Come on an AmaWaterways Christmas market cruise with me

My colleague Claire and I were beyond excited to be invited onto the AmaVerde, sailing the river Danube in late November with promises of a memorable festive experience. With our hats, scarves, and gloves packed, we were ready to take on the Christmas markets and visit the many unspoiled locations throughout this trip.

Bright and early, I landed in Munich from Manchester airport at 9am. There I met Claire and the rest of the AmaWaterways group before hopping on a coach to the AmaVerde in Vilshofen. Down the Autobahn and past the BMW production site, we soon found our ship, which stood out for all the right reasons. Donned in pine, twinkling lights, an array of baubles, and a huge tree at its head, we embarked on the ship and were warmly welcomed as we set foot inside. We could barely contain our excitement at the reception filled with more trees, a life-size Santa figurine, and huge snow globes with a flurry of constant snow inside. The festivities had begun, and we were ready and raring to go for the week ahead.


The Cabin

Our cabin had everything we needed, with a few surprises thrown in. Plush pillows, soft bedding, complimentary hand creams for the chilly, chapping weather, a mini-fridge, TV set up with as many Christmas films as you could digest, shower gels, slippers, and fluffy dressing gowns. We had no trouble fitting our big coats and jumpers into the wardrobes with more room to spare; the cupboards offered even more storage and had a fitted safe for all-important valuables.

After exploring the rest of the ship, meeting the other guests, and indulging in an afternoon tea, we were ready to test the bed for a much-needed recharge. This had to be my favourite part of our cabin — as soon as you sank into the pillow, you were promised a night of undisturbed, blissful sleep. It’s safe to say sleeping was never a worrisome thought for either of us.

Restaurants and Food

The food onboard was unlike anything I have had before. Each night bore a new dish, with a guaranteed flavour and a chance to taste foods and wines enjoyed in the countries we were passing through. With four countries in seven days, we were presented with a huge array of delicacies; still too good to put into words.

The AmaVerde had many places to enjoy these dishes. The main restaurant and wine bar, with comfortable seating, large tables, multiple course options, and a crew that raised the service bar each day. The lounge, for a more relaxed feel, included a 24/7 coffee machine, a permanently filled bowl of fruit and biscuits, iced tea, and water ready to be poured, breakfast served buffet-style, lighter lunch options, afternoon tea, and late-night bites in the evening. Finally, the chef's table is a beautifully decorated space with a tasting menu that we saved for our final night on board.

To say I was impressed by the food I tasted would be a huge understatement. Each mouthful was packed with flavour, and we left the table beyond satisfied with every dish.

Breakfast included pastries, toast with a large assortment of spreads, eggs Benedict, various meats, fruits, and the chef's special for the day. Lunch was served with appetisers, a few of my favourites including spring rolls, smoked salmon, salami, duck breast, white sausage, mixed salads, and goat cheese with peppers. The table was always accompanied by warm crispy bread rolls and whipped butter — enjoyed with soups like mushroom and lentil, to name a few. The main lunch itself was beyond my expectations — sweet and sour turkey with rice, egg noodles, bread dumplings in a cheese sauce, eggplant and potato curry with naan bread. Always available options included juicy burgers and Margherita pizzas, and toasted sandwiches served with chips and salad. Desserts included cheese and biscuits, cakes, ice cream… though at this point, I had no room!

After all this, dinner was all anyone could talk about; we were eager to get our menus and pick from such an expanse of options. My notable favourites had to be oven-baked sweet potato with yoghurt and chickpeas, herb-stuffed chicken and glazed vegetables, mustard-crusted rack of lamb, and slow-roasted beef Angus tenderloin. The presentation of each dish was incredible — each plate a work of art, each bite rich in flavour.

Around the mains, we were served bread rolls, soup, salads, sorbets and appetisers of delicacies from the country we had visited that day. Dessert included ice cups, rich chocolate cakes, crepes drizzled in sauce, apple and pumpkin pies, strudels, and chocolate mousse. European cheese and biscuits were always available, and our glasses were constantly filled with delicious local red and white wine.

Now, I’ve been wondering how I can describe the food at the chef’s table. A tempting tasting menu we had been delivered the night prior, along with a formal invitation to what would be our last dinner on board. As we arrived, we were immediately presented with a glass of blue champagne — a lovely nod at the blue Danube we had the privilege of sailing along that week. The menu was extraordinary — potato soufflé, gravlax, coconut and lemongrass soup with shrimp tartar, pan-fried Walleye fillet and Quinoa, cassis sorbet, slow-braised beef brisket and vegetables, dark chocolate soufflé with mango ice cream and chocolate macarons. Each dish was unique and delicious in its own way, a party in the mouth and a satisfying end to a fantastic week of food.

Excursions

Our week was full of excursions perfect for all, with gorgeous sights and, of course, many Christmas markets!

Our first day in Vilshofen ended with an exclusive Oktoberfest celebration - where we tasted beer and listened to the live music entertainment. It was the perfect chance to meet the guests with whom we’d share the next week.

The next stop was beautiful Passau, where we had the City of Three Rivers walking tour. We met our tour guide and wandered through the cobbled streets, saw beautiful authentic buildings stuck in time, and were taken away with the gorgeous St Stephen’s Cathedral. It had a ceiling with elaborate paintings, statues covered in gold leaf, and the most detailed decor I have ever seen. It seemed every millimetre of the cathedral had been made with the utmost attention and intricacy.

Our third day was the start of the Christmas markets in Linz, as well as the City of Media Arts walking tour. Again, we witnessed some gorgeous architecture whilst hearing all about the city’s history. The buildings stretched high above us, each one unique. It was lovely to see such unspoiled architecture, still full of culture after so many centuries had passed. We then ventured into the city centre and saw the first of the markets. Stalls were filled with homemade gifts, gingerbread, candles, mulled wine, and roasted nuts. Despite the cold, the air surrounding the markets was warm and full of contrasting sweet and spicy smells.

We visited the town of Durnstein the next day, sampling the exceptional Wachau apricots and popping into several unique little shops. Then, we were off to Melk Abbey – quite literally a jaw-dropping building. Overlooking the Danube River, the yellow Melk Abbey stood tall and full of the most exceptional sights. Two-floor libraries with books dating back over 1,000 years, a ceiling full of dreamy paintings, rooms showcasing artefacts with incredible backstories, and the breathtaking church that seemed almost dripping in gold. It really was a feast for the eyes.

Vienna promised a day of festivities; with three markets to wander through from morning until evening. After a long walk savouring the buildings in the town, we were welcomed with a mug of mulled wine as we went to our first markets. We popped from stall to stall looking at homemade crafts, snow globes, festive dog treats, huge pretzels, meats, gingerbread, baubles, candles, paintings, and so much more.

After a quick lunch break back on the ship, we went out to visit the Schonbrunn markets – all lined up, surrounding the magnificent Schonbrunn Palace. They lit up warm and full of more homemade crafts, food, and drink. As evening started, we made the trip to the Rathaus markets, which were beyond our expectations. It truly felt like we were walking into a fairytale. The Vienna City Hall shone brightly in gold; with the tallest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen dotted around it. Gigantic baubles and snowmen glimmered across the gardens, with a huge carousel spinning magically in the centre. You could ice skate through trees, drink even more mulled wine, feast on generously stacked food, shop, and overall marvel at the exceptional scenery here. Everywhere I looked, there seemed even more to take in. It was a huge highlight of this trip!

Bratislava brought more markets, a big square full of elaborately decorated Christmas trees, a town with gorgeous churches, many shops, and beautiful tall buildings. It couldn’t have got any better, until we noticed the first snow we’d seen this year start to come down! Although we had seen many markets, and still had more to come, each one had something unique about it. It was lovely to see what each stall had to offer in terms of homemade objects and specialties. My favourite part of these markets was that they featured a huge outdoor slide, festively decorated and enjoyed by people both old and young!

Our trip finished perfectly in Budapest, but started by sailing past the famous Lipotvaros Parliament building. We ventured into town, experienced the last of the Christmas markets, and visited St. Stephen’s Basilica before heading back to the ship to experience some Folklore music and settle for dinner at the Chef’s Table. As it grew darker, we sailed past the Lipotvaros Parliament building again, to which it was illuminated magnificently. It finished off a week of sightseeing and marvelling at rich architecture in the best way.


Final Thoughts

This experience has certainly been one to remember. The destination highlight of this cruise for me must be our trip to Vienna — a place rich in culture, beautiful architecture, and charm. 

However, I can’t not mention how beyond brilliant the AmaWaterways crew have been throughout the week. To me, they have been the main highlight of this cruise. Everything from the chocolates and gifts left on your bed every night, welcoming you back from cold excursions with hot drinks and towels, remembering your regular evening drink orders, to organising a very festive Santa visit! Their attentiveness to you as guests is phenomenal — I truly felt looked after during my time on board, and they really made this experience a memorable one.

Call Panache Cruises on 0161 513 8200 if you want to learn more about Christmas market cruises.

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