Cruisin’ for a Deal

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CRUISIN’ FOR A DEAL
Shopping and Adventure Aboard a Viking River Cruise from Prague to Berlin
By Linda Kissam

Two things I love about Viking River Cruises are the small boat atmosphere (featuring a passenger list of mostly adults) and the opportunity to shop in unique ports of call.

If you were born to shop and haven’t cruised in a while, be assured that river cruising is an excellent match for your avocation. Viking River Cruises offer a free guided tour in almost every town they stop in.  These tours are wonderful. Don’t miss them.  However, the extra good news is you will have some time in each town to do some shopping on your own.  I love all the guided tours, but my first love is shopping and I can hardly contain myself for the great shopping expeditions waiting for me.

While larger ocean cruises feature tons of on-board shopping and ports of call heavily encumbered with hawkers and jewelry stores, your shopping journey on a Viking River Cruise will be a whole different ball game. You won’t find the mall-shopping experience aboard, instead expect your shopping to take place in quaint towns with a true sense of taste and place. Pre plan your shopping or simply wander around in blissful innocence to see what “calls your name.”

Strategy

Cruise passengers often fall prey to port fever. They get so excited to buy something they swoop down on the first shop in the first port and buy anything. Even the savviest of shoppers go a little nutsy when they get into the first town. Shop carefully and don’t buy on a whim, but remember, on a Viking River Cruise each port stop is uniquely different. If you love it – small or large – you’re likely not going to see the exact same thing in the next port(s).

My take on souvenir shopping is that there’s no such thing as a “bad” souvenir. If it seems right for you or someone special at home, brings you pleasure, or reminds you of a special stop, it’s a winner. The worst that can happen is that you add the “losers” to your white elephant pile at home. Buy small, inexpensive stuff when you see it. Do your homework and ask the on-board concierge about how/where to buy larger ticket items.  I’ve missed out on some special treasures by thinking I would be able to compare and contrast in the next port or two.  Not so much.  Lesson learned.

Invite people to join you on a shopping cruise that like…well…shopping. Viking River Cruises were made for a girlfriend(s) getaway, yearly friend’s reunions and celebrating special milestones.  The cruise staff provides for all your needs, all you and your group need to do is show up and have fun.  Think how fun it will be to shop till you drop with other “interested” travelers. Bring back your treasures to your room as you go along.  Pack them all up at the end of the cruise.  A new favorite strategy of mine is to just ship most things home, especially if they are bulky.  Just budget for this expenditure and you are good to go.  The ship’s concierge can give you some tips on how to do this. Larger, more exclusive shops will offer to do this for you, sometimes at no charge.

Keep in mind that sometimes the perfect “find” in each port of call will not be a “thing.”  Make time to visit the bakeries, coffee shops, spas and unique activities (like riding a tram up the mountain). Go off ship at least once for a local meal. Get out there, dig in, and make memories in new ways.


Recommendations for each port of call

This Prague to Berlin cruise was a shoppers dream come true.  Two days in a Prague hotel at the beginning of the trip and two in a Berlin hotel at the end of the trip gave me plenty of time to get over jet lag on the front end, and organize myself for a final shopping push on the back end.  These four days allow for unlimited shopping time. Both stops are magnificent in terms of offering an opportunity to discover two cities trending in shopping and destination adventures.  Each city is just beginning to find its own groove.  Viking could not have chosen two better places to begin and end this cruise.

Other benefits we were offered included 8 shore excursions, complimentary (but a bit sketchy)  Wi-Fi, complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard lunch and dinner, 24/7 specialty coffees, teas and bottles water, all port taxes and all airport transfers when purchasing the Viking Air program. Do NOT miss the included port guided tours.


Prague, Czech Republic: On your first visit to Prague, head for the castle district and Old Town Prague (where the Astronomical Clock resides). There is so much to see and choose from, you are likely to be overwhelmed with all the choices. 

Cash is king.  Do not expect the smaller shops, eateries, and open stalls to accept credit cards.

Traditional Czech handmade items like soaps, wooden toys, marionettes, and painted eggs are particularly intriguing. The Czech Republic is known for glassware, crystal products and ceramics. There are several shops near Old Town Square featuring stunning Czech crystal. This can be a bit expensive for some, so you might consider the ceramics shop instead.

My favorite category – jewelry shops – feature amber and garnet pieces. They run the gamut from quite inexpensive to outrageously expensive. A pair of earrings from here has been known to impress family and friends.

The bakeries and eateries are also notable.  Take time for an extravagant pastry in a small café. Surprisingly pizza is everywhere and can actually be quite good.

Theatre – including opera – is also a nice indulgence.  Let your Viking concierge guide you to the best choices.

  • Berlin Wall (Guest Artist)
    Berlin Wall (Guest Artist)


Bad Schandau, Germany:
 This tiny spa town was a WOW for me. It’s a beautiful city nestled in a scenic valley.  It is easily walkable.

Notable activities include both private and public spas, with the public spa (Bad Schandau Therme) featuring a liquid sound pool and natural spa products. Take a stroll through the largelush town park on your way to the Botanical Gardens or hop on the tram based in the town park and ride your way not only to the gardens but to the Lichtenhain Waterfall as well. For the group that loves the outdoors… get your #onehourwalk hike on in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. It impresses with magnificent landscape, rocks, gorges and its very own flora and fauna and a variety of walking trails.

Shopping in town is minimal, but unique home, art and flower stores are a treat to browse.


Dresden, Germany:
At this stop, buy a ticket on the local Hop On-Hop Off Bus. The town is too big to just stroll. The bus stops at or near several malls and Dresden’s “shopping mile.”  You’ll see some familiar shops available in the US, but by far the shops and restaurant offerings are local.

Make sure you stop at a café or bakery for Dresdner Stollen, a cake traditionally served during the Christmas time. Dresden bakeries are proud of their products and you will recognize the original from Dresden by the symbol of a golden horseman on blue ground.

Pick up a couple of traditional “Räuchermännchen. “ They are cute little symbolizing craftsmen of the region, such as foresters and miners. These figures get fed with cone incense which burn down inside and the smoke gets out of the mouth of the figure. Different aromas, such as fir tree and frankincense are a must to experience the total package.

Radeberger Beer, German beer made in Dresden makes an easily packable souvenir for your beer drinking friends.

Meissen, Germany: If all you do is shop at the Meissen porcelain factory…you are one lucky shopper.  The tour is included as your port of call activity.  The slick live demonstrations of how each and every upscale porcelain item is handmade draws you right it.  Most things are expensive, but are truly one-of-a-kind.  In this case, have your purchases mailed home. I did much of my holiday shopping here.  My husband almost had a heart attack at the final bill…but for me, it was worth every penny. Just sayin’.



Wittenberg, Germany:
Wittenberg is the crucible of the Reformation that led to the division of the Christian Church into Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. Its main shopping district is made up of two connected streets: the Collegienstrasse and the Schlossstrasse, which meet at the main market square.

Many of the town’s souvenirs center on a Martin Luther theme. Socks are a featured item almost everywhere. One’s that that bear Luther’s immortal phrase “Here I stand. I can do no other” are the most popular. I read somewhere that the retailers in Wittenberg were at a loss for Luther-related souvenirs until they came up with these socks.  It’s pretty darn creative.  You can also buy Luther Beer, scarves, gloves and Luther Bonbons but these socks take the “funky find” prize. Lots of indoor and outdoor places to eat and drink as well.

We walked back from the main shopping area to the ship.  It took us about 30 minutes on the waterside bike and stroll path. At one point we thought we were lost.  We called the ship, they gave us their GPS coordinates which we put into our Smart Phone app, and merrily continued on our way.

Berlin: Holy cow, totally not what I was expecting! When in the heck did this place grow up and find its own spectacular groove? This is a minimum four-day destination all its own.  Pick a central hotel so you can walk to all the attractions. Viking includes a wonderful tour of the city. I could shop for days here immersing myself in their hip, trendy culture. There are so many historical things to see and parks everywhere. What is left of the Berlin Wall is not what I expected.  In some places it’s been re-graffitied by invited artists, in others, it’s just a short block long. You’ll get the idea, but not necessarily feel the full drama.

Any global brand you can conceive of is located in Berlin –from cheap to totally expensive. This is THE place to shop for clothing and accessories. Do yourself a favor and purchase a shopping tour with a local guide as well as a “Taste of Berlin” tour.  You really need a guide to take you through all the main street courtyard shopping and eateries. Understanding the history of all these places is a must, including why much of the communist era graffiti has been left in place.

The bear is the city’s symbol. You will find a wide variety of Berlin teddy bears and things with bears on them.

Berliner Weiße is a local favorite when mixed with either raspberry or woodruff syrup. It requires special big wide glasses for an authentic taste experience. Buy the glass and the syrup.

If you want something with a bit more whimsical story behind it, you’ll want to purchase something from the “Ampelmann” stoplight series. East Germany and West Germany used to have different symbols on their pedestrian traffic lights. The East has a cute little guy with a hat, standing (red) and marching (green), while the West has a rather uninterested human figure. After the reunification, the Western traffic lights were introduced which resulted in big protests. Easterners wanted to keep their traffic light man. Protests were successful, which is the good news. There are Amplemann merchants scattered around Berlin showcasing a souvenir series of towels, shopping bags, t-shirts, umbrellas, luggage tags and many other things. 


A final note

What makes shopping fun?  Doing new things, meeting new people, seeing new places and learning new ways to look at the common and uncommon. Shopping involves hunting for, discovery, and acquisition of something new.  Gift-giving, as part of the shopping experience boosts personal pleasure with the added bonus of brightening someone else’s day.  Gift-giving brings us the delight we feel in seeing that we have given someone else delight. You can experience all that and more aboard on a Viking River Cruise.

 

Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer based out of Southern California, who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit www.AllInGoodTaste.info.

One Hour Walk

 

 

 

 

 


About the Author:

Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer based out of Southern California, who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits.

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