European River Cruises for the Family
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Family River Cruises

River cruising in the past has been primarily associated as a holiday strictly for adults, namely couples. This notion has recently begun to change with the arrival of family friendly river cruises.

Several companies are now offering cruises that finally give the whole family a good reason to try a river cruise.

The general manager of Australasia Cruise Lines International Association, Brett Jardine stated recently, “As the number of river-cruise ships and itineraries grows, it’s only natural that some cruise lines may seek to broaden their offering. Attracting more family groups would be one way of doing this.”

WHEN TO GO

One of the many reasons as to why river cruising has gained popularity amongst families is due to the time period. Most river cruises take place during the summer; which is the perfect time for a family holiday, as the children are off from school.

In addition, winter river cruises in Europe are popular because the whole family will get the chance to visit an authentic Christmas market.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES?

River cruise holidays have several advantages over those taken at sea. They allow a more in depth look at smaller towns and villages. In port, besides sightseeing, there are many activities that can be tailored to please every member of the family.

Many intriguing activities for people of all ages can be found; some of these activities consist of medieval games, dinners at unique castles such as Heidelberg Castle, Strasbourg and Koln Cathedral, chocolate tastings, and cooking classes. In addition, private tours can be booked to allow a complete customisation of the holiday to fit your family’s preferences.

Typical options for the active, thrilling adventure type include zip lining above the Black Forest, to more thought provoking pursuits such as attending a concert at Schönbrunn Palace.

RIVER CRUISE LINES THAT CATER FOR FAMILIES

Popular destinations for family river cruising include the Danube, the Rhine and Rhone as well as the Seine. Out of the various river cruise lines, the lines that are presently appropriate for families to consider are:

AmaWaterways

Designed with families in mind and accepting children as young as four, the AmaWaterways AmaViola and AmaStella offer triple and quad cabins, a rarity in the river cruise market. Plus there are a limited number of interconnecting cabins.

Cabins contain two balconies with one that you can sit in and the other a traditional French balcony. These ships offer a heated pool, complimentary Internet, entertainment on demand and an onboard fitness centre and spa. Certain sailings also offer a childrens menu to please the little one’s fussy palate!

Prague to Budapest and everything in between are the highlighted destinations of the AmaViola, whilst the AmaStella concentrates on the Danube and Christmas Market cruises.

CroisiEurope

With no age limit, CroisiEurope operates 50 vessels with some capable of accommodating more than two to a cabin. With a decidedly French flavour, the line warmly welcomes children on board and provides child friendly menus during their summer family cruises.

On the sailings that are designated for families, children up to 16 years travel free or for a greatly reduced fare when travelling with a parent, even with an adjourning cabin.

This French river cruise line offers several destinations that cannot be found with other river cruise companies. Consider sailing between Berlin and the centre of Prague on the Elbe or on the French canals past Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, or on Spain and Portugal’s Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers.

Tauck River Cruises

Offering selective all inclusive holidays that allows children as young as three to travel, the line has been offering family river cruises for many years. Some of Tauck’s cabins can accommodate up to four passengers. Besides traditional dining, there’s a casual dining venue that younger people appreciate as an alternative.

Castles on the Rhine will enable your family to get up close to real life fairytale land with stops in Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Other popular choices include their latest addition which is an immersive family trip along the River Rhône or venturing to Hungary through Slovakia and Austria to Germany along the Danube.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

As Winner of Travel + Leisure’s “#1 River Cruise Line for Families” Uniworld has an excellent reputation because of its attentive staff, excellent dining, plush decor and comprehensive guided tours. Currently the cabins serve two people but can be adjoined to accommodate up to four.

The minimum age accepted for sailings is four years and the line is gearing towards more interactive activities onboard its vessels with their youth counsellors. Examples include taste testing with the Soda Sommelier and arts and craft workshops. Child friendly tours can also be arranged.

Adults can venture ashore for their own tours without the entire family and can be assured that the kids are left in good hands with the ‘Family Hosts’.

Uniworld has an extensive number of summer family sailings on the Rhine, Danube, Seine and Po Rivers.

CONSIDERING A RIVER CRUISE FOR 2018?

Many sailings for 2017 are already filled to capacity and that includes those for the Christmas Markets. Now is the time to take a look at what is available towards the summer of 2018.

The most important factor in choosing a river cruise isn’t just the cruise line itself but the destinations and available tours that will be of the most interest to the entire family. As the trend towards family cruising on the rivers of Europe increases, more lines and vessels will change their demographics of passengers to include families.

In comparison to ocean cruising, river cruising is always more about the destination than the onboard activities. Whether it’s a leisurely bike ride along the Danube or connecting to Venice on the Po River or even escalating up one of the oldest Ferris Wheels, the Weiner Reisenrad in Vienna, choose the holiday that will be the ideal fit for your entire family.

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Introducing the MSC Meraviglia
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MSC Meraviglia exterior shot

The Meraviglia’s Italian name translates to ‘wonder’; which is pretty accurate considering her glamour and incredible innovations. After her maiden voyage, the reviews were full of positives.

She contains many firsts for MSC Cruises and two sister-ships are also on order.

STATEROOMS

MSC Meraviglia has 14 decks and 22 different room categories ranging from basic inside cabins to Wellness Deluxe Suites. The hues chosen for the traditional cabins are elegant and tranquil and utilise earth tones with a mix of cocoa and several shades of charcoal. Upgrading to Yacht Club cabins as seen below is an entirely different experience with huge rooms and breathtaking colour schemes.

MSC Meraviglia Yacht Club Wellness Deluxe Suite

MSC have introduced a new concept onboard the Meraviglia known as “Super Family Cabins” which consist of two Balcony cabins connected for families and groups of up to 10 passengers.

A new type of stateroom is also available and bound to be a hit with solo travellers. The interior inside cabins are designed tastefully and singles won’t be required to pay double the fare.

MSC Meraviglia Interior Studio

Standard inside cabins are bigger than the industry norm with plenty of storage space too. The square footage increases with the category chosen.

DINING

Foodies of all types will be very pleased at the fantastic array of dining options available. There are 12 free or for a-fee-specialty venues to dine in.

Inclusive dining can be obtained at the traditional fixed time “classic” restaurants Waves, L’Olive Doree & L’Olivo D’Oro and also Panorama. The latter offers four or five course meals with views that are spectacular.

Of course, there is the Marketplace Buffet which is bound to be popular with those wanting a bite to eat at odd times, as it is open 20 hours a day. Besides pizza, pasta and salads, there’s a good choice of traditional and ethnic cuisine options. Whether you choose something from the “fruit and vegetable market” or another station, the open kitchens are in full view to all.

Fee dining is well worth considering too. Prepared on the spot sushi and teppanyaki featuring some of Asia’s best sashimi and tempura can be experienced at Kaito Teppanyaki.

MSC Meraviglia Kaito Teppanyaki

The All American Butchers Cut steakhouse features big cuts of thick and prime beef served to your personal taste.

The Eataly Ristorante Italiano serves authentic Northern and Southern Italian cuisine. The restaurant also has an option to indulge in the ‘chef’s table’.

HIGHLIGHTS & ACTIVITIES

The MSC Meraviglia is so full of activities that you may be tempted to not even leave this state-of-the-art ship when she calls at port!

The first thing that you will notice whilst strolling along the Galleria is the “atmospheric digital sky” created by a 5,200 square foot screen. This massive LED dome is filled with every colour of the spectrum and depicts abstract designs dotting the ceiling one minute and then changes to stained glass mosaics the next.

Even pre-meals onboard are something unique with a new concept called “pre-dinner parades”. These are short entertainment performances and take place mostly on the bridge over the Promenade. There are dancers, singers and performers of all kinds dressed in elaborate costumes. This parade serves as a sampler of the entertainment on the rest of the ship.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Aqua Park, which contains four heart stopping water slides and a splash pool. Thrill seekers can try out the Himalayan Bridge, a zip line located near three other pools.

MSC Meraviglia Aquapark

The Carousel Lounge contains all the latest in technology and is surrounded by a 180 degree circular glass wall. MSC has now laid claim to be the only line to feature the world famous Cirque de Soleil in the Carousel Lounge. Their incredible acrobatics can be enjoyed 6 nights of the week. There are two options to enjoy Cirque de Soleil; as a dinner theatre or just the performance.

Another first for the cruise line is “MSC for Me”, which serves as an interactive concierge. This digital service will allow passengers to book activities and meals with their family and friends and allow them to see each deck.

Other activities include a miniature carnival complete with a merry-go-round, a bowling alley that’s perfect for a casual night and an inordinate sports arena. The sports arena has areas suitable for basketball, football and volleyball.

There are activities for technology fans as well. Technological related fun consists of two F1 Racing Simulators, a 5D cinema, a Flight Simulator and arcade games ranging from the retro to the truly innovative.

MORE ACTIVITIES FOR THE LITTLE ONES

Children will never be bored on the ship as there are many activities especially for them. The children’s club, Doremi Lab consists of rooms separated by age group as well as an interactive room for the family. There is also a “laboratory” where children can work with 3D printers and laptops and conduct “experiments”. Doremi Lab is sponsored by LEGO, making it more appealing to kids that are fans of the brand.

MSC Meraviglia Doremi Lab

Other family activities include a family disco and a farewell party at the end of the trip. There is also a teen’s club which is directly adjacent to the kids club and is filled with the latest video games, sports competitions and dancing with the lounge being one giant floor.

THE ITINERARIES

Presently, the MSC Meraviglia is offering 7 Night Mediterranean Cruises visiting Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina and Valletta. Any of the Mediterranean cruises can be embarked in what would be of convenience to the passenger with a choice of Genoa, Messina or Barcelona.

The itinerary changes in November of 2017 and adds Civitavecchia (Rome) and Palermo to the offering. This will be consistent up to April 2018 when the ship will head north. The sailing of the 18th of April 2018 departs from Genoa towards Hamburg on an 11 night trip with stops at Marseille, Barcelona, Cadiz (Seville), Lisbon, Vigo, Southampton, Le Havre and Hamburg.

This voyage can be extended for an additional 11 nights with added ports including Invergordon, Kirkwall, Greenock, Dublin, and Cork. For the summer of 2018, the MSC Meraviglia will be based in Northern Europe offering a variety of itineraries consisting of 10, 11 and 21-night sailings before returning to the Mediterranean in October.

Images courtesy of MSC Cruises

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My Recent Cruise Onboard Oasis of the Seas
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Oasis of the Seas

It was time once more for our annual cruise and for May 2017, we chose Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. She is the first of the Oasis class of ships and has been in service since October 2009.

It has been a few years since I boarded a RCI ship!

The cruise departed from Port Canaveral in Florida. After our long flight from London, it was very much appreciated to spend the week just chilling out.

The Oasis did a Western Caribbean itinerary which included Labadee in Haiti (RCI’s private beach retreat), Falmouth in Jamaica and Cozumel in Mexico. We had been to all three ports on previous cruises and opted to skip Jamaica to enjoy the ship and spa.

CABINS

There are a good variety of types of cabins available on onboard, as found on all of Royal’s ships. Besides inside and balcony cabins overlooking the sea, there are those within a themed area such as Central Park filled with flora and fauna or the Boardwalk with a carousel and colourful neon lights. Of the remaining there are the mini-suites and grand suites.

The cabin we resided in for our Caribbean week holiday was a mini suite that truly outclassed many other “mini suites” on various cruise lines that we have cruised on. Cabin #8236 was located on the Central Park floor. It was very spacious with an entire walk in closet, an enormous bathroom with tub and was also mid-ship with a balcony that offered a spectacular view of the ocean.

Take a look at a selection of Oasis of the Seas Staterooms

We even dined on the terrace as the balcony afforded a table and chairs, as well as chaise loungers. There was also a large flat screen TV. The dresser size is more than sufficient for any clothing you take although you would not be wise to not use the walk in closet, a rarity for cruise ships.

The bathroom was well stocked with L’Occitane products such as shampoos, conditioners and soap bars. There are also two plush and soft bathrobes that are perfect for lounging around the pool or spa areas with.

DINING

Although you may think of buffets and endless cocktails when it comes to cruising, Royal Caribbean truly shines with their specialty dining options. With the wide variety of selections on display, there are enough culinary choices to please even the pickiest eater.

Oasis of the Seas Windjammer Cafe

Image: Windjammer Cafe

Starting with the buffet itself, the Windjammer Café, actually manages to make a cruise buffet an excellent experience in its own right. Every night, the themes change based on the ports you arrive in. Interested in trying some Jamaican jerk chicken or some Haitian style spare ribs? It’s all possible here!

We enjoyed our experience in the Windjammer Café on one evening, but did tend to favour specialty dining. That turned out to be just as impressive.

Chops Grille, also located in the lovely Central Park district offers the feel and the food of a fine steakhouse. The Park Café is also located in Central Park and serves up Panini’s, wraps and other comfort food in a casual atmosphere.

At Izumi, diners can opt for either a stylish sushi bar or a teppanyaki meal. We chose to opt for the sushi bar and were delighted by all of the varieties available, some of which we had never heard of!

The Mexican delights of Sabor offer not only a tasty treat for all but also a wonderful view of the Boardwalk area whereas Giovanni’s Table has enough Italian pastas and antipasti to please the whole family in the midst of Central Park.

We found the Park Café was an excellent choice for our breakfast, as it not only contains lovely areas to dine al fresco but allows you some tranquillity from the masses.

If you wish to dine at these or any other restaurants for lunch or dinner; make reservations as soon as possible. A tip is to review the dining venues before you leave home and write down dates and times you want to request.

ENTERTAINMENT

When it comes to entertainment options Oasis of the Seas really shines.

Gamblers will be thrilled to hear that the onboard casino, cleverly called the Casino Royale, takes up nearly an entire floor with an endless row of slot machines and other gaming favourites such as blackjack and roulette.

There are four swimming pools for leisure pleasure; including a children’s pool with colourful waterfall-like statues. My personal preference was at the solarium, near the back (aft) of the ship.

Although it is enclosed, it means that you have a place to swim no matter what the weather is like. It also is considerably less crowded than the regular pools. Don’t worry about not catching any sun though, as it is enclosed in glass the sunshine comes pouring in. There are also some smaller pools in the relaxation room of the spa.

Of course, no cruise is without its show stopping productions and the Oasis of the Seas is no exception. The main attraction on the liner is a full production of Cats at a traditional length of two and half hours. I have seen the Andrew Lloyd Webber production both on Broadway and the West End before and this one was no different in talent and enjoyment.

For me, the standout was the amazing Frozen in Time ice show. Located on Deck 4 at Studio B, the ice show details the life of famed writer Hans Christian Anderson and several of his most popular stories.

This show is perfect for children and others of all ages. The grace of the dancers is sure to amaze, especially when you realize they are performing on a moving ship. The show contains minimal dialogue so it transcends language barriers into a true masterpiece.

Oasis of the Seas Frozen in Time ice show

Image: Frozen in Time ice show

Another show we enjoyed was the ABBA tribute which also plays at the main Opal Theatre. It presents the groups entire history and combines surprisingly funny jokes with enough charisma to please a general audience; even if you’re not an ABBA fan.

Other options include a Comedy Show and at the AquaTheater, a water and acrobat show. On evenings when the show does not take place, the venue is used as a cinema in which recent films are shown on two large screens.

Although entertainment is gratis, due to the number of passengers, seats tend to get snapped up quickly. Reservations are necessary. This can be done when you embark; however, it is best to do so online weeks before the sailing.

VITALITY SPA

As with other cruise holidays, we never miss out on a trip to the spa. You will feel like you are brand new again after a refreshing visit to the Vitality Spa. The spa contains a wide variety of treatments from basic facials and massages to more exotic options including acupuncture. The massages will rid you of any aches and pains that are troubling you. I left feeling unbelievably relaxed.

Oasis of the Seas Vitality at Sea Spa

Image: Vitality at Sea Spa

The overall décor of the spa is very relaxing with a plethora of soothing colours and dim lights to create a soothing atmosphere. Even the process of being in the waiting room is enjoyable and calming. The enzyme facial deep cleansed my face and left my skin soft and smooth.

Any imperfections such as pimples or frown lines will be diminished by this technique. It’s best to go to the spa during port days as there are often special discounts held on those days. The spa also contains a hairdresser salon that is perfect for a quick cut or a manicure if necessary.

A word of advice; it’s best to make your reservations online before you leave home.

IN CLOSING

Not normally a fan of Mega-Ships, Myself and my family were rather pleased with our experience and it certainly went beyond my expectations. The way the ship is configured; means there are plenty of private areas and you never get the feeling that you are amongst 6000 other passengers.

Besides enjoying our meals, we found Central Park to be a unique nook to feel open air privacy. Nothing was lovelier than to be sitting within a park-like atmosphere (a first for RCI and the cruise industry). In the evening, there was classical music with strings that made it even more enjoyable.

Another area ideal for a stroll in the evening was in the atrium. Besides the glitz of glass and chrome, walking through the various stores and stopping off for speciality coffees or a pizza, made us feel as though we were in a mall!

Royal Caribbean did a brilliant job and I am certain their other Oasis class ships also offer a refreshing, relaxing experience.

Images and video courtesy of Royal Caribbean

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What’s your favourite Royal Caribbean Ship? Tell us below!

5 Ships for the Kids Summer Holidays
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Kids Summer Cruise Holidays

With the summer holidays approaching fast, a cruise makes for a great holiday choice. More and more cruise lines realise the importance of a family traveling together, whilst also understanding that all involved have their own needs.

Many cruise lines make it easy for the adults to dine alone away from the children. Yes, couple’s can still have dinner for two in a specialty restaurant indulge in the spa and head to a casino or view the sunset.

Meanwhile, during these couple alone periods, children can enjoy their own activities to the fullest in a supervised and safe environment.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

When people think of Cunard’s elegant style, it comes as a surprise to see that children are well catered for. The Queen Mary 2 more than delivers in the child friendly aspect with a packed daily activities programme, especially for their summer holiday voyages.

The Play Zone and The Zone are located on Deck six and cater to all age groups. Deck 6 is home to Minnows Splash pool too, a favourite amongst the toddler set. The Play Zone is suitable for toddlers to 7 year olds with fun competitions and arts and crafts.

Older children and teenagers can have fun at The Zone with activities such as table tennis, video games and sports on the deck. Teens also have access to Apple Mac computers and can learn amongst other things, new graphic design software.

Watch the Ask Cunard video

The Queen Mary also has a designated nursery just for infants, so even the youngest member of the family will be well looked after, whist the parents can visit a port or dine alone.

Many sailings depart from Southampton, making it a huge convenience for those who reside in the UK.

Besides transatlantic sailings to or from New York, first time cruisers can venture on one of the short three or four day sailings to Le Havre, Hamburg or Bruges. A longer closer to home adventure offered this summer is an eight day Norwegian Fjords sailing.

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic

Well known for their family friendly entertainment, Disney has spared no expense when it comes to fun on their ocean liners such as the Disney Magic. Disney’s Oceaneer Club stands out from other cruise lines as it features detailed replicas from classic Disney and Pixar films such as Andy’s Room or the factory of Monsters Inc.

Of course, kids have plenty of chances to play with their favourite characters and take part in special events all trip long. Teenagers aged 14 to 17 can also enjoy themselves in the Vibe Club with movie screenings, karaoke competitions and other fun filled activities.

Disney Cruise Line offers cruise holidays varying from five to ten days for their cruise holidays aboard the Disney Magic Cruise Ship.

Watch these kids remembering their Disney Cruise

Enjoy the Western Mediterranean out of Barcelona or take one of the few sailings right out of Dover, which will alleviate the need for air travel. These voyages visit Copenhagen, Oslo, Kristiansand and Stavanger. The Disney Magic Cruise Ship is also scheduled to depart from Copenhagen making port of calls at Stockholm, Helsinki, Saint Petersburg and Tallinn.

MSC Meraviglia

MSC Cruises has expanded and caters to children more than ever before. The newest ship to MSC’s fleet, MSC Meraviglia will begin sailings in June 2017.

Look for attractions onboard such as a dedicated lounge for all family quality time activities called the DOREMI Studio Lounge. For children who love technology send them off to the DOREMI Tech Lab. Get together and see the world famous Cirque de Solei.

Planned facilities for the youngest have been designed in partnership with the LEGO Group and Chicco. Other age appropriate activities are scheduled through children’s’ clubs. The double-deck indoor amusement park will assure parents that their children will never be bored.

Watch the MSC family cruises video

Summer 2017 sailings have the MSC Meraviglia cruising around the Western Mediterranean visiting Genoa, Marseille, Sicily, Naples Malta and Barcelona. Passengers can embark in Barcelona, Genoa or Marseille.

P&O Ventura

Although it may not be as large as the other cruise ships, P&O Cruises Ventura still manages to go above and beyond when it comes to children’s entertainment. The Ventura, which had an upgrade in 2013, has a large Kids Club and is the most family friendly ship of the P&O fleet.

This club includes an entire water fun area complete with a splash pool and a substantial water slide as well as a kid’s disco, the Reef Rangers where children can dance to their heart’s content.

For parents wanting a night on the town, they offer a night nursery for the under 4 age group. Besides designated areas for both the adults and kids, there are family friendly swimming pools and dedicated family restaurants with early eating times.

Watch the P&O family entertainment video

This certainly makes for a balance of parents having periods to themselves without worries and food family quality time spent together.

Besides all the advantages of taking your children on holiday with you and still having time alone, the Ventura’s 2017 summer sailings depart from Southampton. Various sailings from four to seventeen days makes it just the right fit for all. Ports of calls include those in the Greek Isles, Western Mediterranean, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands.

Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas

It should come as no surprise that there are many things to do for young passengers on a Royal Caribbean ship and the fifteen deck Independence of the Seas does just that.

The ship has a unique aspect that appeals to both young and old; an ice skating rink which is a real challenge with some winter fun in the midst of the summer! The FlowRider surf simulators located on the very top deck lets the whole family catch a wave or two.

The Adventure Ocean Club is well known amongst Royal Caribbean fans and has an abundance of activities, that entails enrichment, creativity and recreational. With five different age levels, each age group have their own dedicated facilities. The younger set can get a chance to meet some favourite DreamWorks characters too.

“My Family Time Dining” is a huge hit on the Independence of the Seas and gives families a chance to dine together and expedites service for the children at the table. When they finish, they are whisked back to the Adventure Ocean Club by a staff member. Parents can finish their meals leisurely and catch some entertainment such as the show, “Grease”, the musical.

Watch the Royal Caribbean top 5 family destinations video

Just in time for the summer holidays, with various dates available from May to October, the Independence of the Seas will leave and return on a various number of nights to and from Southampton. Itineraries include the Canary Islands, Western Mediterranean and the British Isles.

Without having to weigh the pros and cons of every cruise line and ship, any of these five top cruise ships are bound to be a hit for families looking to go on holiday this summer.

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