Taking the Kids on a River Cruise

Tribune Content Agency and Eileen Ogintz, Taking The Kids, September 7, 2017

Take their three kids on a river cruise in Europe?

“I don’t want to be on vacation with a bunch of old people!” Josh Blumental told his wife, Amy Wolfe.

But she persisted — the Salt Lake City mom had friends who had raved about their experience — and in the end, Blumental was glad she had.

The couple and their three kids aged 15, 13 and 9, were all enjoying themselves on AmaWaterwaysAmaStella cruise ship as it sailed up the Danube from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany. They relaxed onboard playing board games and cards, and along the way stopped to ride bikes along the Danube. (Book by Sept, 30 and get AmaWaterways up to $1,500 off per stateroom for select Christmas Markets departures to explore Salzburg and Budapest.)

And rather than being surrounded by elderly seniors, the family, like other passengers, was enjoying the chance to meet and spend time with people from all over the world.

“It’s a real melting pot,” said Nilesh Meswani, from India. “Great fun,” said his wife, Sita Meswani.

“You feel like you are traveling with family by the second or third day,” added Preeti Khemlani, one of their traveling companions from Oregon. “And you don’t have to wait in line, like on a big cruise.”

“More relaxing than a regular cruise because there aren’t so many people,” added her husband, Ashok Khemlani.

The all-inclusive nature of these trips also seems to de-stress the experience — just choose which shore excursion you like, borrow a bike, enjoy complimentary wine and beer and more on some ships.

AmaWaterways, for one, has made an effort to attract younger cruisers with a fleet of complimentary bikes onboard its European trips, as well as new escorted bike tours, hikes and other excursions designed for “gentle walkers” and others that might cover more ground on foot. There are also cabins that sleep three to encourage family travelers.

“I’ve signed up for every active one they have offered,” Peter Laws, from southern England, told me on a bike ride around Linz. The beauty of such a trip, he said, was that his wife could enjoy less vigorous excursions.

“We’ve seen steadily increasing demand from passengers for more active excursions,” said Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways’ executive vice president and co-owner. In fact, on our trip, some of the bike tours attracted 15 people or more. Karst noted that the company has now begun introducing a Wellness Program with as many as six classes daily.

“Perhaps the biggest foray into the younger river cruise market is U by Uniworld, a less expensive line aimed at travelers between 21 and 45 that’s launching next year. The ships will have all the features that appeal to that demographic, including nighttime trips to local trendy restaurants and bars; craft cocktails, DJs and a “silent disco” onboard,” said Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor at CruiseCritic.com.

River cruising has become increasingly popular. According to the Cruise Line International Association, there are now 184 river ships with 13 new ones rolling out this year and 18 more ordered. Another 26 new ships have been ordered for 2018. It shouldn’t be a surprise that families are looking for a new way to travel and that river cruise companies are responding with more family sailings.

Next year, Adventures by Disney will have 10 Rhine sailings and six Danube sailings aboard AmaWaterways ships and Backroads will have six for active families, three for those with younger kids and three for those with older teens and twenty-somethings. Backroads limits its group to 30 among the 150 or so passengers, offering separate biking routes and walking tours; Adventures by Disney charters the entire ship, offering special family activities and excursions (think zip-lining above the Black Forest, visiting a local apricot farm or touring a medieval castle with Disney Adventure Guides, who sweat all the details.

Tauck Bridges continues to add family river cruises, including this year on the Seine, as well as the Rhine, Rhone and Danube with immersive experiences all generations would enjoy — cooking classes, storytelling, learning medieval games at a palace, trying WWII radios on a visit to Normandy beaches. There will be 14 cruises next year.

And Uniworld River Cruises also has designated generations sailings for families (kids 4 to 17 are half off) on the Danube and Rhine, next year in northern Italy and France. We joined Uniworld on one of their first generations sailings — to explore Christmas Markets — and the families onboard were impressed by the special activities (make German pretzels! A talent show!), the extra staff to oversee the kids’ activities and designated family shore expeditions. (Visit a toy museum in Nuremberg! See if your family can win the GPS scavenger hunt! Shorter walking tours! Here is what I wrote about our experience.

“The best gift I can give my grandchildren is memories,” said Patti Kelly, an avid cruiser from Colorado. She and her son’s family, from Northern California, gave that Uniworld family cruise a decided thumbs up, especially the opportunities for them to make friends with kids who live half a world away.

And with concerns about terrorism in major cities, river cruises tend to stop in smaller places. There’s no packing and unpacking, meals and activities are included. Be forewarned, however, that if you have kids, teens or twenty-somethings with you, they may not find many people their age, if it isn’t a designated family sailing or one designed for older kids, as Backroads offers. (Read my trip diaries about our river cruise adventure at www.takingthekids.com.) This can be a good trip to invite another family with a similar traveling style or extended family!

These trips don’t necessarily come cheap — some of the family trips can be close to $6,000 a person while simply booking a river cruise on a comparable ship can be had for a third of that price, with the right deal. According to CruiseCritic.com, a typical river cruise costs about $500 to $700 per person per day.

Sometimes airfare is included. (For example, book a 2018 Uniworld Europe cruise by the end of September and air will be included.) Sometimes for a grandparent traveling with the family, a single supplement will be waived. Use Cruise Critic’s Find A Cruise tool to compare costs across itineraries, seasons, lines, etc. – just choose river cruises under “Cruise Style,” and whatever other variables you’re looking for: https://www.cruisecritic.com/cruiseto/.

Meanwhile, I didn’t meet anyone aboard the AmaStella who wasn’t happy — even Josh Blumental, who acknowledged that he’s the kind of traveler “who likes to go without an itinerary and wing it.” “But,” he added, looking at his family, “it’s impossible to wing it with kids.”

(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)

Top Reason to Cruise

Marriott Rewards Insiders has released a new study with insights on what travelers want out of their cruise.

Top Reasons to Cruise

Over 50 percent selected exploring as their top reason to take a cruise vacation, followed closely by relaxing. Trying something new and The chance to see multiple destinations were also highly rated.

Top Elite Benefits

Marriott also polled travelers on the top benefits theyd like to see during their cruise. Bonus points and onboard credit to use on anything were the top picks, as well as free drinks, a free excursion and a hotel certificate.

Respondents also offered a number of insights on top cruise lines, destinations and more:

Favorite cruise line:

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Viking

Coolest region to visit:

Caribbean, Alaska and Mediterranean

Best cruise length:

6 – 8 nights

Top incentives to cruise:

Free Elite perks, ability to earn extra Marriott Rewards points, affordable price.

How far youd travel to the point of departure:

Long flight (over 4 hours)

Your favorite onboard experiences:

Culinary delights, entertainment and shows, relaxing

Source: Marriott

 

Five Things to do Before a Cruise

 

(Recently Posted in Travel Agent)

So, you’ve done your research to choose a cruise line that suits your personality and selected a specific ship and itinerary that looks perfect.

Congratulations!

Before your dream vacation commences, however, there are still several final details that require your consideration. These are some of the most crucial questions to ask yourself prior to actually stepping aboard.

1. Do I have the proper documentation?

Aside from a few rare exceptions, most cruise ships are foreign-registered and thus, by law, must sail to at least one international destination. This is true even of cruises, say, to Alaska roundtrip from Seattle. They have to make a stop in Canada.

That means passengers need to have proper documentation for travel between countries. It’s always best to consult with the cruise line to know exactly what is needed for a particular cruise, but requirements could include not only passports but also additional visas.

2. Is everything included that I think is part of the package?

Hopefully, this one came up during your research of the cruise line itself, but in case it didn’t, be sure you fully understand exactly what is included in your fare. Cruises are generally a rather inclusive form of travel, but the degree to which they are varies, with luxury ships often including more than the more-mainstream cruise lines.

Accommodations and most food and entertainment are usually included in the fare cost, but drinks outside of nonalcoholic basics are typically not. The more you pay up front, the more will be included. Some luxury lines do cover alcoholic beverages as part of the upfront price.

3. Have I budgeted for gratuities?

Speaking of what is included, gratuities or service charges are either among the extras or bundled in. For those cruise lines that tack it onto the bill, while these technically remain discretionary, they may be automatically added to guests’ accounts per day.

It’s wise to know what the daily service charge may be to avoid surprises at the end of the cruise. Alternatively, the option is usually available to prepay the total so as not to have to worry about costs once onboard.

4. Did I pack the right clothes?

Cruise lines are becoming more and more casual, but formal nights are still sometimes held. Check the dress code for your cruise and be certain you have enough for elegant and relaxed affairs.

Of course, with airline weight limits on luggage to consider, you must also be efficient about packing. Check to see what self- and full-service laundry is available onboard. It might be better to pack lighter and send some clothes out to be cleaned on the ship.

5. Should I purchase shore excursions ahead of time?

As much as cruise ships are becoming destinations unto themselves, they still seek to take us to actual places, and shore excursions are the best means of discovery. There’s nothing worse than getting there and finding out that a tour has been sold out already, though.

It’s always a good idea to preplan as much as possible and book shore excursions before a cruise to avoid upset. In some cases, you may be able to save some money by buying them independently. Just be mindful, if there’s ever a delay in returning onboard, the ship will only wait for tours reserved through the line.

A Cruise is Cheaper Than a Land Tour

A cruise is not only a wonderful experience, it can also save you money, especially in the world’s most expensive countries. With sterling buying less abroad, you may think twice before holidaying in destinations such as Norway and Iceland, but when compared with the costs of independent travel, a cruise, which with one or two exceptions includes all meals, and maybe drinks and excursions too, can seem very good value.

The potential savings on accommodation and flights (on cruises from the UK) are obvious, but when a panino for lunch in Stockholm can cost £10, even a roll and banana snaffled from the ship’s breakfast buffet – we’ve all done it – may save two of you £200 on a 10-day holiday. If travelling with family you can expect huge savings.

Cruise secrets: 12 things you didn’t know about holidays at sea

A recent cost of living survey from Numbeo, which monitors the prices of around 50 items in 121 countries, from food and accommodation to taxi fares and leisure activities, found that Bermuda has the steepest costs, followed by Switzerland and Iceland. Below are some examples of how cruising can make visiting these countries more affordable.

Iceland

Iceland is not only expensive, but about to become more so as the krona soars and the nation looks to limit what it sees as an unsustainable rise in visitor numbers (up from 490,000 in 2010 to an estimated 2.3 million this year) with an increase in hotel taxes and other costs.

The cheapest, non-hostel accommodation I could find in Iceland in September costs £59, and a return flight with Wow ( wowair.co.uk ) around £110. A main course in a restaurant will set you back £35, a beer £10.

A cruise works out cheaper across the board. Cruise & Maritime Voyages (0844 998 3806; cruiseandmaritime.com ) offers an 11-night Land of Ice and Fire voyage (also visiting Ireland and the Faroe Islands), a round trip from Cardiff departing May 16, 2018, from £1,069pp. That’s £97.18 per night – or what you may spend on less than three meals ashore.

A 14-night voyage with P&O Cruises (0843 373 0052; pocruises.com ), departing Southampton on June 16, 2018, also visiting Norway and Dublin, costs from £1,549pp (£110.64 per day). Fred Olsen (0845 314 2723, fredolsencrises.com ) offers an 11-night cruise with a full circumnavigation of Iceland, from £1,499pp (£136.27 daily), departing Newcastle on August 28, 2018.

29 reasons why Iceland is incredible

Norway

The Norwegians were voted the world’s happiest people in a poll earlier this year, so are obviously not fazed by the high prices they have to pay; the country came fourth in Numbeo’s survey. A dorm bed in a hostel can cost £45 a night, and reckon on £9.30 for a McDonald’s Combo Meal or £25 for a main course elsewhere.

Whether you cruise from the UK or fly (typically to Bergen) to join your ship, a cruise will save you money compared with land-based travel. One of the main Norwegian operators, Hurtigruten (020 3811 4693; hurtigruten.co.uk ), offers its classic 12-day Round Voyage cruise (departures year-round) from Bergen to Kirkenes and back – 2,875 miles of peerless coastal scenery – at prices from £947pp (£78.90 a day), excluding flights. Travel independently and it will cost around £51 (550NOK) for just a three-hour fjord cruise out of Bergen ( rodne.com ).

Denmark, Finland, Estonia and Russia

Construct a city-based itinerary to the Baltic countries, visiting, say, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Tallinn and St Petersburg, and you’re looking at a large bill. A return flight alone to St Petersburg in September currently costs from around £453 on average ( ba.com ).

Yet sign up for the 12-night Northern Delight cruise, a round trip from Southampton with Royal Caribbean International (0844 417 0290; royalcaribbean.co.uk ), and you can visit these cities and more for as little as £999pp, departing June 15, 2018. That’s £91 per night – little more than double your potential airfare to one city –and when you consider the £92 (800 krone) quoted by Numbeo as the price of a meal for two in a mid-range Copenhagen restaurant, a Baltic cruise begins to look very good value indeed.

At first glance, Austria’s prices don’t look too bad – it’s the 24th priciest nation. But that ranking is based on averages countrywide: in Vienna, for example, costs will be higher.

A river cruise that includes several excursions will show you the sights for less: Avalon Waterways (0800 668 1843; avaloncruises.co.uk ) has a nine-day Austrian Highlights and Bavaria cruise that focuses on Austria (visiting Vienna, Dürnstein in the Wachau Valley, Passau and Melk Abbey) and also visits Germany, Prague and Bratislava.

Prices start from £1,497pp (£166 daily), including flights and transfers to and from your home airport (up to 100 miles). Also included are seven guided excursions: when a basic three-hour walking tour of Vienna costs €24/£20 ( viennacitytours.com ), you could save around £150 on sightseeing alone.

Stockholm is high on most travel wish lists, with its archipelago considered one of Europe’s most beautiful bodies of water. But with a night in the mid-range Rival, one of Telegraph Travel’s recommended Stockholm hotels, costing from £138, and a meal in a mid-range restaurant from £35-£50 per head, it is not a cheap city-break option.

Cruising affords the best of both worlds – a view of the archipelago from the ideal vantage point (the sea) and the city within easy reach. Better still, there are additional scenic diversions, such as the Swedish fjords, and other ports of call en route. Fred Olsen (0845 314 3938; fredolsencruises.com ) offers an 11-night round trip from Newcastle on September 25, 2018, from £1,399pp. This includes more than two full days in Stockholm, scenic cruising in the archipelago and fjords, and stops in Gothenburg, Malmö and Visby. A departure from Edinburgh on May 16, 2018, costs from £1,199pp (or £109 nightly).

The US (Florida) and Bermuda

The cheapest return flight in October to Orlando is around £530 with Condor-Thomas Cook. Yet a package with Iglu (020 3131 3231; iglucruise.com ), from £929pp, includes flights, car hire and three nights’ accommodation in Orlando for Disneyland, as well as a four-day cruise with Carnival (0843 374 2272; carnival.com) to Bermuda, the world’s most expensive country. Departing October 29, 2017, the cruise calls at Freeport and Nassau.

If you prefer to concentrate on Disney’s attractions, an 11-night fly-cruise-stay package with Virgin (0344 739 0633; virginholidayscruises.co.uk ) costs from £1,506pp for a November 2017 departure. This includes a three-night Bahamas cruise on Disney Dream, car hire and seven nights’ room-only accommodation at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. Booked direct, the 10-day return Virgin flight in November costs £523 and seven nights at the Pop Century Resort from £735 – making your Bahamas cruise effectively free.

Australia

It costs a lot to fly to Australia – the world’s 12th most expensive country – so why not save once you’re there? Cruises that visit three or more ports offer big savings on internal travel, as do sailings that include excursions. On its 18-night Australia to Asia voyage departing Sydney on March 7, 2018, Azamara Club Cruises (0844 493 4016;  azamaraclubcruises.co.uk ) sails to Hardy Reef on the Great Barrier Reef, a visit that would cost £88/$245 with a shore-based company ( reeffree.com.au ). Greater savings accrue from tendered visits to Hamilton and Thursday islands, and a cruise of the Whitsunday Islands, experiences that would otherwise require paid-for excursions.

Ports of call after Sydney include Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Darwin. Costs for the cheapest internal flights in March 2018 are as follows: Sydney to Cairns, £88; Cairns to Brisbane, £192, and Brisbane to Darwin, £160. Currently the cheapest 13-day car-hire deal (Sydney to Darwin) for March is £435, or £34 daily ( rentalcars.com ), plus petrol, for a trip of more than 3,100 miles. Factor in costs such as these, plus the fact that Azamara also takes you to Bali and Singapore, and the cruise fare starting from £4,270pp, or £237 daily, including meals, drinks and more, seems a good deal.

This article was written by Tim Jepson from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCredpublisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com

American Revolution Cruise

American Cruise Lines has announced the addition of the American Revolution Cruise to its 2018 cruise schedule. Passengers will set sail aboard the brand new, 175-person American Constitution to visit the most historically significant ports and American Revolution sites along the Chesapeake Bay over the course of eleven days.

The itinerary adds several new ports to American’s lineup, including Washington D.C., Chestertown, MD, and Mt. Vernon, VA. While in the nation’s capital, guests are invited on a guided tour of the National Mall and private tours of any of the Smithsonian Museums. In Chestertown, guests can explore the Schooner Sultana, a replica of the Royal Navy Frigate Sultana—a battleship that served in the British Royal Navy from 1768 to 1772. While in Mt. Vernon, the line’s onboard expert and historian Dr. Harold Cones will guide visitors through the estate of George Washington.

Dr. Harold Cones is a distinguished Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA, where he worked for 40 years. He is a broadly trained naturalist, consultant and nature writer who leads tours as a study leader for the Mariner’s Museum.

Another itinerary highlight is the port of call in Yorktown, where guests will travel to the last battlefield of the Revolutionary War as well as the first English settlement in nearby Jamestown. The full itinerary can be seen here, but other stops include Norfolk, VA, Williamsburg, VA, Cambridge, MD, St. Michaels, MD and Annapolis, MD.

The cruise will depart from Baltimore, MD and return there to disembark. American Revolution Cruises are set to begin in the spring of 2018; available dates include May 8, October 29, and November 8, 2018. Reservations are now being accepted.

Visit www.americancruiselines.com for more.

Things You Should Not Do on a Ship Balcony

Here are 10 things the website recommends you avoid doing on a balcony.

►Smoking. Even if your line hasn’t banned smoking on balconies — and many have — it’s annoying to those around you who would like to breathe fresh sea air, not smoke from your cigarette, cigar or pipe. Stick with assigned smoking areas if there are any.

►Playing loud music: Your idea of relaxing tunes might drive your neighbor batty.

►Getting frisky. It might seem romantic to have sex on the deck, but other people can see you, and it can be dangerous too.

“A man allegedly jumped off his veranda in an attempt to rescue his significant other after knocking her overboard during an outdoor rendezvous” in 2007, Cruise Critic wrote.

Luckily, they survived. Imagine trying to explain it to the rescue crew.

►Baring it all. Naked sunbathing is a no-no. You could be putting on a show for people on other decks.

►Standing or climbing on furniture or railings or throwing things overboard.

Cruise lines have strict rules about dropping things overboard — with good reason. You could hit someone below, or if you drop a lighted cigarette, it might blow back and start a fire.

►Drying your clothes.

►Leaving the outside light or or the sliding door to the cabin open. That’s an energy drain because of cabin air conditioning.

 

Emerald Waterways Adds New Cruises

Emerald Waterways is adding three new cruise itineraries on the Rhine River in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium to its 2018 lineup.

Additionally, the river cruise line is expanding its EmeraldACTIVE program of excursions and tour choices aimed at the active traveler, and it has added a River Cruising Guarantee to automatically cover every guest for delays or cancellations due to weather, high or low water, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or labor strikes. The complete 2018 river cruise program is detailed in the company’s full-color, 112-page brochure, now available to order on their website in hard copy and downloadable versions.

New offerings for the 2018 season are as follows:

The Classic Rhine itinerary will sail from Amsterdam to Frankfurt (and take a detour down the Moselle River) and explore new ports — including the German towns of Xanten, known for its Roman Archaeological Park; Cochem, for a visit to the Imperial Reichsburg Castle; and Bernkastel, with its sloping vineyards where guests will enjoy a wine tasting at a local winery.

The Majestic Rhine, sailing from Frankfurt to Basel, takes guests to the spa town of Baden-Baden in the Black Forest, and includes two excursions to the Alsace region of France. In Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region, a canal boat tour shows off the town’s history and beauty, while a visit to Colmar, with its picturesque cobblestone streets and Medieval and early Renaissance buildings, offers the opportunity to tour a well-preserved historic area and visit an array of museums.

Sailing roundtrip out of Amsterdam, the Charms of Holland & Belgium cruise allows for an in-depth discovery of the city before setting sail for Dordrecht and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kinderdijk Windmills. In Belgium, a guided tour of Antwerp appeals to history buffs and art lovers alike, while back in the Netherlands, guests will discover Maastrict, the country’s oldest fortified city, and the towns of Edam or Volendam.

What An Expert Says About Cruising

 

(Recently posted in Escape.com)

He’s clocked up more than 100 cruises — but he still can’t get enough.

So there’s not much Adam Armstrong doesn’t know about cruising.

“Every cruise I take makes me want to take another,” says Armstrong, the managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruises for Australia and New Zealand.

Growing up in a fishing family in northern England, Armstrong was introduced to life on the water from a young age, and since embarking his first cruise as a teen, he’s been hooked.

Now based in Sydney, he took some time out from travelling the world to share his tips and tricks with Escape.

From the essential gadget to take on a cruise to the one region that’s shaping up as the “next big thing” for Aussie cruisers, Armstrong gives us his insider advice …

The Norwegian fjords are one of the best places to explore on a cruise ship.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE CRUISE DESTINATION?

From Australia, it has to be the South Pacific islands, they really are paradise. But when I’m in Europe, I love cruising the Norwegian Fjords, they’re absolutely stunning.

WHERE IS THE NEXT UP AND COMING CRUISE DESTINATION?

Flight connections to Asia cruise ports like Singapore and Hong Kong are faster and more affordable than ever before, so there’s never been a better time to explore the region by sea.

Cruising in Asia is such a great way to visit so many phenomenal places in one holiday, without the hassle of constantly repacking your luggage and traipsing from one hotel to the next. A cruise lets you travel in comfort from country to country at night, arriving at a new destination each morning.

Hong Kong is at its best from the water.

WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU ALWAYS PACK FOR A CRUISE HOLIDAY?

I recommend gentlemen should pack a simple navy blue suit for a cruise holiday, as it can be formal or informal depending on the occasion.

I never cruise without a longer iPhone charger cable. Plug sockets aren’t always in the most convenient locations …

WHAT’S THE BEST CURE FOR SEASICKNESS?

I’m from a big fishing family and I cruise a lot … but if I do happen to feel a little queasy, I find the best solution is to get out on deck, take in the fresh sea air and look at the horizon.

WHAT’S THE ONE THING EVERYONE SHOULD DO ON A CRUISE?

Relax. There is so much to do and see on board — but sometimes you just have to sit back, chill out and do nothing at all.

Relax, and look at the horizon: Two cruise must-dos.

YOU TRAVEL A LOT FOR WORK. WHAT ARE YOUR BEST FLYING TIPS?

I love flying for work. I always try to sit as far forward on a plane as possible (regardless of cabin class!) so I can get off the plane quickly at the other end. I’m also very loyal to one particular frequent flyer program so I can guarantee lounge access, extra luggage allowance, priority boarding, advance seat selection and so on; together these make a real difference to a frequent traveller.

WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST TRAVEL MISTAKE?

Trying to cram too much into a holiday. Less is more.

HOW DO AUSTRALIAN CRUISERS DIFFER TO THE REST OF THE WORLD?

Coffee is important! We bring in extra baristas and coffee machines, and we’ve even changed the beans we use in coffee for our ships in Australia. Aussies also demand great wine at a good price — and since this country is blessed with some of the best wines in the world, our ships stock plenty of Aussie wine wherever we sail.

Royal Caribbeans Oasis of the Seas is the big

Cruise Smaller Rivers in America

 

(Recently published in Travel Weekly)

The newly formed Grand Majestic River Company will launch an overnight passenger paddlewheeler, the Grand Majestic, in September.

Last year, Capt. Joseph Baer — founder, president and CEO of Covington, Ky.-based Grand Majestic — bought the former casino boat Diamond Lady, which was originally built in Bettendorf, Iowa in 1991 and had been laid up for years.

He said the company is putting “many millions” into the riverboat to transform it into a 70-passenger overnight river cruise boat that will be able to sail along some smaller inland waterways due to its shorter height and lower draft.

“We’re small enough and have a light enough draft where we can drop our stacks and get up into Catoosa,” said Baer, referencing a city on the outskirts of Tulsa, Okla. Baer noted that the smaller size of the Grand Majestic means it can clear some bridges and shallower waters that other overnight passenger vessels sailing the Mississippi River System can’t. He said the company plans to do cruises up to Omaha, Neb.; Sioux City, Iowa; Charleston, W.V.; and into the outskirts of Chicago.

The vessel is getting a complete overhaul, and will feature one main dining room and a separate lounge area that will host entertainment. There will be several stateroom categories ranging from a superior stateroom with access to the main deck, to suites large enough to have their own private dining room, for which full sit-down meal service can be ordered. All passengers will be able to order room service.

The ship’s interiors are being outfitted to make passengers feel that they are stepping back in time, but “not so overdone antique-wise that you feel like you’re staying at a B&B,” said Baer. There will also be modern amenities such as satellite TV and WiFi. Staterooms will be ADA compliant.

Excursions will be included, along with one hotel night prior to boarding the vessel. An example of an excursion, according to Baer, is a visit to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which includes a tour of the caves and a picnic lunch.

The Grand Majestic is slated to launch on Sept. 23, 2017, after which it will sail a variation of seven- to 21-night cruises along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, as well as along several smaller tributaries.

Cruises start at $3,800 per person, a price that includes the pre-cruise hotel night.

Small Cruise Ship May Be Better

 

(This was recently posted in Cruise Hive)

New cruise ships are launching nearly every year, and the focus always seems to be bigger, bigger, bigger. While it’s true that bigger ships can have amazing features, they can also be overwhelming and many cruisers find that they actually prefer smaller ships. But what is it that can make smaller ships better than today’s biggest vessels, and which size is best for your cruise vacation?

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The biggest cruise ships can be phenomenal. These mega-liners are filled with fantastic features that may include dozens of bars and restaurants to choose from, luxury spas offering the most exotic treatments, expansive gyms with specialty classes, multiple pools and whirlpools and a wide range of unique attractions such as ice rinks, bumper cars, 3D theaters, indoor skydiving, zip lines, robot bartenders and more. With so much to see and do right on board the ship, one of these larger vessels can be ideal for a diverse group of passengers or anyone whose idea of a great vacation is one big adventure with something new around every corner.

But there are drawbacks to these humongous cruise ships. Part of being bigger is accommodating more passengers, and with 4,000-6,000 or more passengers on board, lines can be longer and the ship may feel more crowded. Fares for these ships can also be higher because of the demand to try out all the latest features, making the vacation more expensive no matter where the ship may be traveling. Itineraries can also be less diverse on larger ships, because many smaller ports of call may not be equipped to handle either the docking needs of the vessel or the influx of so many passengers at once. And while so many fun features can be attractive, passengers may find themselves overwhelmed on board and forced to miss out on opportunities because there’s just too much to do.

Why Keep Cruising On Ships

Photo By: Russell Otway

Why Smaller Ships May Be Better for You

Smaller cruise ships, on the other hand, offer a very different experience than the largest vessels afloat today. On a small ship, there are fewer passengers and crew, and everyone has a better opportunity to get to know one another, to swap stories and to make friendships that can last far longer than any one vacation. Passengers can also get to know the ship better, discovering every nook and cranny of the vessel – that case of awards and recognitions for the ship and crew, those unique volumes in the ship’s library, which café or bar offers the best drinks, just the right time for the best sunset views from the promenade deck – without missing out on other activities.

Because smaller ships don’t offer as many bells and whistles built in to the ship, the focus of their sailings is more often on a broader, more in depth appreciation for each port of call. Instead of elaborate Vegas-like show productions in mega-theaters, for example, a smaller ship is more likely to host local dancers, musicians or other entertainers while in port, offering guests a unique opportunity to experience the region’s true culture and heritage. Historical or cultural lectures are more common on small ships, and there is often a better selection of unique shore tours that allow passengers to thoroughly get to know every port they visit.