Beginning our Viking River Cruise holiday sailing, I was already sold on the travel experience that a river cruise can provide. That was solidly defined on a Viking sailing last summer. The focus of the experience is largely off the ship. I got that. River cruising is a viable travel option when matched with the right traveler. But editorial questions were posed. What about that destination focus? What parts stand out as stellar reasons to go on a Christmas markets cruise?
Let’s take a look.
- Ghluwein- Simply put, this potent holiday beverage is a signature item of Christmas markets. Served in souvenir mugs that can be refilled at a discount, each is customized for the market where they are sold. Better yet, Viking showed us how to make it at home before our sailing came to an end.
- Live The Sound Of Music– Let’s face it, this is the place where the iconic 1965 movie was filmed and it looks very much the same today, even in winter. While we can watch the film on our stateroom television, we’re choosing to wait until we get home. The “we were there” moments should be spectacular.
- Unique Gifts- As anticipated, there was a wide selection of gifts being sold at the Christmas markets. Odds are that those looking for unique holiday gifts will find plenty from which to choose. Held in the city center, where we saw open-air markets in the summer, the scene is every bit as vibrant during the holidays. Difference: In the summer it was pointless to buy fresh meat or fish to bring home. Holiday gifts are not perishable as are the personal memories created finding them.
- Another Side Of Fabulous- While we sailed the same stretch of the river Danube in the Summer, doing so in the Winter is an entirely different experience. While some of the ports are the same on our itinerary, we visited them at different times of the day, rarely duplicating previous experiences. So yes Bob, James and Mary Lou (friends from last sailing) the Grand Euro itinerary did not “spoil” the Christmas Markets cruise for me.
- Sausages – As mentioned earlier in this series on A Viking Christmas, we know nothing of sausages at home. We just thought we did. It will be difficult to pick up a package of name brand bratwurst at the local supermarket upon return.
- Eat Bad Things And Live To Tell About It- Our Viking river cruise includes a tour every day. Part of the tour requires walking more distance than one might at home makes up for it. On board our Viking longship we find a nice variety of food, served in reasonable portions.
- Holiday Spirit – Some people get into the December holidays with gusto and need no encouragement to deck the halls. Others may need a shot of holiday cheer and Christmas markets provide a double dose.
- Wine Tour Opportunities- Scenic cruising through the Wachau valley on our Viking river cruise I was reminded of how pretty the many vineyards were as we sailed along in the summer. Made still by winter, wineries continue tours with more of a focus on education than walking the fields of vines.
- History Is Not Seasonal- One of the features of a river cruise is a focus off the ship. Those interested in visiting places they may have seen only in movies, television or read about in books have every opportunity to see them in winter. Complemented by local guides who add commentary appropriate for the season (“this is where the Nazi’s nearly froze to death”) added a seasonable component to their running commentary along the way.
- Even Scrooge Will Like It- Regular readers know we look at gift-giving in an entirely different way, skipping birthdays, anniversaries and other common family gifting events to afford the creation of enduring memories on cruise vacations. Sydney and Whitney, for example, probably wouldn’t have remembered the (insert name of gift) we might have given them when they were 10 and 12. But the memory of riding through the Jamaican rain forest with our then-new friend Lincoln endures to this day. We bought no gifts for anyone at any markets, yet very much enjoyed the seasonal ambiance of them.
On my summer sailing, several of the other passengers on Viking Odin had done a Christmas Markets sailing before. They pointed out along the way where the markets would be and what to expect, many with a tone of satisfaction, confidently assuring me that it would be a marvelous experience.
They were right.
Photo: Jeff Titelius