What in the world is a Christmas Market cruise?! You need a European river cruise in your life!
Updated: Jan 16
Why does a Christmas Market river cruise need to be in your life?!
Mention Christmas market river cruises in almost any group and you'll find that many people have one on their bucket lists. It sounds like a charming way to kick off their own holiday season. What better reason to get the family together for an amazing trip! There are several itineraries available for these unforgettable European river cruise destinations.
Here are some reasons to help you decide that a Christmas market cruise needs to be on YOUR bucket list, too.
Shopping: Doing your Christmas shopping in the European markets while on a river cruise almost guarantees that the gifts you put under the tree will be unique. Imagine: Wooden toys, hand-blown glass, scarves, hats, and leather goods. There are specialty teas, honey, wine, and liqueurs. Handmade ornaments, made of wood, paper, lace, and glass. The real secret to market shopping is pacing yourself. On an average cruise, you may visit as many as 10 different Christmas markets, and items that are special to that city or town at each one. While English-speaking attendants can be found in some stalls, but not all, but prices in euros are clearly marked. Cash is the easiest way to shop in the markets themselves, but some stalls may also accept credit cards, particularly for larger items.
Ambiance: The ships will have festive decor, but the real treats are the markets and their locations. Nuremberg's red-and-white canopies, set in the medieval city center, Regensburg Thurn and Taxis market stall with pine branches in front of a towering palace... Each market has a unique style. The aromas of the holiday drift through the markets from fire pits and barrels burning for warmth, gingerbread baking, and chestnuts roasting. Most cruises visit a few markets after dark so you can enjoy the lights that decorate stalls and the squares and parks where the markets take place. Public buildings and plazas are adorned with wreaths, bows, and lights.
You Don't Have to Shovel THIS Snow: If the white stuff falls, you can sit back and enjoy it without all the work that comes with it! The bulk of the Christmas market cruises take place in Germany. The weather is relatively mild during December, with daily highs in the mid-30's. Precipitation, averaging only 2 or 3 inches along both the Danube and the Rhine, is just as likely to be in the form of rain as it is snow. Make sure you plan your outerwear accordingly. Layers are your friend!
Mulled Wine: Hot spiced wine, known as gluhwein in Germany or glogg in Sweden, is a staple of Christmas markets throughout Europe. Serious oenophiles enjoy wandering through street vendors sipping steaming cheap wine from kitschy souvenir mugs. Recipes differ but expect some version of red wine, lightly spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and oranges heated to around 170 degrees. You may be offered something with a little more kick, such as brandy, amaretto, Grand Marnier or vodka. Kinderpunsch or punch is a non-alcoholic version. In many markets, you pay for the wine and a refundable deposit on the mug. Should you decide to keep the mug as a souvenir, you may purchase refills at subsequent stalls as you wind your way through the market.
Sweets and Treats: Sweets range from chocolate-dipped dried fruit on skewers to elaborate pastries. Nutella or fruit-topped waffles are favorite. Fried apples, doughnuts, and strudel are abundant in Germany. Here are a few sweets by their common market names:
- Schmalzkuchen: vanilla- or lemon-flavored balls of fried dough, rolled in sugar
- Lebkuchen: gingerbread cookies, often heart-shaped and coated in chocolate or sugar icing
- Maroni: sweet, roasted chestnuts
- Heibe Schokolade: Hot chocolate, for those not interested in mulled wine
- Pfannkuchen: crepes, often filled with cream, Nutella or fruit
Savory treats: Sausages top the list. They can be served fat or thin, fried or flame-grilled, in fresh, crusty rolls, topped with optional sauerkraut and mustard. Recipes are regional, so feel free to try one at each stop. For research. Also try potato pancakes called kartoffelpfannkuchen and potato dumplings, kartoffelknodel. Annie says, "Every time I go to Regensburg, Germany I get the sausages. "
Christmas Culture: Delight in the traditions and celebrations of the holiday season. Family and church play huge roles in these celebrations, as does food. Immerse yourself in the cultures you visit, even beyond the markets. Most ships offer tours of cathedrals and abbeys. And, onboard entertainment often includes local musicians and singers brought on in ports of call, often performing Christmas music. Speak with the crew members. They are eager to share their own holiday traditions with guests, including music, games, and visits from Saint Nicholas. Tour guides in every city will discuss how their city and its inhabitants celebrate.
Scenery: The scenery along the banks of the rivers can be romantic. The winter landscapes, often dusted by snow… Sipping hot chocolate or coffee in a festive lounge full of fellow cruisers, future friends... Fewer outdoor activities are available to passengers on winter cruises, the itineraries will often include more daytime cruising between ports. Days in December are short, with sunrise near 8 a.m. and sunsets around 4 p.m. The potential is higher for gray skies running days on end. Open-air areas that are so popular during the summer cruise season are often off-limits or frigid at best.
Less Crowded Sites: The Christmas market cruise season is fairly busy, it is much quieter than summer. That translates to smaller crowds almost everywhere you go (other than the markets, obviously). The lines are shorter at museums, theaters, galleries and other non-shopping areas, and sightseeing is easier. And cruise prices during the market season are often as much as 30 percent lower than in midsummer.
Intrigued? Get in touch today. Drop me a quick email, or pick up the phone and call me at 405.310.7588. Planning travel has never been easier!
Erin Smith ~ Affinity Group Travel Advisor