|The Swiss Sapphire operates several "family targeted" sailings each year. // Photo courtesy of Tauck|
Last month’s "River Cruise Itinerary Spotlight" showcased the Danube with photos and commentary about a popular AmaWaterways itinerary (http://www.travelagentcentral.com/river-cruises/river-cruise-itinerary-spotlight-amawaterways-melodies-danube-35573) between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany.
In a different twist, this month we look at a similar Danube River route, but one targeted at families with children.
Tauck’s “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure” is an eight-day Tauck Bridges cruise between Budapest, Hungary and Regensburg, Germany onboard the 118-passenger Swiss Sapphire.
"All our 2012 family departures sold out," says Katharine Bonner, Tauck's vice president responsible for river cruise and small ship voyages. "We just began taking bookings for 2013 [family cruises], so availability there is still good – for now at least."
This 2013 itinerary is offered in June, July and August and priced from $3,490 per person for kids and adults alike.
One sailing that's sure to book quickly is the Aug. 3, 2013 cruise. Vocalist and guitarist Elisabeth von Trapp and her husband Ed will sail on that cruise and mingle with guests; she is the granddaughter of Maria and Georg Ludwig von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame.
Regardless of which of these family-targeted sailings your clients sail on, what's it all about? Simply put, families explore the Danube River region but in a bit less traditional fashion. Yes, kids still tour a few historic sites with mom and dad or perhaps take a city tour.
But they also will discover fun, active, family-friendly adventures such as river rafting, a scavenger hunt, exploring a castle that has 18th century "animatronic-like" surprises, making strudel or soaring over Vienna, Austria on the Riesenrad, the city’s historic giant ferris wheel.
Onboard activities integrate what kids see ashore with the river voyage experience. And there are family fun activities such as a top-deck cook-out and karaoke.
"Our family river cruises are popular with grandparents traveling with their kids and grandkids, because the grandparents don’t have to worry about getting the kids packed and ready to go to a new hotel every couple of days," emphasizes Bonner. "Everyone unpacks just once, and the relaxed atmosphere on board is great for family bonding."
|In Budapest, families may climb to the ramparts of Fishermen's Bastion. The reward is a stunning overview of the city. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Here's a look at the day-to-day "Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure" itinerary, as well as some facts about what is and isn't offered onboard in terms of programs and accommodations, and what the overall "pluses"are for families.
Day 1 – Budapest, Hungary: After arrival in Budapest, guests transfer to the ship. Families head out on a city tour that includes Heroes Square and Fishermen’s Bastion. Children will likely enjoy the short climb onto the bastion’s ramparts to view the city below.
Tonight, the family is also treated to a captain’s welcome dinner and reception.
Day 2 – Bratislava, Slovakia: Families can forget about figuring out how to entertain the kids on the first day of a typical river cruise. Clients won't traipse through musty museums or visit a ton of churches with traditional commentary.
Instead, this morning is spent cruising the Danube along Hungary's border with Slovakia as the ship heads for Bratislava. Upon arrival, families set out for a day of fun activities.
"Kids really love their time in Bratislava, where they participate in a fun scavenger hunt and then go whitewater rafting on a course developed for Olympic athletes," stresses Bonner. Those who are 12 years and older and at least 54” tall may participate in the whitewater adventure, but if kids don’t meet the height requirement, Tauck will provide an alternative activity.
This evening, weather permitting, it’s time for a cook-out on the riverboat’s Sun Deck. Families also enjoy Slovakian cultural entertainment.
Day 3 – Vienna, Austria: Arriving in Vienna, a sightseeing tour showcases the major attractions within the city, including the Ringstrasse, gardens, parks and the architecture.
But even at traditional "must see" sites, such as the 1,441-room Schonbrunn Palace, the permanent summer residence of the Austrian Imperial Family, families will find a bit different experience.
On Tauck's tour of Schonbrunn, families will look for hidden secrets and learn what royal life was like during their guided visit. Kids will learn that Marie Antoinette grew up here.
This evening, families will visit a private Vienna palace for a family-focused Imperial Evening, with welcome drinks, a special dinner and Viennese entertainment in a grand ballroom.
Day 4 – Vienna, Austria: Today, culture takes a backstage to fun. Families will venture to the Vienna Prater amusement park, home to more than 250 rides and attractions including the Riesenrad, a giant ferris wheel (which film buffs will recognize from the 1940s classic film entitled "The Third Man").
The park also has extreme-speed rides, merry-go-rounds and go-carts tracks, as well as haunted houses and a fun house. Free time is provided so families can also customize their Vienna visit.
Once back onboard, guests will enjoy a demonstration about how to make Viennese strudel, as the ship sails to Durnstein.
|Kuenringerburg Castle // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Day 5 – Durnstein and the Wachau Valley: The day starts in the medieval town of Durnstein, best known for its quaint downtown, with narrow, cobblestone streets, a 13th-century abbey and 16th-century houses.
Families may explore the town or pedal away on a leisurely bicycle tour along the Danube River and through the countryside to a local village; they'll have time on their own, before biking back to Durnstein.
Another option for parents of older kids is a hike up from Durnstein to the hilltop ruins of Kuenringerburg Castle; the draw is the view at the “summit.” Travelers might enjoy pretending they’re King Richard the Lionhearted of England who was once imprisoned in this castle.
Later, onboard wine tasting is planned for parents and grandparents who wish to sample the Wachau Valley’s savory vintages.
As the ship sails this afternoon, kids who have brought their own techie equipment, toys or games can play away or, alternatively, just take an afternoon snooze.
Tonight, families will participate in a night of singing during “The Sound of Music Karaoke” activity.
Day 6 - Hellbrunn Castle and Salzburg: To appeal to children, historic sites need a bit of a quirky hook. That’s why Tauck takes families to Schloss Hellbrunn, a castle once owned by a Prince Archbishop of Salzburg who loved playing practical jokes, and took it to extreme.
So guests were astounded by the Baroque beauty of the castle home, as well as the tricks played on them with what can best be described as 18th-century animatronics.
In addition, Tauck takes families to view sites in Salzburg affiliated with the Sound of Music, including the pavilion used for the song, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
Guests also have free time to explore Salzburg, the hometown of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Alternatively, families might join the cruise director for a stroll through Mirabell Gardens.
Day 7 – Passau, Germany: Families take a walking tour of Passau, located at the junction of the Ilz, Inn and Danube. Today, families will see – as well as hear – the biggest pipe organ in Europe at Passau's historic St. Stephan's Cathedral; it has 17,774 pipes and 233 registers!
Today kids and adults alike will learn how marzipan, a candy made from sugar and ground almonds in realistic shapes, is made. They may join in the fun and try making their own version of the tasty treat.
Later this evening, families attend a festive farewell dinner.
Day 8 – Regensburg: Guests leave the ship in Regensburg and many are transferred to Munich’s airport for flights home. Some families may choose to explore more of Bavaria.
|Families can watch and learn how to make strudel on Tauck's specialized family-friendly Danube River itinerary. // Photo courtesy of Tauck|
An Intimate River Boat
Swiss Sapphire carries a crew of 36; they serve a maximum of just 118 guests. So families won't have to contend with crowds.
Staterooms range from 150 to 183 square feet. There are also junior suites and 14 larger suites, the latter with more than 350 square feet of space, floor-to-ceiling windows, marble baths, flat-screen televisions and walk-in closets. In-stateroom amenities include plasma televisions, terry bathrobes, Molton Brown toiletries and more.
Eighty-five percent of accommodations have floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies.
On the dining side, the ship has an elegant restaurant with open seating and no assigned tables. Tables seat four or six guests.
Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are available for dinner.
On the bow, the Panorama Lounge is a bar, dancing and entertainment venue. The aft Lido Bar sports a 180-degree glass wall that opens for an indoor-outdoor cocktail hour; the bar is also a second dining option with lighter bistro fare.
Fostering Realistic Expectations
Clientele? Tauck recommends this cruise for families with kids 8 and older, although it accepts children 3 and up.
Family clients need to understand that river vessels are much more intimate than most oceangoing cruise ships. Swiss Sapphire, for example, carries just 118 guests maximum, not 4,000.
It's unrealistic for clients to expect supervised children’s programs and kids' spaces such as a kids' club, video arcade or nursery onboard any river ship. There simply isn't space.
Parents and grandparents bringing children on this family-focused cruise will likely have the best family experience if their expectations are on target.
It's important for them to know that no babysitting services are available onboard Swiss Sapphire nor does the intimate ship have a kids’ club.
Parents are responsible for supervising and entertaining their children throughout the cruise, although Tauck's creative programs ashore and entertainment offerings onboard are designed to help families spend quality time together.
One good option for parents is to sail with other couples with kids, or, alternatively, to bring along adult siblings or even their own parents. That way, some adults can handle the babysitting or teen supervision, while the other adults have the opportunity to grab some quiet time onboard or a special activity ashore.
On the accommodation side, because river vessels are smaller, they also generally have less flexibility than huge ocean ships in cabin configurations; ocean ships may offer more than a dozen cabin types including family cabins. River industry cabin configurations with third berths or connecting cabins are often more limited.
In Tauck’s case, most cabins have two twin beds that may be separated or combined. Triple accommodations in one stateroom are only available in Category 6 on this cruise. Requests for triple and quadruple accommodations are only available as two separate twin cabins in categories 1 and 3.
While Tauck says it will do its best in helping families secure adjacent cabins or connecting cabins, where possible, it also notes on its website that it can’t guarantee such arrangements.
For safety and security purposes, stateroom accommodations for children under 18 years of age must be made in the same stateroom as an accompanying adult; exceptions may be granted under certain circumstances with parental consent.
Agents should assure clients book early to receive the best chance of preferred accommodations, and also to understand the options, river cruise perks, limitations and rules.
Now for the "Pluses"
While a big-ship ocean cruise typically offers much more in the way of hardware facilities for families onboard, river cruises have their own appealing perks. Picking the right cruise depends on the client's "take" on what's important.
Here are some pluses for families sailing on a designated "family-focused" river cruise in Europe, such as this one Tauck offers.
First, travelers on a family-targeted cruise will feel more at ease knowing that anyone who has booked this family voyage will expect lots of kids onboard.
While no one likes a screaming child, kids do have meltdowns. The good news is that any fellow guests will likely understand first-hand about the challenges of vacationing with children.
Second, your client's children may be lucky enough to encounter other kids their own age onboard. There are no guarantees, but it is a much greater possibility than on a traditional river voyage.
Third, going ashore from an intimate river vessel is a much simpler, less stressful process than on a big ocean ship. Clients just walk off the river boat. They venture ashore with little or no waiting, given the limited number of guests onboard.
The tour “readiness” process is also less frenetic than on a big ocean vessel where hundreds of travelers may depart for tours at the same time.
Fourth, river vessels typically dock in the heart of European downtown areas. Many big ocean ships dock at a far-flung port pier requiring a shuttle ride to a city center, or alternatively, a longer walk - often through an ocean terminal at a pier - simply to reach shore.
Fifth, river vessels often sail in daytime and river banks are close. So cruisers have first-hand views of landscapes, cities/towns, people and livestock along the voyage route.
Families may spot farmers working in the fields, activities in riverside towns and people just going about their everyday lives. The educational and cultural lesson of life in a foreign country unfolds to family members as the river vessel sails along.
In contrast, oceangoing cruise ships sail mostly at night and on days at sea operate miles from shore so the onboard shops and casino can stay open.
Sixth, a pre-planned, family-optimized itinerary frees up parents to relax and just spend quality time with their kids. Yes, clients must still supervise their kids at all times.
But if they travel as a family group with other adults, it can be a shared responsibility. And parents or grandparents don’t have to organize the travel arrangements, pack and unpack when moving from city to city, or plan all the shore activities, except during some free time ashore.
Adults also receive such perks as onboard wine tasting or cultural programs.
Seventh, this type of itinerary offers a chance for families to create memories. They will explore Europe and see some of the continent’s most storied destinations, many inaccessible during an ocean cruise (without land add-on arrangements).
Finally, and most importantly, this isn't a traditional river cruise with a mature clientele onboard. Tauck has creatively integrated family-friendly activities into the European river travel experience.
Instead, kids or teens - if they have an exploratory and active mindset - likely won't be bored. Families will enjoy biking, ride a ferris wheel, tour a castle site with “trick” features, head out on a scavenger hunt, enjoy river rafting, make their own marzipan and sing on a fun karaoke evening.
Want to know more about Tauck's family-focused river cruises on the Danube? Visit “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure” visit www.tauck.com/tours/europe-tours/central-and-eastern-europe-tours/danube-river-tour-yuw-2013.aspx.
Expect more from Tauck in the coming year as well. "We’ve enjoyed strong, double-digit growth in our family river cruise on the Danube," says Bonner. "The interest and success we’ve seen there has prompted us to add a second family river cruise [itinerary], this one on the Rhone, to our portfolio in 2013."