Tag Archives: European Christmas markets

Planning Around The Holidays

Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe
Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe

Hope everyone is in a festive spirit and getting ready for a wonderful holiday! In addition to shopping and trimming the tree, TET has been busy checking out a host of  resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean and learning what’s new out there for couples in love, families looking to spend quality time, destination weddings your guests will never forget, girlfriend getaways, bachelor groups and MORE! To see pictures from our latest trips visit Total Experience Travel’s Facebook page There are plenty of albums to get lost in, and more to come.  Look for Jamaica in January!

Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding!
Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding planning.

Did you know it’s not only the holidays but, it’s engagement season? More couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentines day, than any other time of year.  Did you also know that more than 70% of couples choose an all-inclusive tropical honeymoon?  As a certified Honeymoon/Destination Wedding Specialist, I CAN tell you why!


Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you
Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you.

I will help YOU decide which resort and room is best,  be there for you from research thru return, add personal touches & perks –that only a live trusted agent can! Don’t listen to what those paid advertisements tell you, collaborate with someone you can trust. Pssst- it’s the same cost as doing it all yourself.

Christmastime is about the joy of giving. Give the best gift of all, the gift of travel!  It’s not to early to start planning for next Christmas and not too late to plan for that family Spring Break in 2017.  I have all kinds of wonderful recommendations; something to fit every style.

A favorite for FAMILIES and GROUPS – old and young! Books up fast – don’t wait to contact me.



Ask me about my new favorite family resort.



New Year's Eve in the Caribbean!
New Year’s Eve in the Caribbean! Don’t wait – contact me today!


Or the hottest New Year’s Eve party in the Caribbean! There’s still limited space for 2016 and it’s NOT too early to plan for 2017!



Still not sure where to go next year – read my latest Travel Tips with info on Alaska, traveling abroad, ship nightlife, and Disney cruises for inspiration.  Then, contact me to start planning! I am specialized in All Inclusive Resorts, Ocean & River Cruises, and Guided Tours because these vacations offer best values and are the kind my family and I love to take!  What I haven’t done personally, my clients or peers have.  In addition to expertise, I’m independent so, can be objective when planning a vacation that’s just right for YOU!  It’s a No Brainer

Chris Rakes - Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist
Chris Rakes – Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist

When you are ready to plan, plan with Chris 919.589.2437 / info@totalexperiencetravel.com

Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!
Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!



Four Reasons to Try a European River Cruise


Reasons to try a river cruise - all inclusive luxury
Reasons to try a river cruise – all inclusive luxury. Photo by Viking River Cruises

Since you are probably tired of hearing me talk about river cruising, I thought I’d share an article I can across by a travel writer and fellow river cruise enthusiast.  With over 15 ocean cruises under his belt, he decided to give river cruising a try. He hesitated giving up his week in the Caribbean or Alaska, but as he sailed down the Danube, he realized that river cruises have some serious advantages. Check out what Simon Duvall had to say.

  1. Genuine Destinations (No Tourist Traps)
Reasons to try a river cruise; genuine destinations including quaint historic villages.
Reasons to try a river cruise; genuine destinations including quaint historic villages. Photo by Viking River Cruises

On Europe’s rivers, you’re traveling through the heart of countries like Germany, Austria and Hungary, visiting real villages, towns, and cities where people live. There’s no tourist infrastructure like you’d find in Rome, Florence and Athens, but the small towns have a much more intimate and authentic feel. Even with the growing popularity of river cruises, these places still maintain their genuine character.

I traveled in December, so I had the opportunity to visit multiple Christmas Markets during my trip. These weren’t fake shopping villages set up for the benefit of tourists—locals actually gather there to do their holiday shopping or meet with friends for holiday cheer and revelry.

  1. More Time to Explore
Reasons to try a river cruise ; cultural immersion and longer time in port
Reasons to try a river cruise ; cultural immersion and longer time in port. Photo by Viking River Cruises

When you only have a single day to explore a port, time is an extremely valuable commodity. On a river cruise, you’ll dock right in the heart of small towns and villages, which means less time spent in line and on buses and more time exploring. When a longer bus ride is necessary, the ship typically moves to meet your group further up or down river, so you only have to travel one way.

You’ll have plenty of time for independent touring and to break away from the group even when on organized excursions. On an evening tour to Sharding, Austria, for example, a friend and I were able to skip a portion of the organized tour and spend a little extra time in the village’s charming Christmas Market. The guide was helpful and provided us with the meeting point and directions we’d need to rejoin our small group. When’s the last time you tried that on an ocean shore excursion with 75 of your closest friends?

Rarely does an ocean cruising itinerary offer “scenic cruising” from the ship itself (cruises to Alaska are a notable exception), but on Europe’s rivers, scenic cruising is stock-in-trade. You’ll be sailing among some of the most beautiful scenery and most charming towns you’ll ever see, and you’ll have a great view of the nearby shore right from your own balcony.

  1. Smaller Ships = Better Service and No Crowds
Reasons to try a river cruise; service, staff, space.
Reasons to try a river cruise; service, staff, space, etc. Photo by Viking River Cruises

The conventional wisdom is that you’ll get better service on smaller ships, and my experience has found that to be true. Most river vessels carry less than 200 passengers, and the small size means the staff and crew learn your name right away. There wasn’t a time I wasn’t personally greeted when walking up to (or even walking by) the guest service desk.

The ships themselves are so small it’s impossible to get lost and you’re literally just steps from everything on the ship, but they’re not so small that you’ll feel cramped. The spacious outdoor terraces bring the lounge outside, and the open sun deck on top of the ships has plenty of room to roam. On our Christmas Market cruise it was too cold and windy to take full advantage of the outdoor spaces, but even then, the ship never felt crowded or overwhelming.

  1. Almost Everything is Included
Reasons to try a river cruise; quality food, wine, excursions, service, scenery and more!
Reasons to try a river cruise; quality food, wine, excursions, service, scenery and more! Photo by Viking River Cruises

Figuring out what’s included on your cruise isn’t always a straightforward task, and no likes doing the math to see how many drinks they’ll need to have a day to get their money’s worth from a beverage package. The different river cruise lines include different things but, your travel agent can help you figure out when you can expect at least one shore excursion in every port, gourmet open seating dining, wine and beer with dinner and daily entertainment and port briefings onboard the ship.

Chris biking in Bernkastel, Germany
Chris biking in Bernkastel. crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

If you haven’t you should.  

Contact river cruise  enthusiast & expert Chris Rakes to start planning your European river cruise today!


7 Reasons to Take a Christmas Market Cruise

Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg Christmas Market

Christmas market cruises are extremely popular on Europe’s famous waterways aboard numerous river ships. They can be an excellent way to try a river cruise for the first time, or to get a new outlook on an area during the holiday season. Here are seven reasons to consider a Christmas market cruise.

Bring Home Unique Gifts for the Family

Christmas markets have a wealth of handmade items and ornaments — many with a holiday theme — as well as authentic jewelry, candles, glass creations, sweets and treats, ceramics and children’s toys. These markets are adorned with colorful lights and elegant decorations. A personal favorite is Strasbourg, France, reported to be Europe’s first Christmas market (dating back to 1570). It now boasts more than 300 stalls spread out in 10 locations, and even has a dedicated children’s village and a donation charity center — located right next to the giant Christmas tree.

The Landscape is Magical in the Winter

These cruises don’t have to be all about the Christmas markets; the scenery outside the cruise ship’s windows can sooth the soul and calm the spirit as snow quietly blankets the countryside. Along the Rhine River, the stretch between Koblenz and Speyer, Germany is especially scenic with numerous castles overlooking the frosty hilltops. On Danube River cruises, several companies (like Viking and Emerald Waterways) visit Melk, Austria, where guests can tour a 900-year-old abbey and Benedictine monastery that transports travelers back in time.

True Christmas
A True Christmas

A True Christmas Feeling

While Santa Claus displays at U.S. shopping malls are great for the kids, Christmas shopping can often take on an artificial, commercialized feeling. However, shopping for handmade gifts in beautiful, but chilly markets while sipping hot chocolate does wonders to evoke the Christmas spirit. River cruises often stop at small towns and villages that feel straight out of a fairytale, and money spent goes directly to the local community.

Witness How a Different Culture Celebrates

While some Christmas traditions are the same as in the U.S., others add a new element to the holiday. In some areas you’ll encounter jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, dance groups, drama performances, choirs and music ensembles. Larger markets may have ice-skating, tobogganing, Nativity scenes with live animals, as well as carriage rides, carousels and even unusual, medieval plague processions.

Lower Prices than Summer and Fall

Christmas market cruises are often significantly lower than peak-season cruises during the summer months. For example, the “Danube Waltz” itinerary with Viking River Cruises has a $3,356 per person rate in September, and $2,156 for December departures. AmaWaterways has cruise-only rates for its Rhine and Danube holiday sailings that are around $500 less than summer prices. These lower rates make the end of the year ideal for first-time, river cruise passengers — particularly those with time off from work during the holiday season.

Try New Culinary Specialties

Traveling from city to city during the holidays allows travelers to sample traditional cuisine without having to shell out for a sit-down meal at a restaurant. Numerous street vendors sell local specialties at affordable prices.

In Bratislava, look for sausages and “gypsy” meat roasts, or potato pancakes (both sweet and spicy) stuffed with cheese, Nutella or other fillings.

In Austria, you’ll find roasting chestnuts, gingerbread and plum cakes, and krapfen, a doughnut-like pastry with filling and powdered sugar. In Germany, there’s plenty of mulled wine to keep cruisers warm, hot chocolate (served in collectable mugs) and Christmas biscuits.

Christmas Market Cruises Are Coming to the U.S.

If an international flight isn’t in the cards this year, there is a new cruise option that gives travelers a sample of the Christmas market experience — with some Cajun and Creole culture thrown in the mix. The American Queen Steamboat Company is introducing Christmas market cruises on the Mississippi River in luxury paddlewheel ships. There are six different departures available between New Orleans and Memphis with stops at dedicated Christmas markets for ornaments and handcrafted gifts. Carolers, eggnog and holiday music concerts complete the experience.

Travel Planner and Honeymoon & Group Specialist
Travel Planner and River Cruise Expert

There are a few spots left for 2015 and it’s the perfect time to plan for 2016.  Contact me now to help plan your Christmas market cruise!

919.589.2437 crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

5 Reasons to Visit Europe in Winter, Besides Its Romantic.

Considering a trip to Europe during the winter months from November to March exposes you to a different European experience.  Following are 5 worthwhile reasons to visit Europe in winter.


Christmas Holiday Markets.  From Burmingham to Budepest these markets will put you in a festive mood as communities come alive with color and merriment. Town centers, market squares, and narrow cobblestone side streets come to life in the dark of winter as decorated wooden stalls offering mulled wine, sweet treats, holiday decorations, regional foods, crafts and entertainment are found. Whether visiting medieval castle laid towns or urban centers, celebrate the magic of the season in western Europe.  River cruising makes visiting several markets in different countries easy.

enhanced-buzz-wide-22584-1416924099-19A Feast of Food and Fine Arts.  This is a time when the city feels full of energy and the cultural season is in full swing.  The opera, theater and symphony are available. You will find raclette in Switzerland, fondue in France, Venison in Germany and roasted chestnuts at every Christmas market.  European kitchens burst into winter mode with creamy, long-cooking sauces, preserved duck and goose, root vegetables, and the roasting of wild game all contributing to aromas that will leave you wishing you could stay in Europe forever.

club med

Winter Sports and Skiing.  Gorgeous mountain villages burst with activity during the winter ski season.   Alpine and Nordic skiing started here and there is an abundance of wonderfully picturesque historic mountain villages, slopes for every ability level and winter sports galore. It is a must for any avid skier.  Club Med makes it especially easy for Americans with 23 incredible resorts of the highest standard, located at the heart of the world’s greatest ski domains, wrapped in the convenience of an all-inclusive.

201501-w-europes-best-winter-resort-towns-dolomitesLess Crowds and lower cost. Dates beyond summer tend to draw less people and as a result we see lower airline, cruise, resort and tour prices.  As you move toward winter, you will find shorter days and colder temperatures but you are more likely to experience the European Europe.  Local fairs and markets are operating and no crowds are fighting to gain access to historic monuments, museums and cathedrals.  Dying to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir for example?  Now is a great time and to take advantage of discounted prices.  Hosted and Escorted Tours are one way to see it all.

The Beauty.  Winter is the perfect time to be mesmerized by nature while you travel Europe.  Whether hiking through forests, racing downhill, or strolling bustling cities and historic villages strewn with dazzling fairy lights, all over Europe – it waits to enchant you!  The glistening of a snow-covered mountain ranges captures the beauty of nature like nothing else.  In northern Scandinavia and possibly Scotland you may even have a good shot of seeing the Northern Lights!

Gstaad Switzerland

Work with me to decipher your best winter options and receive personalized high touch travel planning services at No Extra Cost!

919.589.2437 / info@totalexperiencetravel.com