Göteborg, Sweden, December 16, 2009 — A blustery and frigid day in Sweden’s second largest city, as P&O Cruises Arcadia embarks bundled-up passengers returning from shore excursions. Temperatures are in the mid-30s (Fahrenheit), but the unrelenting gusts make it feel much colder.
Yes, it is true that Northern Europe is cold and dark during winter, but as someone who spends a great deal of time in the region during what you might perceive to be an uninspiring season, I will let you in on a little secret: Winter is one of the best times to enjoy Northern Europe.
Part of the reason is that the Christmas season is so very present here. Göteborg’s Liseberg, Scandinavia’s largest amusement park, was festive and bright on the day that Arcadia was docked here. And for those who needed to break the winter chill, there were glowing fires, some with chestnuts roasting over them, and plenty of warm glögg, the mulled, warm red wine.
Like Göteborg, other cities, such as Helsingborg, Sweden, erect large Christmas trees in town squares, and as if the trees’ lights weren’t enough to illuminate and pierce the darkness, there are ornamental fires and flames casting warmth in more ways than one throughout the cities. Restaurants are aglow under candlelight to create what the Swedes refer to as mysig. There is, in fact, a difficult-to-convey coziness that you can only experience by being here.
There probably are hundreds of examples that illustrate the novelty of winter cruising in Europe (the opportunity to visit to Copenhagen’s Tivoli at Christmas, the experience of St. Petersburg’s White Days, Germany’s colorful Christmas markets), and it appears that year-round Northern Europe cruises aren’t far off.
Dirk Moldenhauer, chairman of Cruise Europe, says that 2012 will see the first year-round deployment from Hamburg. The itinerary, yet to be finalized, will likely include Western Europe, a region that Moldenhauer refers to as the authentic “Old” Europe (see related story below).
Back in Göteborg, seven lovely Swedish girls boarded Arcadia to perform Lucia, the traditional ceremony where one girl wears a crown of candles in honor of light. Dressed in long white gowns and performing a series of traditional songs, all seven girls stood to enthusiastic applause to a ceremony so beautiful that more than a few people in the audience shed tears. It sounded like angels singing.
Yes, similar experiences and emotions could be evoked during the peak cruise season in Northern Europe, but why not winter? The season that people who live here are most challenged by has lots to offer outside observers fortunate enough to visit Northern Europe during the darkest and coldest months, a period when light shines through — triumphantly.
Western Europe: Lucky Seven
Western Europe, marketed collectively under Atlantic Alliance, boasts seven of the world’s most best-known capitals (think Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon) and seven of Europe’s primary cultures. “From World Heritage sites to museums to shopping, Western Europe has perhaps more to offer than any other region in the world,” says Dirk Moldenhauer, chairman of Cruise Europe.