Sailing on the Danube with Viking River Cruises & My 13-year-old daughter

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A view of Nuremberg from the Imperial Castle.
A view of Nuremberg from the Imperial Castle.

Being that river cruising is one of the hottest trends in cruising at the moment, it is no surprise that Recommend is always covering this particular product. This time around rather than hear from the cruise line principals and give you the 4-1-1 on the onboard experience, we’re throwing a 13 year old—my daughter Roxy—into the story to see if it’s a good idea for you, the travel agent, to think beyond the 55+ demographics that are the most traditional market for this product and perhaps book families with teenagers in tow on a river cruise.

My daughter and I are currently sailing on the Danube from Nuremberg to Budapest on the Viking Bragi. I’ll be writing about my experience on as I cruise along, WiFi permitting.

Viking provides an included shore excursion at each destination stop as well as an optional shore excursion. For this trip, I, as a mother not a journalist, decided to participate in all of the included excursions and not sign up for the optional excursions. Why? Because I think kids can only take so much structured time and one tour a day is more than plenty for a teenager. The afternoon, during our free time, it’s time for some mother/daughter bonding as we explore the city where the ship is anchored (Nuremberg, Regensberg, Passau, Melk, Vienna and Budapest).

Day 1
The day of arrival, Viking offers shuttle buses into Nuremberg, but if your clients are traveling with a teenager who didn’t get her Z’s while on the plane all the way from Miami, then best leave the sightseeing for the next day. Yes, that means plenty of time on board, but it’s a good time to recuperate, since teenagers need, I think, a little more than the rest of us.

Pleasant surprises on the first day of our cruise included meeting two lovely couples during dinner time. My daughter was ecstatic because one of the couples was British—there are in fact many British passengers on board—and since she is in love with One Direction, a boy band from the UK, she was happy to simply sit there and enjoy their accent and listen to them say words like “bloke” and “rubbish.” A small detail, you might think, to meet people from other countries, but for a teenager it starts opening up a brand-new world that’s beyond the scope of their hometown bubble. My daughter didn’t speak much, but she was listening and had a lovely time. And I quote, “Why wouldn’t young people want to hang out with older people—they have so many experiences to talk about….” As you know, most of the passengers on board are older retirees or near retiring, so I think teenagers will return home with a newfound respect for the older generation.

One of the things we are enjoying most is, in fact, meeting new people, whether during 3 p.m. tea time in the lounge, dinner, during the tour…whenever. It’s a small vessel and it moves slowly and because of the fact that there aren’t many onboard activities, there’s plenty of time to interact with other passengers or simply sit back and relax.

One thing to remember, though, there are no connecting staterooms, so mom and dad might be in one cabin and just book the next door cabin for the kids. They won’t be able to get into too much trouble, if any at all, because again activities on board are minimal—that’s a good thing if it’s some family bonding the family is looking for.

Day 2 
As I’m writing this, we are passing through one of the many locks on the Main-Danube Canal. Didn’t give this much thought while thinking about the cruise itself, but as we go through the locks and I see my daughter’s fascination at this engineering marvel, I can tell you that this will definitely be one of the highlights of the cruise—imagine a kid who loves science as they go through one of these. We are so close to the wall, you can actually touch it. It’s too cool for words.

One of the nicest things to come out of this day is that my daughter’s typical teenage attitude has evaporated, and I must point this out, she had to wake up at 7 a.m. so we could get to the early morning excursion on time. It’s as if I’m on vacation with another kid—the one that I’ve adored since she was a baby and have been missing since she became a teenager. l point this out because sometimes parents might not opt for a vacation with too much downtime, and I’m saying the opposite—too much downtime is good. Today, in addition to touring Nuremberg on the included excursion, where my daughter was fascinated with the Nazi historic sights and with the German tour guide due to his funny personality, my daughter and I went sightseeing on our free time through the Old Town, where we explored the small streets, laughed, ate ice cream and spent genuine time together looking at the town’s beautiful architecture, turning the ring three times at the plaza’s gorgeous fountain (see picture) so she could get her wish to come true (yes, meeting One Direction) and talking…yes, talking.

The fountain in Nuremberg's Altstadt, the historic part of the city.
The fountain in Nuremberg’s Altstadt, the historic part of the city.

Back on board, it was lunch time and you can tell parents to opt for the Aquavit Terrace buffet as they served a very kid-friendly burger with all the trimmings. After that, I figured we’d do some reading, but my daughter said, “We should have packed some board games,” and I responded, “No need to, they have some in the library.” So in between tea time, listening to the piano player in the lounge—my daughter loves it, I kid you not, waving to people on the shoreline, and meeting a lovely lady from Pennsylvania, my daughter and I played a game of Scrabble and sat on our balcony to look at the truly picturesque landscape (we even saw some locals herding sheep with a sheep dog…that’s one experience no kid will get to see on a megaship ocean cruise).

I do want to add, however, that although my daughter is having a great time, this type of cruise is not for every teenager. If your client’s kids can’t be without their water slides, Xbox, Game Boys and need constant stimulation, then this cruise product is not for them. If they are worldly, curious and are truly fascinated by the world around them, then river cruising is not just a recommendation, this a must-do.

We are off to the Welcome Dinner and cocktail hour. Hoping WiFi is good enough—it is spotty—to let you guys in on the rest of my adventure with my 13-year-old daughter as we cruise on the Danube.

To read more about their journey, see Sailing on the Danube, Days 3 & 4Sailing on the Danube, Day 5, Sailing on the Danube, Days 6 & 7, and Eye on the World: Germany, Vienna & Budapest.