Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Thu November 26 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | November 26, 2015 1:00 AM ET

    7 Reasons to Take a Christmas Market Cruise

    7 Reasons to Take a Christmas Market Cruise

    PHOTO: Strasbourg Christmas market. (photo courtesy of the Office de Tourisme de Strasbourg et sa Region)

    Christmas market cruises are extremely popular on Europe’s famous waterways aboard numerous river ships. They can be an excellent way to try a river cruise for the first time, or to get a new outlook on an area during the holiday season. Here are seven reasons to consider a Christmas market cruise.

    Bring Home Unique Gifts for the Family

    Christmas markets have a wealth of handmade items and ornaments — many with a holiday theme — as well as authentic jewelry, candles, glass creations, sweets and treats, ceramics and children’s toys. These markets are adorned with colorful lights and elegant decorations. A personal favorite is Strasbourg, France, reported to be Europe’s first Christmas market (dating back to 1570). It now boasts more than 300 stalls spread out in 10 locations, and even has a dedicated children’s village and a donation charity center — located right next to the giant Christmas tree.

    The Landscape is Magical in the Winter

    These cruises don’t have to be all about the Christmas markets; the scenery outside the cruise ship’s windows can sooth the soul and calm the spirit as snow quietly blankets the countryside. Along the Rhine River, the stretch between Koblenz and Speyer, Germany is especially scenic with numerous castles overlooking the frosty hilltops. On Danube River cruises, several companies (like Viking and Emerald Waterways) visit Melk, Austria, where guests can tour a 900-year-old abbey and Benedictine monastery that transports travelers back in time.

    A True Christmas Feeling

    While Santa Claus displays at U.S. shopping malls are great for the kids, Christmas shopping can often take on an artificial, commercialized feeling. However, shopping for handmade gifts in beautiful, but chilly markets while sipping hot chocolate does wonders to evoke the Christmas spirit. River cruises often stop at small towns and villages that feel straight out of a fairytale, and money spent goes directly to the local community.

    Witness How a Different Culture Celebrates

    While some Christmas traditions are the same as in the U.S., others add a new element to the holiday. In some areas you’ll encounter jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, dance groups, drama performances, choirs and music ensembles. Larger markets may have ice-skating, tobogganing, Nativity scenes with live animals, as well as carriage rides, carousels and even unusual, medieval plague processions.

    Lower Prices than Summer and Fall

    Christmas market cruises are often significantly lower than peak-season cruises during the summer months. For example, the “Danube Waltz” itinerary with Viking River Cruises has a $3,356 per person rate in September, and $2,156 for December departures. AmaWaterways has cruise-only rates for its Rhine and Danube holiday sailings that are around $500 less than summer prices. These lower rates make the end of the year ideal for first-time, river cruise passengers — particularly those with time off from work during the holiday season.

    Try New Culinary Specialties

    Traveling from city to city during the holidays allows travelers to sample traditional cuisine without having to shell out for a sit-down meal at a restaurant. Numerous street vendors sell local specialties at affordable prices.

    In Bratislava, look for sausages and “gypsy” meat roasts, or potato pancakes (both sweet and spicy) stuffed with cheese, Nutella or other fillings.

    In Austria, you’ll find roasting chestnuts, gingerbread and plum cakes, and krapfen, a doughnut-like pastry with filling and powdered sugar. In Germany, there’s plenty of mulled wine to keep cruisers warm, hot chocolate (served in collectable mugs) and Christmas biscuits.

    Christmas Market Cruises Are Coming to the U.S.

    If an international flight isn’t in the cards this year, there is a new cruise option that gives travelers a sample of the Christmas market experience — with some Cajun and Creole culture thrown in the mix. The American Queen Steamboat Company is introducing Christmas market cruises on the Mississippi River in luxury paddlewheel ships. There are six different departures available between New Orleans and Memphis with stops at dedicated Christmas markets for ornaments and handcrafted gifts. Carolers, eggnog and holiday music concerts complete the experience. 


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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