The Spirit of Christmas Along the Danube
What better way to get into the holiday spirit than to kick it off with an Avalon Impression Christmas market river cruise!
I selected a six-night Danube cruise embarking from Budapest, then traveling to Bratislava, Slovakia, and Vienna and Melk, Austria. Each of these places has its own bevy of holiday markets, traditions and tastes, and I was able to sample them all.
Insider tip: Fly into Budapest a day early to ensure you get on the ship in time. That also gives you an opportunity to wander the local markets.
Avalon All-Suite Advantages
Once you board the Avalon Impression, unpack and relax in your new floating hotel for the week. That’s the beauty of river cruising – unpack only once, unlike a land tour where you move from hotel to hotel.
Avalon’s spacious all-suite accommodations are unique to any river cruise line. The line actually reconfigured the cabins to push the room out to where the balcony was. This gives you more space. Of course, you can open the large window for an al fresco experience, but not on my winter cruise!
Beds face the window so you can view the outside world passing by from the comfort of your bed or from your table/chair area.
Once unpacked, head to the Panorama Lounge for a light lunch of soup and sandwiches. This large open bar/lounge with windows on both sides provides the best views of the river and is a convenient area for all gatherings and events during the cruise.
It’s easy to traverse the ship with cabins on two levels, lounge on the main floor and dining room on the bottom floor. With only 160 guests on board, you won’t get lost, as navigating the ship is a breeze.
On your first day you’ll have a welcome orientation from your cruise director and captain. They will review the safety protocols of the ship and explain the exciting week ahead. The cruise director has a desk in the main lobby where you can pose questions at any time.
Dinner awaits in the dining room. Sit with your group or meet new friends at tables for two people on up. A different delicious three-course dinner is served each evening. Try beef goulash, local fish and more. A selection of red and white wines from the countries we were visiting is also served to complement each dinner.
Insider tip: If nothing on the nightly menu pleases your palate, you can always opt for tenderloin – delicious! – or salmon.
The Avalon catering team will accommodate any dietary restrictions. In fact, if you do have requirements, the chef meets you on the first day to discuss them. And don’t worry, you will get to know your wonderful servers each day who will satisfy your every need.
After dinner, return to the lounge for a cocktail (included) or retire to your suite for the evening. And you’ll not want to miss local artists performing on certain nights, such as ballet dancers or opera singers.
Exploring in Port
The daily excursions are key to your cruise. You can select from three options: culinary, culture or activity.
During the winter, we didn’t have any active adventures (such as cycling), but we spent the days in port visiting the cities, markets and cultural icons. We enjoyed a city tour of Vienna along with a short concert of local Christmas songs, a Budapest walking tour of the old town and touring the historic abbey in Melk.
Insider Tip: In addition to excursions off the ship, don’t miss lectures by local experts. We had a local baker who took us through a tasting of traditional Christmas cookies – informational and delicious!
The Christmas markets in each city were diverse, reflecting their local customs and crafts. Spend time shopping for that perfect hand-made tree ornament, savor the local dishes such as sausage or stuffed cabbage, or Pressburg Bajgel from Bratislava. Be sure to partake of hot mulled wine (red or white) or a hot chocolate to warm up.
River cruising is a delightful way to see a destination and marvel at the scenery passing by. Since ships are small, you’re able to walk off the boat easily and right into the heart of town. Avalon handles all the details, although gratuities are not included.
Departure day was a breeze, with transfers to the airport effortlessly arranged for your return flight home. Or maybe you want to extend your stay on land for a bit more time in Europe?
You may not be thinking of next Christmas now – but plan ahead. Your travel advisor can explain the various itineraries and recommend one that’s a perfect fit for you. With the increased popularity of river cruising, many 2024 and even 2025 itineraries are filling up now, so don’t miss out.