Christmas market river cruises are back, and cabins are available

Brittany Chrusciel
Although it wasn't exactly A Year Without a Santa Claus last year, Europe's Christmas markets were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. My German grandmother used to take me to the markets growing up. Even though it was years ago, knowing that the stalls and square would not be lit by the scent of mulled wines spice made a sad year a little more bearable for this Deutsch-lover.

They're back. Despite a year of changes to travel restrictions, and guessing games of vaccine requirements and testing mandates it seems that many of Europe’s most popular Christkindlmarkts are now open to visitors. This means that river cruise lines will officially be sailing these amazing itineraries.

Christmas market cruises have been known for selling more than fresh gingerbread and are still available for booking for the 2021 season. River cruise operators were available to answer my questions about the latest and best ways to provide holiday cheer for clients.

Which sailings are available for this year?

These time-sensitive sailings may sell out up to one year in advance. However, clients who are traveling abroad for holidays have the option to book a river cruise to Europe's Christmas markets. But don't be surprised to find that many sailings for next years are already taken. AmaWaterways, for instance, stated that there was "exceptionally high demand" for 2022 season sailings and advised advisors to advise clients to book "now".

Viking River Cruises has six European itineraries. They celebrate Christmas with traditional routes along the Danube and Rhine, as well as sailings through the Moselle or Elbe rivers. The Paris to Swiss Alps itinerary takes you to the region just as Christmas markets are being built. Although there are limited availability for most of the 2021 offerings (ranging from 8 to 15 days), Viking sells these popular voyages as far as 2023 so clients have a good chance to find availability on their preferred itinerary, even if it is not this year.

Uniworld reported that all options were full for this season. There are six 2021 holiday itineraries, which range from 8 to 13 days in length, and cruise vacations during Christmas and New Years. Select sailings departing before December 31 will be eligible for a 2-category upgrade. This includes five of the 2021 Christmas Market itineraries.

Avalon has one of the largest collections of Christmas market cruises available in the industry. There are nine itineraries for 2021 that span from four to sixteen days, sailing the Rhine and Main rivers. Pam Hoffee (Managing Director of Avalon Waterways) told me that these cruises sell out in a typical year as soon as six months before sailing. There is very limited space on selected Christmas cruises this year. With more than 60% of our capacity booked, 2022 is already selling quickly. Advisors should encourage clients to book early for their preferred dates and staterooms on these celebratory cruises in 2022.

AmaWaterways will offer seven itineraries in 2021 where guests can experience the "sparkle at Christmas markets." This includes a sailing on AmaKristina between Lyon, France, and Avignon.

It stated that while the changing travel regulations in Europe have impacted new bookings for several weeks, AmaWaterways has seen a rebound in consumer sentiment and new reservations inquiries have increased.

Scenic Cruises and Emerald Cruises reported that they have availability on their Christmas market cruises. Scenic has two on the Danube, and one on Rhine, while Emerald has three on the Rhine, and one on each Danube.

Holidays that are family-friendly

Adventures by Disney will no longer accept waitlists for Danube River departures. However, there are still available spots for Disney's 7-night Christmas markets cruise on Rhine River next year. This cruise sails from Basel to Amsterdam on December 22, 2022. This unique cruising experience is chartered on AmaWaterways vessels and includes the holiday markets in Strasbourg, Cologne, and other destinations, as well custom family experiences such as tobogganing through Black Forest.

Tauck offers Holiday Magic departures for families looking to experience the Danube River Christmas markets with their family-friendly Tauck Bridges program. The seven-night itineraries run from Regensburg to Budapest and include private excursions to the Viennese palaces and birthplace of "Silent Night". The Dec. 20/27 departures are still available. There is still capacity available for Tauck's 2021 Christmas markets along the Danube and Yuletide Spirit, Brussels to Amsterdam itineraries.

We offer shorter Christmas market cruises

River cruisers looking for a quick holiday can book CroisiEurope’s 2021 Bountiful Christmas In the Black Forest. This three-night trip through France's Alsace area or the Delightful Christmas Markets at the Neckar Valley. It is a four-night sailing departing from Strasbourg and includes Heidelburg. These programs are special because they feature the Christmas markets of Strasbourg, our hometown, and our mini-Christmas marketplace right at the cruise port," Michael Da Costa, CroisiEurope’s general manager for North America, said.

According to Da Costa, "While Christmas cruises only make up a small portion of CroisiEurope’s annual bookings," they are an important part in an otherwise slow winter season. They are loved and highly anticipated by guests. These are usually booked by mid-summer in normal years.

Emerald Cruises will be hosting a five-day Christmas in Southern France roundtrip from Marseille in 2022.

What's the latest in Christmas market cruising

Crystal River Cruises offers seven-night Christmas markets cruises on the Rhine (sailing from Basel to Amsterdam) and the Danube, as well as its core seven-night Christmas market voyages on both the Rhine and Danube (sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest with a precruise package). New itineraries for 2022 include weeklong sailings along the Danube roundtrip, aboard the Crystal Mozart, and 10-night sailings between Amsterdam, Basel, and Basel on Rhine Crystal will introduce three new itineraries in 2023: The 10-night Christmas Splendors on the Rhine & Moselle, seven-night Dutch & Belgian Christmas Markets, including the Hague royal market, and the 10-night Rhine Christmas Markets. Walter Littlejohn, senior vice-president and managing director at Crystal Cruises, stated that the new Christmas Splendors blends the best markets of the Rhine and Moselle rivers and has "the most charming, authentic markets that are the most popular among Germans."

In 2021, there will be eight Christmas market sailings aboard Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel. However, the available capacity is limited. The line typically operates all of its fleet during Christmas market season in a typical year. In 2022, there will be 16 sailings on each of the five ships. Littlejohn said that guests often book more than one year before sailing and are typically sold out five to six months ahead.

Riviera River Cruises will offer 19 Christmas market departures in December. There is good availability on the Enchanting Rhine & Yuletide Marketplaces itinerary which covers four German ports over five days. Four of the six market itineraries are brand new for 2021, and include sailings during Christmas and New Years.

Tauck's Rhine River Christmas Markets itinerary will also be new for 2022. It will take you from Basel to Dusseldorf. The line's 2021 markets availability is not available for these five Rhine departures. Only the Dec. 20th listed availability, which is a cruise over Christmas, is still available.

Also: Viking will offer Christmastime sailings along its new Mississippi River itineraries from Memphis to New Orleans in 2022.

Are there restrictions on Covid-19 use in the markets?

Many cruise lines require complete Covid-19 vaccinations in order to sail. This is because many countries, including Austria, require that visitors are fully vaccinated or they will be subject to mandatory 10-day quarantine.

Although the Christmas markets are open to the public, the best practice for shopping at any Christmas market is to wear a mask if you cannot socially distance yourself (markets should be packed so you might want to keep your EU-required medical grade mask on all occasions, except when drinking or eating), and keep your hands clear while you shop, drink, and snack.

Unexpected bonus: This mask will keep you warm as you browse the stalls, taking in the unrivalled wonderment of Europe's historical Christmas markets.

Correct: Riviera River Cruises offers six market itineraries. Four of these are brand new for the season 2021. In a previous version, the article contained an incorrect number of itineraries.