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Fun Family Holiday: Boat Cruise Time on the German Rhine

There was never much doubt that HEIDI SARNA would enjoy her one-week river boat cruise in Germany, but it proved a surprise hit with her kids, too.

View along Rhine River
Enjoy picturesque views while cruising along the Rhine

By the end of our seven-day Rhine River cruise last July, we had forgotten that months earlier my 13-year-old twin boys had grumbled and pleaded for us to do a big ship cruise where they could play ping pong, shoot hoops on a basketball court, and zip down a water slide with other teens.

My boys loved their cabin, situated across the hall from our identical 151-square-foot room, with its large windows peering out just a few feet above the river and nest-like beds covered in thick European-style duvets and huge pillows. Over the week, they enjoyed many on-demand movies on the TV, from Ant Man to Meet the Parents – welcome consolation for the weakness of the onboard Wi-Fi that ruled out playing on their phones or laptops. Though they were definitely not happy about this initially, it wound up being a blessing as it pushed them to socialise the old fashioned way.

Cologne's gothic cathedral
Admire the architecture of Cologne’s gothic cathedral

Our “Castles along the Rhine” itinerary was a week of back-to-back visits to medieval towns and cities along both the French and German sides of the Rhine. At a total of seven ports, we got our fill of charming timbered buildings painted in bright colours, towering Gothic cathedrals and old, winding canals lined with flowers; we especially loved Strasbourg in France, and Speyer on the German side.

The clear highlight of the week was the two days spent on the gorgeous Middle Rhine, from Rudesheim to Koblenz. This classic region, where medieval castles seem to grow like mushrooms out of the rocky slopes, in between quilt-like patches of vineyards, has UNESCOWorld Heritage status.

River Empress
The beautiful River Empress that cruises along the River Rhine

As a family, we all looked forward to mealtimes in the stylish restaurant, with its red leather upholstery and olive green water glasses, and floor-to-ceiling windows offering the river and its banks as a backdrop. At the lunch buffet, my boys gravitated to the pastas, fish and chips, carving station and sandwiches, while the parents hit the salad bar and sampled German options, from Wienerschnitzel and potato salad, to sauerkraut and sausages. At dinner, when jackets weren’t required but many wore them anyway, menus always featured a regional dish, from escargots Alsace-style with a splash of Riesling, to traditional Black Forest cake. Kids could also choose from their own menu.

Before dinner, there was a talk from the cruise director about the following day’s highlights. On several nights, acts were brought on board, from a dance band to a soloist, while the kids went back to their virtual soccer tournaments or to the small Patio Lounge down on Deck 1 to play board games and drink hot chocolate from a coffee and drinks machines on call 24/7. The small, slim, attractive River Empress was the most efficiently designed and expertly executed riverboat a family could hope for, and an ideal and easy way to explore some classic European gems.

A Side Of Cycling

A big plus for our family was the option to use the boat’s complimentary bicycles in port. Nearly every day, we hopped onto the sturdy Swiss-made bikes for rides along the paths flanking the river; highlights included a ride through Basel’s arty industrial area prior to departure, and pedalling with the ship’s fitness instructor for the approximately 20 kilometres from Boppard to Koblenz. Another day, while we were docked in Germersheim, I biked solo for an hour along a quiet and natural stretch of the river. Bikes, including some smaller ones for children, are available on every sailing

Cycling along the Rhine River
Hop on a bike and have a leisurely ride along the river

Fact File

  • 7-night “Castles along the Rhine” cruise fares start from US$3,649 per adult (and US$1,825 per child), double occupancy, for the two family cruises scheduled for July 2017 (regular cruises start from $3,049 per person), and include meals, shore excursions, tips, and wine, spirits and soft drinks.
  • Basel and Amsterdam are two beautiful and historic cities that are definitely worth a few days’ stay both before and after the cruise.
  • Bring layers, as summer temperatures on this itinerary can dip to 15 degrees Celsius in Amsterdam, and rise to the low 30s in Basel.
  • For more info, go to uniworld.com

Discover more about small-ship cruises with Quirky Cruise, Heidi’s website.

This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!

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