River Cruising Vacations Offers Families the Trip of a Lifetime
by Marijo Tinlin, Editor-in-Chief, Family First.com
If King Charlemagne were alive today, he’d be happy. One of his dreams was to connect Amsterdam with the Black Sea via the river-ways. He would have had to wait a while. The river systems were finally all connected in 1992. From that, a new way to travel has risen in popularity—river cruising.
AmaWaterways was one of the pioneer fleets to offer families luxury cruises on the rivers of Europe. In 2002, they leased several ships and the business thrived. By 2006, they had their own fleet of ships, custom-built for the Western traveler. Their all-inclusive packages for Europe and Vietnam-Cambodia on the Mekong River offer trips of a lifetime for grandparents, parents and children
The way towns were built before mass transit was around the river, so as soon as you hop off the dock, you are in the heart of the city, according to Gary Murphy, Vice President of Ama. Murphy is a travel industry veteran, formerly serving as the President of Brendan Vacations, a premier touring company founded by his father, Jimmy Murphy. The elder Murphy founded AmaWaterways along with Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, both cruise industry executives.
Whereas the big cruise ships can carry over 5,000 passengers, Ama’s ships hold between 150 and 164 people each, depending on the route. It gives your family a chance to meet others from around the world and spend time together. It’s like a moving hotel room that follows you down the river while you explore the shore towns.
For most European routes, the ships move through a lock system (think Panama Canal on a small scale), so the ships’ maximum width is 38 feet wide. The trips range from 7 days to 21 days, sailing through multiple countries. One trip starts in Amsterdam and ends in Budapest–10 countries in all! Besides all over Europe, they sail between Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong River and have African cruises on the Chobe River in conjunction with land safari programs.
All trips include shore excursions, meals, beer and wine for dinner, champagne for breakfast, in-room internet and movies and much more. Each room has a river-side panoramic view and is equipped with full-appointed private bathrooms. Each ship also has two lounges, one for getting to know others and a quiet, aft lounge for reading and relaxing.
Meals are served in a dining room with breakfast and lunch offering menu options and a buffet. Dinners are five-course creations with choices of chicken, beef, lamb, fish as well as vegan offerings and even kosher options. There is not an orthodox kosher option available, however.
Gary notes that when you take shore excursions with the big cruise lines, you arrive at a shipping port and usually must take a cab into the actual city you are visiting. So besides the expense of that cab, most cruise lines do not cover shore excursions in the cost of the cruise—that’s additional.
Once you step off the river cruiser, you have many choices for your daily adventures. Ama employs local tour guides who provide you with a tour of the cities or local attractions. If you would rather explore on your own, most European trips offer bicycles for self-touring. Gary says most of the rivers have paved pathways running parallel to the shore that were originally built for the horses that pulled the barges along the rivers before combustion engines. He says you can either meet the ship for lunch or keep riding and hop back on at dinner.
Families have a ton of flexibility too. Gary says if some are up for a hike, they might hike up to a castle while others may opt for a cab. Both groups meet and take the castle tour together and then enjoy lunch as a family. If someone wants to stay on the ship for the day, there are tons of relaxing activities there too, including a pool on board!
He recommends the trips for children ages 10 and up simply because it is a smaller ship and the children really need to be able to control themselves and understand proper behavior. Loud voices and running up and down the narrow hallways is not going to make friends on these small ships.
Their newest route is along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and it has blown away expectations. Gary says they are already building two new ships to handle the demand. The cruise starts in the Yunnan province of China and ends in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). These cruises are also among the most affordable.
Gary says one of their most popular itineraries is an 11-day Christmas Time trip that starts with 3 nights on shore in Prague, Czech Republic, then catch the boat in Nuremburg and sail to Salzburg, Linz, Melk and Vienna, and other towns, before arriving in your final destination of Budapest, Hungary. All the while, you are stopping at the Christmas Markets in each town for gingerbread, crystal and other gifts. When you arrive in Budapest at sunset, you sail by an ancient castle, lit up on the mountain side, and all passengers enjoy champagne and Mozart on the top deck. Heavenly!
Gary points out one of the best parts of river cruising, besides not having to carry your luggage all over, is that the itineraries are planned for you. You don’t have to spend hours sifting through travel sites and Fodor manuals to figure out what to do on your vacation. It takes the headache out of vacation.
So if you are ready for a life-changing experience, check out the AmaWaterways’ website at www.AmaWaterways.com and find your dates now.