Bridges Trip Report: Castles on the Rhine
We had a great river cruise from Basel to Amsterdam in late July and early August. (two parents, two kids (13 and 9)).
1) Carryon: We flew direct through Amsterdam's Schiphol (I say something closer to "hippo" and get closer to the Dutch pronunciation than "ship-pole"). We went with just carryon luggage, no checked bags. On three flights, two international, we had no issues. No delays and no lost bags. It may be impossible, but my advice is try to go full carryon. At least three families on our cruise had their luggage lost en route. Several never got their bags. It seemed like the stress of tracking luggage for half of your vacation isn't worth an extra pair of shoes.
2) Kid gang: There were probably 20 kids on board and they formed friendships and developed autonomy. I wasn't sure the river cruise format could pull it off, but it did. They developed nicknames, the teens used Arthur's after dinner to play cards, they played chess and monopoly in the lounge, they scheduled breakfast together on the last day all on their own, during the "dinner in a castle" night they decamped the dining room to return to archery, dart throwing, and jester games in the courtyard. For talent show night they all disappeared for an hour and emerged with a skit commemorating "dad jokes." All unscripted. For us, this was significant because I think it changes the trip from "my parents took me to Europe" to "I went to Europe," they had autonomy and a safe space on the boat.
3) Bridges activities: There was a kid orientation with bingo on the first day that got them interacting (i.e."find someone who has been on a cruise," "find someone who has more than three pets.") There was dinner in a castle, medieval games, build your own catapult (on board), talent show, group pictionary facilitated by the TD, a raffle of souvenirs for kids. There was a breakfast and dinner buffet option which I thought made eating options accessible to kids every night, even if you are eating ceviche they can have mac and cheese. There was a cultural show in Lucerne and a sea shanty group in Amsterdam which may or may not have been Bridges specific, but were a hit with kids.
Comment below if you are on a bridges trip and want more info and I'll try to answer. Also, I know Tauck advertises that Bridges trips aren't just for multi-generational families. I think my perception was well.....maybe. The demographics of the passengers definitely changes the trip at least a bit.
4) Daily-ish Highlights:
We arrived a day early and walked from the Movenpick Basel to a bridge over the Rhine to watch sunset. We poked around Basel the next day and talked with some amazing hat makers at Chapeau, walked through the Barfi, and visited an extensive comic shop.
We bought three swatches in Lucerne and the trip to the top of Pilatus was great, not for those with acrophobia. Liz with Tauck made sure my kid, who loves trains, got a front row seat on the cog railway down. Our kids played the alpenhorn and yodeled at the culture show. The Dance of Death Bridge (Spreuer Bridge) in Lucerne was more interesting to me than the more famous bridge (Chapel Bridge); the skeletons of death haunting all phases of life was just, well, ... yep, there you have it.
We loved Strasbourg and the itinerary for that day (half day bus and walking tour, half day on your own). The celestial clock in the cathedral is amazing and probably worth the 12:30 special tour (we couldn't make it). We got lunch at a sidewalk table at Winstub le Clou. We've spent time in France and I'd echo what the Tauck guides said. We took two hours, acted like we had all the time in the world, never asked anyone for anything but allowed the waitstaff to do the asking, people-watched, and it was a fantastic lunch with a reward at the end that came from being respectful of the culture and laid-back.
I took solo walks off the ship in Bingen and in Cologne and it was wonderful and quiet.
The cruising day through the gorge and the stretch full of castles was otherworldly - so many castles. My kids learned you can end pretty much any paragraph with "and the French burned it down in 1689." I'm a diehard and even I was below deck and on to other things by the late afternoon as another medieval castle went by.
Amsterdam -- too wonderful a city to need my praise. We toured the Van Gogh (on our own) and the Rijksmuseum (360 Amsterdam Tour) in two extra days we tacked on the end of the trip. At the Van Gogh I'd recommend the audio tour on headphones. I don't usually rent those but a friend from the cruise gave me his and I liked how it added historical context, which was different than the factual context written on placards beside the paintings.
5) Tauck Staff: CD Tea and the guides Michael, Alicia, and Liz were all wonderful. Each went out of their way to accommodate our needs. I'd say even though there is a Tauck planned lagniappe each day, the real lagniappe was things they each did every day that made the trip fluid, safe, unique, informative, and joyful, particularly for a 9 and a 13 year old.
6) So-so: I thought the tour of Heidelberg Castle was pretty so-so, skim the surface. The castle itself is impressive and the town below is great. Heidelberg in particular I found that in the cathedral square it was crowded and touristy, but as soon as you go one street off the thoroughfare, it is a quiet and articulate. Even walking to the Catholic church, it is beautiful and there was no one there.
7) Water levels: It was dry, the river was low, it impacted where we docked a couple of times. The historic river gauge at Cologne was at one meter., it is usually at three. I found a hydrograph showing how far below the five year average it is: https://www.rhineforecast.com/cologne/ That said, if you are sailing in September or later it is too soon to think about it. Who knows.
8) Schiphol: We arrived four hours in advance of departure and that was comfortable. We had an hour to spend at the green mermaid coffee shop on the second floor and the Rijksmuseum exhibit in the airport, but we weren't stressed. Lines are long.