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Christmas Markets Virtual
Day 1: Embarkation at Nuremberg
Day 2: Nuremberg and Danube cruising
Day 3: Regensburg
Day 4: Passau
Day 5: Salzburg
Day 6: Melk, Durnstein and Danube cruising
Day 7: Vienna
Day 8: Disembarkation
Related Links
Viking Spirit ship review
Viking Spirit Member reviews
Europe River Cruises
Viking River Messages
Day 8: Tuesday, Disembarkation
DisembarkationOur cruise is over and we're on our way home. Checkout time was a not-too-strenuous 10 a.m. and debarkation was a breeze, another plus for this style of cruising. As opposed to many big-ship cruises, there were no waits in public lounges or hurry-up-and-go breakfasts. Everyone with transfers was assigned a departure time, depending on their flight times. Those making their own departure arrangements signed up for when they wanted to leave the ship and whether they needed a taxi. We left our bags outside half an hour before our departure time, ate breakfast and settled our bill. Our luggage was loaded into our taxi and away we went to Vienna's airport.

On our long flight back to the States, I had time to reflect on our cruise and come up with a few additional insights to share with you.

Weather
This is a winter cruise, taking place in December, so it will be cold! Temperatures on our cruise ranged from the low 30s to the 40s, and when it was windy it felt much colder. Most days were overcast and gray, but we were fortunate not to have much rain, although it did mist a few times. It didn't snow. Snowfall is more typical the last two weeks of December in Germany and Austria.

Clothing
Sturdy, well-broken-in walking shoes or sneakers with some traction on the soles are a must as the cobblestones can get a bit slippery when wet. You'll also need a warm winter coat or jacket, a hat and gloves. Onboard the ship the dress is casual and comfortable, and passengers mostly wore slacks and sweaters.

The Ship
Unlike big-ship cruises where the focus of the cruise is often the ship itself as a huge floating resort, the Viking Spirit is small, more intimate, casual and comfortable. It's more like staying at a three-star boutique hotel that just happens to float down the river. You'll eat and sleep onboard, but the real focus of this journey is the ports, not the ship. If you're the type of cruiser that revels in the nightlife, entertainment and casinos found onboard most large cruise ships, you may find this ship a bit too quiet and laidback for your taste.

Who Should Go?
If you love all things Christmas, then you'll probably enjoy this cruise. If you're not into Christmas or shopping, but find the itinerary appealing, you can take a similar cruise (minus the markets and the nippy temps) from April to October, when the weather will be much nicer and there's more emphasis on sightseeing.

This cruise also appeals to travelers looking for a low-key, casual cruise, with an emphasis on local history and architecture. As it's very port intensive and involves quite a bit of walking over uneven cobblestone streets and up and down hills, physical limitations may make this itinerary difficult. As a result, you'll miss out on quite a bit (and there's not much to do back at the ship).

Christmas Market Shopping
Pace yourself and don't spend all of your money in the first market, as you will always see more items that you like better. On the other hand, if you find something you truly want, buy it. You may not see it again. Make sure you leave plenty of room in your luggage or bring an extra empty bag to tote everything home, or you'll end up buying another suitcase in one of the ports. Here's a quick run-down of my favorite Christmas Markets on this cruise:

Best Overall Experience: The Schonbrunn Palace Christmas market gets my vote for the best overall experience. The Palace provides an elegant backdrop for this medium-sized market, which is large enough to provide a good variety and selection of goods (many of them handmade), but small enough that it doesn't attract enormous crowds. Christmas music and St. Nicholas complete the holiday atmosphere.

Most Romantic Atmosphere: In Regensburg, the courtyard of Thurn & Taxis Palace provides a unique medieval setting, complete with open fires, knights in armor and a pig roasting over an open spit. Even if you're shopped out, this market is worth the visit for the ambience.

Largest/Biggest Selection: Nuremburg's ChristKindleMarkt -- though we found it a bit overwhelming and not much fun for faint-at-heart shoppers.

Most Unique, Artsy, Handmade Items: Regensburg gets another nod -- we loved the Lucrezia Craft Market there. It had dozens of local crafters and artists showcasing their own handmade items, none of which we saw at other markets.

Best Overall Quality: All of the Salzburg markets sold a good selection of very high-quality items.

Least Favorite Markets: Thumbs down go to the Corn Market in Regensburg and the main Vienna Christmas market at the Rathaus. You won't miss out on much if you skip these.
Day 7: Vienna red arrow  

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