A Uniworld Generations cruise along the Danube with children is the opportunity to open their eyes to a world of culture and history, discovers Sara Macefield
On our Uniworld Generations cruise, we’re travelling along a cobbled street in Vienna’s alluring old town when a pack of plague-ridden squealing rats suddenly races past us in a raging torrent.
I shriek in horror as I feel their tails whipping past my legs, but there’s barely time to think as we follow them at dizzying speed along the ramparts of the city’s cathedral, tearing to the top of the spire where we gaze across the city nearly 450ft below while being buffeted by blasting gusts of wind.
A few minutes later, we’re taken to a grand palatial hall, floating above hundreds of identikit elegant couples gently twirling to Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz, before cowering in an air raid shelter as bombs rain down from Allied planes overhead.
It’s an enthralling start to a Sunday morning where our visit to the Time Travel museum brings alive the city’s 2,000-year history thanks to high-tech wizardry that transports us from its Roman origins through the Middle Ages to the present day.
The excursion strikes a chord with all ages and is fully in tune with the family-friendly theme of this Uniworld Generations sailing along the Danube River on board S.S. Beatrice. And as we have our 16-year-old twin daughters, Dani and Holly, in tow, such a cruise proves to be a no-brainer for myself and my husband Geoff.
As soon as we board this sleek river ship in the German city of Nuremberg, I sign us all up for the daily activities that have become hallmarks of these signature sailings which mainly
attract a younger age demographic.
Our cruise to Budapest is largely made up of families and includes a few multi-generational gatherings of Americans who account for more than 100 of the 124-passenger total. Brits make up the second-largest nationality, though there are only nine of us.
The largest group is a 17-strong US family on something of a reunion, as the Florida-based grandparents are joined by their four children and their families, who’ve not only flown in from the States, but Shanghai too, bringing along seven grandchildren.
Such a mix injects more of a buzz into the usual river cruise ambience, especially as there are 27 guests under the age of 18 on this departure. The youngest is six, although most are tweens and teens which is the best age to make the most of the experience.
The week-long voyage is mapped out with excursions at every port of call and supplemented by special Generations options, designed to appeal to the younger crowd.
Even though most activities are concentrated on shore (there’s a fleet of bikes for energetic types to use too), children’s hosts organise fun activities on board for when we’re sailing, with a treasure hunt and cookery class that draws younger children.
The teenagers (ours included) are happiest when lazing around sunbathing and chatting, though I’m surprised the vast deck doesn’t have fun diversions such as mini-golf or chess, while Holly and Dani’s biggest complaint is that there’s no pool or hot tub, but with so many stops and tours there would be precious little time to make the most of them.
I’m looking forward to the first Generations excursion, Revved Engines; a visit to the giant BMW factory near Regensburg. Sadly, this falls flat with my family who outvote me, opting instead for a walking tour of the town which includes a visit to the Thurn and Taxis Palace, built from a former Benedictine monastery and historic seat of a German noble family.
It does make for an interesting afternoon, but I later regret not standing my ground when other families return from their visit to the car factory raving about witnessing the BMW production line in action.
A chance to mess about on the water during a ‘river splash’ at Passau finds more favour with the twins so we spend the afternoon paddling kayaks and canoes and fighting to keep our balance on paddleboards along the quiet backwaters of the Ilz River which branches off the busy Danube.
But it’s the regal touch of royalty that adds an unforgettable flavour to another historic visit on our cruise.
The Baroque splendour of the enchanting Artstetten Castle, built high in the Austrian hills overlooking the Danube, is the setting for a private reception with a member of the legendary Habsburg dynasty, which ruled large swathes of Europe before the outbreak of World War I.
On climbing the stairs to the grand salon, we are welcomed by Princess Anita von Hohenberg, great grand-daughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, whose assassinations on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo was the spark that ignited
the horrors of the Great War.
Settling into one of the ornate chairs while gazing at family portraits lining the walls, we listen spellbound as Princess Anita recounts her noble ancestors; archdukes, grand dukes, crown princes, duchesses… there are so many, I become somewhat confused as to who is related to whom, but it doesn’t matter as it is the uniqueness of the occasion that counts. It particularly resonates with my daughter Holly, who is studying the Habsburgs for her A-level history.
I casually wonder how many of her classmates will be able to call on personal recollections of a Habsburg princess for their studies.
S.S. Beatrice boasts a similar mix of grandness and style that embraces guests as they step onto the reception’s marble floor. It’s all glitz and glamour with a head-turning ivory Murano chandelier and ballustraded staircase.
Dani and Holly are irresistibly drawn to tempting glass pots of gummy bears and candies, but I’m more taken by the décor in classical shades of powder blue and ivory that runs through the decks, enlivened with signed Picasso sketches on the walls.
Our suite is well-appointed, too, with sumptuous complimentary touches, from cookie and sweet jars, refreshed every day, to gleaming decanters of spirits and a well-stocked minibar. We even have our own butler.
Yet despite the refined surrounds, there’s a free and easy feel to this sailing as family groups mix and mingle as the week wears on, and it’s not long before the girls abandon us
to hang out with the other teens.
Many of the larger families have their own reserved tables in the main Mozart’s Restaurant, but the rest of us can sit where and when we want.
Dinners are enjoyable four-course affairs (there’s a kids’ menu available too), with tasty steaks, succulent scallops and lobster making the most memorable impression – though we would have welcomed a wider choice of dishes, particularly desserts.
However, guests wanting a more exclusive experience can pay extra for a Chef’s Table or a special steak evening in the cosy Max’s bistro.
With complimentary drinks flowing before, after and during meals, I soon warm to the all-inclusive style of this cruise, which also encompasses gratuities (on shore and on board), as well as most excursions, including the Generations trips. This obviously pushes the overall price up, but it makes for a hassle-free experience and adds to the convivial ambience.
As any parent knows, not having to constantly reach for your wallet is a blessing on any level. Even ice creams are included on our Vienna excursion, but after surviving the plague and a wartime bombing raid, I feel we’ve definitely earned them.
A Uniworld Generation cruise is available on the Danube, Rhine and Seine and Italy’s Po River to Venice. A seven-night Delightful Danube voyage between Budapest and Nuremberg departing in July 2020 costs from £3,199pp and there’s a 25% discount for children aged four to 17 when travelling with an adult (suites excluded). Price includes drinks, shore excursions, Generations activities, gratuities and flights. To book, visit uniworld.com.