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River Cruises

Festive spirit: What is a Christmas market river cruise really like?

Amadeus River Cruises is based in heartland of the yuletide market scene thanks to its Austrian owners, so what better way to check out a Christmas cruise? Sailawaze gets a real taste of a Danube cruise in wintertime.

Words & pictures by Jeannine Williamson

It’s only just gone 10 in the morning, OK, technically 9 given the hour time difference from the UK I’d left the day before, but the first sips of gluhwein – which translates as ‘glow wine’ – have done the trick as my chilly cheeks become rosier by the minute. Well, when in Rome, or Regensburg as it happens to be, it would be rude not to.

Mulled wine and German Christmas markets go hand in hand. Breakfast aboard our Amadeus river cruise vessel might be very recent, but the tempting spicy aroma coming from the gluhwein stand means I’m not the first in the queue.

Think of destinations for Christmas cruises 2022 and you’ll probably come up with somewhere like the Caribbean. Although you won’t come back with a suntan there’s a different kind of warmth, as my mulled wine testifies, closer to home on a Danube river cruise.

Danube river cruises vie with the Rhine for being the top spot to take a leisurely river sailing; famous for banks lined with medieval towns and vineyards topped off with castles. However, there’s a different world out there after the autumn grape harvest.

It might be cold outside, but Christmas markets are the highpoint of Europe’s winter calendar. Rooted in history and tradition, they’re an antidote for anyone fed up with in-your-face Christmas commercialism.

Here you’ll find hand-crafted decorations, gingerbread and traditional toys that don’t need batteries or a degree in rocket science to make them work. A Christmas market cruise is the best way to soak up the wintertime vibe as you’ll get to see several markets in one week. Plus, you don’t need to drive home afterwards, just drift gently to the next port of call.

I’m on a Danube river cruise with a line that sails the length and breadth of this legendary waterway. Look at any Amadeus River Cruises’ reviews and you’ll learn the family-owned company is based in Austria so as well as river cruising they know a thing or two about apple strudel, dumplings and crisp Gruner Veltliner wine, which are among the authentic treats I try during the week (in particular the last!). There’s even a Viennese cafe on board.

The line’s Christmas cruises 2022 programme includes sailings up to the end of the market season on December 23 and over Christmas and the New Year. We sailed from Regensburg to Vienna on Amadeus Cara (below, right), the latest vessel to join the 10-strong Amadeus river cruise fleet.

A complimentary cocktail party on the first night put everyone in a suitably celebratory mood. Then it was time for dinner, and on an Amadeus river cruise you certainly won’t go hungry as it’s one of few lines that offers a five-course evening meal as the norm.

The quality and presentation are such that when we pinged over food photos to friends and family one asked if we were dining in a Michelin-star restaurant.

Each day our Danube Christmas cruise brought a choice of excursions – up to five in Vienna – including a magical night-time visit to the market set against the backdrop of Regensburg’s grand Thurn and Taxis Castle.

Another day we attended a stirring concert in Passau’s St Stephen’s Cathedral which is home to Europe’s largest organ (17,974 pipes to save you counting) and the next day visited Melk’s 18th-century Benedictine abbey perched on a craggy outcrop.

There were also some unexpected surprises on our Danube river cruise. We hadn’t realised our Amadeus Christmas cruise sailing coincided with Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, when children leave a boot or shoe outside their door the night before (above, left).

If they’ve been good they can expect to find sweets and little gifts in their footwear. If not Saint Nicholas might leave a lump of coal instead. I’m glad to report we all woke up to find nuts, biscuits and chocolates in our shoes. The crew also put on a festive afternoon in the lounge with the chance to try decorating gingerbread. It was all great fun.

Indeed, as far as Christmas cruises 2022 go this one was jolly from start to finish. With guests from the UK, US, Germany, Spain and Norway, there was a cosmopolitan and convivial atmosphere; the latter probably aided by free-flowing wine poured at lunch and dinner.

If you want to look at Christmas cruises 2022 or plan ahead to 2023, an Amadeus river cruise is guaranteed to put you in the festive mood.

I never plucked up the courage to try feuerzangenbowle, where a piece of rum-soaked sugarloaf is floated on top of gluhwein and set alight, but on the last morning, there was time for one more mug of mulled wine before I said auf wiedersehen to my Danube river cruise. Prost!

Set Sail

7-day Christmas Cruise On The Danube with Amadeus River Cruises

Duration: 6 nights
Where: Round-trip Passau
Ship: Amadeus Star
Price: From £818 pp

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Set Sail

7-day Magic Of Advent On The Danube with Amadeus River Cruises

Duration: 6 nights
Where: Vienna to Nuremberg
Ship: Amadeus Queen
Price: From £1,073 pp

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Jeannine Williamson

Sailawaze contributor Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer specialising in all things cruise and known as ‘the river cruise queen’. Clocking up thousands of nautical miles around the globe, her highlights include exploring the remote Austral Islands on a combined passenger and cargo vessel, crossing the Atlantic on a masted tall ship and getting close up to wildlife in the Galapagos, Indonesia and southern Africa. Still to be ticked off her bucket list are Antarctica and Australia.

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Published 16.12.22