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Taking the Kids: Christmas markets

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Wow! Some of the dollhouses at the Nuremberg Toy Museum were so big that a child could fit inside; an electric train set took up an entire room and took two dozen years to build.

More than a dozen local toy manufacturers developed model railways and Nuremberg’s toymakers — long a center of toymaking — were long known for coming up with new ways to make toys move.

Playmobile is headquartered here and toys have been produced here beginning in the 16th century carved out of wood or produced out of papier-mâché. By the 18th century, toys were seen as a way for children to learn their adult roles — thus the dollhouses with big kitchens, toy trains and lead soldiers. Erector sets were also popular. There were toy washing machines and kitchens with working stoves equipped with copper pots and tiny china sets.

One of the city’s top tourist attractions, the Nuremberg Toy Museum. Sadly, is now closed because of the pandemic, but it seems, traditional toys are making a comeback this holiday season. That made me recall our visit a few years ago with families who, like us, were passengers on a Uniworld River Cruise Generations Christmas Market sailing, designed with special activities on board and off, including the special “family tour” of the Nuremberg Toy Museum and a visit to the city’s famous Christmas Market, one of several we visited on the week-long trip.

Germany normally has some 2,500 holiday markets, the most in Europe, drawing tourists from around the world, though you’ll also find them a popular holiday tradition in neighboring Austria, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. They are canceled or virtual this year and no one is cruising. The Toy Museum, like others, are closed.

But, as we are all stuck at home, there’s no harm in thinking about where we might like to celebrate the holidays next year, once it is safe to travel. A 2021 holiday river cruise, especially one with special amenities on board and off for kids and families (think cooking with the chef, local crafts, bikes on board, kid-oriented tours) certainly would make it easy and there are many to choose from, including Uniworld, Tauck Bridges Holiday Magic on the Danube and Adventures by Disney sailings with AmaWaterways that include visits to Salzburg and Vienna; the Alsace Christmas Markets with CroisiEurope.


Virtually all river lines offer holiday market cruises, said Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of, the leading cruise reviews site garnering some six million visitors a month. McDaniel added that pre-pandemic, families were a growing segment on river cruises, especially around the holidays. “It’s more than fair to assume we’ll see this trend continue once consumer confidence is restored and it is safe to travel again,” she said. In fact, Uniworld reports advance bookings for 2021 Holiday Markets cruises have increased more than double from the same time last year.

For those who don’t want to wait that long, Uniworld is touting a holiday do-over next July on the Danube (assuming it will be safe to travel ) complete with holiday décor, holiday themed activities (think gingerbread house decorating and ornament making) holiday movies, photos with Santa and on-board holiday markets to purchase local crafts. (Book by Jan. 8 and save $500 per person.)

Because river cruise ships are small — usually fewer than 150 people, the crew knows the kids by the second day and parents feel safe letting them roam. “We wouldn’t let them do that on a big ship with 3,000 people,” said Frazer Manton, traveling with his wife, Kirsten, and 10-year-old twin daughters, Hannah and Ellie, from Brisbane, Australia on our trip.

“You don’t have to go from hotel to hotel schlepping with the kids … this is so comfortable,” added Diana Carlson, who wanted to show her two sons the Christmas markets she remembered from her childhood in Germany.


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