Maybe it’s because I was getting older, but in the past few years I had found myself growing out of the whole Christmas/Holiday spirit. As a kid, I always enjoyed the holiday season – as most kids do.  But as I got older, it seemed that the holiday music, décor and endless advertisements offering blowout sales only started cropping up earlier and hung around longer.  The message: spend money, and lots of it. It’s Christmas!

And then, last year, I traveled to Europe during the second week of December to take a Christmas Markets river cruise. And the entire experience held me spellbound.

Entering the Budapest Christmas Market at dusk; an amazing experience! Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

While sailing from Nuremberg to Budapest, I discovered that the magic of the holiday season is still alive and well in Germany, Austria and Hungary.  Every single city, town and village seemingly had a Christmas Market – or two.  Vienna alone boasts 13 distinct Christmas Markets, or Weihnachtsmarkt, including one on the grounds of the Rathaus, Vienna’s imposing City Hall.

These markets are all located outside, usually in the historic town square.  In Regensburg, a Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt, or Romantic Christmas Market, is held at Schloss Thurn und Taxis.  Wooden stalls, gravel pathways lined with wood-burning fire pits, and plenty of mulled, spiced wine known as Gluhwein was available.

Strolling the grounds of the Romantic Christmas Market at Schloss Thurn und Taxis. Photo © Aaron Saunders

I felt like I had stepped back in time.  There were no lines filled with people pushing and shoving to be the first to get some new cellphone. Instead, families wandered around, sipping Gluhwein (or kinderpunsch for the little ones), laughing, joking, and enjoying themselves.  People stopped off to get an amazing array of smoked meats like bratwurst, while holiday treats like traditional German Lebkuchen filled the air with a sweet, warming aroma.

It was the kind of experience I thought only existed in books.

Christmas decor aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLyra. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam to witness the christening of four of Viking River Cruises stunning new Viking Longships. Staying aboard the Viking Odin for two days, I was shocked at the sight of the beautiful, modern décor that was surrounded at every turn by floor-to-ceiling glass windows.  There’s no doubt: these new Longships are beautiful by both day and night.

What’s more, when we set sail for a mini-cruise around Amsterdam, I was caught by surprise. The ship was so quiet, I had no idea we were even moving until I looked up and noticed we had undocked.

Crew of the Viking Odin during christening ceremonies in Amsterdam, March 21, 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of light, and make dinner a particularly special occasion. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Upper Reception Area features plenty of comfortable seating and great views. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

That’s not a knock against other river cruise ships, but more of a reflection of the direction Viking is taking their fleet.  They re-thought the traditional river cruising experience, adding nice touches like a soaring, two-deck high atrium topped with glass.  Heated floors were added to stateroom bathrooms. There’s even a herb garden located on the ship’s Sun Deck.

Viking Idun, sister-ship to Viking Odun, berthed next to the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Two days onboard, much of it alongside the pier in Amsterdam, was a tease.  So the opportunity to combine the amazing Christmas Markets with a weeklong voyage from Budapest to Nuremberg aboard the new Viking Freya seemed like the start of a great Holiday tradition.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
December 1, 2012Amsterdam, NetherlandsOvernight Pre-Cruise Stay
December 2Budapest, HungaryFlight to Budapest, Embark Viking Freya
December 3Budapest, HungaryCity Tour of "Buda" and "Pest."
December 4Vienna, AustriaPanoramic Ringstrasse City Tour; visits to Christmas Markets
December 5Cruise the Wachau Valley / Melk, AustriaCrusing the Danube / Melk Abbey Tour
December 6Passau, GermanyWalking tour; free time; visit to Christmas Markets
December 7Regensburg / Kelheim, GermanyWalking tour; free time; visit to Christmas Market / Optional Danube Gorge excursion and Kelheim Christmas Market
December 8Nuremberg, GermanyCity tour & guided walk; Optional World War II excursion; visit Nurember's Christmas Market
December 9Nuremberg, GermanyReturn flights home.

A KLM Airbus A330-200 waits at the gate at Vancouver International Airport for the return flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The stop-over in Amsterdam was a last-minute decision necessitated mainly by flight scheduling: KLM runs a non-stop flight between Vancouver and Amsterdam on six times a week, but not on Saturdays. I’ve learned from past experience that I’d rather get to Europe and spend a day there before continuing on if flight schedules don’t work out.  Plus, it gives me the chance to experience this beautiful Dutch city’s Christmas Markets. I’m also looking forward to flying with KLM again for the first time in over a year; my past experience with the airline was enjoyable and positive (they even served an honest-to-God cheeseburger on our flight to Athens!)

So come along with us as we return to the Danube to experience the beauty of the European Christmas Markets aboard one of the newest and most innovative river cruise ships afloat.  Live Coverage begins on Saturday, December 1 and continues through Sunday, December 9. It’s eight days of river cruising fun here on From the Deck Chair!

View from the French Balcony of stateroom 224 aboard Viking Odin. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya begins on Saturday with a pre-cruise stay in Amsterdam prior to embarking our brand-new Viking Longship in Budapest, Hungary on Sunday, December 2!

 

3 Responses to Live Voyage Preview: Europe’s Danube Christmas Markets with Viking River Cruises

  1. Nicholas Sabalos says:

    Wishing you a great journey, Aaron!

    (I look forward to a “virtual” and festive river cruise starting this weekend, as I head home from sunny Florida to dingy Virginia today.)

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Thank you, Nicholas! I’m looking forward to trading the rain and damp of Vancouver…for the rain and damp of Europe!

  2. Kim says:

    Wish I was ther but. Will be there soon! Have fun!

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