Germany’s historic Christmas markets have been on my bucket list for a long time. So, when invited to check out a Uniworld boutique river cruise, I chose Classic Christmas Markets which on the luxurious River Queen ship which sails the Main River from Frankfurt to Nuremberg (and in the reverse). Uniworld offers several other Christmas markets cruises so it was a tough choice.
Having never been on a river cruise, let alone a cruise, I’d like to walk you through the entire process front to back starting with things to know before you go, what to pack, and activities we did each day ending with disembarkation in Nuremberg.
I will definitely say that experiencing Christmas festivities in Germany has been rejuvenating because it’s so different than how we do things in the states. Celebrations start on November 11 and there are a number of long-standing traditions, foods and other tidbits that have been so interesting to learn about. Plus, the markets are stunning.
Booking Flights to Germany
As a oneworld Alliance member, I chose this cruise partially based on ease of getting to Germany on American Airlines and their upgrade availability. It was a piece of cake to fly from San Diego-Dallas-Frankfurt, though I will say that the 777-200 used over the ocean is one of their oldest. Bring your DC chargers and note that business class seats aren’t lie-flat.
My return flight is a bit of a mess, mostly because after I purchased my ticket the route I chose was completely dropped by American Airlines. I now fly from Nuremberg-Dusseldorf-London-Dallas-San Diego. I know, a mess, but at least I’m upgraded from London to San Diego. I take a little Air Berlin prop plane to Dusseldorf which isn’t ideal because I dislike small planes, and then British Airways to London Heathrow.
Other passengers are taking a train from Nuremberg back to Frankfurt which they say is quite easy to do. A round-trip ticket to Frankfurt and back is probably less expensive, too. Nuremberg is a small airport with no direct flights to the U.S. or London on a oneworld Alliance carrier.
Packing for a Christmas Market River Cruise
Temps for our week range between 30-40°F which is cold but manageable though the damp air exacerbates the cold. Our cruise manager said there is usually snow and much lower temperatures this time of year. Heck, I’d done a few London winters so figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal. East Coast and other cold-weather dwellers will probably have these things anyway but for other SoCal folks I’m mentioning the following. You need:
- A warm hat
- Leather gloves (knit won’t cut it)
- Wool socks
- Boots (people in tennis shoes like Nike Frees that aren’t leather are uncomfortable)
- Shoe inserts for added warmth (the cold from the cobblestones can penetrate any sole)
- Coat (I bought a long Lululemon coat and am fine)
- Crossbody bag (there are pick-pockets, the markets are crowded and you will not want to maneuver through the small stores with a bulky backpack or bag)
- Thermal tights or underwear if you’re the type to really get cold (I’m fine without them)
- Sweaters (even though the boat has lovely heating, seats near the windows are cold)
- A MiFi (though the boat has internet in public areas, if you want it in your room bring a MiFi–I’ll cover this in detail later)
- Heavy facial moisturizer (it’s cold and you’ve been on a plane long haul so you need this)
- All other personal necessities
- Workout clothes for morning yoga and the fitness center
However, if you forget something, there are plenty of department stores near the ship in Frankfurt where you can buy necessities. I forgot my boots bought some at a Camper store (remember, you get a VAT refund at the airport if spending a certain amount).
You do not need to pack snacks (there is incredible food on the ship at almost all times) or shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath soap. Full-sized bottles of my favorite L’Occitane line are in each sizable bathroom. You also don’t need voltage converters as there are UK, US and European plugs in the staterooms.
Arrival to Frankfurt
The Frankfurt airport is modern, clean and very easy to navigate. You don’t need to fill out a landing card to enter Germany, which is nice. There’s an ATM right after baggage claim in Terminal 2, where I landed, for those of you who prefer to exchange currency through the ATM which is usually the cheapest way to do it. Speaking of cash, the only cash you’ll need is for the markets. There is no tipping on board the River Queen (it’s included in the rate) but also no ATM on board.
Getting to the River Queen on the Main River
A Uniworld representative was waiting right outside of baggage claim. I was surprised by how many people had arrived to Frankfurt early. My flight landed at 8:20 a.m. on embarkation day and I had wrongly assumed I’d be the first one. To be honest, I’m not sure how long the others were waiting but we were on a big, comfy Uniworld bus to the ship by 8:54 a.m. and at the Main River by about 9:10 a.m.
You can sort your own transportation but I suggest you let Uniworld handle it.
Boarding the River Queen Ship
The bus parked slightly uphill from the ship and the staff took care of getting luggage to our rooms. Make sure that your luggage is very clearly labeled so that they know who owns what because they didn’t ask who belonged to what. I thought the ship looked small from a distance but it clearly isn’t. Uniworld’s River Queen is a luxury ship decorated in Art Deco style with varying shades of white and blues, original artwork and no detail is overlooked.
We checked in at the front desk where our photos were taken and linked to our room keys, which also serve as cards that we scan every time we leave and board the ship. We were escorted individually to our rooms by staff members and told that buffet breakfast and a light lunch would be served in the lounge as people arrived.
Post-Landing Activities on the First Day
Uniworld river cruises are perfect for people like me who don’t like to be tied to lengthy activities. Though tired, I basically had an entire day to explore Frankfurt on my own. The Weihnachtsmarkt (Frankfurt Christmas market) was about a 10-minute scenic walk away from where the River Queen was docked.
I unpacked, showered and set off to explore on my own. I don’t speak a lick of German so was too intimidated to order food or drinks. However, the following day started with a helpful lecture about Christmas market food along with an eating tour which totally eliminated that fear. Some guests took advantage of a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Frankfurt. They said it took an hour and I wish I had done it, but don’t regret extensive time spent in the market (more on this later).
Back on the Ship
The captain, a very easy-going and witty young guy from The Netherlands, gave a safety talk before dinner. A gorgeous lounge area complete with fireplace serves premium liquor, any mixed drink you could ask for and a great selection of German and Austrian wines to sample. It’s classy and the service is impeccable.
The charismatic cruise manager, Piet, gives a nightly update regarding the following day’s schedule. He’s the kind of guy you’d love to have a gluhwein with. There is also a house musician who plays piano during cocktail hours and in the evenings.
Dinner is open seating in the gorgeous dining room. I was blown away by the food offerings of baked gouda with cranberry, vegetable soup, baked salmon and a gorgeous cheese plate that could have been my dinner. The German Merlot/Cabernet Blend was also incredible.
Arrived, fed and happy, I slept like a baby in luxury linens. Next up is the Frankfurt Christmas market.
- Trip Preview: Christmas Markets in Germany via Luxury River Cruise
- Glorious Food to Try at the Frankfurt Christmas Market
- 6 Things to Do in Wertheim, Germany
- Wurzburg’s Christmas Markets and Attractions in Pictures
- Rothenburg Is the Ultimate Christmas Town
- 5 Awesome Things to Do in Bamberg, Germany
- Things to Do at Nuremberg’s Famous Christmas Market
- The Christmas Window Boxes of Germany
- 10 Reasons to Take a River Cruise with Uniworld
*I was guest of Uniworld on the Classic Christmas Markets river cruise. Incidentals and airfare are my own.