Day 1: ARRIVE IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND. TRANSFER TO BASEL (EMBARKATION).
Welcome to Switzerland. This afternoon, board your ship and meet your crew at an onboard welcome reception. (NOTE: Flights into Zurich must arrive by 3 pm. Guests must be on board ship by 5 pm.) (D)
Day 2: BREISACH, GERMANY. EXCURSION TO THE BLACK FOREST.
Located at the foot of Kaiserstuhl Mountain on the French-German border, Breisach is the gateway to Germany's BLACK FOREST region, an area of unrivaled natural beauty with its forests of thick pine trees. The area got its name because the forests are so dense that local residents once described them as black. There's no better setting this time of year than when smoke curls from the chimneys of the traditional Black Forest houses with their long sloping roofs. Surely, the most well-known products from this region are Black Forest ham, cherry cake, and cuckoo clocks. This afternoon, there's free time in Breisach to visit the Christmas market-or you may join an optional excursion to Colmar in France's Alsace region. (B,L,D)
Day 3: STRASBOURG, FRANCE.
Situated on the border of France and Germany, Strasbourg blends the cultures of both countries in a delightful way. As capital of the Alsace region and seat of the Council of Europe and European Parliament, it is, without a doubt, an important city that manages to retain its historic charm. In fact, on your GUIDED WALKING TOUR, you will discover Europe at its most quintessential. Visit the monumental red-sandstone GOTHIC CATHEDRAL with its ancient murals, stained-glass windows, and fascinating astronomical clock, as well as the magical LA PETITE FRANCE district, home to half-timbered houses, quaint shops, inviting bistros, and a waterfront promenade. Also spend time exploring Place Kleber, a large historic square in the heart of the city, and Place Gutenberg in the heart of medieval Strasbourg, which features a statue of the inventor of the printing press. Dating back to 1570, the traditional Christmas market is one of the oldest and finest in Europe. Located around Place de la Cathedrale and Place Broglie, its centrepiece is a giant Christmas tree. As you stroll through the festively decorated and illuminated streets, you'll notice the pleasing aromas of mulled wine, sweets, spice cakes, and biscuits-a truly magical atmosphere! This afternoon, an optional excursion into the Alsace wine region is available. (B,L,D)
Day 4: EXCURSION TO HEIDELBERG, GERMANY.
Today, an excursion takes you to Heidelberg, home to the oldest university in Germany, founded in 1386. Visit the imposing ruins of HEIDELBERG CASTLE, towering magnificently over the city and among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. You'll also see the famed GREAT VAT, the "World's Largest Wine Barrel." At nearly 7 metres (23 feet) high and 8.5 metres (28 feet) wide, it holds over 260,000 litres (58,000 gallons) of wine and has a dance floor built on top of it! At this time of year, an ice rink is set up at the foot of the castle, and stalls offer Gluhwein, Bratwurst, and other tasty treats. The Christmas market is scattered over five town squares, and you'll find a wide array of crafts and regional delicacies. There is plenty of free time to shop for Christmas decorations or gifts. (B,L,D)
Day 5: WIESBADEN EXCURSION TO RUDESHEIM.
After breakfast this morning, a comfortable motorcoach ride takes you to the pretty little town of Rudesheim, a perfect example of a Rhine Valley wine town. A visit to SIEGFRIED'S MECHANICAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM is a real surprise! Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant.Afterward, we'll offer you a SPECIAL TREAT and then there's free time to explore. The entire town transforms itself into one large Christmas market, offering products and specialties from a number of nations, all presented in a distinctive manner. You'll be spoiled by the selection of shops offering a vast variety of Christmas presents and decorations. In the Market Square you'll find Europe's largest nativity scene, with life-size figures. In the afternoon, return to Wiesbaden. (B,L,D)
Day 6: MILTENBERG.
Tucked away behind medieval defensive walls and towered gates, the picturesque Bavarian village of Miltenberg is a cultural gem on the banks of the Main River. This morning's GUIDED WALK will acquaint you with the town's delightful Marktplatz (market square), which centres around a Renaissance-era fountain and features striking half-timbered buildings, cobblestone lanes, and one of the oldest inns in Germany, Haus zum Riesen (the giant's house) and the gothic splendor of the Merchant Hall. Later, continue your cruise on the Main River to Wurzburg and enjoy a COOKIE-BAKING DEMONSTRATION on board. (B,L,D)
Day 7: WURZBURG.
Known as the "Pearl of the Romantic Road," Wurzburg is surrounded by sloping hills covered with vineyards. The city makes an immediate impression with imposing Marienberg Fortress perched above town and the 15th-century Alte Mainbrucke (Old Main Bridge). On your GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR, visit the magnificent baroque BISHOP'S RESIDENZ, home to the largest ceiling fresco ever painted. This afternoon you are free to explore the beautifully decorated streets on your own, visit the Christmas markets, or perhaps join an optional excursion to medieval Rothenburg, where you will have the opportunity to visit the Christmas Museum. Here, try a Schneeball (snowball), a local specialty not at all suitable for a diet! (B,L,D)
Day 8: BAMBERG.
Learn everything about Christmas traditions during an ONBOARD LECTURE this morning. In the afternoon, focus on medieval Bamberg, former residence of one of Germany's most powerful imperial dynasties and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your GUIDED WALKING TOUR takes in its historic centre, including the great 13th-century Romanesque cathedral and the fascinating Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)-built on an island in the middle of the Regnitz River when the bishop refused to give the townspeople land for a town hall! This time of year, the town is decked out for Christmas. Especially interesting are the many nativity scenes built by local citizens and exhibited throughout the town. Enjoy the Christmas market, where, in addition to candles and decorations, you'll find regional delicacies such as gingerbread and nut bread. (B,L,D)
Day 9: NUREMBERG.
Although 90% of Nuremberg's Old Town suffered extensive damage during WWII, much of it has been restored to the glory it once knew as the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Choose either a GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR and marvel at this thousand-year-old city's medieval fortifications, gothic churches, and the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle), or join a more specialized "NUREMBERG RALLY GROUNDS" tour. The Old Town is illuminated with festive lights and decorations, and the Christmas market is one of the most famous in the world. You'll find dozens of stalls offering traditional wares, including Nuremberg Lebkuchen (spicy gingerbread), baked goods and sweets, Christmas decorations, ornaments, and more. Shuttle service to the ship will be at your disposal. (B,L,D)
Day 10: NUREMBERG (DISEMBARKATION) -EXCURSION TO MUNICH (EMBARKATION).
After breakfast, disembark the vessel which has brought you to Nuremberg and drive to Munich, where a local expert will proudly show you the sights of the Bavarian capital. An inspiring mix of historic buildings and impressive architecture, you'll see the Olympic Stadium, 305 metre (1,000-foot) high Television Tower, Nymphenburg Palace, MARIENPLATZ in the historic heart of the city with the Old and New Town Halls, and the gothic Frauenkirche. Later, there's free time to explore on your own. The traditional Christmas market is located on the Marienplatz, with aromas of toasted almonds, roasted chestnuts, and gingerbread filling the air and the strains of alpine Christmas music coming from the town hall. At the nearby Rindermarkt, you'll find the Kripperlmarkt, one of the largest markets in Germany to specialize in mangers and other nativity accessories. And don't leave Munich without paying a visit to the famous Hofbrauhaus for a stein of beer! Return to Nuremberg in the late afternoon and embark on the ship which will take you to Vienna. (B,D)
Day 11: NUREMBERG.
A day to relax and enjoy Nuremberg at your own pace. Stroll through the festively lit streets, buy those last-minute Christmas gifts, or ask your Cruise Director for suggestions of things to do. After your free time at Christmas Market, a shuttle bus service will be at your disposal to take you back to the ship. (B,L,D)
Day 12: REGENSBURG.
This morning, during a relaxing morning sailing, enjoy an ONBOARD LECTURE about Christmas traditions. After lunch, arrive in Regensburg, one of Germany's best preserved medieval cities. Established during the Holy Roman Empire and the only German city not bombed during WWII, Regensburg has at least 1,300 listed buildings of "historic interest." Highlights included on your GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR are the 13th-century Old Town Hall, and Porta Pretoria, gates to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD. Wander through the city's alleys to discover the many mansions with high towers, built by wealthy families in the Middle Ages to emphasize their status. Walk across the 12th-century Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge), the oldest of its kind in Germany. Grab a beer and enjoy a SNACK at the Historische Wurstkuche (Old Sausage Kitchen), one of Germany's oldest restaurants. During your free time explore on your own or visit the Regensburg Christmas market, including the ones hosted by Thurn and Taxis Palace. The tempting aromas of mulled wine, sweet roasted almonds, sausages, and gingerbread create an unforgettable atmosphere. Before dinner we'll introduce you to some of Germany's FAMOUS BEERS. (B,L,D)
Day 13: PASSAU.
Uniquely located where the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers converge, Passau is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with beautiful patrician houses. The Christkindlmarkt, Passau's charming Christmas market, is set against the stunning backdrop of St. Stephen's Cathedral, a masterpiece of Italian baroque architecture. Take in the highlights of the "City of Three Rivers" on an included GUIDED WALK. Afterward, set sail for Linz, where you arrive in the evening. Alternatively, you might like to join a full-day optional excursion to Salzburg to see some of the sites from The Sound of Music, find out how mice caused the composition of the famous Silent Night Christmas carol, and learn how the Austrians celebrate Christmas. (B,L,D)
Day 14: MELK, AUSTRIA-VIENNA.
This morning, enjoy a GUIDED VISIT of Melk's 11th-century BENEDICTINE ABBEY, one of Europe's largest monasteries. The abbey houses an ornate library with over 80,000 printed books and 2,000 manuscripts. Words cannot describe the splendor of the frescd ceilings, stunning high altar, marble statues, and 210-foot-high cupola. During lunchtime, cruise through the picturesque Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pass the magnificent baroque Stiftskirche with its blue facade, the landmark of Durnstein. Before arriving in Vienna this evening, enjoy a special onboard Austrian COOKIE TASTING. Vienna, the "City of Music," inspired the creative genius of Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss. An optional concert is available tonight. (B,L,D)
Day 15: VIENNA.
Once the centre of the mighty Habsburg Empire, Austria's magical capital is a showcase of gilded architecture. This is home to the lavish Hofburg Imperial Palace complex with its Vienna Boy's Choir and dazzling Lipizzaner stallions; the neo-renaissance Vienna Opera House; awe-inspiring St. Stephen's Cathedral-and countless other sights you'll see on your GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR. Alternatively, we will offer you a special CULINARY TOUR at the Viennese Christmas markets, where you can taste all the best flavors that Austria offers during this time of year. Visit the Christmas market in the town centre, and be sure to enjoy a piece of decadent Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel in one of the classic Viennese coffee houses, historic institutions that helped shape Viennese culture! (B,L,D)
Day 16: VIENNA (DISEMBARKATION).
Your holiday ends with breakfast this morning. (B)