphere as cruisers stroll through old-fashioned Christmas markets, originally created hundreds of years ago to celebrate the start of Advent. Amid wooden stalls and real fir garlands, visitors browse for handcrafted gifts, wooden toys, St. Nicholas carvings, glassware, candles, marionettes, ornaments, Christmas cribs and culinary treats.

Christmas market cruises operate from late November to just before Christmas, and in some cases, for some time after. Danube cruises visit such cities as Budapest and Vienna, while Rhine River cruises sail to such places as Cologne and Strasbourg. Some Mosel River holiday cruises also call at such fairytale-like German towns as Cochem and Bernkastel

River boats usually dock in downtown areas, so the touring and shopping can begin right away. Salzburg has one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets, dating to the 15th century; its 85 stalls sell holiday items as well as pewterware and durable loden coats.

Sailing to St. Nick

AMA Waterways has a Romantic Christmas Cruise, a combination of a seven-night Danube cruise and two nights in Prague. A new Rhine Winter Voyage spends two nights each in Zurich and Lucerne, Switzerland, in addtion to the seven-night cruise from Basel to Amsterdam.


Holiday Hot Spots

Nuremberg: Attracting more than 2 million visitors annually, Nuremberg’s Christmas market, said to be Germany’s oldest, boasts 180 stalls festooned with red-and-white cloth. Specialties include spicy gingerbread, Christmas tree angels, Nuremberg Plum People (little figures made from prunes), candles and toys.
Prague: Several Christmas markets in Prague sell such holiday gift items as Czech marionettes, Bohemian crystal, handcrafted jewelry and St. Nicholas carvings. Clients with a sweet tooth may try the honeyed gingerbread or the braided sweet bread with raisins and almonds.
Vienna: One classic market is at Schonbrunn Palace, another at City Hall. Goods include beeswax candles, wooden toys, ornaments, glassware and such treats as candied fruit, cotton candy, cream-filled pastries and roasted chestnuts.
Strasbourg, France: Many believe Strasbourg is home to the top Christmas market in France. Specialties include nativity scenes, holiday ornaments and stuffed white storks (the city’s symbol). Your clients might try a local Alsacian favorite called Flammekeuche or flamed cake.
Passau, Germany: Passau’s Christmas market has 70 small stalls. In addition to shopping for holiday-themed items and crafts, cruisers might sample bratwurst with a cup of Gluhwein, essentially hot mulled wine spiced with such ingredients as vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks, citrus, sugar and cloves.

AMA Waterways offers an 11-night Christmas Time cruise with two nights in Prague and a cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest. On Day 6 in Regensburg, guests take a guided tour of the medieval city and then visit either the Old Kommarkt Christmas market to browse festive stalls adorned with fir branches, or Christmas markets at the Thum and Taxis Palace, where traditional handicrafts are sold and craftspeople demonstrate their skills.

U.S. departures are November 26 and December 10 for itineraries starting in Prague; fares start at $1,999 per person double or $2,959 for air, cruise and land.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s European holiday cruises on the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers are nine to 14 days long. Five all-inclusive wintertime packages come with a riverview stateroom, shore excursions and more.

The company’s nine-day Danube Holiday Markets cruise on the River Queen between Passau and Budapest includes a visit to Vienna, where your clients will travel along the Ringstrasse and view St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where Mozart was married in 1782. Guests on this itinerary also will visit two Vienna Christmas markets. The first, Austria’s most famous Christmas market with 140 wooden huts, is adjacent to City Hall. The second market visited, at Freyung Square, dates from 1772. Cruise-only departures start at $1,899 per person double.

Alternatively, a nine-day Rhine Holiday Markets cruise on River Queen will take guests to three countries. Guests will visit the Christmas markets of Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France, as well as those in Heidelberg, Koblenz and Cologne. Prices start at $1,899 per person double. Upgrades to higher-level categories can be had for $175 to $1,395 extra per person double.

Viking River Cruises has several new 10-day Christmas itineraries the Rhine or Danube rivers. Space was still available at presstime on the European Winter Sojourn between Budapest and Passau on December 18 aboard Viking Sky and December 19 aboard Viking Pride. Included are riverview accommodations, daily guided tours, all meals and Christmas market visits. European Winter Sojourn starts at $1,622 per person double. The line also has space on its Winter Holiday voyage from Nuremberg to Vienna aboard Viking Legend on December 19; fares start at $2,122.

Viking now pays agents commission averaging more than $1,000 per booking on everything it sells—including port charges.

Clients may also sail later this year with Avalon Waterways on an eight-day Heart of Germany holiday itinerary between Frankfurt and Prague, which includes a five-night cruise and guided sightseeing in Miltenberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Prague. Guests also attend a traditional baking demo, and visit Würzburg’s Bishop’s Residenz, Bamberg’s Old Town Hall and medieval Rothenburg on the famed Romantic Road. Pricing starts at $1,809 per person double.

A new Christmastime in Germany and Austria itinerary gives clients the best of both the Rhine and Danube regions with an 11-night cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna. Guided sightseeing is included in calls at Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Munich, Regensburg, Melk and Vienna. Fares begin at $2,769 per person double.