AS someone who can get so full of festive joy I almost weep, a river cruise hitting a host of German Christmas markets was a dream come true.
I joined a gaggle of eager travellers soaking up what towns and cities on the banks of the Rhine and Moselle have to offer over the first weekend in December.
Some came by coach, plane, train or drove to the meeting point in Cologne, where our cruise ship was moored.
I journeyed by train, taking in the Eurostar from London’s St Pancras to Brussels before hopping on a train to Cologne.
It was very straightforward and simply required me to sit back and relax, with one easy change and handy lunch stop.
It wasn’t long before I arrived at the riverside and had a first look at the MS Serenity cruise ship.
It’s really a 4-star floating hotel with cabins for 190 passengers, a cosy lounge and bar and restaurant on the top deck. All cabins have windows — from small viewing ones on the main deck to large sliding windows on the middle deck and full-size glass doors with a French balcony on the panorama deck.
After a welcome drink served by Santa, of course, and finally working out where the bed was in my panoramic cabin — it was cleverly tucked into the wall — we rushed to the first market of the trip.
Weaving around the impressive cathedral of Cologne, I suddenly got my first taste of Christmas — an enormous and bright tree which towered into the night sky, with a web of magical-looking lights covering it and the dozens of stalls scattered at its base.
I felt like a little kid again as I smiled and my eyes widened, with the kind of happiness that only Christmas can bring flooding through me.
The adult in me swiftly reappeared and we made a beeline for the nearest Glühwein seller to arm ourselves with fuel for the battle around the market.
It was Saturday night at one of the most popular markets in the country, so it was packed. But we managed to walk round every bit of the labyrinth of brightly lit stalls before scurrying back on board the ship in time for some bubbles, a welcome from the multi-lingual captain and a delicious four-course dinner.
I slept well in my snug bed, only waking briefly when the engines roared into life in the early morning. It was easy to fall into a routine over the next few days and embrace the constant stream of hot drinks, meals, cake and biscuits on offer.
Although the schedule had to change slightly to solve the problem of low water levels on parts of the Rhine, we were able to visit six towns and markets in five days, all at a leisurely pace.
Each place offered something different, despite following the same traditional market format. Cologne was grand and glittering, Koblenz was sprawling and offered some unique items and Rüdesheim’s winding narrow streets were magical.
Part of the joy of a river cruise is being right in the heart of a city when you moor up and its easy to disembark and explore on your own. But there are a range of excursions you can pay for if you fancy joining others to explore and it is sometimes the best way of seeing a new city.
Offering great value cruises, the River Cruise Line attracts a slightly more mature passenger and my fellow guests were full of stories and humour.
And it was a joy to watch many of the older folk letting loose on the dance floor on a number of nights. When it was time to finally depart, I was full of Christmas cheer.
The fact you can go to sleep and wake up in a new place adorned with twinkling lights made it all the more magical.
GO: XMAS RIVER CRUISE
GETTING THERE/STAYING THERE: The River Cruise Line offers a four-night German Christmas Markets cruise aboard MS Serenity from £399pp, departing on December 10.
The price is based on two sharing an en suite cabin on full-board basis throughout, with return coach travel from the UK, ferry crossing and services of a cruise manager.
Alternative transport options available. See rivercruiseline.co.uk or call 01858 435 655.
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