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Christmas and Family

AmaWaterways’ Co-owner and Senior Vice President of Sales, Gary Murphy, shares his thoughts on family and why our Christmas Markets cruises in Europe are his top choice for families.

I love traveling with my family and some of my most cherished memories have been on our Christmas Markets cruises. Whether you travel on Europe’s Rhine River or the Danube, there’s something BEYOND special about being in Europe during this season. The settings are unbelievable, including some located in front of amazing palaces, such as Vienna’s Schönbrunn and Belvedere, and Salzburg’s Hellbrunn. You’ll always find unique handcrafted ornaments, but for me, I love tasting the local specialties the most. My personal favorites are the crispy German pork rinds, sausages with different kinds of mustard, and hot spiced wines. There could be 15 different places selling spiced wines with three or four different choices, all home recipes, and each vendor has its own unique mug that you can keep.

These cruises are great for families, especially if you have children in their early teens and up, because AmaWaterways often offers up to five different activities in each port. You can choose your own excursions and reunite at meals to share your experiences. The holiday spirit is brought to life on board and ashore, and the stress that sometimes comes with planning multigenerational gatherings melts away.

Experience the Markets as a Local

I have a vision etched in my mind of the Christmas Market in Linz, Austria. My wife and I were just enjoying the moment with hot spiced wine. It was snowing, and as the snowflakes fell, we watched an Austrian family leaving the market. Two of their children were sitting on a toboggan, holding onto a Christmas tree and dragging it behind them. That’s what’s so great about these markets. They’re really set up for the locals, so when you go, you don’t feel like a tourist at all. You feel like just another local coming on your annual holiday adventure. And it’s incredibly humbling to experience the season the way it has been experienced in Europe for so long.

Create a New Collection of Treasures

All the markets AmaWaterways visits are memorable. Like many of our guests, I particularly love the many markets of Vienna. But this past year, the Budapest market held at Vörösmarty Square holds a special place in my heart.

My wife Daphne loves collecting Christmas ornaments and has been doing so over the course of our 27 years together. However, our entire collection of ornaments was destroyed in a fire in 2018. While I strolled through Budapest’s market stalls browsing the local handicrafts, I came across a young couple who had spent much of their year making porcelain ornaments. Each was a little bearded man with a red hat, no more than two inches tall. I bought as many as I could, walked back to an ATM, and bought even more. That Christmas, in 2018, Daphne and I didn’t buy a traditional Christmas tree. Instead, we got a simple illuminated one from Costco. We hung the red ornaments all over it and it was beautiful – the beginning of our new collection.

Sharing Quality Time Together

Our ships are always beautifully appointed, but during the Christmas season, they really sparkle with garlands, wreaths, and a stunning Christmas tree, so you’re in the holiday spirit from the moment you step on board. You let bygones go and everyone just enjoys sharing time together.

There are holiday menus with regional European specialties and traditional favorites, tree trimmings, and games, but the very best activity on board is a conversation with your family – or with your newfound AmaWaterways family.

Gary’s Top 3 Christmas Markets Tips

The glühwein (hot spiced wine) mugs have value! If you bring your mug to a stall for a refill, they’ll give you a discount. And if you turn in your mug, you can often get your money back!

Bring extra luggage for souvenirs. The glühwein mugs make fun souvenirs. And of course, handcrafted ornaments!

Pack shoes with thick soles for walking around on the cobblestone, as well as a good scarf and gloves, and dress comfortably – the markets themselves ARE the fashion statement!

20 ports of call only accessible via a river cruise

If you're looking for new cruise ports to explore – if you feel like you have seen every island in the Caribbean and stopped at every port in Mexico and the Mediterranean, these are 20 ports of call that you will never see on an ocean cruise ship, that you will only see on a river cruise.

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I am Ann Bartholomew, the owner of Simply River Cruises.

My love of travel comes from the many trips I've taken to other countries over the course of my life. I officially got my start in the travel industry 10 years ago. Since then, I've made it my life's mission to help others realize their dream vacations.

Planning a vacation yourself entails making decisions that can make or break the entire experience. After hours of researching, talking to travel partners, and planning an itinerary, you can still feel lost and confused. Your inexperience could lead you to a disheartening trip, which I want you to avoid.

With my expertise, you can bid farewell to the stress of travel planning and focus on the joy of your vacation. I will take your vision, customize the experience, and provide you with the perfect itinerary. All you have to do is make a booking and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Working in the travel industry gives me a unique understanding of your yearning to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. By giving each case my full attention and dedication, I have helped hundreds of clients fulfill their travel goals.


With over 10 years of experience, I have all the resources and premium partnerships needed to curate a unique and remarkable river cruise experience, allowing you to focus on the beauty of stunning destinations that leave you invigorated.

You want to travel, and I have the knowledge, skills, and connections to create a high-end vacation that goes above and beyond your expectations.

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