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The 9 best river cruises to celebrate the holidays and seasons!

Updated: Mar 28

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I just returned from a river cruise conference for travel advisors. It was so fun and interesting to experience and learn about the 12 diverse river cruise ships that were in Amsterdam all at the same time! Following the conference, I went on a Tulip Time river cruise in the Netherlands, which got me thinking: it would be so fun to share 10 of the best seasonal times and places to go on a river cruise! Some of them you may have already thought of, but hopefully I’ll whet your appetite for some experiences you might have never thought of!

River cruising is perfect for experiencing the inside of a country all along the river banks, seeing the small towns and enjoying the local customs and flavors. Here are ten of the best seasonal and holiday experiences you can have on a river cruise:

Tulip Season:

Imagine drifting through the Dutch waterways in spring, disembarking to wander among over 7 million tulips in bloom. The Keukenhof Gardens are one of the largest flower gardens in the world. They’re open every year between late March and early May. The peak bloom period is usually around mid-April, depending on the weather.

The Netherlands river that you’ll be sailing on is the Rhine, and several river cruise lines include the beautiful spring flowers as part of their itineraries. Of course, while you’re in the Netherlands, you won’t want to miss seeing all of the windmills and canals, and enjoying the fun city of Amsterdam.

Spring Cherry Blossom Season: 

If you’ve dreamed about seeing the cherry blossoms either in Japan or in Washington D.C., then floating down rivers lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom, their petals fluttering into the water, or getting out and exploring the countryside, will be just what you’re hoping for!

The best time to see the cherry blossoms varies a little from year to year, but mid-March to early April is usually prime time. In Japan, various rivers and coastal cruise navigate near prime cherry blossom areas. In the U.S., you’d be sailing on the Patomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Venice Carnival: 

If you’re cruising the Italian waterways, the Venice Carnival offers a compelling journey into a world of masked balls, historical reenactments, and street performers. It’s an unparalleled blend of mystery, history, and celebration. The Carnival runs for about two weeks, ending on Shrove Tuesday in February or March.

Since Venice isn’t located on a river per se, the best way to get to the Venice Carnival from a river cruise ship sailing the Venetian Lagoon and the Po River.

Loire Valley Renaissance Festivals:

The Loire Valley in France is known for castles, and their love of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The festivals bring to life the grandeur and stories of kings, queens and courts. There are costume parades, jousting tournaments, and royal banquets. It’s a historic journey back in time.

From a Paris-centered Seine River cruise, you can access the Loire Valley. There are multiple festivals throughout the spring and summer, so you’ll have a good length of time to choose from.

Bordeaux Wine Festival: 

If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll love visiting France during this festival. Taking a river cruise during the wine festival means immersive tastings, vineyard tours, and experiencing the richness of the wine region’s heritage up close.

The festival takes place every two years in late June (it’s happening in 2024). The rivers for the Bordeaux region are the Garonne and Dorgogne.


The spirit of Oktoberfest is celebrated in many towns along Germany’s rivers. Oktoberfest is not just a beer festival; it’s a joyous celebration of Bavarian culture; you’ll see lederhosen and lively oompah bands.

The best time to go is late September through the first weekend in October, sailing on the Danube River. Since this is primarily a Munich event (and Munich isn’t directly on the river), you’ll stop at one of many villages or towns along the way and take an excursion into Munich to enjoy the festivities.

Fall foliage:

Enjoy historic sites and beautiful fall colors with a cruise along the Hudson River in New York state. The banks transform into a fiery spectacle of reds, oranges, and golds – a perfect backdrop for sipping cider and embracing the season’s beauty. You’ll see prime foliage viewing locations, including the Vanderbilt Mansion, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Sleepy Hollow.

The best time to go is usually the end of September through the end of October. It’s the perfect way to celebrate fall.

Festival of Lights: 

Every year on December 8 and lasting for the next 4 days, this festival transforms Lyon, France into a canvas of breathtaking light installations. It originally started as a tribute to Mary, mother of Jesus. The entire city lights up their windows, homes, and buildings in all colors. The Festival of Lights has become an attraction to people from all over the world.

The Festival of Lights would be a fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit. You’re cruising on the Rhone and Saone Rivers in France, at the beginning of December every year.

Christmas Markets: 

This is the quintessential winter wonderland experience. There’s something completely magical about the Christmas Markets along the rivers. Towns deck their homes and streets with festive lights.  Stepping off your river cruise ship, you’re greeted by the spicy aromas, the carolers singing, and stalls brimming with everything from handcrafted gifts to warming foods. Each market has its own charm, with local traditions and yuletide cheer.

The best time to go is mid-November through the end of December, and the most popular rivers are the Danube and the Rhine. Germany and Austria are probably the most well-known Christmas market countries, but you can also visit France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Rebublic, and Hungary.

As you can see, there's quite a variety of cruises and destinations ready to help you enjoy all of the seasons and holidays around the world. Each cruise line has its unique flair and included amenities, making every river cruise a distinctive adventure. Whether you are looking for luxury, adventure, culture, or culinary delights, there's a river cruise that's perfect for you to experience the magical seasons and holidays. Of course, availability and specific dates can vary from year to year, so let me know if you’re interested in one of these and I’ll help guide you through it.

If you’re interested in booking a river cruise, contact me NOW! I came home from the river cruise conference in Amsterdam with some fantastic exclusive deals that I can offer you, but they have a VERY short window in which to book. Remember, you can book into 2025 (and in some cases, 2026) already, so you don’t have to travel immediately (although I have an excellent promotion for June, July, and August of this year).


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