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We Took Our 5-year-old Son on a European River Cruise — Here is Why It Was the Final Household Trip

We Took Our 5-year-old Son on a European River Cruise — Here is Why It Was the Final Household Trip

“Sustain, mummy,” bellowed Sebastian, my fearless 5-year-old, as he and my husband, Eamonn, descended into Antwerp Cathedral’s eerie crypt. This subterranean vault, accessed through a slim coiling staircase off the church nave, is a small room with a low ceiling and crumbling hole tombs. A shiver crept up my backbone as I stood among the many stays of this former burial chamber. This was my cue to return to the bottom flooring of Antwerp’s extraordinary Gothic cathedral. 

Whereas Sebastian and Eamonn explored the dimly lit crypt, I took the chance to gaze on the church’s three Baroque masterpieces by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, earlier than we reconvened on the cathedral’s bar and bistro, De Plek, moments later. The bar, inside a chapel of the cathedral, serves the church’s personal brews, together with a darkish and blond ale. Solely in beer-loving Belgium, I assumed to myself, would you discover beers served inside a church. 

We have been visiting Antwerp on day six of a seven-night household river cruise on the Rhine aboard A-Rosa CruisesA-Rosa Sena. Beginning in Cologne, Germany, our voyage would take us northwest to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Dordrecht within the Netherlands, then to Antwerp earlier than returning to Cologne. 

From left: Morning espresso and juice in Antwerp; Historic buildings in Antwerp’s Grote Markt.

Kerry Spencer/Journey + Leisure

River cruising and households do not — sometimes — go collectively, with most river cruise traces catering to a a lot older market and providing few household amenities, if any in any respect. German river cruise line A-Rosa Cruises has set about altering this with the launch of the family-orientated A-Rosa Sena, which debuted in June 2022. 

The hybrid ship, partially electric-powered, is the biggest on the Rhine, carrying as much as 280 friends, and the vessel additionally boasts some nifty trade firsts. There is a jaunty children’ membership; 12 giant household cabins measuring 301 sq. ft, sleeping as much as 5 with built-in bunkbeds; and a devoted children’ splash pool on the highest deck. 

Kerry Spencer/Journey + Leisure

The principle pool, adjoining to the splash pool, is nearly 250 sq. ft, making it large enough to swim brief laps. For grown-ups, there is a spa, a buzzy lounge, a solar deck bar, and a wine room for tasting native libations.

It is all a part of A-Rosa’s mission to attract extra households to river cruising — and it is working, says Serkan Bilici, A-Rosa Sena’s assistant resort supervisor. “We presently have 32 youngsters onboard, and all of our household cabins are occupied,” Bilici informed Journey + Leisure. “Throughout summer season, this was even greater, with over 40 youngsters crusing, from infants as much as teenagers, and friends from over 20 totally different nations.” 

“We additionally supplied swimming classes aboard chosen sailings in August, which have been very fashionable,” Serkan provides. Certainly, there have been infants, toddlers, older youngsters, and teenagers on our weeklong October crusing. 

The ship, which primarily operates in English and German, ensures that youngsters are nicely taken care of. Sometimes, there are two hosts on the children’ membership, and on our crusing, host Mai organized a “Meet the Captain” occasion, treasure hunts, and humanities and crafts periods. The youngsters got independence too, free to decide on precisely how they spend their time on the membership, with video games, books, and loads of area for younger passengers to loosen up.  

The children’ membership is an actual deal with for households. Adorned with nautical-themed paintings, the area is delicate and alluring, with youngsters studying, coloring, and constructing dens whereas we performed numerous rounds of Snakes and Ladders with Sebastian.  

Kerry Spencer/Journey + Leisure

It wasn’t the household amenities alone that lured us in, although — our voyage, “Rhine Expertise Amsterdam & Rotterdam,” was a giant pull.

Admittedly, this northwest part of the Rhine, flat and extra industrial, would not have the cinematic drama of the extra southerly stretch, the place vineyards, castles, and medieval cities flank the waterway. However with in a single day stays in ludicrously fairly Amsterdam and trendy and buzzy Rotterdam, our itinerary excited us. 

We explored Cologne’s ravishing twin-spire cathedral on a gloriously crisp fall day. Later, we roamed Rotterdam’s well-known Piet Blom-designed dice homes and town’s glorious Maritime Museum, the place all the rooftop is devoted to youngsters.  

Lesser-known Dordrecht, one of many oldest cities within the Netherlands, felt like wandering a real-life fairytale. Compact and walkable, its cobbled streets are jam-packed with wonky, characterful service provider homes, vintage shops, artisan workshops, and quaint cafes. 

We cut up our day right here between exploring the city’s enchanting streets and De Biesbosch Nationwide Park on the sting of Dordrecht. If it hadn’t been lashing down with rain, we might have cycled from Dordrecht’s heart to the reserve, which takes round 40 minutes. As a substitute, we made the breezy 10-minute journey through the native Waterbus service.  

We might simply heard of De Biesbosch a couple of weeks earlier, but it is amongst Europe’s largest freshwater tidal zones, house to some 300 dam-building beavers. Made up of round 22,000 acres of streams, rivers, willow forests, marshes, and meadows, it was a welcome discovery.

In addition to beavers, the reserve is wealthy in birdlife, together with osprey, sea eagles, kingfishers, and kestrels. Canoes and boats may be employed and are one of the best ways to discover this huge community of swampy paths and islands. 

A-Rosa affords some excursions geared in direction of households, equivalent to a visit to Antwerp Zoo or Madurodam, a miniature park within the Netherlands. We opted to do our personal factor at every vacation spot, fastidiously balancing time onboard with time in every river port. 

“However I don’t need to go away the boat,” Sebastian would grumble every morning we left the ship. Nonetheless, his reluctance was quickly forgotten as we explored family-friendly museums and thrilling nature reserves, and he was handled to a heat waffle with lashings of chocolate in Antwerp.

Early on in our voyage, after a lower than harmonious evening’s sleep that noticed Sebastian climb into our king-size mattress at 2 a.m., I nearly wept with gratitude after I remembered the youngsters’ membership had programming begin proper after breakfast. So, whereas Sebastian fortunately performed, we caught a blissful additional hour of relaxation earlier than heading to the NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam, a giant hit with households due to its 5 flooring demystifying sciences. 

Our penultimate day aboard noticed us spend a complete day crusing. It was our probability to carve out time to loosen up. My husband joined a salmon-curing class whereas I visited the sauna, the place I used to be immediately reminded that A-Rosa is a German tour operator — with largely German passengers — that means bathing fits are non-compulsory and infrequently worn. I additionally indulged in a Thalgo facial, the place Jelena, a former spa supervisor with Cunard and Movie star Cruises, gave my dull-looking pores and skin a blissful facial therapeutic massage. 

We accompanied Sebastian to a pizza-making class with a few of the different children led by the chef within the ship’s pastry galley. His jaw dropped as he skilled a real-life Willy Wonka second; solely the chocolate-filled conveyor belts have been changed with vats of colourful churning ice cream. 

Kerry Spencer/Journey + Leisure

As he ate his chaotic-looking pizza together with his newfound pals, Eamonn and I contemplated whether or not to decide on a sliver of dressed salmon, pork goulash, or each for dinner. One other mealtime spotlight was osso buco, a divine sauce-laden veal shank. 

Veal was a reoccurring theme, with juicy, seared cuts of the meat served one night and meatballs one other. A nightly youngsters’s buffet additionally featured fashionable dishes equivalent to spaghetti bolognese and macaroni and cheese. A spotlight for Sebastian: the three do-it-yourself ice lotions set out every night, full with varied toppings. Along with the principle buffet restaurant, A-Rosa Sena has a specialty steak restaurant the place passengers can dine on salmon sashimi and beef entrecôte for an extra price. 

One night, we dined off the ship in Amsterdam and ate supper at a comfy bistro on a nook of Prinsengracht. Eating on bowls of frivolously curried mussels at a sun-dappled canal-side desk, we imagined milestones and romantic dinners have been celebrated over the restaurant’s intimate candlelit tables inside.

From left: Properties and a ship on a canal in Amsterdam; A creamy, curried mussel dish off the ship in Amsterdam.

Kerry Spencer/Journey + Leisure

Later, as an alternative of becoming a member of the quiz within the ship’s lounge, we crashed out in our cabin to look at one of many household films (“Peter Rabbit” was chosen by Sebastian). Our Deck 3 room had a balcony, loads of closet area, a settee mattress, and a flatscreen TV as large as you’d discover in any luxurious resort. Some nights, we drifted to sleep with the blackout curtains barely ajar, permitting moonlight to float in as we lazily floated alongside the Rhine.

Pondering of our whole journey, touring to 5 cities in three nations over eight days every other method would have been, frankly, whiplash-inducing and undoubtedly exhausting, However this manner, taking within the light bends of the Rhine, felt unhurried, completely punctuated with cities that matched the power and curiosity of our nearly 6-year-old.

In the long run, it wasn’t simply the sights that made the journey memorable, however the serene tempo of the river that allowed us to really savor every second with our son.