Fairytale Voyage

In the South, the holidays can’t come soon enough—plan now for a magical Christmas market river cruise along Europe’s treasured Danube river

Angelic voices heralding the joy of the holiday season waft through the air, mingling with the aromatic smells of roasting chestnuts and mulling spices. Christmas regalia drapes every landscape high and low, as crowds wander the rows of stalls trimmed with ornaments and handmade trinkets. It’s all part of the magic that you’ll experience on a Christmas market river cruise in Europe.

Last December, my family boarded AmaWaterways’ flagship AmaMagna—the widest river boat in Europe with some of the largest staterooms on the river—to be whisked away on a seasonal cruise to fabled cities that pepper Europe’s treasured Danube river. With every inch of the luxury boat decked out in festive finery, it was easy to sink into holiday bliss. Each day during the seven-night cruise that weaved through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany, we joined everything from cushy bus tours to leisurely walks and vigorous hiking tours (which are all included for guests) that sprinkle in a mix of treasured Christmas markets with other incredible sights.

In Budapest, we breathlessly climbed the steep stairs of Fisherman’s Bastion—renowned for its ornate turrets and spires that resemble a fairytale castle—to soak up panoramic views from its incredible terraces. We perused the popular St. Stephen’s Basilica market that dazzled with twinkling lights, as families swarmed the skating rink encircling a giant Christmas tree. Another day, we followed our guide through the pristine streets of Vienna, digging into its classical music legacy and gawking at its rich architecture and grand buildings like Schönbrunn Palace, and then broke off on our own to indulge in the city’s famous dessert, a Sachertorte (chocolate cake). At night, we were awed by Vienna’s famous Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz that’s filled with over-the-top holiday surprises, and then soaked up a classical music concert. We zipped off on a daylong bus tour to Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg, perusing one of the most beautiful and oldest Advent markets, and made stops at movie locations featured in The Sound of Music. With a final stop in Vilshofen, Germany, we shopped a floating Christmas market to pick up last-minute gifts, then wandered the storybook village with a stein in hand.

While we joined every tour offered, those who choose to stay onboard the AmaMagna can escape to the spa, take daily fitness classes or tuck away in the serene library to read by the faux fireplace. Our zealous cruise manager injected holiday magic into nightly programming, from regaling us with the holiday traditions of each destination, to decorating Christmas trees and singing carols. Elegant dinners at four different restaurants offered the chance to sample the authentic foods of our ports, and after listening to the live music in the bar, we’d slip into our comfy beds dreaming of the day’s fantastical sights. amawaterways.com