8 Reasons to Sign Up for Academic Arrangements Abroad’s Christmas Markets Cruise

Regensburg marketsIn cold December days of yore, Europeans gathered in town squares to buy and sell spices, sweets, and other special items for the holidays. Fresh gingerbread and mulled wine kept them warm, while music and games gladdened their hearts. These were the first Christmas Markets, and centuries later they continue to bring the magic of the season alive.

During a special holiday cruise aboard M.S. AmaBella, travelers will sail from Budapest to Nuremberg. Along the way, they’ll discover some of Europe’s best Christmas Markets. Here are 8 reasons we love this voyage.

1.)    A special “illuminations cruise” in Budapest

Budapest Danube banksAfter boarding M.S. AmaBella, passengers will enjoy a welcome dinner. Then the ship will sail a special cruise along Budapest’s waterfront. Many of the city’s UNESCO World heritage monuments are brilliantly illuminated at night, making the Hungarian capital appear even more spectacular than it does during the day.

2.)    A seven-night cruise of Europe’s waterways aboard M.S. AmaBella

Amabella - Exterior - DurnsteinThis 161-passenger river vessel features a combination of amenities and design details never before seen on Europe’s great waterways. Most staterooms have distinctive “twin balconies.”  Onboard amenities include complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship, an elevator, a heated pool and whirlpool, and a fitness room and sauna. Bicycles are available for use ashore.

3.)    Watching a training session at the legendary Spanish Riding School

Leaping lipizzaner

Leaping Lipizzaner. Image courtesy of Spanish Riding School, Vienna.

In Vienna, travelers will start the day with a walking tour of Vienna that includes St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the historic city center.  Then they’ll continue to the famed Spanish Riding School, the oldest riding academy in the world, to watch a training session from a separate VIP area.

4.)    Lecturer John Meffert

Architectural historian John Meffert—who helped preserve historic Charleston, SC—will be joining travelers on the program. A much-loved travel companion, Mr. Meffert has delighted many study tour groups over the years with his lively lectures and insights on preservation.

5.)    Melk’s Benedictine Abbey

Melk Benedictine AbbeyA guided tour will take the group to Melk’s magnificent Benedictine Abbey, situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube. One of Europe’s largest baroque monasteries, the abbey has a medieval library that inspired Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose.

6.)    An optional excursion to Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg and the DanubeTravelers may either stay aboard and enjoy a scenic cruise to Passau or join an excursion to Salzburg, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is also the setting for the classic film The Sound of Music. Join in the merriment at the lively Christmas Markets, renowned for local handicrafts and one-of-a-kind Old World gifts. Those who prefer to stay aboard will arrive in Passau in the late afternoon.

7.)    A walking tour of medieval Regensburg

Visitors will step ashore in Regensburg to see the city’s highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Pretoria — gates to a Roman fort built in 179 C.E.  In addition, travelers will have an opportunity to walk in the Old Kornmarkt Christmas Market and browse the festive stalls, or visit the “royal” Christmas Market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace to see craftsmen at work.

8.)    Visit the world’s largest Christmas market

Christmas Market in Nuremburg

Image of Christmas market courtesy Nuremburg Tourism office, Steffen Oliver Riese

Throughout the journey, travelers will spend time at holiday markets including the world’s largest Christmas Market in Nuremberg. The market has over 100 red and white canvas-topped booths offering an assortment of unique toys, tinsel angels, dolls, gingerbread and other treats, and an endless variety of other seasonal goodies.

About Us:

Academic Arrangements Abroad, a leader in cultural travel since 1977, designs and operates travel programs for sponsoring institutions that include the nation’s top museums and alumni associations.

For more information on the Christmas Markets cruise, please contact Academic Arrangements Abroad at (212) 514-8921 or trips@arrangementsabroad.com.


Top Hotels for Chocolate Lovers

Chocolate flowChocolate is one of the most popular confections for Valentine’s Day. Luckily, lots of hotels cater to people who enjoy eating this sweet treat — and not just on February 14th, but all year long. Here’s a round-up of some of our favorites around the globe.

Spa at Boucan in St. LuciaBoucan Hotel at Rabot Estate Cocoa Plantation, St. Lucia 

Located on a cocoa estate on the stunning island of St. Lucia, the Boucan Hotel offers great experiences for chocolate connoisseurs. For a fee, guests can take a guided tour of the cocoa groves, select ripe cocoa pods and make their own chocolate bars. The hotel’s spa features treatments that use cocoa beans, and the restaurant’s menu includes items such as chocolate tasting plates.

Exterior of Langham BostonLangham Hotel, Boston, MA         

This historic hotel in downtown Boston is known for an “all-you-can-enjoy” chocolate bar. On Saturdays, the Café Fleuri at the Langham serves up a variety of tempting chocolate creations. Currently, the hotel is also offering a special Chocolate Bar Package.

SachertorteHotel Sacher, Vienna, Austria

This luxury hotel in Vienna is home to the original Sachertorte, one of Vienna’s most famous culinary specialties. The dense chocolate cake was invented in 132 by Franz Sacher, a 16-year-old chef’s apprentice, for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. Find out more about the legendary torte in our August 2013 blog post.

Etruscan Chocohotel breakfastEtruscan Chocohotel, Perugia, Italy 

Located in charming Perugia, the Etruscan Chocohotel describes itself as “completely dedicated to chocolate.”  In the lobby, the Chocostore sells sweets and chocolate-related items.  The hotel’s restaurant serves “ typical Umbrian cuisine and ChocoMenù: a Cocoa Menu from appetizers to desserts, ” and the breakfast room features “a big jar of Nutella and many other specialties, where chocolate is the undisputed protagonist.”

Spa at Hotel HersheyHotel Hershey, Hershey, PA 

An official resort at Hershey Park, the Hotel Hershey has a variety of experiences that will delight chocoholics.  Guests can start their day with a specialty coffee and chocolate pastries at the Cocoa Beanery, and the resort’s spa is known for treatments such as the “cocoa massage” and “chocolate fondue wrap.”  In February, the hotel has special chocolate-infused dinners, chef demos and other sweet events.

Thon Hotels, Belgium       

Belgium is famous for chocolate, and the Thon Hotels group is offering a special package deal that includes a night at a hotel, breakfast and metro tickets for two, and entrance to the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate.  The museum delves into the history of chocolate and how cocoa ended up in Europe, and a highlight is a demonstration by a master chocolate-maker on how traditional pralines are created.

Chocolate boutique hotelChocolate Boutique Hotel, UK 

Situated in Bournemouth in the UK, the Chocolate Boutique Hotel has a variety of chocolate events such as workshops on how to make Belgian truffles, as well as special Valentine’s packages and a chocolate weekend.  The package includes two nights in a “chocolate-themed bedroom,” a luxury chocolate tasting, truffle making and more.

Bellagio, Las Vegas 

Known for the Fountains of Bellagio, the famous Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas is also home to the world’s largest chocolate fountain. The floor-to-ceiling fountain, which is located at Jean-Philippe Patisserie, features “a spectacular series of melted chocolate cascades.” The bakery sells crepes, gelato and various pastries. Click here for a video of the chocolate fountain.

Featured Trip: Vienna: A New Year’s Celebration, December 27, 2013 to January 3, 2014

view over viennaRing in the New Year in Austria’s enchanting capital on the Danube. Stay at the landmark Hotel Sacher, see impressive museum collections, and enjoy music and a reception in the home of one of Vienna’s leading pianists. Here are a few highlights of this wonderful winter trip.

At the Spanish Riding School, view a special performance by the famed Lipizzaner Stallions.

Horses courtesty of Spanish Riding SchoolA unique experience awaits at the Spanish Riding School, where you will view a special performance of the renowned Lipizzaner stallions. Since 1970, the Lipizzaner stallions have entertained more than 23 million people with their spectacular leaps and maneuvers.

Take a waltz lesson at one of the city’s historic dance schools before welcoming the New Year at the Grand Bal.

New Year's Ball Dancing by Kate KlorerPractice your steps for the Grand Bal, held in the splendor of the Hofburg Palace. As you enter Ceremony Hall, orchestras play Strauss waltzes.  This special night begins with a gala dinner, followed by music and dancing. At midnight, welcome the New Year with a champagne toast.

Enjoy a lavish New Year’s Day brunch at the hotel before viewing the collections at both the Upper and Lower Belvedere.

BelvedereAt the Upper Belvedere, the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, see works by Schiele, Munch, and Klimt.  The Lower Belvedere, which was the royal residence for a brief period, was later adapted to house the Museum of Austrian Baroque Art.

Find out more about this extraordinary New Year’s program on our website or call 800-221-1944 for further trip details.

Vienna, November 2006

By Nancy Ziegler

One of the first things I was told about group travel is that trips should be logistically elegant.  Understanding how such magic happens took me a good deal longer, but it began in Vienna.  This picture – snapped by Ellen Renstrom, our Vice President of Operations– captured me and Kate Klorer on our inaugural training trip, caught in a surprise snow shower outside the Naschmarkt.

I am smiling, chin up, so I trust no one else could tell I was utterly disordered by jet lag and hopped up on sachertorte and strong coffee. Mozart! Klimt! Cakes!  I had thought when the plane landed in the early morning two days before.  True, all Vienna awaited me, but hardly the way I had imagined.

Ellen gave Kate and me our assignments as our taxi zipped out of the airport.  We had less than three days to collect enough material for three weeks’ worth of itineraries.  Plus gather the first-hand intelligence so priceless to tour directors who lead groups on the ground.  Travelers love impromptu events, but believe me, Tour Directors loath surprises.  We started scribbling the notes that would become a five-thousand word report.  First memo to TDs: the airport ATM is on the left-hand side as you exit customs; Austrian airport taxis do accept American credit cards.

That’s Inge, a Red Badge national guide, ahead of us in the dark glasses. The snow shower must have caught her out too, though as I remember, few things actually stopped Inge.  In St. Stephen’s, she somehow had the key to the cathedral’s private altar gate. We slipped through it after her to approach the sacred stained glass windows, survivors of World War II, closer even than their parishioners.

Inge literally marched us by all of Vienna’s treasures. Jugendstil statues led to Biedermeier interiors, Baroque recital halls and charming Kaffeehäuser. Step in, look, step out. We orbited the Ringstrasse.  Did Mozarthaus drive-bys. We eyeballed riverboat berths, Lipizanner stallions and opera boxes.

Learn to ignore the art, ignore the beauty, Ellen coached us, so we truly saw the mundane.  Where could the motorcoach pick up safely outside the konzerthaus? Where is the elevator? Where are the WCs?

Notice my camera in my left hand.  No mere tourist holiday snaps for us.  We catalogued whirlpool tubs (fit for a Habsburg?), rainfall shower heads (water pressure?), private salons (musty or dusty?) and marble staircases (slippery!). Memo to TD: Yes, the spa at Hotel Sacher is fabulous and recommended. In the mitteleuropa fashion, it is also co-ed—so be sure a traveler seeking rejuvenation understands that bathing suits are both optional and rare.

We collected menus, maps, floor plans, postcards, pillow mints, souvenirs, brochures and business cards.  All such swag went on file in the New York office, there to jog our memories when our operations team planned Viennese sojourns.

As it happened, Kate later led an AAA group in Vienna as a Tour Director, while I planned similar trips from New York with Ellen’s generous help .  And I did get to see Klimt’s The Kiss. Briefly. But only after we scouted the museum facilities and understood its group ticketing options.  Memo to TD: Visit the Upper Belvedere palace first, so travelers can amble downhill—not up—through the charming gardens. Snow possible in November, but the chestnut trees will be abloom the last week in April. We’ll plan for it.