I’m from a big family. There are seven children -- my father had 16 siblings and my mother had 9 -- so Family Reunions have always meant large groups of people to be managed, uncomfortable cots to sleep on in Auntie’s sewing room, sharing your personal space with dozens of noisy cousins, and someone stuck spending way too much of their (read 'her') time cooking and cleaning. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have missed some of our get togethers for anything the world, and the discomfort and burned picnic food created a sweet memory to go with the polaroids and snaps….
But as my BIG 50th birthday approached, and my siblings agreed we should plan a trip together in Europe, I really had no intention of hanging out with them 24 hours a day in a camper, being herded around en masse on a bus, or making up cooking and cleaning schedules in a shared vacation home. I love them dearly, but wanted to share more than chores and family gossip – I wanted to see some new territory, enjoy some new experiences together without anyone having to work more than anyone else, to have all the women in the dining room and not stuck in the kitchen, and have a format where each family unit or couple could enjoy time on their own, as well as time with the rest of the family.
Cruises for families are a wonderful option, giving people with various budgets and interests something which fits each one's needs. On the best family cruise you can orchestrate having time together as well as allowing people to be on your own or in smaller groupings. For my particular family, a river cruise was the perfect compromise- it has tours, lectures and shore excursions (included in the price) to stimulate those who are ‘travelers,’ yet enough relaxation options to please those who prefer to ‘vacation.’
I had done other river cruises and find them a charming way to explore Europe. I eventually chose the “Burgundy & Provence” itinerary onboard Uniworld’s River Royale as the best river cruise choice. This region has world famous food and wine, great scenic beauty, the charm of rural France, and amazing Roman history. The combination of large ‘important’ sites as well as small, charming local spots, is something Uniworld does very well, and I think particularly on the River Royale they have created a real sense of place, with a wonderful French feeling and attitude.
River cruise cabins are not that large, but they are well designed. I found Uniworld's bathrooms the nicest I’ve seen on any river cruise ships, and far better than many ocean cruise cabins! Beds were comfortable with nice linens (no one was cranky from not sleeping). The open seating dining gave us the option to enjoy breakfast and lunch as it suited us, while dinner each night was an event we all enjoyed together. A large and beautifully designed top deck offered comfortable lounge chairs and tables, lovely canopied shade areas, and an outdoor Jacuzzi on the aft deck. Indoors was a welcoming lounge where the entire passenger count of just 132 met for daily briefings. The library and other indoor seating areas were comfortable places to get together in smaller groups, to read or check our emails and share photos on our laptops. This really was one of the nicest river cruise ships I've seen, and was the best family cruise vacation choice for us.
Our Hotel Manager, Eric, obviously loved his job, his staff, and excelled in sharing his country with us. We were encouraged to bring bottles of local wine back to the ship, where ice buckets and no corkage fees (except in the lounge, which is required by law) made us feel welcome to bring back local wine to share with those who hadn’t joined us on various wine themed excursions. Local olives, fruits, pastries, nougat and glacee’s were shared as well. Having a French Chef on board gave us so many opportunities to sample the specialties and gastronomy of the region, and I cannot say enough about the local tour guides which Uniworld river cruises uses. Because this cruise covers a relatively small area, many of the guides stayed with us in two or three ports, and whose expertise allowed us to appreciate the region all the more.
I still find it hard to believe I was able to spend a week in such comfort and enjoying so many interesting places and sights with several of my siblings, their spouses, and some of my nephews and nieces. It was the best family European river cruise! We had a wonderful time, and best of all, no one had to wash a single dish!