It’s your time to indulge in a magical festive cruise with Avalon Waterways. Melinda, from our Sales team in Australia, recently experienced our Avalon Christmastime from Vienna to Budapest river cruise in November last year. Read on for her best tips on how to spend five days along the Danube during Christmas.

Avalon ship
Mel and the Avalon Visionary, docked in Vienna

Christmas is that magical time of year where all the regular rules don’t apply. We eat more than usual, we rush around to socialise with everyone before the year ends, and we are often more sedentary at all these festive occasions. But sometimes it all gets a little overwhelming and you just need to stop and enjoy the moment.  

Bar staff

With Avalon, the focus is on relaxed luxury. Do as little or as much as you’d like to. Unwind in your luxurious Panorama Suite watching the world go by. Join the included Avalon Choice excursions or meander into local townships to explore their famous Christkindlmarkts. Or simply soak up the ambiance onboard your Suite Ship. It’s your holiday. Whilst some seek the ‘eat, pray, love’ travelling experience, I was more in search of an ‘eat, explore, relax’ type itinerary, and was rewarded in spades. 


Mimosas at breakfast
Mimosas at breakfast

Have the mimosa to start your day, eat the crepes, sample all the local cuisine and top it off with a steaming hot glühwein (mulled wine) at the end of the day. The best part? With a 3:1 ratio of crew onboard, nothing is too hard. Almond milk for my coffee? Done. Taiwanese group onboard? Easy! Our Maitre d’ went to great lengths to look after everyone, even making a special trip into town to buy ingredients for an authentic congee breakfast which led to more diverse mingling and conversations with our fellow guests.  

Crepes in Vienna
Crepes in Vienna

Travelling through Austria, Slovakia and Hungary saw each country boast its own unique flavours and traditional dishes. We had plenty of opportunity to sample local produce such as Hungarian chimney cakes (a cylindrical shaped pastry coated in cinnamon and sugar) and Slovakian langoš (fried potato dough with savoury toppings). And of course, no journey through Austria would be complete without a taste of apfel strudel – featuring a filling of spiced apples, raisins and cinnamon encased in layers of flaky pastry. 


Despite the cooler climate, you are still drawn to explore the outside world. I found I still averaged 10,000 steps each day, but never felt like I was ever particularly active. The misconception that you’re confined on cruises couldn’t be further from the truth, especially on a river cruise where each port brings new opportunities for exploration and discovery. We were greeted by local guides at each port, ready to share their insights and proudly escort us through their towns. 

Bratislava Castle
Looking up to Bratislava Castle

Our Adventure Host, Roxy, offered several guided hikes, one of which was the active walk up to Bratislava Castle for breath taking views across the township and river. She giggled as she showed us the steep, zig zagging steps up, then pointed to the easier alternative – a winding path with a gradual incline through parkways. Inside the castle courtyard, we were surprised to see more Christmas markets with appropriately dressed characters and open fire pits adding to the medieval charm amidst snow falling all around us. 

Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey lit up at night

We explored the magnificent Benedictine Abbey in Melk after a lunchtime sailing through the famous Wachau Valley wine region and charming villages such as Dürnstein. Our excursion included a guided tour through the Abbey and a short walk through Melk’s township.  

Krems Christmas market
The Christmas market at Krems

However, I found the best exploring was through all the local Christmas markets. Whilst the big cities of Vienna and Budapest had multiple sites, some of the smaller towns we visited (such as Krems) were equally poignant with local traders urging you to sample their products. 


Panorama Suite

From the moment you step onboard, every detail is taken care of for you. Whilst there’s always something on offer, whether it be informative talks from the Cruise Director or social trivia sessions with your fellow travellers, there is also plenty of downtime for you to relax. Most days I would enjoy an afternoon pastry either in my Panorama Suite, or in one of the lounges acquainting myself with people from all over the world.  

I would recommend travelling light and leaving your toiletries at home. My skin has never looked better with the luxurious L’Occitane amenities provided to treat your senses. Indulging in a daily moisturizing foot soak while watching the picturesque scenery glide by left me feeling pampered and rejuvenated. And all of this from the comfort of my bed facing the view so as not to miss a minute of picturesque scenery! 

Gellert Hot Springs
Mel spent some of her free time at the famous Gellért Thermal Baths in Budapest

I also appreciated that there was always ample time to explore independently at your own pace, too, assisted by the AvalonGO app detailing attractions, restaurants and other useful information. With each passing mile, you can feel the stresses of everyday life melt away, replaced by a sense of gratitude and contentment. This is sure to be a highlight, offering a perfect blend of comfort, luxury and scenic beauty. 

Sound appealing? Here are my tips to maximise your festive European river cruise:  
  • Use the AvalonGO app for self-exploration in ports or simply absorb the plethora of handy hints given from the crew & local guides 
  • The train station directly opposite the dock in Vienna is called Vorgartenstrasse. This is easy to remember as it’s the only station that starts with a V. Whilst there were regular shuttle services, if you wanted to explore independently the local rail system is very user friendly.  
  • Backpacks are not permitted at Schönbrunn Palace, nor are photographs inside the palace. We could leave any belongings securely locked on the coach or just pack appropriately for the excursion.  
  • At Melk there are approximately 60 steps to walk uphill to reach the Abbey. Alternatively, take the provided minivan from the ship instead 
  • Pack snow boots and a good waterproof winter coat. Not only will snow boots keep your feet warm, but they also help prevent slipping on icy footpaths. Clothing layers are ideal given indoor venues will usually have a roaring fire or heating system activated 

Take a look at our full range of festive river cruises with Avalon Waterways today.  

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