If the gloomy weather in the UK has had you thinking about the not-so-long-ago winter months, why not put these thoughts to good use and plan your next Christmas getaway? Searching for a short 2012 cruise visiting Europe's festive markets is a sure way of raising sprits, despite the drizzle.
Booking a cruise for December in advance is a good way of making sure you'll have a place on your chosen getaway, and also means you can often have the pick of the best cabins; leave it to the last minute and choice of accommodation is likely to be less broad. Arranging a break months before you're due to embark on a getaway can often see you save money, as you'll avoid the clamour later on in the year when room aboard ship becomes more expensive.
If you don't want to spend all of the festive season away from home, a short break at sea could be just enough time to enjoy some new destinations and escape the crowds embarking on their Christmas shopping back home.
Europe is renowned for its enchanting Christmas markets, and you can expect to call in at a couple of great examples during a winter cruise. Antwerp in Belgium is likely to be one of your ports of call, and the city is a sight to behold with its beautiful old medieval architecture. Take a tour to admire the edifices - such as the famous Cathedral of Our Lady - up close. Located about 50 km north of Brussels, Antwerp is the second largest city in the nation and boasts some wonderful markets that take place over the festive period.
Bazaars are held at numerous squares throughout the settlement, forming a sort of trail and covering Steenplein, Suikerrui and the Grote Markt. Stalls are also put up opposite the cathedral and around the statue of Brabo, while a special parade takes place at the start of the market season. You can pick up all sorts of handmade items and trinkets, and if you enjoy ice skating you can perfect your skills at the rink set up here.
Once you've taken in all the sights of Antwerp, head back to your boat, where you can relax in the Jacuzzi, enjoy some tasty fare in one of the onboard restaurants and take in an evening of entertainment before reaching your next destination, Amsterdam.
The capital of the Netherlands is an ideal location to call in at during a winter cruise, with Christmas markets popping up all over the city. Around 26 bazaars take place here during the run-up to the big day, with the largest event held at the Albert Cuypstraat. Head to the Westergasfabriek to experience the Funky Xmas Market and pick up cheerful decorations and handmade crafts, or call in at the Pure Markt in Park Frankendael to sample some tasty local delicacies.
Skating fans, meanwhile, should visit the Winterland Amsterdam Christmas Market in the Rembrandtplein, which also hosts a rink at this time of year. As you make your way around, keep your eyes peeled for items that would make great presents for those back home. Once your cruise has concluded, you'll be taken back to the port of Tilbury in Essex, from where you can head home and get ready to celebrate Christmas with your nearest and dearest.