Day 1: ARRIVE IN AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND (EMBARKATION).
Welcome to Amsterdam, Holland's sophisticated, modern capital. This delightful 700-year-old city with its elegant and classic architecture, cafes, and restaurants has a distinct ambiance. The streets, squares, canals, and bike paths throughout the city make for a vibrant atmosphere, and with over 60 museums, Amsterdam has the highest museum density in the world. Perhaps you would like to take an optional excursion to Zaanse Schans with its traditional houses and Dutch craft workshops. This afternoon, board your river cruise vessel and meet your crew at an evening welcome reception. (NOTE: Guests must be on board ship by 5 pm.) (D)
Day 2: AMSTERDAM.
There is no better way to see Amsterdam than by CANAL BOAT, cruising through the elegant grachten lined with stately homes dating back to Amsterdam's "Golden Age." There's free time in the city this afternoon to explore on your own. Later, bid tot ziens (farewell) to Holland and set sail for Germany. (B,L,D)
Day 3: COLOGNE, GERMANY.
Today, enjoy a peaceful morning of cruising before reaching Cologne in the afternoon. One of Germany's largest cities and capital of the Rhineland, Cologne straddles both sides of the Rhine, and is known for its soaring, twin-steepled gothic cathedral. This afternoon join your included GUIDED CITY WALK. The Old Town abounds with cafes, shops, and taverns. Be sure to try a Kolsch pale lager, locally brewed in Cologne for over a hundred years! Stroll through the fabulous and magical Christmas markets before leaving Cologne and sailing to Rudesheim. (B,L,D)
Day 4: RHINE GORGE-RUDESHEIM.
The dramatic RHINE GORGE is the most beautiful stretch of river. Here, ancient castles stand sentry on lofty cliffs rising 120 metres (400 feet) above the waters. Cruise past the legendary rock of the Lorelei, where echs of enchanted siren song lured unwitting sailors to their doom. In Rudesheim, the quintessential Rhine Valley wine town, visit SIEGFRIED'S MECHANICAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM to see and hear a large collection of self-playing calliopes and music boxes from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. 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. Enjoy a SPECIAL TREAT before returning to your ship for dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 5: MAINZ. EXCURSION TO HEIDELBERG.
Strategically located at the confluence of the Rhine and Main Rivers is Mainz, with "civilized" origins dating back to around 38 BC. Today, this is Germany's largest and most important wine market. Join your Local Guide for a GUIDED WALK through the Altstadt (Old Town) with its many intriguing shops and the whimsical Fastnachtsbrunnen (Carnival Fountain) on the Schillerplatz, a tribute to the jesters at the city's annual Carnival celebration. Gutenberg, father of modern printing, was born here, and you'll visit the captivating GUTENBERG MUSEUM. After lunch, travel to Heidelberg, home to the oldest university in Germany. With a LOCAL GUIDE, 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, the cask holds over 260,000 litres (58,000 gallons) of wine and has a dance floor built on top of it! The Christmas market in Heidelberg is scattered over five town squares, and you'll find a wide array of crafts and regional delicacies. (B,L,D)
Day 6: 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. On your GUIDED SIGHTSEEING TOUR, 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-timber 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 centerpiece 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! An optional excursion into Alsace wine country is available today. After dinner, enjoy an onboard WOODCARVING demonstration. (B,L,D)
Day 7: 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 described them as black. Surely the most well-known products from this region are Black Forest ham, Black Forest cherry cake, and cuckoo clocks. This afternoon there's free time in Breisach to visit one more Christmas market-or you may join an optional excursion to Colmar in France's Alsace region. (B,L,D)
Day 8: BASEL, SWITZERLAND (DISEMBARKATION).
Your holiday ends with breakfast this morning. (NOTE: Departure flights should not leave Zurich Airport before 10 am.) (B)