My quickly assembled clothes the day of my river cruise
This is my "first impression" article to relate the "surprises" I have already encountered on the first day of my first "Christmas Markets River Cruise."
For those who are not already familiar with these cruises, these are the end-of-season river cruises that meander along the Rhine and Danube to visit the traditional Christmas street markets and fairs found in the Germanic/Slavic nations of Germany, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, etc.
These sail in late November through December every winter in fairly northerly climates, and although five years ago I was just beginning to hear about them, they are now all the rage.
There are a few different cruises that go to climates as cold as or even colder than these, and you definitely need to be prepared, so let's look at the proper clothing.
I have cruised in Alaska many times, and that is not nearly as cold as this, because although they are at similar latitudes, Alaska cruises sail in the summer. However, a Great Lakes cruise this time of year would definitely be colder than this. See, both Alaska and this region of Europe share a common weather pattern dominated by warmer ocean air, rather than the cold arctic air straight from to North Pole you get in Buffalo, NY, or Siberia, Russia. The only visitor from the North Pole you get on this cruise is St. Nick.
I have cruised to Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle which is about as far north as any cruise ship ever goes. That was in June but it was still the coldest experience in my lifetime. Several people on that boat recall one shore excursion where we all got so cold that just taking a warm shower felt like pins and needles hitting our skin.
But I am from Phoenix, so I am not used to temperatures hovering around zero-degrees centigrade ( 32-degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point for water), so in packing for this trip I included what I hoped would get me through the cruise comfortably, but mindful that I might have to buy more. Unlike Spitsbergen, I knew I would have plenty of opportunities to go shopping on the first day on this cruise.
We all know layering is the key to keeping warm; trapping warm air next to your body to insulate it from the cold - similar to a diver's wet suit. But my first day in Hungary the only special layering I did was to put a t-shirt and a long-sleeve t-shirt under a medium jacket. So, I was fine from the neck to my waist, but I soon realized I would need a hat, gloves and something to wear under my jeans.
Fortunately, (at least this one time) even parts of Europe that used to be as isolated as Budapest are now so Americanized that many stores are now open on Sunday, even in the mornings. I knew I would be fine as long as I waited until at least 10:00 a.m.
First I found a souvenir stand that catered to tourists like me with cheap hats and gloves. My new knit cap has a Velcro chin strap. Perfect. I also got some gloves which are part leather and partly knitted even though I know gloves that are air tight are better in really cold weather. For best quality clothes that are both wind and water tight are the best choice. But, I am only here for a week. But I just couldn't resist the coolest pair of long underwear ever; black with red piping, which I found at H&M, a "hip" new clothing chain in most of the major urban cities now.
Have you tried Christmas Cruise? Tell us here: Cruise Forum
Now You Know, Too
River cruising is more popular than ever. This is a band new boat I am now upon, and the cruise line, Viking River, just announced they have an astounding 18 more of these boats on order to be delivered in 2013 and 2014. That is amazing; no regular cruise line ever has more than two ships under construction at any given time.
However, keep in mind that one cruise ship may hold as many passengers as 18 of these river boats, but those ships don't have 18 separate engines, navigation systems and other things you have to put aboard each of these river boats. Still, having 18 boats on order displays an extraordinary amount of confidence in their product.
I also have to say that this is just a beautiful boat. I have been taking river cruises since the 1980s, including on this very itinerary in 1996, and this boat is the most beautiful I have ever seen. My stateroom is gorgeous. I actually believe that this bathroom is what the NCL designers were hoping to achieve when they built the staterooms on Norwegian Epic that have been so commonly criticized.
The glass wall between the shower and the bedroom is transparent (!).
When I first walked into the bathroom and realized I could still see my bed I did a double take, thinking I was looking into a mirror or something. But I had just been on the Celebrity Reflection last week, and on that ship we saw the first shower at sea that is cantilevered over the side of the ship, so it looks and (almost) feels like you are showering in broad, open daylight. I recalled how that shower has a switch to make the glass translucent, but not see-through. These river boat shower walls have the same trick - a button where you can transform them from fully transparent to fully private (translucent).
This is the first river boat I have sailed upon where my stateroom also has a full, standard balcony. It also has plenty of room with a King-size bed, a mini-bar, eight drawers and a full side-by-side closet.
The 40-inch TV is mounted directly across from the bed (where I want it) and it seems huge, even bigger than the standard cruise ship TV (32-inches). There is free satellite television and free wireless Internet throughout the ship. Wine is included with dinner and every port of call has an included tour (or more than one) and also optional additional tours in some of the ports.
I forgot the best thing - the tray of Christmas cookies waiting for me when I arrived. This part of Europe has some cookies I have never seen at home; marzipan, poppy seed and something like a soft fruitcake covered in chocolate frosting. I could have eaten a dozen of those . Umm, maybe I did.
So - this is just my first day. Expect to hear more about the boat and the Christmas markets in the next few days. And don't forget that long johns are not just for farm boys anymore, you will need them, along with hats and gloves, if you plan to take a Christmas Market River Cruise.
Have you tried Christmas Cruise? Tell us here: Cruise Forum