Print

Day by Day Itinerary

Maybe it's the sight of medieval landscapes glittering with colorful lights, or the familiar, heartwarming melodies of "Silent Night" and "O Christmas Tree" sung in their original German. Or maybe it's the excitement of the traditional Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market), brimming with handmade toys and ornaments, and filled with the delicious aromas of freshly baked cookies and warm mulled wine ... For many, Christmastime in the Old World is simply the most satisfying way to experience the holidays. And this festive Grand Circle River Cruise—which includes ALL meals onboard, and wine with dinner—is a wonderful gift to yourself that will remain a treasured holiday memory for years to come.

  • hidden

    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Basel, Switzerland.

  • hidden

    G19204

    This morning, you arrive at the Basel airport, where you are met and transferred to the pier to embark your river ship. From Basel, located where Switzerland, Germany, and France all meet, ships can navigate the Rhine all the way to the North Sea.

    A light lunch will be served onboard this afternoon. Otherwise, the balance of the day is at leisure.

    Gather this evening to meet your Program Director and traveling companions over dinner, and for a ship briefing on your upcoming cruise.

  • hidden

    This morning, you'll sail toward Breisach, Germany, set just on the edge of the Black Forest.

    Upon arrival this afternoon, you'll head into Alsace on the French side of the Rhine to visit Kaysersberg. This was the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian and recipient of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, who is famous for his philosophy of "reverence for life" and his work in Africa. Your tour includes a visit to Dr. Schweitzer's former home, now a museum, where his study is preserved exactly as it was when he last used it in 1959. You'll also see the city center, and have time to discover more of Kaysersberg on your own.

    You'll also visit the nearby commune of Riquewihr, a renowned "wine village" known for its Rieslings. After an informative stroll, you'll have free time to explore on your own.

    Gather this evening with your fellow travelers and Program Director for a Captain's Welcome Drink and Dinner.

  • hidden

    G3197

    After breakfast, enjoy a sightseeing tour by boat along Strasbourg's canals. Strasbourg has been strategically important since ancient times. It became a free imperial city in 1262, and then was occupied by France in 1681 and Germany in 1871. France recovered the city in 1919 after World War I. From your boat, you'll see the major sights (including the Palais de L'Europe, where the European Parliament meets) and admire the city's remarkable Renaissance architecture. In mid-morning, your boat tour concludes at the Palais Rohan in the town center. If you like, you may walk on your own from the Palais to visit the city's magnificent cathedral, one of the finest of Europe's great Gothic cathedrals. Its lofty single spire dominates the city.

    After lunch aboard ship, you have the afternoon free to visit Strasbourg's Christmas Market or explore more of the city on your own. There is an excellent collection of Renaissance art in the Museum of Fine Arts, while the Alsatian Museum offers folk art, including reconstructed interiors of Rhine farm and vineyard houses. You may want to visit the picturesque Petite-France area (the former Tanners district) and see the old Customs House and charming covered bridges with their defensive towers. Return to the ship for dinner on board.

  • hidden

    G23982

    This morning, the ship docks at the German town of Plittersdorf and you depart for a scenic journey by motorcoach into the Black Forest region. You'll stop for a visit in the spa town of Baden-Baden, nestled in thick, peaceful forests. Since Roman times, Baden-Baden has been renowned for its thermal baths, with mineral waters thought to have restorative powers. Afterwards, the motorcoach takes you to Speyer, where you reboard the ship in time for lunch.

    Speyer is a city more than 2,000 years old that has retained parts of its medieval wall and gates. As you visit the city’s Christmas Market later today, you can contemplate the fact that an earlier version of this town already existed in the time of Jesus.

    This afternoon, you’ll join a local family for coffee, cake, and conversation at a Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch. Afterwards, consider strolling through the Christmas Market and browsing its festive stalls. We return to the ship for dinner.

  • hidden

    You have the morning free in Speyer. On your own, you might take in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate, which has large collections of pre-Roman and Roman materials and includes a wine museum. The ship begins cruising towards Mainz around noon. Or consider visiting Speyer’s four-towered Imperial Cathedral. Dating from the eleventh century, it’s one of the greatest Romanesque buildings in Germany and contains the tombs of eight emperors. This was also an early center of printing as the home of the 15th-century printers John of Speyer and his brother Wendelin.

    Or, perhaps you'll take our all-day optional tour to discover romantic Heidelberg, a historic university town nestled between wooded hills at the edge of the Odenwald Forest and crowned with the ruins of Heidelberg Castle. Begun in the Gothic style of the 14th century and built up gradually over the next 400 years, the castle demonstrates the evolution of architectural style, finally completed in the Baroque period. After lunch, tour Heidelberg’s turreted 600-year-old university, Germany’s oldest. In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, we’ll also stop at Heidelberg’s lively Christmas Market.

    After the tour, you’ll ride to Mainz to reboard the ship before dinner.

    Please note: The Heidelberg optional tour will not be available on the 12/19/14 departure, as it falls on Christmas Eve and shops and restaurants will be closed.

  • hidden

    This morning you'll enjoy a walking tour of Mainz and see the town's great eleventh-century Romanesque cathedral. The 2,000-year-old city of Mainz rose to prominence in the eighth century when St. Boniface, the "German Apostle," designated it an archbishopric, thereby making it the center of Germanic Christendom. The Mainz archbishops held spiritual and political power, serving as electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

    G19204

    But Mainz remains best known for its most famous son, Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type, who was born here in 1397. Gutenberg began his career by creating and selling indulgences—papers that could be purchased and used as "coupons" by the faithful to absolve them of some of the time they had earned in Purgatory. Gutenberg realized he could absolve himself of some of his own monetary debts if he could mass-produce the indulgences. To do this, he created uniformly sized metal molds for letters that allowed him to create error-free, repeatable text. This was the beginning of the movable type that transformed the world.

    You'll see the Gutenberg Bible and the printing press, which are housed in the town's Gutenberg Museum. The museum exhibits one of the 47 extant copies of the Latin Gutenberg Bible—a 42-page volume with elaborate Gothic lettering, dating from the 1450s.

    After lunch aboard ship, you have the afternoon free to visit the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) in Mainz. You'll have ample opportunity to explore the myriad craft stalls, and to explore the rest of the city as you please.

    Dinner is onboard this evening. Or, join us for an optional evening outing to the cobbled Drosselgasse wine alley in Rudesheim for a dinner with wine, food, song, and dance.

    Please note: The Rudesheim optional tour will not be available on the 12/19/14 departure, as it falls on Christmas and shops and restaurants will be closed. Instead, you will enjoy extra discoveries with your Program Director aboard the ship and on land in Mainz.

  • hidden

    G19199

    Today, the ship cruises along some of the most beautiful and inspiring parts of the Rhine as you sail for Koblenz. En route, you'll learn about local holiday lore during an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about German Christmas traditions, focusing on the origins of the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree), the Advent calendar, and more.

    You'll hear more enlightening commentary as you pass the Lorelei, a large rock rising 440 feet above the river. Since ancient Greek mythology, there have been legends of sirens, women-creatures who lure sailors to their death with sweet songs. Ancient Germanic legend places one such siren (Lorelei) here, and it is said she enticed sailors to destruction on the reef below the rock.

    This afternoon, embark on a walking tour of Koblenz, the 2,000-year-old city that stands at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Sitting amidst hills populated with castles and fortresses, this strategic location has made the city vital to European trade—and explains why it was heavily bombed during World War II. Many of its historic buildings have since been restored and the Altstadt (Old Town) features distinct architecture like the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), a 13th-century Gothic basilica with twin towers capped by onion-shaped spires, and the Basilica St. Kastor or Kastorkirche, dedicated to Castor of Karden, featuring four towers. Across the Rhine you’ll find the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, central to a ring of fortifications built to protect the town and the region.

  • hidden

    The morning is at leisure to explore Koblenz and stroll among the stalls of its wonderful Christmas Market. Savor the smell of chestnuts roasting over open fires, and perhaps savor an authentic Bratwurst as you shop for handmade gifts and enjoy watching artisans at work. Perhaps you’ll visit the Deutsches Eck, or "Corner of Germany," where both the Altstadt and the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, across the Rhine, are visible.

    Enjoy an afternoon of sailing as you cruise to Cologne. En route, perhaps you'll participate in an exclusive Discovery Series cooking demonstration where you’ll learn how to make Stollen, a traditional German bread made with fruit and nuts and topped with powdered sugar.

  • hidden

    G24095

    After breakfast, disembark for a guided walking tour of Cologne's Old City. A Roman settlement called Colonia Agrippina after AD 50, Cologne came under Frankish control in the fifth century. You can still see the ruins of Roman temples scattered through the city, and the Roman Tower near the cathedral was once part of the medieval town walls. During the 15th century, the city flourished as a member of the Hanseatic League.

    Your tour ends in front of the city's magnificent Gothic cathedral (Dom), which you may visit on your own. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral largely escaped the World War II damage that ravaged the city and the rest of Germany. (There's evidence that Allied forces worked deliberately to avoid damaging this beautiful structure.) It's the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, boasting beautiful stained-glass windows, an ornate gold shrine on its elaborate altar, and the intricate detail common to 14th-century Gothic churches.

    After your tour, enjoy some time on your own in Cologne. Perhaps you'll spend time at the Romano-Germanic Museum, with its beautifully restored Roman mosaics and reconstructed tomb. The museum is the home of the largest collection of Roman glass vessels in the world and also holds a significant collection of Roman and early medieval jewelry. You could also visit Cologne's Christmas Market, and browse its wide assortment of Christmas creations.

    Tonight, join your travel companions for dinner onboard.

  • hidden

    G24140

    This morning, arrive in Nijmegen, a Dutch city built on seven hills overlooking the Waal River just west of its confluence with the Rhine. You'll see the arching bridge that spans the Waal, which was the site of an important battle during World War II that caused devastating damage to the city. As a result, Nijmegen, one of the oldest towns in Holland, was almost completely rebuilt. The town center, however, was remarkably unscathed by shelling, and provides a striking contrast to the newer architecture that surrounds it.

    Enjoy a walk throughout the city. Or, perhaps you'll join an optional excursion to nearby Groesbeek for a visit to the National Liberation Museum (Bevijdingsmuseum). Here, the occupation and liberation of wartime Holland is vividly recreated through interactive displays.

    After lunch onboard, enjoy an afternoon of sailing and take in the passing landscapes as you cruise to Amsterdam.

    Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for a frank Exclusive Discovery Series discussion concerning Europeans today, followed by a Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner. Arrive tonight in Amsterdam, where you will dock for the night.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

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

  • hidden

    Depart the U.S. today on your flight to Amsterdam. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact arrival and departure times.

  • hidden

    This morning, you arrive at the Amsterdam airport, where you are met and transferred to the pier to embark your river ship. From Amsterdam, ships can navigate the Rhine through Holland and Germany (where the river forms part of the border with France) all the way to Basel, Switzerland.

    A light lunch will be served onboard this afternoon.Otherwise, the balance of the day is at leisure.

    Gather this evening to meet your Program Director for a ship briefing on your upcoming cruise, which begins with overnight cruising to Nijmegen.

  • hidden

    G24140

    This morning, arrive in Nijmegen, a Dutch city built on seven hills overlooking the Waal River, just west of its confluence with the Rhine. You’ll see the arching bridge that spans the Waal, which was the site of an important battle during World War II that caused devastating damage to the city. As a result, Nijmegen, one of the oldest towns in Holland, was almost completely rebuilt. The town center, however, was remarkably unscathed by shelling, and provides a striking contrast to the newer architecture that surrounds it.

    Enjoy a walk throughout the city. Or, join an optional excursion to nearby Groesbeek for a visit to the National Liberation Museum (Bevijdingsmuseum). Here, the occupation and liberation of wartime Holland is vividly recreated through interactive displays.

    Enjoy an afternoon of sailing, taking in the passing landscapes and an Exclusive Discovery Series German language lesson along the way.

    Join your traveling companions this evening for a Captain’s Welcome Drink and Dinner.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series cooking demonstration where you’ll learn how to make Stollen, a traditional German bread made with fruit and nuts and topped with powdered sugar.

    Then you'll disembark for a guided walking tour of Cologne’s Old City. A Roman settlement called Colonia Agrippina after AD 50, Cologne came under Frankish control in the fifth century. You can still see the ruins of Roman temples scattered through the city, and the Roman Tower near the cathedral was once part of the medieval town walls. During the 15th century, the city flourished as a member of the Hanseatic League.

    G24095

    Your tour ends in front of the city’s magnificent Gothic Cathedral (Dom), which you may explore further on your own. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral largely escaped the World War II damage that ravaged the city and the rest of Germany. (There’s evidence that Allied forces worked deliberately to avoid damaging this beautiful structure.) It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, boasting beautiful stained-glass windows, an ornate gold shrine on its elaborate altar, and the intricate detail common to 14th-century Gothic churches.

    After your tour, enjoy some time on your own in Cologne. Perhaps you'll spend time at the Romano-Germanic Museum, with its beautifully restored Roman mosaics and reconstructed tomb. The museum is the home of the largest collection of Roman glass vessels in the world and also holds a significant collection of Roman and early medieval jewelry. You could also visit Cologne's Christmas Market, and browse its wide assortment of Christmas creations.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, embark on a walking tour of Koblenz, the 2,000-year-old city that stands at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Sitting amidst hills populated with castles and fortresses, this strategic location has made the city vital to European trade—and explains why it was heavily bombed during World War II. Many of its historic buildings have since been restored and the Altstadt (Old Town) features distinct architecture like the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), a 13th-century Gothic basilica with twin towers capped by onion-shaped spires, and the Basilica St. Kastor, or Kastorkirche, dedicated to Castor of Karden, with four towers. Across the Rhine you’ll find the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, central to a ring of fortifications built to protect the town and the region.

    Later this afternoon, cruise along some of the most beautiful and inspiring parts of the Rhine as you sail toward Mainz. You’ll pass the Lorelei, a large rock rising 440 feet above the river. Since the times of ancient Greek mythology, there have been legends of sirens, women-creatures who lure sailors to their death with sweet songs. Ancient Germanic legend places one such siren (Lorelei) here, and it is said she enticed sailors to destruction on the reef below the rock.

    Tonight, gather with your fellow travelers for an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about German Christmas traditions, focusing on the origins of the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree), the Advent calendar, and more. Dinner will follow, and your ship will dock in Mainz.

  • hidden

    Enjoy a walking tour of Mainz this morning, which includes the town’s great eleventh-century Romanesque cathedral. The 2,000-year-old city of Mainz rose to prominence in the eighth century when St. Boniface, the “German Apostle,” designated it an archbishopric, thereby making it the center of Germanic Christendom. The Mainz archbishops held spiritual and political power, serving as electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

    G19204

    But Mainz remains best known for its most famous son, Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type, who was born here in 1397. Gutenberg began his career by creating and selling indulgences—papers that could be purchased and used as “coupons” by the faithful to absolve them of some of the time they had earned in Purgatory. Gutenberg realized he could absolve himself of some of his own monetary debts if he could mass-produce the indulgences. To do this, he created uniformly sized metal molds for letters that allowed him to create error-free, repeatable text. This was the beginning of the movable type that transformed the world.

    You’ll see the Gutenberg Bible and the printing press, which are housed in the town’s Gutenberg Museum, which opened in 2000. The museum exhibits one of the 47 extant copies of the Latin Gutenberg Bible—a 42-page volume with elaborate Gothic lettering dating from the 1450s.

    After lunch, enjoy free time to further explore Mainz or to visit the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) and its craft stalls.

    Dinner is onboard the ship this evening. Or, join us for an optional outing to the cobbled Drosselgasse wine alley in Rudesheim for a dinner with wine, food, song, and dance.

  • hidden

    G23982

    This morning we’ll cruise toward Speyer, enjoying a leisurely morning to view our surroundings and learn a little about the Christmas traditions throughout Europe. Speyer is a city more than 2,000 years old that has retained parts of its medieval wall and gates—an earlier version of this town already existed in the time of Jesus.

    After we dock this afternoon, you’ll join a local family for coffee, cake, and conversation at a Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch. Afterwards, consider strolling through the Christmas Market and browsing its festive stalls. We return to the ship for dinner.

  • hidden

    You have the day free in Speyer. On your own, you might take in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate, which has large collections of pre-Roman and Roman materials and includes a wine museum. Or consider visiting Speyer’s four-towered Imperial Cathedral. Dating from the eleventh century, it’s one of the greatest Romanesque buildings in Germany and contains the tombs of eight emperors. This was also an early center of printing as the home of the 15th-century printers John of Speyer and his brother Wendelin.

    Or, join our all-day optional tour to discover romantic Heidelberg, a historic university town nestled between wooded hills at the edge of the Odenwald Forest. This morning, enjoy the ruins of Heidelberg Castle. Begun in the Gothic style of the 14th century and built up gradually over the next 400 years, the castle demonstrates the evolution of architectural style, finally completed in the Baroque period. In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, we’ll also stop at Heidelberg’s lively Christmas Market. This afternoon, tour Heidelberg’s turreted 600-year-old university, Germany’s oldest. After the tour, you’ll ride back to Speyer to re-board the ship before dinner.

  • hidden

    This morning, the ship docks at the German town of Plittersdorf and you depart for a scenic journey by motorcoach into the Black Forest region. You'll stop for a visit in the spa town of Baden-Baden, nestled in thick, peaceful forests. Since Roman times, Baden-Baden has been renowned for its thermal baths, with mineral waters thought to have restorative powers. Afterwards, the motorcoach takes you on a scenic ride through the Black Forest region before returning to the river, where you re-board the ship in time for lunch.

    The ship arrives in Strasbourg in the late afternoon and you have dinner on board.

  • hidden

    G3197

    After breakfast, enjoy a sightseeing tour by boat along Strasbourg’s canals. Strasbourg has been strategically important since ancient times. It became a free imperial city in 1262, and then was occupied by France in 1681 and Germany in 1871. France recovered the city in 1919 after World War I. From your boat, you’ll see the major sights (including the Palais de L’Europe where the European Parliament meets) and admire the city’s remarkable Renaissance architecture. In mid-morning, your boat tour concludes at the Palais Rohan in the town center. If you like, you may walk on your own from the Palais to visit the city’s magnificent cathedral, one of the finest of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals. Its lofty single spire dominates the city.

    After lunch aboard ship, you have the afternoon free to visit Strasbourg’s Christmas Market or explore more of the city on your own. There is an excellent collection of Renaissance Art in the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Alsatian Museum offers folk art, including reconstructed interiors of Rhine farm and vineyard houses. You may want to visit the picturesque Petite-France area (the former Tanners district) and see the old Customs House and the charming covered bridges with their defensive towers. Return to the ship and gather with your Program Director and fellow travelers for a Captain's Farewell Reception and Dinner.

  • hidden

    Cruise between French Alsace (on the west bank of the Rhine) and the German state of Baden-Württemberg (on the east bank) this morning.

    This afternoon, you’ll head into Alsace to visit Kaysersberg. This was the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian and recipient of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, who is famous for his philosophy of "reverence for life" and his work in Africa. Your tour includes a visit to Dr. Schweitzer's former home, now a museum, where his study is preserved exactly as it was when he last used it in 1959.
    You'll also see the city center, and have time to discover more of Kaysersberg on your own.

    You'll also visit the nearby commune of Riquewihr, a renowned "wine village" known for its Rieslings. After an informative stroll, you'll have free time to explore on your own.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

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

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

Have you been on this trip? Share Your Thoughts, Sign In

Please note: If you have taken this trip, please log into your My Account & return to this page. You will be prompted to post your review. Reviews are limited to 10,000 characters. Due to our moderation process, please allow up to 72 hours for your review to appear.

Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

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

Ship Excellence
94%
Program Director Excellence
86%
Overall Trip Excellence
84%
loading reviews

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 cobbled streets and older wooden piers. 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 Dec 24, all day on Dec 25 and 26, and on Jan 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 Concerto

    The M/S River Concerto was ranked #14 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Concerto was launched in 2000. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Harmony

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

    The M/S River Harmony was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Melody

    The M/S River Melody was ranked #13 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Melody was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Rhapsody

    The M/S River Rhapsody was ranked #19 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Rhapsody was launched in 1999. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Extensions

  • Hotel Basel

    Basel, Switzerland | Rating: First Class

    This 72-room First-Class hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Basel, near highlights like the Basel Zoo. Enjoy a meal at the hotel restaurant, Brasserie Steiger, or a drink at the Sperber bar. Each air-conditioned room contains a mini-bar, telephone, and TV.

  • The Hotel, Brussels

    Brussels, Belgium | Rating: First Class

    Just a five-minute walk from the city’s attractions, The Hotel Brussels is centrally located and offers a contemporary welcome in a historic setting. With both French and Belgian restaurants, a bar and lounge, and a fitness club, the hotel boasts a cosmopolitan feel. Your room features air-conditioning, cable TV, and private bath with shower.

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 $1395
w/ standard air $2395
Approximate travel times

Tracing the Roots of Jolly Old Saint Nick

The Old World origins of Santa Claus

by Laura Chavanne, Creative Director

... The legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the Old World ...

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.…”

For anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of the dreaded childhood inquiry regarding Santa’s existence, it might not seem like a fun thing to discuss—but we hope you’ll put any awkward memories aside to find out how everyone’s favorite “jolly old elf” came to be. Like so many of the Christmas traditions we cherish in America today—including the stockings, the tree, and even the candy cane—the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the Old World. And those roots grew in interesting directions before they found their way to our soil.

While the man with the red suit and sleigh lives only in our imaginations, the inspiration for his character was very real indeed. Saint Nicholas of Myra lived during the third century AD in modern-day Antalya, Turkey. To Catholic and Orthodox Christians, he’s revered for much more than his reputation for gift-giving. Depending on who you ask, he’s the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, children, pawnbrokers, prisoners…the list goes on and on. All would agree, however, that he was well known for his generosity and love of children.

Stocking stuffers from a good Samaritan

While many legends extol the virtues of Saint Nicholas, his reputation as a gift-giver comes from one tale in particular. A very poor man had three daughters who all wished to someday marry, but he couldn’t afford a dowry for any of them. In those times, no dowry meant no marriage, and it seemed likely that all three daughters were destined for servitude—until three bags of gold mysteriously appeared in the poor man’s home. The gifts came courtesy of Saint Nicholas, who left them secretly as he was too modest to seek recognition. According to numerous versions of the legend, the bags landed in shoes or stockings left by the fire to dry. (Sound familiar?)

Saint Nicholas’ traditional birthday (or the day of his death—again, depending on who you ask) is December 6, which is recognized as Saint Nicholas Day in much of Europe. In some countries, including the Netherlands, this is the primary occasion for gift-giving, and in all countries where it’s celebrated, it is entirely separate from the Christmas holidays.

So how did we end up giving gifts on Christmas Day? While the name of our “Santa Claus” is derived from Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, we obviously don’t leave presents under the tree on the night of December 5. Enter Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Because the Protestants denounced the worship of saints, celebrating Saint Nicholas waned in popularity. Celebrating in general, however, was as popular as ever, so the festivities were moved to Christmas Day. While some countries, like the Netherlands, retained their devotion to Saint Nicholas, in much of Europe he lost his role as gift-giver to the Christ Child—Christkindl, in German. Through evolving mispronunciations, this is how Santa got his alternate name, Kris Kringle, even though the two names represent two completely different figures.

So, our Christmas festivities are actually a blend of two different holidays—but that’s nothing compared to the mishmash of influences that apply to Santa Claus’ physical appearance. The iconic image of the rotund, jolly man with the snowy white beard and red suit was first popularized by 19th-century American artists, the most famous being the German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly Journal. Saint Nicholas himself, not surprisingly, looked nothing like this. In religious iconography, the saint was portrayed with a short, dark beard and simple, canonical robes, and he retained the appearance of a typical bishop until the 1300s.

At this point, Saint Nicholas took some style cues from the ancient god Odin, prevalent amongst Nordic and Germanic peoples prior to Christianity. Each mid-winter, Odin lorded over the night skies atop an eight-legged white horse called Sleipnir. He also sported a long white beard. As Saint Nicholas’ popularity grew, he eventually replaced Odin as the rider of the horse, and borrowed Odin’s white beard—completing his transformation into the Christmas icon we know and love to this day.