The 2014 Christmas Markets cruise was a wonderful experience! Captain Smidt, Cruise Manager Bart and Hotel Director Carla, the crew, the guides and guest lecturers made this a truly special experience for my husband and me. Onboard meals were invariably excellent, featuring local specialties and wines as well as classic favorites.
The on-board lectures were informative as well as entertaining. We enjoyed the classical duo in Bratislava, the performance by "Franz Josef" and "Sisi" in Vienna, and the Hungarian dancers in Budapest. Walking tours were in small groups, which made it easier for us to interact with the guides.
Particularly enlightening for me were the lectures on Judaism & the Holocaust and life under Commmunism. My parents survived Nazi and Soviet invasions of their country, but (like so many of their generation) refused to speak of those times except to say it was too painful. It was difficult to listen to these lectures - but critically important to learn and remember so that history isn't repeated.
On a lighter note, two special dinners stand out in my memory. Christmas dinner at a landmark restaurat in Linz, Austria (the Klosterhof?) was lovely. The grand dining room was beautifully decorated for the occasion and our schnitzel was fine. Service could be a bit slow (some of us were still waiting for our drink orders while others were enjoying their dinners) and another main-course option would have been appreciated, but overall it was fine. This appeared to be one of the few restaurants open on Christmas day, so I'm sure they were fully booked. We stopped at a small cafe afterwards for coffee and an extra (chocolate of course) dessert. I discovered small cafes, charcuteries and patisseries on my first visit to Europe many years ago - wish we had more of them at home!
New Year's Eve was truly a night to remember. Our dinner at Budapest's Ethnographic Museum (catered by Gundel Etterem) was fantastic! I first learned of Gundel from restaurateur Georg Lang's "Cuisine of Hungary," imo an excellent introduction to traditional Hungarian cuisine with a generous dollop of history for good measure. So I expected something really special - and got it. The museum's great hall was decked out for a multi-course dinner with festively decorated tables and romantic (mainly classical) music played by a string quartet; hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were served in an upstairs gallery. Our dinner was excellent, from the goose liver appetizer through the perfectly-cooked veal tenderloin to the delicious dessert, all accompanied by Hungarian wines. The river cruise which followed showed us Budapest at its most charming and romantic.
We sandwiched this cruise between a week in Germany (visiting several Christmas markets ranging from the oldest to the largest), and a few extra days afterwards in Budapest. This was our first visit to Budapest; hopefully not the last. Imo, Budapest has the beauty of Paris (with more individualized architecture) plus the charm of Vienna (with spectacular views from the Danube). Definitely worth exploring.
All in all, a wonderful Christmas experience. This wasn't our first Uniworld cruise, and it won't be our last.