Chateaux, Wine, and Europe’s Christmas Markets

Viking Embla (left) and Viking Freya (right), docked in Melk, Austria! Note the black hull on Viking Embla versus the white bow hull on Viking Freya. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Viking Embla (left) and Viking Freya (right), docked in Melk, Austria. This winter, we’re heading to France, Germany, Austria and Hungary with Viking River Cruises. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

What’s better than taking one river cruise? Taking two.

In late November, I’ll be travelling to Europe two solid weeks of river cruising adventure with Viking River Cruises. Our very special Live Voyage Report will last 15 days, highlight 12 ports of call in five different countries, incorporate seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and profile two of Viking’s beautiful Viking Longships sailing on two of the line’s most distinct itineraries.

Illustration © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Illustration © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Beginning November 22, 2014, we’ll embark the gorgeous Viking Forseti in Bordeaux, France for a week of sailing the Garonne, Gironde, and Dordogne rivers as part of one of Viking’s newest itineraries: the weeklong Chateaux, Rivers & Wine.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
November 22, 2014Bordeaux, FranceArrival; free time.
November 23Gironde River / Pauillac, FranceScenic Cruising / Medoc and Margaux wine country visit; wine tasting & evening at leisure
November 24Blaye, FranceTour of Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon free time or optional excursion to Cognac
November 25Libourne, FranceTour of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & Pomerol wine region; afternoon at leisure or optional excursion to Bergerac
November 26Garonne River / Cadillac, FranceScenic Cruising / Excursion to Sauternes wine region & wine tasting
November 27Cadillac, France / Bordeaux, FranceMorning city tour / evening at leisure in Bordeaux
November 28Bordeaux, FranceTour of city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon at leisure
November 29, 2014Bordeaux, FranceDisembark Viking Forseti; flight to Budapest, Hungary for the start of our next Live Voyage Report!
We're headed back to Bordeaux in November to report live from the full Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary with Viking River Cruises! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

We’re headed back to Bordeaux in November to report live from the full Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary with Viking River Cruises! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I was in Bordeaux briefly this past spring as part of Viking’s 2014 Viking Longship Christening Ceremonies. Situated along the Garonne River, Bordeaux today is an amazing destination in its own right. After having fallen into disrepair during the late 1990’s, the city embarked on a huge modernisation and restoration programme a decade and a half ago. Classic buildings were restored, tram lines installed, and pedestrian zones created. The result is arguably one of the most stunningly-preserved French cities outside of Paris.

Viking Forseti sailing the Gironde River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Viking Forseti sailing the Gironde River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The other big draw with this itinerary that Viking has created are the areas outside of Bordeaux. Bordeaux – the region – is home to some of the most famous wine producers in the world. Appellations found here include Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes, Medoc and Margaux – and Viking has developed land excursions here that are sure to please lovers of the grape.

If wine isn’t your thing, journey to Cognac where, unsurprisingly, Cognac comes from. Much like Champagne, true Cognac can only be called as such if it comes from the Cognac region in France. In March, I had the privilege to visit The House of CAMUS, one of the oldest Cognac producers in the region. While touring, I had the ability to even make my own variation of the popular spirit, and a return to Cognac and CAMUS is high on my list of things to do.

The House of CAMUS is situated in the picturesque countryside, and is worth visiting for the history and scenery alone. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The House of CAMUS is situated in the picturesque countryside, and is worth visiting for the history and scenery alone. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Then, there’s the Viking Forseti herself. One of Viking’s magnificent new Viking Longships, Viking Forseti was launched last year and repositioned to France for the 2014 season to inaugurate this new itinerary. As a Longship, she offers everything that makes these innovative river cruise ships so unique, from the soaring glass-topped atrium to the combination indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace that has become often imitated but never duplicated on other lines.

Viking Forseti also features economical ‘riverview’ staterooms, French Balcony staterooms, and staterooms that feature full, step-out balconies in addition to true suites.

Viking Baldur, December 2013. Note the change in carpeting, wall fabrics, seating, and lighting sources over previous ships. I love this design! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Viking Baldur, December 2013. Viking’s picturesque Longships are perfectly suited to cruising through Europe. Warm, inviting and technologically advanced. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I’m no stranger to the Viking Longships. I’ve sailed on many of them before, and I’ve spent a handful of days aboard Viking Forseti already. I look forward, however, to experiencing this fabulous itinerary with Viking. The fact that my home for seven days is a Viking Longship is just the icing on the cake; if you’ve been before, you’ll know these are ships that induce a feeling of warmth and comfort from the very first step onboard.

That’s not the end of our adventure, though. I’m sailing from Bordeaux aboard Viking Forseti because it’s one of Viking River Cruises’ newest itineraries, and a fantastic chance to showcase a part of France that may not quite get the same sort of press that is commonly afforded to locales like Normandy, Paris, and the Cote d’Azur.

The next river cruise, though, is a selfish favorite of mine: the spectacular Christmas Markets of the Danube.

The cozy Altweiner Christkindlmarkt only takes on a more festive feel as evening falls on Vienna. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The cozy Altweiner Christkindlmarkt only takes on a more festive feel as evening falls on Vienna. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

On November 29, I’ll trade Bordeaux, France for Budapest, Hungary in preparation for embarking the wonderful Viking Baldur for a week’s sailing through Europe’s stunning Christmas Markets between Budapest and Passau, Germany.

Although I’ve sailed the Danube many times at this festive time of year, I’ve never sailed Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary – and there are plenty of differentiations between it and the line’s other Danube-based river cruises. The weeklong Danube Waltz, for example, calls on Bratislava, Slovakia and Krems, Austria – two spectacular ports of call that are all-too-frequently left off of Danube river cruises.

Bratislava, Slovakia is a fabulous port of call - and I look forward to seeing it in the winter for the first time ever! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Bratislava, Slovakia is a fabulous port of call – and I look forward to seeing it in the winter for the first time ever! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The itinerary also includes plenty of old favorites too, including calls on Viannea, Melk, Linz (for Salzburg), and an overnight stay in Passau, Germany. The full itinerary:

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
November 29, 2014Budapest, HungaryFlight from Bordeaux, France to Budapest, Hungary. Overnight in Budapest
November 30Budapest, HungaryEmbark Viking Baldur; free time to visit the Christmas Market. Traditional Hungarian dinner onboard.
December 1, 2014Budapest, HungaryCity tour of Buda and Pest, including Castle District - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
December 2Bratislava, SlovakiaCity tour through Slovakia's capital
December 3Vienna, AustriaRingstrasse tour or free time; optional excursion to the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace; optional evening concert.
December 4Durnstein & Melk, AustriaFree time or optional walking tour in Durnstein; tour of Melk Abbey.
December 5Linz, AustriaFull day excursion to Salzburg, Austria; free time. Return to ship late at night.
December 6Passau, GermanyWalking tour & free time
December 7, 2014Passau, GermanyDisembark Viking Baldur; transfer to Munich, Germany for onward journey home.

Spectacular in the summertime, I believe the Danube in the heart of the winter months is the absolute best time of year to sail it. The summer tourists have largely left, and the Christmas Markets are out in nearly every city and town! These can range from small, simple affairs with only a handful of stalls to cities like Vienna that boast over a dozen different Christmas Markets of varying sizes and themes. There’s crafts, souvenirs, piping-hot soups, bratwurst, sauerkraut, and the mother of all winter drinks – Gluhwein. This mulled, spiced, absolutely fantastic hot beverage keeps the chill out of the air and just might put an extra spring in your step – particularly if you enjoy it mit Schuss – or spiked – with an additional shot of alcohol added to it.

Our journey aboard the Viking Baldur will run from Sunday, November 30 to Sunday, December 7.

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

If you’re keeping track, you might have noticed there’s an extra day in there. To allow for some breathing room between cruises, we’ll be spending a night in Budapest at the glorious Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Located on Erzsébet tér 7-8, the Kempinski Budapest is within walking distance of Viking’s prime docking location at the foot of the historic Chain Bridge, and is just steps away from Budapest’s own fabulous Christmas Market. It’s also an easy stroll to the city’s Great Market Hall, or Nagycsarnok in Hungarian, that was constructed in 1897. With 349 rooms (and 33 suites) – not to mention two on-site bars, two restaurants, and a coffee house – it seems like the perfect pairing with a Viking River Cruise.

We'll also be spending some time in Budapest at the lovely Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, Budapest. Photo courtesy of Kempinski Hotels.

We’ll also be spending some time in Budapest at the lovely Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, Budapest. Photo courtesy of Kempinski Hotels.

So join us in November for one spectacular Live Voyage Report as we spend 15 days sailing the rivers of Europe with Viking River Cruises!

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti and Viking Baldur will run from November 22 to December 7, 2014! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

Last month, one of the greatest mysteries in the history of polar exploration was solved when a team of researchers from Parks Canada located the HMS Erebus, the lead vessel in Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 quest for the Northwest Passage. Discovered off the coast of King William Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, she lies in just 11 metres (36 feet) of water, and is shockingly well-preserved.

Side-scan sonar image showing HMS Erebus, lead vessel in the Franklin Expedition, lying nearly perfectly preserved beneath the frigid Canadian arctic waters off King William Island. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

Side-scan sonar image showing HMS Erebus, lead vessel in the Franklin Expedition, lying nearly perfectly preserved beneath the frigid Canadian arctic waters off King William Island. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada.

The Northwest Passage would eventually be conquered, but not until 1906, when Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen spent three hard years navigating an east-west route aboard the small herring boat Gjøa.

The discovery of the HMS Erebus and the renewed interest in the fabled Northwest Passage is a subject that is very dear to the folks at Adventure Canada, one of the pioneers of expedition cruising in the Canadian Arctic. Since 2007, discerning guests have been able to traverse this historic route aboard the line’s rugged, ice-strengthened expedition cruise ships – and 2015 will be no exception.

The desolate landscape of Beechey Island has played an important role in history. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

The desolate landscape of Beechey Island has played an important role in the history of the Northwest Passage, and the Franklin Expedition.  Adventure Canada calls here in 2015. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

“It is a privilege to sail the Northwest Passage. Our northern heritage has shaped so much of what it means to be a Canadian, and the search for the Northwest Passage and later the Franklin party are an integral part of our national story. Sharing the excitement of discovery and tracing the route of polar explorers with our guests is an honour,” said Cedar Swan, Adventure Canada Vice-President. “The incredible discovery [of HMS Erebus] has sparked an elevated interest in the region among our guests. We look forward to seeing what a new era of Arctic discovery will bring.”

Acclaimed author Ken McGoogan, who has penned numerous titles on the Franklin Expedition including Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge and Race to the Polar Sea has also sailed with Adventure Canada on numerous occasions, and will once again rejoin the company as the Ocean Endeavour transits the Northwest Passage next year.

Adventure Canada has secured the 1982-built Ocean Endeavour - formerly Kristina Katarina - to operate their expedition adventures in 2015. Photo courtesy of Adventure Canada

Adventure Canada has secured the 1982-built Ocean Endeavour – formerly Kristina Katarina – to operate their expedition adventures in 2015. Photo courtesy of Adventure Canada

“This discovery is far more exciting, and potentially meaningful, than I expected it be,” said McGoogan. “This finding vindicates certain Inuit oral traditions suggesting that the demise of the Franklin expedition may have taken longer, and been more complex, than most experts expected. The trick is to stay tuned for further revelations, and I can’t wait to get back into the Arctic with Adventure Canada.”

Joining him will be fellow Canadian literary giant Margaret Atwood, who has penned everything from fiction novels to nonfiction works of historical importance, poetry, and even children’s books.

An expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage is a veritable adventure in its own right. It's a journey into a different world. Photo courtesy of Adventure Canada / Andrew Stewart

An expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage is a veritable adventure in its own right. It’s a journey into a different world. Photo courtesy of Adventure Canada / Andrew Stewart

In 2015, Adventure Canada offers two Northwest Passage itineraries: the 17-day, eastbound Into the Northwest Passage voyage from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Kugluktuk (Coppermine), Nunavut, Canada; or the 17-day reverse journey from Coppermine to Kangerlussuaq that Adventure Canada calls Out of the Northwest Passage. Both trips are operated aboard the 137 metre (450 foot)-long Ocean Endeavour, which is new to the Adventure Canada fleet for 2015. Recently refurbished from top-to-bottom, she sails with a maximum of 198 passengers and is equipped with a Class 1B Ice Rating that allows her to safely traverse the sometimes harsh environment of the High Arctic.

To get a proper idea of what she looks like, you can take a swanky Virtual Tour of the ship by clicking here. Ship buffs might remember her for her short stint with Kristina Cruises as their Kristina Katarina.

Adventure Canada's 2015 Northwest Passage itineraries either end or begin in the remote village of Kugluktuk (Coppermine), Nunavut, Canada. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Adventure Canada’s 2015 Northwest Passage itineraries either end or begin in the remote village of Kugluktuk (Coppermine), Nunavut, Canada. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Northwest Passage transits are rarer than even voyages to Antarctica – and they typically tend to sell out well in advance. If the Arctic and polar exploration have a hold on you, now’s the time to hop onboard.

More information on Adventure Canada’s dual Northwest Passage transits in 2015 can be found by visiting the Adventure Canada website.

 

There’s good news for fans of sailing out of Houston, Texas: Norwegian Cruise Line is back, and they’ve brought the beautiful Norwegian Jewel with them.

Norwegian Pearl's near-sister-ship, the Norwegian Jewel, at what would become our berth in Juneau. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Jewel, seen here in Juneau, Alaska, is sailing from Houston, Texas throughout the winter of 2014-15. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

From now until April 11, 2015, Norwegian Jewel will be sailing three different Western Caribbean itineraries roundtrip from the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Houston, Texas. It marks the first time Norwegian Cruise Line has returned to the region since withdrawing in 2008.

One of Norwegian Jewel’s new Western Caribbean itineraries from Houston:

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Day 1Houston, TexasEmbark Norwegian Jewel4:00 PM
Day 2At Sea
Day 3Cozumel, Mexico8:00 AM5:00 PM
Day 4Belize City, Belize8:00 AM6:00 PM
Day 5Roatan, Honduras8:00 AM4:00 PM
Day 6At Sea
Day 7At Sea
Day 8Houston, Texas8:00 AMDisembark

There’s a couple of advantages of sailing from the Port of Houston. Firstly, the city’s two main airports (George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby) are only 45 minutes to an hour away from the Houston Cruise Terminal. Most other cruises leaving from the great state of Texas do so from a city called Galveston – nearly 90 minutes away, if traffic is good.

The other advantage to sailing from Houston is that the port is located right in Houston itself – meaning more shops, hotels, and restaurants. It’s not a knock on Galveston at all, but for those who are travelling significant distances to reach Houston in the first place, it’s nice to not have to travel even further to reach the Norwegian Jewel.

Cozumel, Mexico as seen from onboard Grandeur of the Seas. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Cozumel, Mexico is a featured port of call on Norwegian Jewel’s Western Caribbean sailings from Houston. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Cruise Line has a long history of sailing out of Houston; the line used to use the city as their homebase for their popular “Texaribbean” sailings to the Western Caribbean, first aboard Norwegian Sea, then aboard Norwegian Dream. While the official title of Norwegian Jewel’s sailings read as “7-Day Western Caribbean from Houston”, longtime Norwegian Cruise Line fans can pretty much call this a return to the glory days of the Texaribbean cruise – just with a larger, more modern ship operating the run.

Capable of carrying 2,376 guests, the Norwegian Jewel is the lead ship in Norwegian’s highly-successful Jewel Class of cruise ships that also includes Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jade, and Norwegian Gem. At 965 feet in length, they’re plenty big, offering dozens of different restaurants, bars and lounges. But they’re still small enough to offer lots of intimate little spaces and plenty of room for guests onboard.

Click here to read our full Live Voyage Report from onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl in Alaska!

Staterooms range from comfortable and economical 143-square foot Inside Staterooms to the top-of-the-line suites found in The Haven, Norwegian’s luxury ship-within-a-ship concept. There are four different varieties of Haven Suites aboard Norwegian Jewel, the largest of which spans an amazing 4,891 square feet spread across three separate bedrooms, a spacious living area with a commanding view of the Pool Deck, a private Jacuzzi, and even a grand piano. Naturally, luxuries like this come with full concierge and butler service.

Bar Central aboard the Norwegian Pearl, Deck 6, is one of my favorite spaces onboard thanks to its cozy atmosphere and plush seating. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Bar Central aboard Norwegian Jewel’s near-sister,  Norwegian Pearl. Despite being large ships, there’s still plenty of unique and intimate spaces to suit every personal taste onboard. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

That, really, is Norwegian’s strongest suit: they’ve spent decades perfecting their unique style of mainstream cruising, adding in numerous options to suit every style, taste and budget surrounded by an onboard environment that is fun, welcoming and inviting, yet increasingly more upscale than Norwegian has perhaps been known for.

More details on Norwegian Jewel’s Houston deployment can be found by visiting the Norwegian Cruise Line website.

 

 

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