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Day by Day Itinerary

Christmas trees aglow with white candles. The wafting harmonies of Handel, Bach—and “Silent Night” ... sumptuous gingerbread cakes, and handmade wood carvings ... and the warm, happy spirit of the season is all around you. Experience the essence of Christmastime in Europe on this popular holiday getaway, and cruise through the most beloved ports of Austria and Germany. You’ll explore the region’s craft-filled Christmas Markets exclusively in the company of like-minded American travelers, and view storybook medieval towns in all their holiday finery. Along with spending convivial moments exclusively in the company of others who share the Christmas spirit, you will enjoy ALL meals onboard, including wine with dinner. Only Grand Circle brings you this unique and comprehensive holiday River Cruise package at such an unbeatable value!

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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Nuremberg, Germany.

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    Arrive in Nuremberg this morning, where a Grand Circle representative meets you at the airport and helps you transfer to the pier to embark your waiting river ship. Upon arrival, enjoy some free time to relax and familiarize yourself with your ship. A light lunch will be served onboard.

    Gather this evening for a ship briefing, and meet your Program Director and fellow travelers during dinner. Afterward, settle in for your first night onboard.

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    After breakfast, disembark for a tour of Nuremberg, one of the most important cities of the Franconia region.

    This medieval city surrounded by 13th-century walls is the second-largest city in Bavaria. Today the city’s name evokes the notorious post-World War II war trials. But throughout its history, Nuremberg has been known for its wonderful creativity and handcrafts—its toys and fancy metalwork are particularly famous.

    Return to the ship for lunch. We then take you into town for a delightful visit to Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market), where you have free time to browse on your own. This is Germany’s most famous traditional Christmas market, and it is open throughout the holiday season. Here a myriad of colorful stalls offers handmade Christmas decorations, toys, ceramics, glasswork, and candles. Food stalls tempt you with Bratwurst, mulled wines, sweets, and pastries—including the famous Nuremberg gingerbread. Various programs regale visitors with chorale offerings, concerts, and a live Nativity scene.

    Or, join an optional excursion to the Documentation Center on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. In 1998, the city of Nuremberg held an architectural competition for the center's design for which designers had to fit the proposed center in the Congress Hall, and deal with the site's intimidating architecture and ominous premise. Today's optional tour features the center built from the winning design and the surrounding grounds.

    Tonight, after a Welcome Drink and as you enjoy a Welcome Dinner onboard, the ship quietly slips anchor and heads out on the Main-Danube Canal. We cruise overnight on our way to our next port-of-call.

    (Please note: Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt will not be open in time for our first two 2014 departures.)

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    This morning, cruise the Main-Danube Canal, Europe’s highest canal. We start the day with our crossing of the European watershed (at 1,332 feet, the highest point of the canal). This ridge of higher land divides the areas drained by the two different rivers, the Main and Danube. Here, rain north of the watershed flows to the North Sea, and rain to the south flows to the Black Sea.

    You will learn more when you join us for an onboard discussion outlining the amazing history of the great Main-Danube Canal. The technological workings of this canal are an engineering marvel. You are also invited to an exclusive Discovery Series German language lesson, where you can learn some German phrases commonly used during the Christmas season.

    You have lunch onboard just as we’re arriving in Regensburg, a hidden treasure with elements dating back to medieval times. After your meal, go ashore for a walking tour. Since the city suffered no damage during World War II, it remains beautifully preserved.

    Your tour features the Old Town Hall and the famous Stone Bridge, Germany's oldest, which was constructed during the twelfth century. You also visit the Regensberg Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in Neupfarrplatz, which lights up in December with seasonal cheer. You have time here to explore on your own, strolling among the stalls and shopping for unique handmade Christmas gifts.

    After an early dinner on the ship, join us as we walk to a local church to hear a choral concert featuring festive holiday music.

    You return to the ship, which remains docked in Regensburg overnight, later in the evening.

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    This morning, you'll experience two Exclusive Discovery Series events. First, learn the intricacies of glassblowing, as a local artisan demonstrates this traditional craft. Then enjoy a cooking demonstration where you’ll learn how to make Stollen, a traditional German bread made with fruit and nuts and topped with powdered sugar.

    Just before lunch, your ship departs Regensburg and you spend the afternoon and early evening cruising toward Passau. If the weather obliges, you might go on deck and take in the scenes of life along the banks of this noble river, or spend some time with fellow travelers over coffee or cards.

    In late evening we arrive in Passau, where we dock overnight.

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    This morning, learn about local holiday lore during an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about German Christmas Traditions. Then disembark for a tour of the lovely medieval town of Passau.

    Situated at the confluence of the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn rivers, Passau has been called the Dreiflussestadt (City on Three Rivers) because of its location. The city was significantly developed by the prince bishops of Passau, who made it their royal residence and capital of the largest Danube diocese.

    You’ll enjoy a short walking tour of this elegant town that has served as a German cultural and intellectual hub for centuries. See the impressive Bishop’s Residenz, the 13th-century Town Hall, and the town’s magnificent 17th-century St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which boasts the world’s largest church organ, with 17,774 pipes and 231 resounding stops. The Cathedral’s original Gothic plan is still evident through the 17th-century reconstruction it received in the grand Baroque style. One of its most striking features is the gorgeous octagonal dome that hovers over the intersection of the nave, where the congregation sits, and the transept, which runs perpendicular to it.

    The colorful Christmas Market is located in front of the Cathedral. You have some free time to do some shopping or just browse the wide assortment of handcrafts and Christmas creations.

    Have lunch aboard ship, and then enjoy free time to discover more of the town on your own.

    The ship sets sail again in late afternoon. Relax over dinner as we cruise the river, en route to Linz, Austria.

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    Linz, one of the largest ports on the Danube and the second-most populous city in Austria, was first settled by Romans in the first century AD. It is now one of the cultural centers of Austria. You might want to walk the city’s Hauptplatz, one of the loveliest squares in Europe, lined with Rococo and Baroque architecture. Or you could choose to visit the 17th-century Abbey of St. Florian, where Linz’s native son, Anton Bruckner, was the organist and composed many of his famed masterpieces of church music. His burial site is at the abbey.

    You could consider a visit to Linz’s historic Landhaus, a complex of structures currently used as government headquarters. These buildings served as the city’s university in the 17th century, and it was here that the well-known mathematician and astronomer Johann Kepler formulated his theory of planetary motion. A short walk takes you to the Linzer Schloss (Linz Castle), where you can browse its Provincial Museum of Upper Austria, containing artwork from medieval to modern times. Linz is also a center for trade in antiques, so you might wish to stop in at a few of its shops to see what treasures you can find.

    Or, after breakfast, set off on an optional full-day excursion to Salzburg. This beautiful city—birthplace of Mozart—will seem familiar to most of us who are forever enchanted by The Sound of Music, and you'll visit the grounds where much of the film was shot.

    Your tour includes a visit to the Getreidegasse, the renowned center for Austrian shopping. Note the intricate architectural details of this lane of shops and galleries, nestled under their skillfully crafted wrought-iron signs and offering jewelry, antiques, leather goods, and regional foods. The vaulted passageways offer delightful pathways to artisans' workshops and arcaded courtyards.

    You'll get another taste of Alpine Christmas traditions as you visit the fabulous Salzburg Christmas Market. Handmade seasonal crafts of all sorts are available, and the aromas of traditional holiday foods add magic to the colorful setting.

    Have lunch in this beautiful city and free time to explore on your own before boarding your ship again in the late afternoon in Linz.

    This evening, as we cruise the river again, celebrate your discoveries and new Christmas memories at the Captain’s Farewell Dinner onboard. We arrive in Melk near midnight.

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    After breakfast, disembark in Melk for a tour of the historic town and enjoy an excursion to the dramatic 900-year-old Baroque Melk Abbey. This magnificently ornate structure has a long and storied history. Strategically situated on a steep, cliffside perch, Melk Abbey's earliest incarnation was as a Roman border post. Later, it served as a tenth-century Babenberg fortress. It became a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and earned a distinguished reputation for medieval scholarship. Its library includes more than 70,000 books and 2,000 manuscripts, chiefly from the ninth through the 15th centuries.

    Umberto Eco, author of the well-known book The Name of the Rose, a murder mystery of monastic intrigue, was inspired by the grandeur of Melk Abbey: Eco uses Heinrich von Melk, a Benedictine brother from Melk Abbey who wrote the ironic poem “About Priestly Life,” as one of the novel’s main characters. The novel contains a great deal of scholarly information about the Middle Ages (Eco is known primarily as a scholar) and the compelling politics of medieval religion. The book’s setting is fictional, but the story climaxes with a devastating fire that mirrors the real history of Melk Abbey, which was ravaged by fires in 1297 and 1683. The stately Baroque edifice that stands today, with its twin towers and 208-foot-high dome, dates from its reconstruction in 1736.

    The Abbey houses a remarkable cherub-filled library of thousands of books and manuscripts, and 365 windows—one for every day of the year. The interior of the Abbey’s church is a kaleidoscope of red, orange, and gold—with a magnificent carved pulpit and shimmering ceiling frescoes.

    After your tour, you’ll take in an Exclusive Discovery Series organ concert in the Abbey.

    After setting sail again near lunchtime, you'll be served hot chocolate as you relax onboard and enjoy the stunning scenery along one of the most beautiful parts of the Danube—the Wachau Valley. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a landscape of sculpted hills and medieval towns built along the river.

    You arrive in Vienna before dinnertime. After dinner, you can accompany your Program Director for a peek into this elegant city.

    Vienna without music wouldn’t be Vienna. So, subject to availability of tickets, you may want to join us this evening on an optional Musical Vienna outing for a performance in one of Vienna’s famed concert halls. This optional excursion is an excellent opportunity to hear classical Viennese music in a setting where Johann Strauss himself performed.

    Please note: If the organ concert is not available in Melk, it will take place in Nuremberg instead.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, disembark and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Vienna.

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    Arrive at the airport this morning, where a Grand Circle representative meets you and helps you transfer to the pier to embark your river ship. Upon arrival, enjoy some free time to relax and settle in. A light lunch will be served onboard.

    Gather this evening for a ship briefing, and meet your Program Director and fellow travelers during dinner. Afterward, settle in for your first night onboard.

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    This morning, you'll be served hot chocolate as you cruise through the lovely landscape and terraced vineyards of the Wachau Valley. This UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of a picturesque landscape of sculpted hills and medieval towns built along the river.

    Your Program Director will go over the details of your trip in this morning’s briefing. Then, after lunch, you disembark in Melk for an excursion to the dramatic 900-year-old Baroque Melk Abbey. This magnificently ornate structure has a long and storied history. Strategically situated on a steep cliffside perch, Melk Abbey’s earliest incarnation was as a Roman border post.

    Later, it served as a tenth-century Babenberg fortress. It became a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and earned a distinguished reputation for medieval scholarship. Its library includes more than 70,000 books and 2,000 manuscripts, chiefly from the ninth through the 15th centuries.

    Umberto Eco, author of the well-known book The Name of the Rose, a murder mystery of monastic intrigue, was inspired by the grandeur of Melk Abbey: Eco uses Heinrich von Melk, a Benedictine brother from Melk Abbey who wrote the ironic poem “About Priestly Life,” as one of the novel’s main characters. The novel contains a great deal of scholarly information about the Middle Ages (Eco is known primarily as a scholar) and the compelling politics of medieval religion. The book’s setting is fictional, but the story climaxes with a devastating fire that mirrors the real history of Melk Abbey, which was ravaged by fires in 1297 and 1683. The stately Baroque edifice that stands today, with its twin towers and 208-foot-high dome, dates from its reconstruction in 1736.

    The Abbey houses a remarkable cherub-filled library of thousands of books and manuscripts, and 365 windows—one for every day of the year.The interior of the Abbey’s church is a kaleidoscope of red, orange, and gold—with a magnificent carved pulpit and shimmering ceiling frescoes.

    After your tour, you’ll take in an exclusive Discovery Series organ concert in the Abbey, then have free time to explore on your own.

    Tonight, join your fellow travelers for a Captain's Welcome Drink and Dinner oboard.

    Please note: If the organ concert is not available in Melk, it will take place in Nuremberg instead.

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    This morning the ship calls at the port of Linz. You have the day free to explore this Old-World city.

    Linz, one of the largest ports on the Danube and the second-most populous city in Austria, was first settled by Romans in the first century AD. It is now one of the cultural centers of Austria. You might want to walk the city’s Hauptplatz, one of the loveliest squares in Europe, lined with Rococo and Baroque architecture. Or you could choose to visit the 17th-century Abbey of St. Florian, where Linz’s native son, Anton Bruckner, was the organist and composed many of his famed masterpieces of church music. His burial site is at the abbey.

    You could consider a visit to Linz’s historic Landhaus, a complex of structures currently used as government headquarters. These buildings served as the city’s university in the 17th century, and it was here that the well-known mathematician and astronomer Johann Kepler formulated his theory of planetary motion. A short walk takes you to the Linzer Schloss (Linz Castle), where you can browse its Provincial Museum of Upper Austria, containing artwork from medieval to modern times. Linz is also a center for trade in antiques, so you might wish to stop in at a few of its shops to see what treasures you can find.

    Or, after breakfast, set off on an optional full-day excursion to Salzburg. This beautiful city—birthplace of Mozart—will seem familiar to most of us who are forever enchanted by The Sound of Music, and you’ll visit the grounds where much of the film was shot.

    Your tour includes a visit to the Getreidegasse, the renowned center for Austrian shopping. Note the intricate architectural details of this lane of shops and galleries, nestled under their skillfully crafted wrought-iron signs and offering jewelry, antiques, leather goods, and regional foods. The vaulted passageways offer delightful pathways to artisans’ workshops and arcaded courtyards.

    You’ll get another taste of Alpine Christmas traditions as you visit the fabulous Salzburg Christmas Market. Handmade seasonal crafts of all sorts are available, and the aromas of traditional holiday foods add magic to the colorful setting.

    Have lunch in this beautiful city and free time to explore on your own before boarding your ship again in the late afternoon in Linz.

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    This morning, we set out on the river again. Along the way, you'll be invited to join an exclusive Discovery Series German language lesson, where you can learn some German phrases commonly used during the Christmas season. In mid-morning, you disembark for a tour of the lovely medieval town of Passau, our first stop in Germany.

    Situated at the confluence of the Danube, Ilz, and Inn rivers, Passau has been called the Dreiflussestadt (City on Three Rivers) because of its location. The city was significantly developed by the prince bishops of Passau, who made it their royal residence and capital of the largest Danube diocese.

    You’ll enjoy a short walking tour of this elegant town that has served as a German cultural and intellectual hub for centuries. See the impressive Bishop’s Residenz, the 13th-century Town Hall, and the town’s magnificent 17th-century St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which boasts the world’s largest church organ, with 17,774 pipes and 231 resounding stops. The Cathedral’s original Gothic plan is still evident through the 17th-century reconstruction it received in the grand Baroque style. One of its most striking features is the gorgeous octagonal dome that hovers over the intersection of the nave, where the congregation sits, and the transept, which runs perpendicular to it.

    The colorful Christmas Market is located in front of the Cathedral. You have some free time to do some shopping or just browse the wide assortment of handcrafts and Christmas creations.

    Have lunch aboard ship, and then enjoy some free time to discover more of the town on your own.

    Relax over dinner onboard ship, and then settle in as we cruise overnight.

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    You arrive and dock around mid-morning in Regensburg, Germany’s largest medieval city. Then, enjoy a walking tour of this hidden treasure.Since the city suffered no damage during World War II, it remains beautifully preserved.

    Your tour features the Old Town Hall and the famous Stone Bridge, Germany’s oldest, which was constructed during the twelfth century. You also visit the Regensberg Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in Neupfarrplatz, which lights up in December with seasonal cheer. You have time here to explore on your own, strolling among the stalls and shopping for unique handmade Christmas gifts.

    You’ll have lunch onboard ship and an afternoon at leisure.

    After an early dinner on the ship, join us as we walk to a local church to hear a choral concert featuring festive holiday music. You return to the ship, which remains in Regensburg overnight, later in the evening.

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    Stay aboard this morning and learn the intricacies of glassblowing, as a local artisan demonstrates this traditional craft. Then enjoy a cooking demonstration where you’ll learn how to make Stollen, a traditional German bread made with fruit and nuts and topped with powdered sugar.

    After lunch onboard, you'll continue cruising along the Main-Danube Canal, Europe’s highest canal. As we sail, we cross the European watershed (at 1,332 feet, the highest point of the canal). This ridge of higher land divides the areas drained by the two different rivers, the Main and Danube. Here, rain north of the watershed flows to the North Sea, and rain to the south flows to the Black Sea. You will learn more when you join us for an onboard discussion outlining the amazing history of the canal. Its technological workings are an engineering marvel.

    Later in the evening, as we cruise the river, celebrate your discoveries and new Christmas memories at the Captain’s Farewell Dinner onboard. We cruise through the night on our way to Nuremberg.

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    Your ship docks at Nuremberg quite early this morning. After breakfast, you disembark for a tour of Nuremberg, one of the most important cities of the Franconia region.

    This medieval city surrounded by 13th-century walls is the second-largest city in Bavaria. Today the city’s name evokes the notorious post-World War II war trials. But throughout its history, Nuremberg has been known for its wonderful creativity and handcrafts—its toys and fancy metalwork are particularly famous.

    Return to the ship for lunch. We then take you into town for a delightful visit to Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market), where you have free time to browse on your own. This is Germany’s most famous traditional Christmas market, and it is open throughout the holiday season. Here a myriad of colorful stalls offers handmade Christmas decorations, toys, ceramics, glasswork, and candles. Food stalls tempt you with Bratwurst, mulled wines, sweets, and pastries—including the famous Nuremberg gingerbread. Various programs regale visitors with chorale offerings, concerts, and a live Nativity scene.

    Or, join an optional excursion to the Documentation Center on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. In 1998, the city of Nuremberg held an architectural competition for the center’s design. Designers had to fit the proposed center in the Congress Hall and deal with the site’s intimidating architecture and ominous premise. Today’s optional tour features the center built from the winning design and the surrounding grounds.

    Tonight, linger over your final dinner aboard, and spend your evening as you wish. The ship remains in Nuremberg tonight.

    (Please note: Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt will not be open in time for our first two 2014 departures.)

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    After breakfast, disembark and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Ship Excellence
92%
Program Director Excellence
80%
Overall Trip Excellence
71%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This program features a fair amount of walking over uneven surfaces. For your comfort and safety, we recommend this trip only to individuals in good physical condition. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please consult our Travel Counselors for guidance.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.
  • Throughout the River Cruise season, weather conditions affect European river depths. Water levels may require adjustments to your itinerary.
  • Expect cooler temperatures, damper conditions, and occasional icy surfaces.
  • Christmas Markets are likely to be quite crowded. Many of the local vendors at the craft stalls do not speak English, and you cannot use credit cards or U.S. dollars to make purchases at this market.
  • Many shops, museums, and other sites are closed after 1pm on December 24, all day on December 25 and 26, and on January 1. The sequence of events on your trip may be adjusted to reflect this.
  • In some ports, the local Christmas Markets do not open until Dec 5.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Private Grand Circle River Ship

    All of our Rhine, Main & Danube river ships made Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    Custom-built for Grand Circle with our travelers’ needs in mind, your private river ship has a passenger capacity of 140-164, with all outside cabins. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas, but connectivity is limited in certain locations. Your cabin features a flat-screen TV, direct-dial telephone, individual heating and air-conditioning controls, twin beds that convert to sofas, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • M/S River Adagio

    The M/S River Adagio was ranked #26 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    One of the largest ships in Grand Circle's own deluxe fleet, the M/S River Adagio was built specifically for cruising the widest part of the Danube and the deeper waters leading to the Black Sea. Enjoy personalized attention from the ship staff, and up to four experienced Grand Circle Program Directors. And with no more than 164 fellow Grand Circle travelers aboard with you, you'll find it easy to make friends and share your experiences.

  • M/S River Aria

    The M/S River Aria was ranked #35 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    Launched in 2001, the M/S River Aria has a capacity of 164 passengers in 82 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, and Sun Deck. Your ship has an international crew of 38 and up to four English-speaking Program Directors.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

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  • Sheraton Munich Arabellapark Hotel

    Munich, Germany | Rating: First Class

    Just steps from beer gardens and walking trails, and ten minutes by subway to the city center, this hotel is the perfect location for discovering Munich. Spend your nights in one of 446 air-conditioned rooms, each featuring modern amenities and a private balcony. And after exploring Munich, relax in the hotel’s indoor pool and spa, or visit one of several on-site restaurants.

  • ARCOTEL Kaiserwasser

    Vienna, Austria | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located across from the Vienna International Centre, and featuring convenient access to public transportation, the Superior First-Class ARCOTEL Kaiserwasser is just a ten-minute subway ride away from the center of Vienna and St. Stephen's Cathedral. Amenities include a fitness center, bar, and restaurant. Each of its 282 air-conditioned rooms features complimentary wireless Internet access, flat-screen TV, telephone, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $995
w/ standard air $2095
Approximate travel times

Toyland: Germany’s Wonderful Wooden Handcrafts

How Christmas crafts evolved in the Old World

by Megan Mullin, Grand Circle Boston associate

... Many families took up the art of wood carving as a means to put food on the table. It soon came to pass, however, that the local craftsmen were particularly gifted ...

The scene is one we all know well: a little girl named Clara kneels beneath a glowing Christmas tree and cradles her favorite toy—a brave wooden nutcracker. It’s difficult not to think “Christmastime” without recalling the beloved ballet scored by Tchaikovsky—and, of course, its titular character. Proud and strong, these festive little soldiers have existed since the approximately 15th century and, like many other charming wooden crafts we know and love today, they originated in Germany.

Deep in Germany’s Erzgebirge, or Ore Mountains, sits the town of Seiffen. Originally founded as a mining town approximately 700 years ago, its inhabitants were forced to search for another trade as the gold, silver, and tin deposits became depleted as the centuries wore on. Many families took up the art of wood carving as a means to put food on the table. It soon came to pass, however, that the local craftsmen were particularly gifted—the nutcrackers, German smokers, and, most famous of all, Weihnachtspyramides (Christmas Pyramids) being produced from that region were all eventually exported to the famous toy markets of Nuremberg. In the late 1600s, Nuremberg was one of Europe’s top toy distribution centers, which brought the charming wooden toys of the Ore Mountains to the main stage—and solidified their popularity during the Christmas season.

A different kind of Pyramid

The most popular of these little wooden wonders is the Weihnachtspyramide, or Christmas Pyramid. The best way to describe this intricately carved whirligig is a multi-leveled carousel or windmill. The pyramids are often decorated with a Christmas theme, displaying angels or manger scenes. Others depict images of mountains, wildlife, rural folk, and forests—a nod to daily life in the small mountain towns where the pyramids were first created. The one feature all Christmas Pyramids have in common is their propeller-like topper. Candles set at the base of the pyramids create rising heat, which sets the propellers spinning. Most pyramids are table-top sized and function as holiday decoration in German families’ homes. But during the Christmas season, larger-than-life pyramids are erected in Christmas Markets across the country.

Another uniquely German Christmas handcraft is the German Smoker, or smoking man. Around 300 years ago, incense cones were used to celebrate the season—inspired by one of the gifts of the Three Wise Men: Frankincense. In the late 1800s, these cones found their way inside the hollow bellies of carved wooden figurines. When the incense cone is lit and placed inside, the smoke puffs out the figure’s mouth. Unlike the regal Nutcrackers, traditionally carved to look like soldiers, smoking men represent the common man—including shepherds, miners, and chimney sweeps.

The classic uniformed nutcracker is by far Germany’s most recognizable wooden handcraft. The original nutcrackers depicted authority figures with grim faces and large, angry mouths. They were a convenient way for the common man to subtly protest—without risking life or livelihood—the domineering military and police forces that governed their lives. But the little wooden soldiers, painted in vibrant jewel tones and accented with rabbit fur hair and beards, appealed to the masses and have been a popular holiday gift for children since the 19th century.

The German Christmas icon then got a major visibility lift from a certain Russian ballet. On December 18, 1892, the Tchaikovsky-scored classic premiered in St. Petersburg. Based on German author E.T.W. Hoffmann’s charming tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the ballet—though not a success at first—introduced nutcrackers to the wider world, where they quickly grew in popularity. Nowadays, these Old World wooden toys are nearly synonymous with Christmas, their oversized teeth just waiting to crack a roasted chestnut for you. 

From snapping nutcrackers and puffing smokers to the whirling Christmas pyramid—all of Germany’s interactive, carved creations remain just as beloved today as they were centuries ago.