Christmas Markets Cruise Replaces Holiday Frenzy

by Ming Tappin

River cruising is a great way to enjoy Christmas Markets in Europe.

Irresistible sweet treats line every bakery window.

Enjoying Kartoffelpuffer - German potato pancake.

Amazing handmade ornaments that dazzle all ages.

Cologne's Christmas Market under the shadow of the Gothic Cathedral.

Christmastime in Europe is nothing like the North American traditions. Instead of overwhelming messages of retail spending (just look at the mountain of sales flyers that have already started to arrive at your door), the focus is on the celebration of life, family & friends, timeless traditions as well as great food & drink. One of the ways this is beautifully achieved is through magical Christmas Markets, a holiday mainstay dating back to the middle ages.

Taking place from the last week of November to Christmas Eve, Christmas markets get everyone into the holiday mood. The magic of children's laughter, serenading carollers, twinkling lights and sweet scents of pine boughs is enough to melt the heart of any scrooge. Add in some snow flakes and the stage is set.

One of the best ways to experience Christmas Markets is on a river cruise, which I have been most fortunate to be a part of. The greatest advantage is it allows guests to sample Christmas markets along the entire itinerary. Our cruise sailed through the Rhine and we were treated to Christmas markets in Germany and France every day. A longer cruise through a wider region allows even more opportunities to visit the different markets. 

The quality of merchandise sold at Christmas markets is topnotch. Handmade crafts, toys, clothing, works of art and the quintessential wooden ornaments that have been a European tradition for centuries. They all make terrific mementos of one's special time there. Everything is made locally or within the country, nothing kitschy or mass produced with made-in-China stickers.

Christmas markets cruises in my opinion are perfect for everyone. Children are dazzled by the handmade toys and ornaments so different from the ones at home. History buffs explore castles and Gothic cathedrals made even more enchanting by the seasonal decor. Foodies relish the flavours of sweet and savoury meats, treats and heart warming gluhwein. Women can shop for unique gifts - in fact Christmas markets cruises attract womens' groups who happily leave their husbands at home to go shopping in Europe. Families reunite to celebrate the holidays and the end of another year. These are all terrific and lucrative opportunities for agents to tap into.

The most effective way to appeal to clients is to play up the authenticity of old Christmas in Europe - cobblestoned streets, historical squares, medieval cathedrals... all festooned with holiday finery and lively ambiance. To be in foreign locales, surrounded by different languages, people and cultures, yet having the common thread of celebrating Christmas, life and love, is truly special. The river will take them through this magical journey, with the ship as their pampering sanctuary. What a chance to experience something completely different from the madness, stress, traffic and chaotic shopping malls, all of which we call Christmas at home.

My favourite moment? It was in Cologne hands down. As I ate my bratwurst while savouring the sweet scent of gluhwein, I surveyed the colourful lights and timbered market stalls before me. It was busy yet still calming in its special way. The air is slightly crisp, but I feel cozy under my new wool hat (handmade in Cologne of course!). Just as I thought it couldn't be more perfect, the magnificent cathedral bells behind me began to toll. Talk about goose bump moments! All at once, all 5 senses completely came alive. I can't remember the last time this happened, and I can't wait to experience it again... hopefully soon.

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 36 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of

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