We’re delighted to report that Sue Bryant, our contributing editor from the Dec/Jan issue of Cruise International, has won an award in the River Cruise Category at the inaugural PSA Cruise Journalism Awards for her piece, The Kids are alright.
For your reading pleasure, here is Sue’s award-winning story about her time on the rivers of Germany…
“A sedate river voyage through the heartland of Germany hardly seems like the kind of holiday kids would enjoy. But a Uniworld trip along the Rhine and Main from Cologne to Wurzburg turns out to be charmingly family friendly.
How do you engage your audience during a tour of a medieval German town? Leave out the architecture and historical facts and throw in plenty of gore about public floggings and hangings. Then take them to an ice cream shop. When they start climbing into a fountain, simply raise an indulgent eyebrow.
Of course, this is only when your audience is between the ages of four and 15 as was the case on a recent river cruise I took with my children Lauren, 13 and Joel, 11. Children and river cruises are one of those combinations that rarely happens, popular thought being that river cruises are too sedate, the boats too small and the mood on board too, well, elderly.
But now two river cruise lines, Uniworld and Tauck, have both started to experiment with special family departures and I couldn’t resist the chance to see how my kids would take to the castles and fairytale villages along the Rhine and Main aboard Uniworld’s River Ambassador.
“It’s so small!” they commented, as we arrived in Cologne in bucketing rain. We made a dash under umbrellas along the ship’s gangway into a very un-ship-like world of glittery chandeliers, dove-grey silk drapes and silver crushed velvet sofas. Like the rest of Uniworld’s fleet, River Ambassador has been done up like a chic boutique hotel. “We’re so close to the water!” they squealed as they slid open the doors of their French balcony, more used to being on Deck 15 of a giant ocean-going ship.
But ocean-style cruising this is not and these river voyages would only suit a certain type of child – one who can enjoy reading or entertaining themselves on the stretches where the boat is cruising, and behave at the dinner table, as everybody eats together in the elegant dining room. The whole journey had a quaintly old-fashioned feel about it. Families, in every permutation from a three-generation group including aunts and uncles to an American lady taking her goddaughter on a grand tour of Europe, did things together and ate dinner together.
My children read books, played chess on the giant chessboard on deck and watched movies in the cabin; luckily there was a large supply of teen flicks, so I was gazing at castles from the sun deck while my daughter lounged in front of The Devil Wears Prada, painting her nails. One stateroom had been set up as a Wii room, with a rolling supply of fruit and chocolate bars. The energetic cruise director, Tony, laid on light-hearted German lessons and one day we learned how to make Kaiserschmarrn, a calorieladen dessert of shredded pancake that is fried, dusted with icing sugar and eaten with plum sauce. I was most envious when the kids got taken by the captain on a ‘secret’ tour of the galley and the crew quarters.
The scenery along the Rhine and Main changes constantly from a flat, industrial landscape to sheer-sided slopes draped in vineyards and guarded by rugged castles. That’s one of the joys of river cruising – you can just sit on deck for hours, gazing at the scenery. Forest so dense it seemed almost primeval extended right down to the banks at some points, while herons waited for fish in emerald-green water meadows. A constant flow of cargoladen barges chugged past us and towards us, some of them crossing the whole of Europe towards the Black Sea.
After the success of the tour with the ice cream shop in Koblenz, I wondered how my children would react to a walking tour of Schloss Johannisburg, a 17th-century hulk of a castle, once used as a summer home by the bishops of Mainz, that squats outside the nondescript town of Aschaffenburg. Luckily, we had awonderful guide here, Jeanne, who quickly had the kids drawing their own impressions of bishops on the pavement with coloured chalks and then pelting them with water-filled balloons. Next, she had them divide into teams and bury chocolate eggs in a playground for an egg hunt. By the time we got to the castle, she was doing an impression of a 16th century hunchback, the kids following her slavishly in a scene straight out of the Pied Piper.
Miltenberg is a tiny riverside town of crooked, half-timbered houses, some dating back to the 13th century, lining cobbled lanes. We joined another family-friendly tour here and again I realised how much more fun it was than the ‘adult’ tours. Perhaps I only have the attention span of a 12-year-old. Our guide regaled the kids with tales of burning witches, chamber pots being emptied willy-nilly into the streets and how everybody smelt terrible in the Middle Ages because they never washed and onl Miltenberg has a castle, too, a stately home called Schloss Loewenstein, in which a real German prince resides. As River Ambassador carries a fleet of bicycles, we opted to join the cycling group to the castle, pedalling through orchards of apple and plum and past pristine allotments. The kids ran around outside while the adults had a private tour of the Schloss with the Prince, and had their own version of a tasting (fizzy apple juice and alcohol-free malt beer) while we sampled the castle’s wine.
Evenings on River Ambassador were relaxed; there’s no formal dressing, although most people made an effort for dinner. A special children’s dinner menu was produced for our cruise, although Lauren and Joel dipped in and out of the adult menu, especially when things like risotto, crab cakes and vegetable tempura were on offer. Wine is included for adults and I tried some really spectacular German wines – the kind that are produced in small vineyards and are too good to be exported.
These cruises are undeniably expensive; Uniworld’s product is the equivalent of a five-star ocean-going cruise line. But apart from the odd cocktail, there really were no extras and the attention to detail, and the thought that had gone into planning those family excursions, made this foray into multi-generational cruising a big hit among the guests on board. I hope it’s the beginning of something new.”
What makes it different? Uniworld went to great lengths to create on-board entertainment and exciting shore excursions for families
Who the cruise would suit Families of all generations who like to explore together
What to take Books, iPad with games (every family seemed to have one), good walking shoes
Price A seven-night Rhone cruise departing 22 July 2012 costs from £2,150 per person (25 per cent less for children) including full board and all excursions (0845 678 8311/ www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk)
Find out about other holiday essentials in every issue of Cruise International!