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Credit: Shutterstock/VIVA Cruises

Mulled wine, stollen and cheer, the ultimate Christmas market river cruise with VIVA Cruises

Author: Lucy Abbott

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VIVA Cruises proves to be a charming introduction to the world of river cruising. Onboard a three-night festive sailing onboard VIVA Tiara, World of Cruising discover why river cruising is so popular while feeling festive in Germany.

“We are not drinking every single day… it is just a huge part of our culture,” laughs tour guide, Christian, managing marketing director at Dusseldorf Tourism, as I sip on my pint of freshly brewed beer in Dusseldorf alongside my fellow passengers.

Socialising with new-found friends in this gorgeous German city is certainly an enjoyable way to understand the local culture – and I’m loving every minute of it.

This German hospitality, which consists of plenty of drinks, food and laughter, follows me on as I make my way to the newly renovated VIVA Tiara for what is my first ever cruise.

The itinerary is the Rhine Winter Fairy Tale voyage, sailing roundtrip from Dusseldorf and visiting Coblenz, Konigswinter and Cologne.

VIVA Tiara's glossy interior and friendly staff make for an enjoyable cruise. Credit: VIVA Cruises

First impressions count

Circling back 24 hours and I arrive at the airport, butterflies in my stomach. For me, nowhere else in the world captures the anticipation like an airport does and, having not travelled abroad throughout the entirety of the pandemic, I am certainly glad to be back.

The additional Covid protocols turn out to be surprisingly smooth, and before I know it, my pre-departure digital registration documents, passport and check-in information are checked with no issues at all – phew.

- READ MORE: What a festive Cunard cruise is really like onboard Queen Mary 2 -

Once the initial stress of travelling is over, I soon find myself gliding around VIVA Tiara’s glossy interior as I make my way to my new home for the next three nights.

There is a helpful member of staff around every corner waiting to assist, and I immediately get a sense of the truly caring and friendly atmosphere that this ship possesses.

I see the staff greet one group of guests even more enthusiastically than normal, as I am informed that they recognise repeat cruisers and love it when they come back on board – their elated reunion is infectious.

VIVA Cruises offer an array of light and airy rooms. Credit: VIVA Cruises

Stepping into my room, I am welcomed by a nautical pale blue colour scheme complemented with dark wood features. I am excited – perhaps overly – to see an array of Rituals shower products in the bathroom.

Investigating further, I uncover all the necessities – ample room to hang clothes, a Nespresso machine, a good-sized bathroom, a hairdryer, flatscreen TV, and air-conditioning, as well as a mini-bar with two bottles of soft drink and, of course, a German beer.

The French balcony is calling my name and I do what every newbie cruiser is desperate to do – I slide open the expansive glass doors and am welcomed by the sound of soft waves and sun setting over Dusseldorf.

‘Enjoy the moment’

I also take the opportunity to explore the other type of staterooms offered by VIVA Cruises. Renovated in 2020, 76 furnished cabins vary purely by window size, with the most expensive being the four junior suites that feature the addition of bathrobes, a window-facing bed and a slightly bigger bathroom.

VIVA Tiara's compact wellness area is an impressive addition on a small river cruise ship. Credit: VIVA Cruises

Every cabin includes all-inclusive food and drinks, which good news for the bank balance, but bad news for my waistline as I take it as my journalistic duty to sample all food and drink offered to me.

Speaking of cuisine, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke -what did the vegetarian eat in Germany? It is not only my lack of cruising experience that initially leaves me feeling unsure of what my dining options will offer, but also my dietary requirement.

READ MORE: Inside the world's most expensive Christmas cruise with Regent Seven Seas Cruises -

However, I should really pay attention to VIVA’s slogan ‘enjoy the moment’, as I need not worry. I watch my first artfully decorated plate of food placed in front of me and am pleasantly surprised at the range of vegetarian options onboard, across the two restaurants, as well as the willingness of chefs to adapt meat dishes.

A personal favourite is the falafel vegetable curry – a combination I was initially sceptical of but will now attempt to scour the internet for the recipe.

Exploring the ship further, I opt to go downwards rather than brace myself for the chilly weather on the top deck and, to my delight, discover a spa and wellness centre, which can be booked privately. I decide to follow the advice given on board and venture downwards to ‘enjoy the moment’ in the sauna and steam bath, making a mental note to embark on VIVA’s wellness cruises set to release in 2022.

Koblenz features the stunning confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Credit: Shutterstock

Winter wonderlands

However, back to here and now and the Rhine Winter Fairy Tale itinerary. I feel I now truly understand the beauty of river cruising as I disembark VIVA Tiara and find myself right in the centre of Koblenz, the first port of call.

Wandering through the centre of the city, I marvel at the vast statue of the German emperor, William I, before continuing alongside the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers, framed with three low mountain ranges – a picture-perfect scene.

The sweet smell of roasting chestnuts seems to follow me around Koblenz as I admire the abundance of wooden Christmas stalls decorated with tinsel, baubles and every other decoration I can imagine.

VIVA Tiara visits Cologne's stunning Christmas market underneath the cathedral. Credit: Shutterstock

Next up is Konigswinter, a classic quaint German town lying on the east side of the Rhine. Here, I join a walking tour, where VIVA head of marketing Patrick Ell explains how the line strives to “create moments” during excursions, allowing guests to “discover new things, new cultures, new tastes”.

Ell’s words lead me to wonder why river cruising is yet to fully shake off its unfair ‘stuffy’ reputation among some of my peers. “I would say everyone’s afraid of being the youngest on board,” says Ell. “But actually, there are a lot of young people – or younger than you might expect. It’s something for everyone; it’s a city trip and in the end, that’s how we sell it.”

Ending the cruise in Cologne is a bittersweet moment, as I admire the iconic Gothic cathedral while sipping on a mug of mulled wine before heading back to the true jewel on the Rhine, VIVA Tiara.

*I embarked on my cruise from 24th-28th November 2021, before travel restrictions in Germany changed*

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