My twin 12-year-old girls and I had just finished the labyrinthine silent walking tour of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. We'd passed through a spectrum of human experience — from joy, love and hope to fear, cruelty and despair — and then, at the end, resurrection.
"All of her would-haves are our opportunities," my daughter Heidi read on the wall, a quote from Emma Thompson.
"But we can't do it for her," her sister Emily said. "It's because of her."
This is the kind of experience I'd hoped for when I decided to take the girls out of school for an eight-day river cruise on the Rhine with Adventures by Disney. The trip began in Basel, Switzerland, where we boarded the brand-new AmaKristina, specially appointed in partnership between AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney. We then sailed 722 miles up the Rhine along the border of Germany and France, with excursions into the Black Forest, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Rudesheim am Rhein, Cologne and finally Amsterdam.
The best part for my kids was that, unlike most other river cruises, this one promised, and provided, other children. My girls lucked out to share their experiences with a gang of seven girls all around the same age, with activities to match.
At the same time, we faced the danger of overscheduling and fatigue. My biggest learning was how to keep my FOMO (fear of missing out) in check, as each day offered multiple enticing adventures.
The first full day we did everything; the tour bus to the Black Forest left at 8:30 a.m. and returned after 5 p.m. It was an amazing sunny day that included an alpine rail toboggan ride and an open-air museum at a model 400-year-old Black Forest farm where we made butter and cuckoo whistles and ate all the spaetzle, schnitzel and Black Forest cake we could manage.
We paid the price the next day: Emily was stay-in-bed sick, and we had to skip the enticing excursions in the Strasbourg area, from boat tours of the canals to canoeing on the Ile River and horseback riding in the Alsace region. Luckily, Emily rallied in the afternoon for the French macaron-making class at Cuisine Aptitude in Strasbourg, which would turn out to be the girls' favorite experience of the trip.
In a clean and modern teaching kitchen near the cathedral, chefs Sebastien and Jean-Yves walked our group through the complex steps of making the perfect macaron. We mixed and poured and squeezed round almond flour cookies onto pans from a pastry tube, then baked and filled them with ganache.
The author’s twin daughters, on right, make friends and macarons during a class at Cuisine Aptitude in Strasbourg, France.
However, we totally crashed in our staterooms at the end of the day and nearly missed dinner. It was a relief that we didn't mind skipping the next morning's trip to the Porsche and Mercedes Benz museums. We took much-needed on-our-own time at the boat and caught up on rest and homework for missed school days. This was an important refueling decision that helped us get over jet lag and tend to Emily's cold.
Lesson learned: Next time, do a shorter version of the first day's activities on our own to leave space for rest without totally missing the attractions. Or plan more time in Basel or a nearby area to recover from jet lag before the sailing.
We also found that our best days were at smaller villages, like Rudesheim, where the boat docked right near town and we were free to come and go on foot. We could then explore Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum with the group and break off on our own for a cable car ride over the vineyards to the Niederwald Monument or walk back to the boat at our leisure.
As well, the luxuries of the AmaViola helped ease our FOMO fatigue. Our adjoining staterooms were smartly appointed, both with balconies, full bathrooms and comfortable beds. As closet introverts, and with one sick child, we found the coziness of our rooms indispensable as they provided the only space for downtime.
When we were ready to mingle, the girl-gang took over the Junior Adventurer table for dinner with the Adventure Guides, while the parents appreciated sharing meals and grown-up conversation. Further kid-friendly diversions included cookie decorating, a "Beauty and the Beast" night and a special ice cream event.
Most of all, the crew and guides did their darndest to make things easy and fun. Our group of parents agreed that the level of service and consideration by staff and guides came in above and beyond other cruises.
As long as FOMO is kept in check, Adventures by Disney offers an easy and educational way to visit Europe with kids.
Rates for an eight-day Adventures by Disney Rhine River cruise start at $4,789 for adults, $4,329 for kids.