A guest blog by GTN Advisor, Paige Huggins of Mirabelle Travel
The Magic of Christmas truly comes to life on an AmaWaterways Christmas Market River cruise. My husband, Justin, and I had the pleasure of boarding one of these cruises in November 2019 through an educational program with my host agency – Gifted Travel Network. Our journey started onboard the AmaSonata in Budapest, Hungary. The ship sailed from Budapest upstream the Danube river through Austria and ended in Nuremberg Germany.
The Christmas Markets
When you first look at your itinerary for a Christmas market, you may feel like it is Christmas market overload. For example, our itinerary went a bit like: Day 1- embarkation, day 2-6 Christmas markets all day every day, day 7, disembark. Even for a girl who loves Christmas (and I do!) this may seem like a lot. But I would wholeheartedly tell you the opposite is true. We could not get enough of the Christmas markets – each one was unique and charming in its own special way. Many are located in the courtyard of amazing places – like the Schonbrunn Palace or the Thurn & Taxis market in Regensberg. Even the spiced mulled wine (‘Gluhwein’ in German or ‘Foralt Bor’ in Hunagrian) was different at each of the markets we visited.
The first market we visited was in Budapest. The market is situated in streets of the fashion district of Pest. Here you will find handwoven Egyptian cotton scarves, an epicurean feast in the food court, hand-made artisan goods and cozy little pop-up cabins for drinking your Gluhwein. I highly recommend trying one of Budapest’s Kürtőskalács. They are only found in Hungary and they are yummy doughy treats, wrapped around a cone and roasted over charcoals. They are then topped with cinnamon and sugar and they are served hot. They are worth every calorie.
In Vienna, we visited 3 different Christmas markets in a single day. The first market was situated perfectly between two museums. It was the smallest of the markets we visited that day but it was very charming. The second Christmas market we visited was at the Schonbruen Palace. This palace is truly a marvel to look at. It was probably the busiest of all the markets we visited but its location could not be beat.
The biggest and most iconic Christmas market in Vienna, we visited at night at Rathausplatz. This market was huge! It had an ice-skating rink, a dedicated children’s area, tons or market shops, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread, a Ferris wheel, and So. Much. MORE!
Many of the passengers opted for the daytrip to Salzburg instead of spending the day at Christmas markets in Passau. But we found Passau to be incredibly delightful. The streets were lit up with Christmas lights. There were adorable little alleyways filled with local shops that we found irresistible. The Christmas market in Passau was cute but it did not do the community as a whole justice. My pro tip is to quickly visit the market here but use the remaining time to explore the town on foot.
Regensberg is a very special stop on your cruise. We began the morning with a walking tour of the city – we walked by Regensberg’s historic sausage kitchen, known as Wurstkuche. Wurstkuche is the oldest continuously operated restaurant and has been serving patrons for almost 900 years! It’s a gem. Do. Not. Miss it!
In the afternoon, after the walking tour of Regensberg we visited the Christmas market in the courtyard of the Thurn and Taxis Palace. This was our favorite market we visited. It was special and romantic and was like a dream come true. This market is less crowded because there is an entrance fee required to get in (which is included in your cruise fare) but it helps to keep the crowds from impeding the enjoyment of the site. Hot Bavarian food is served, and throughout the courtyard are open fire pits burning for patrons to keep warm and drink their Gluhwein. This market was simply magic.
Nuremburg had the single largest Christmas market of our trip. There was a little bit of something for everyone here. The market was in the Hauptmarkt- the town’s central square. They had a dedicated children’s area, live music in front of the cathedral, and an area dedicated for other countries. It was bittersweet to visit this market because it was our last on the trip, but we soaked in every minute and finished off our Christmas gift purchases.
Onboard the Ship
AmaWaterways staff does an amazing job of making you feel at home from the moment you step onboard the ship. They take the time to get to know you by name and by the time you leave, you are sharing email addresses and hugs. The ship was decorated from stern to bow with Christmas décor.
When you embark, the first thing scheduled is an introduction meeting. This is where you meet your invaluable cruise manager, hotel manager, chef, wellness host and the captain of the ship. Your cruise manager will review your itinerary and make sure you have all the information you need to know during your stay.
The chef makes sure no one ever goes hungry. They offer light snacks in the lounge area between meals. We didn’t have more than an hour on the ship where they weren’t offering some type of snack. There are no excuses for being hangry on board an AmaWaterways ship. Meals are typically served over several courses in the main dining room – where you have open seating. Wine and beer is included during your dinner meal and during cocktail hours. After that, alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
Throughout the cruise – the staff have planned out entertainment, and activities onboard the ship. Included in your cruise fare is one nights dining at the Chef’s table- an upscale specialty dining restaurant.
Your onboard wellness host leads workouts every morning and walks in the afternoon and if you choose to go on one of the included bicycle excursions – he or she will lead you on that.
The Takeaway & Tips
Christmas markets are a wonderful, magical experience and river cruising is a perfect way to experience them. “Count the Memories- not the calories” was a motto of the trip for us. We ate everything we could and felt no guilt- you only live once, drink the Gluhwien and eat the Kürtőskalács!
Take advantage of your onboard wellness host to make sure you don’t feel sluggish. A brisk walk on the top deck of the ship may be just what you need for a little pick me up.
When you are packing for one of these trips – leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs. We ended up having to buy an extra-large luggage to bring our souvenirs home with us. But we got all our Christmas shopping done! Also, pack a roll of duct tape and some bubble wrap in your luggage. You don’t want that expensive hand-painted ornament for your mom to get smashed on its journey home.