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Floating to Europe's Christmas Markets


Evelyn Hannon

While all my girlfriends were fighting the crowds of Christmas shoppers in their downtown malls, I was gliding down the Danube River along with like-minded folks who decided to spend the lead up to Christmas differently this year. Two weeks before Santa's arrival I left all the harried holiday activity behind and flew to Budapest to board the fabulous M/S Amacello, one of the newest additions to AMA Waterways river fleet. This lovely new ship would be my floating home for the next seven nights as I revisited European history and explored perfectly charming Christmas Markets in Hungary, Austria, Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic.

We were an amicable motley crew...

I was curious about who else would abandon tradition and set sail for cultural and educational fun when everyone else they knew was hard at work baking Christmas cookies, addressing Yuletide cards and secretly wrapping goodies to put under their Christmas trees. My cruise mates hailed from Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Britain, Canada and the USA and we were an amicable motley crew. We were single, we were married. We ranged from well-behaved teenagers to older folks travelling with their extended families. For one week we lived together aboard our floating hotel and we were pampered silly.

As we embarked the M/S Amacello, the nautical holiday spirit was in evidence everywhere. We found welcome plates overflowing with delicious holiday treats in each of our cabins. Sweet gingerbread houses and gaily wrapped gifts dressed tabletops throughout the ship. Every cabin door had a Christmas decoration on it, the lounge boasted two trees (which the guests help decorate) and a large inflated Santa looked out over the upper deck. It really didn't matter if we hadn't sent out holiday greeting cards before we left home. Instead we wrote Christmas greetings on complimentary Amacello postcards which were then mailed home for us, postage paid. This crew thought of everything and we were the happy recipients of their hospitality.


Our ship was both homey and elegant...

The M/S Amacello accommodates up to 150 passengers. Built in Rotterdam it boasts the luxury of more space per passenger than any other river cruising ship in its class. The decor is elegant but, at the same time, homey; the Eastern European crew and staff polite, warm and welcoming. My roomy cabin had all the amenities of an ocean going stateroom plus a small french balcony that allowed me to open my sliding doors to the outside any time I liked. Television and free internet connection in each room are standard on board however internet reception was often spotty due to the many locks we traversed along the Danube. The upper deck is equipped with a jogging track and comfortable lounge chairs for relaxation in appropriate weather. In December we used it for snowball fights celebrating the first light snowfall we experienced sailing through Germany. Now that was fun.


Floating down the Danube...

The Danube is the second largest River in Europe and the itinerary of this particular Danube cruise is a distinct and interesting one. The M/S Amacello docks in Buda (Hungary), Vienna, Melk, Linz (in Austria) with an optional side tour to Salzburg. Then on to Passau, Regensburg and Nuremberg (Germany) with an add-on in Prague, the city of one hundred spires. The scenery along the way is wonderfully diverse as you glide by village church spires, medieval castles, the neon lights of cities, forests (sprinkled with snow), rolling hills and a series of 16 locks that take you from the lower Danube River and into the higher monumental Main Danube Canal linking the North Sea all the way to the Black Sea. At the highest point of the cruise the M/S Amacello sailed over the invisible Continental Divide. Always ready to party, my shipmates and I toasted the event with sparkling champagne.


Superb sightseeing and shopping...

Several hours of every day was spent on land discovering the wonders of each city we docked in. We never had to worry about transportation or directions. Everything was done for us. With the help of excellent guides we learned about the Hapsburg family's impact on European history. We explored the cobble-stoned city centers visiting the legendary palaces, monuments, towers, bridges and historical town squares. In Buda we saw the famous Fisherman's Bastion, in Regensburg, the oldest sausage kitchen in all of Germany and in Nuremburg, we recognized the balcony where Hitler stood to address his followers. Melk is known for its incredible Benedictine Abbey. We visited this extraordinary site with a guide who was educated in the Abbey and she happily shared her childhood memories with all of us. In Vienna, we drove past the famous State Opera House, in Salzburg, we saw where Mozart was born and in Prague, we walked across the stately Charles Bridge and later marvelled at the famous Astrological Clock.

It was intriguing to see the unique ways in which each city and town was decorated for the holidays. In Budapest, large red and white balls were suspended from wires strung across major shopping streets while in Prague an enormous Christmas tree strung with LED lights gave the impression of silver snow flakes cascading onto its branches. In Nuremburg, two metal trees festooned with lights cast beautiful colored reflections onto the River Pegnitz. The photo opportunities were endless. But that wasn't all ...

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