River cruises are a wonderful way for clients to enjoy Europe’s festive markets and an ideal introduction to those new to cruise. By Jeannine Williamson
Christmas markets are the highlight of Europe’s winter calendar. With their roots based in history and tradition, the enchanting markets provide clients with the opportunity to pick up unusual gifts and enjoy a relaxing break in the run-up to the busy festive season.
All the main river cruise lines offer seasonal sailings visiting the markets that start at the end of November. The most popular routes are along the Rhine and Danube, which flow through the festive market homeland of Germany. Another country to consider is France, where a Seine cruise combines the famous sights of Paris with Christmas shopping.
While river cruise itineraries are typically a week or longer, Christmas market cruises are also available as short breaks. This makes them ideal to switch sell to city break clients who are unsure about committing to a full-blown cruise. Point out that a river cruise is a very relaxed holiday compared to a land tour, which necessitates checking in and out of various hotels along the way. Once clients are onboard their cabin is their home, and when ships are moored they can come and go as they please.
CLIA Europe’s, vice president operations Andy Harmer said: “For those making their first foray into cruise a river cruise is often a very attractive option. Sailings are more intimate and typically offer shorter itineraries compared to an ocean cruise, making them perfect for first timers.
“Christmas markets are hugely popular across the range of holiday types. However, choosing a river cruise has many perks compared to any land-based equivalent, the main one being that an itinerary will usually encompass more than one market, meaning you get to see and do more.”
For clients that consider river cruises to be expensive, it’s important to emphasise the range of inclusions. For example, A-Rosa, CroisiEurope, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld include all drinks, with the exception of a small number of premium brands on A-Rosa and CroisiEurope. APT, Saga and Viking include wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, and Vantage – recently launched on the UK market – serves complimentary wine and beer with dinner. Some lines, including Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld, also include tips.
The River Cruise Line offers very competitively priced cruises on its cosy heritage vessel Lady Anne, which is aimed at the UK market. New for the coming festive season is an optional excursion to Dusseldorf’s Christmas market.
Tim Fleming, the line’s business development manager, said: “Anyone who has previously tried or likes the idea of visiting the European Christmas markets on a city break will find that a river cruise offers the chance to see much more. With coach travel included from joining points nationwide, ferry crossing, and full-board accommodation on board, the cruise is fantastic value too.”
Shearings’ coach-sail cruises include a six-night Rhine itinerary leading in at £548pp, and commercial director Caroline Brown said: “We also offer cruises by rail or by air for a faster journey, such as our five-day Rhine by Rail cruise from only £629.”
Saga has added Dusseldorf market to its three-night Rhine itinerary, which also takes in Bonn and Cologne and is priced from £499pp including coach and ferry travel.
Consider German-owned A-Rosa and the French line CroisiEurope for clients who enjoy a cosmopolitan onboard atmosphere and want to sample traditional food and wine from the respective countries.
For those seeking a luxurious experience, suggest lines such as APT, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld. For longer festive cruises, APT and Scenic offer 14-night itineraries leading in at £3,695pp and £2,495 respectively. Tauck offers seven-night sailings, priced from £1,645, that include fun seasonal activities such as a gingerbread-making demonstration and storytelling.
Launching in July is Crystal Mozart, marking Crystal Cruises’ river cruise debut. The vessel will sail on a 10-night Christmas market fly-cruise itinerary on the Danube, leading in at £2,450pp.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection recently launched its 2016 Christmas markets brochure. Cruises along the Rhine, Danube and Main are priced from £1,979pp, with early bird savings of £800 for bookings by June 30.
One of Viking’s most popular itineraries is the seven-night Rhine Getaway, taking in Cologne, dramatic Marksburg Castle and various markets along the route. It appeals to both seasoned river cruisers, but also first-time cruisers who are looking for a fresh perspective on well-known European cities.
1 Shorter itineraries make Christmas market cruises ideal for clients who are new to river cruising.
2 River cruises are less tiring than land-based tours – passengers only pack and unpack once.
3 Ships moor in the hearts of towns and cities, making it easy to explore on excursions or individually.
4 Markets are held in historic settings so there is always plenty to see.
5 Ships feature local festive specialities, providing a real taste of the region.
THE RIVER CRUISE LINE offers a three-night German Christmas Markets itinerary from Andernach to Cologne, departing December 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13, from £289pp. The price includes return coach and ferry travel, excursions and all meals. 0844 544 6437 rivercruiseline.co.uk
CROISIEUROPE offers a three-night round-trip Alsace and the Black Forest cruise from Strasbourg, departing November 30 and December 4, 5, 7 and 10, from £436pp cruise only. The price includes excursions, all meals and an open bar throughout the day. 0208 328 1281 croisieurope.co.uk
VANTAGE DELUXE WORLD TRAVEL has a seven-night round-trip Seine cruise from Paris, departing December 22, and priced from £1,099pp cruise only. The price includes excursions, all meals and wine and beer with dinner. 01954 232802 vantagetravel.com