Newsflash: the hottest cruise product this Christmas may well be Christmas itself. Bookings on river cruises based around the famous European Christmas markets have tripled in some cases.
If you are thinking of a white Christmas, wandering the exquisite market stalls of Vienna or Budapest, it’s time to get your skates on. Fiona Dalton, managing director of Uniworld in Australia, told us that their passenger numbers have tripled on these particular itineraries, while Jane Moggridge, a spokesperson for Scenic which also runs specialised cruises for this season, agrees that now is the time to get your booking finalised.
“Over the last couple of years Scenic has seen an increase in the uptake of our Christmas Markets and Christmas Wonderland river cruises which both cruise along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest,” she says. “It is particularly popular for families, so we often have multiple generations travelling with us at Christmas.”
Sarah Latimore, APT’s Europe Product Manager said that interest starts much earlier, with Christmas market cruises often booked during the festive period the year before: “We typically see a surge in bookings around Christmas time and in to the New Year as people start to think about their plans for the following year.”
The European cruise market has travelled a rocky path this year so far, with incidents in France particularly affecting bookings overall. However the Christmas market cruise market has bucked this trend with a dramatic increase over past years.
In response to the consistent popularity of these seasonal markets, a raft of cruise lines plan their holiday season itineraries around them. Vessels crisscross European waterways from November to early January from not only Uniworld and Scenic but Avalon Waterways, Evergreen Tours, Viking Cruises, APT, Travelmarvel and Tauck.
The main itineraries tend to travel along either the Danube, to visit market towns such as Budapest, Vienna, Bamberg and Nuremberg, or along the Rhine, to see the popular markets in Rüdesheim and Cologne. Tauck’s holiday cruises along the Rhine include a stop at Europe’s oldest Christmas market in France’s Strasbourg, and also drop into lesser-visited market towns such as Aachen and Colmar.
P&O also operate ocean cruises that stop into coastal Christmas market cities such as Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo and Bruges, in the form of short two-night cruises over the weekend through to longer 10-night holidays. It is seeing the same upwards trend – their spokesperson says these cruises are “hugely popular”. “Our Christmas market cruises are hugely popular and we have seen a significant increase in bookings recently,” she adds.
The attraction of these cruises is not only the market towns and the timing that coincides with our longest holiday period of the year, but it has also become a popular multigenerational holiday: bring the whole family and eschew the usual festive-season stress, while stocking up on authentic gifts without worrying about luggage restrictions (especially with P&O Cruises’ trips that are all round-trip from Southampton).
Furthermore, the cruise entertainment programs often go all out to create a festive atmosphere, offering storytelling, cookie-making, traditional lunches and tree-trimming parties – all of which easily outstrips anything you would have organised at home.
“It is a very special time to be in Europe,” says Jane Moggridge from Scenic, “to experience a true Northern Hemisphere Christmas and New Year, with many people choosing to travel so they can get away and not have to worry about anything at this really busy time of year.”