virtuoso global July 2019 It’s Not Too Early to Think about a Christmas Cruise

It’s Not Too Early to Think about a Christmas Cruise

Danube River views of the Hungarian Parliament Building captivate travelers’ imagination – especially during the holidays. 
Danube River views of the Hungarian Parliament Building captivate travelers’ imagination – especially during the holidays. 
Photo by Getty Images
Christmas in July? Here’s why you should book that holiday sailing now.  

Centuries-old church squares are an integral part of European river cruises, with celestial architecture that once witnessed the heartbeat of history. Each year, these meeting places come alive with the bustle of winter Christmas markets. And the best way to experience this spectacle of holiday spirit is on a city-hopping Christmas-market river cruise with companies such as AmaWaterways. “Each market has booths offering local products, food, and crafts that provide a real sense of place,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Julie Girone, recently who sailed such a cruise with AmaWaterways along the Danube River. “The AmaWaterways crew was fantastic, including the polyglot cruise manager and our cabin steward, who spoiled us with exemplary courtesy and service. Experiencing Europe’s Christmas markets has definitely made me less of a grinch, and sailing with Ama makes it impossible not to get into the festivities.”

In the midst of summer, that holiday spirit is probably far from your thoughts. But by the time the idea of a European Christmas-market river cruise comes to mind – maybe after your post-Thanksgiving-dinner nap – the soonest available sailings will likely be more than a year away. 

Jetting off to Europe for a holiday-themed river cruise isn’t generally a spur-of-the-moment decision: These sailings sell out fast, especially when you consider the fact that most European river ships only hold around 150 passengers. Book early and you’ll be rewarded – with more time to get excited about your upcoming trip, of course, but in many cases (including on AmaWaterways voyages), complimentary upgrades and surprise savings as well.
 
Here are four reasons to start planning for a Christmas cruise now.  

The <em>AmaMagna</em> cruises the Danube River under the watchful gaze of the Melk Abbey in Austria.
The AmaMagna cruises the Danube River under the watchful gaze of the Melk Abbey in Austria.

1. Europe in December is magical.

During the holiday season, the Danube and Rhine rivers take on a special glow, each with a distinct personality. A festive atmosphere envelops the Danube as ships weave past some of the continent’s grandest cities, including Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. The Rhine captivates cruisers with snow-dusted storybook towns and castles lining the riverbanks of historic cities such as Basel, Strasbourg, and Cologne. “The scenery and holiday decorations make up for the cooler weather during the winter season,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Nancy Yale, who recently sailed on the Danube. “Christmas markets are filled with wonderful and unusual handicrafts and gifts to please even the pickiest shopper.”
On the Rhine River, pause for warm treats at Strasbourg’s Marché de Noel.
On the Rhine River, pause for warm treats at Strasbourg’s Marché de Noel.

2. Holiday shopping has never been so fun.

With a piece of gingerbread in one hand and a mug of hot mulled wine in the other, travelers are ready to explore Europe’s timeless markets. Peruse Vorosmarty Square in Budapest, where more than half the vendors at this “handmade-only” Christmas marketplace are part of the Hungarian Artisan Association – you can purchase gifts from jewelers, potters, bookbinders, and even furriers. Choir music pours from the 150 vendor stalls at Vienna’s nineteenth-century Christkindlmarkt. Or pause for a kiss at the romantic Thurn and Taxis Palace in Regensburg, Germany. Take it from us, the snacking is just as fun as the shopping: Try the pan-fried Reibekuchen (potato pancakes with applesauce) in Cologne and fresh Bretzels with Emmentaler cheese at Strasbourg’s Marché de Noël. 

3. Don’t worry, it will still feel like Christmas.

Nostalgic holiday traditions (tree-trimming parties, hanging stockings by the fireplace) can sometimes get shunted aside in the holiday frenzy at home, but on a Christmas-themed cruise, those moments are celebrated. On AmaWaterways sailings, guests can hang tinsel and garland to their heart’s content during onboard celebrations, take part in ornament scavenger hunts, and leave their shoes outside their staterooms for Saint Nicholas to fill. (Our favorite: the freshly baked Christmas cookies delivered to your stateroom.)
Christmas cookies aren’t just for onboard room service: you can find these at the Christkindlmarkt in Vienna.
Christmas cookies aren’t just for onboard room service: you can find these at the Christkindlmarkt in Vienna.

4. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

To keep the Christmas cheer going, guests can choose to lengthen their holiday with pre- or post-cruise land extensions in port towns with guided excursions and helpful service of the cruise manager. Spend two nights in Budapest before sailing the Danube on the 156-passenger AmaLea or the new 196-passenger AmaMagna; extend your stay in Zürich after cruising the Rhine on board one of several AmaWaterways ships the ply the river; or plan to arrive in Prague early for some extra sightseeing before embarking on a Magical Christmas Market cruise aboard the 162-passenger AmaCerto or AmaSonata.
Arrive to Prague two days early to explore historic landmarks such as the Charles Bridge.
Arrive to Prague two days early to explore historic landmarks such as the Charles Bridge.
Photo by Getty Images
Book It: AmaWaterways is offering Holiday Triple Savings on four itineraries that include the highlights listed above. Choose between an eight-day Christmas Markets on the Danube or Christmas Markets on the Rhine sailing that tastefully balance European cultural highlights with Christmas spirit. If you want to dive straight into the holiday shopping festivities, consider the eight-day Iconic Christmas Markets and Magical Christmas Markets voyages, offered on the Danube River. Cruisers can save $1,000 per person – and snag stateroom upgrades and $50 onboard credits in the bargain – when they book select 2019 winter cruises before August 31.

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