I am an avid cruiser. In my late twenties, I started cruising with a group of friends. We took our first few trips on Carnival, but shortly moved on to Royal Caribbean. I introduced my soon-to-be husband to cruising a year or so before we were married, and then took a hiatus while we started our family. Last year, we introduced our kidlings to cruising a-la-Disney style, and they were hooked, too.
This year, however, we opted for something different: River Cruising.
Traditionally, the river cruise is populated primarily by senior citizens, and (if you were to base your information on feedback vehemently expressed on Cruise Critic) not a place for children – which is a shame, really, as it provides such a wonderful option for visiting new places. What we love about cruising is the act of unpacking once and waking up in a new place daily, versus shlepping bags on and off of trains and/or the rental car.
Fortunately for us, while researching ideas for our summer holiday (canal boating in France had been suggested, but the prospect of watching the Hubs, and his patience, manage small locks in the busy summer time quickly nixed that idea), I stumbled upon a series of articles on Cruise Critic describing a “multigenerational” river cruise offered by Uniworld – basically, a river cruise that was geared for grandparents and grandchildren, offering family-friendly excursions to supplement their standard program.
Conveniently, it was an itinerary Gmom Phyl was also contemplating, so we invited her and Marty to join us.
One of the things that appealed to us was that nearly everything was included: the daily excursions, the meals, and wine, beer and soda at dinner. (And oh, did the wine flow generously…) The food was outstanding, easily the best I’ve ever experienced on a cruise, and the staff was beyond accommodating, which was particularly helpful as while Boo delighted in the menu choices, particularly on the lunch buffet, Pea proved to be a bit more of a challenge, as she is a picky-eater to rival all picky eaters. To be fair, they ship is used to preparing meals for a more cultured palate, so while a children’s menu was available for dinner, lunchtime did turn out to be a bit of a challenge for her most days.
That said, the dining room staff bent over backwards when off-menu items were requested, such as adding a side of broccoli (she loved the broccoli offered on the lunch buffet earlier in the day). One of the mums ordered mashed potatoes for her daughter one evening – an item I’m positive was nowhere in sight on our menus – but they somehow managed to provide some in copious quantities for her.
Normally, I’ll limit myself to either a starter or the soup, but after the first evening (amid a chorus of “don’t worry about calories on vacation”), that idea went straight overboard. The desserts were incredible, and being in France, of course the cheese board offered (at both lunch and dinner) was outstanding.
Disclosure: I gained six pounds on this trip. I blame these people.
*It wouldn’t be a proper cruise without “La Bombe Glacee” – Baked Alaska.Trust me when I say this might have been my least favorite, and it was sensational.*
The River Royale had just undergone a renovation/redecoration earlier in 2012. Compared to ocean-faring staterooms, our rooms were admittedly tight – all of the river boats are limited to 51ft in width, limited in size by the narrowness of some of the locks we would maneuver – but were pretty luxuriously appointed, with comfortable beds (something we would NOT experience the following week at Disneyland Paris, oy vey) and L’Occitaine soaps, shampoos and lotions in the bathrooms. We had booked rooms with “French balconies” – essentially, sliding glass doors – but to be honest, should we travel again, we would opt for rooms one deck down with large picture windows, as we were rarely in our staterooms.
Daily excursions primarily consisted of morning guided walking tours of the villages and towns we visited. They were generally short in length – two hours or under – and allowed us free time in the afternoon to explore the town or hang out on ship, if we weren’t cruising. There were a few guides who were humorous and interesting, whom we had several days in a row. Honestly, we’re more the “explore on your own” type, so I was dubious about going on a big tour, but the group sizes were small and the Audiovox systems that the ship provided made it easy to hear the guide.
Optional excursions were available in the afternoons, if you so desired, and (happily) the cost was much less than the typical ocean cruise excursion. One afternoon Gmom Phyl took the kids and the Hubs and I travelled to the Pont du Gard and then to a wine tasting; another afternoon we visited an olive farm for an olive oil and olive tasting, and then a trip to Les Baux.
Also offered were special “family” excursions – a kayak trip down the Gardon (limited to the kids only, I’m sad to report, although I would have hated to miss out on Avignon), a “velorail” ride in Ardeche through the Gorges du Doux, and a bike ride to the Park de la Tete d’Or in Lyon. Both of the latter, involving pedaling, were out for me with a healing broken foot, but Boo and the Hubs went on both and enjoyed them immensely. I will admit that information on some of the excursions, the Velorail in particular, were a bit lacking (or perhaps it was the surprise that we wanted more information, but since the kids are 6 and 8, we needed info) as well as information on the deadlines for signing up for the outings.
In addition to the outings, Uniworld also converted a lower deck stateroom into a “kid’s room”, complete with a mahoosive flat screen TV, Wii, board games – and Pierre, the assistant cruise manager in charge of the family activities. The kids loved Pierre, who offered French lessons, did some face painting, and offered up various activities in the kids room. (I’m sure he drank plenty of wine at night, bless him.)
Sitting on the top deck was a delight, whether seated at a table, glass of wine at hand, watching the beauty of the Rhone river, or sprawled in a lounge chair with a book. Seeing the crew quickly take down the awnings sheltering said tables and loungers to accommodate a low bridge – that was amazing, as were some of the locks that we went through. I think the tallest of all of them was 70′ tall! Impressive, to say the least. I think this was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Summing It Up
As much complaint as there might be on Cruise Critic with regards to children/teens being bored on a river cruise – I disagree. My kids had a wonderful time sightseeing, playing Wii with their new friends, and hanging out in the “hot” tub (the water was unheated, perfect in 90deg weather) – when it wasn’t occupied with adults, that is – and contrary to the most bizarre comment there, they had no problem with the stairs. (I figure if all those replaced hips could manage, so could an 8-year-old.)
What it IS – multigenerational or not – is an excellent opportunity to spend time together. Both kids professed to love the trip and have asked to do another….and with the exception of a few sour-pusses who must have missed all the asterisked notations of the Multigenerational aspect and grumbled at the presence of the kidlings, I think the adults didn’t mind having the kids on board.
While we wish Uniworld would add back the Multigenerational option to the Castles along the Rhine route, we very well may find ourselves on the Paris and Normandy itinerary next summer. (And while I loved having the kids along, I’d really love to try a trip without kids, before I join the senior set myself!)
Curious about our daily adventures? Read more here (or at least come and look at pretty photos:
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Viviers and Tournon/Tain L’Hermitage