I’ve never been one for biking. Especially not after dislocating my tailbone giving birth to Arias.
Come to think of it, before this trip I don’t think I had been on a bike since my pre-teens!
And both our girls were raised on a sailboat, meaning they had not yet learned the childhood skill of riding a bike.
But the offer of a boat and bike trip through four European countries with our entire (16 member) family could not be passed up. When else we would go biking through four European countries with our two kids, and their 12 relatives?
With the purchase of a specialized bike seat for my previously injured derriere, we were ready to take on the challenge of peddling, and towing our children, through some new destinations.
How We Ended Up On A Bike + River Boat Cruise
This trip has been on Eben’s mom’s bucket list for a very long time. Her father was from Austria and it was a location that she had always wanted to visit. Having our whole family experience it would be the cherry on top.
For the last five years she had been trying to coordinate this trip. But with four very adventurous families under her wing, it was all too difficult to try to align everyone’s schedules.
After her father’s passing, the urge to go back to his homeland became all the more real.
All of us were given a fun ultimatum. “It is now or never. And it is everyone or no one.”
Eben’s parents saved their every penny for years so that THEY COULD OFFER US this trip. The flights and the river cruise were a gift, we just had to get ourselves coordinated and set a date.
Understand that they do not come from wealth, they are extremely hard-working people and this was an insanely generous gift.
How The River Cruise Works
Tripsite works with local tour companies to provide biking tours in many destinations. Each tour is unique dependent on the location you choose, the length of the trip, and whether you are pairing it with a river cruise or sticking to land based. They have too many trips to list so perusing their site is recommended, they have something for every budget and desire. (Just so you know, I get no commission from this!)
Boat and Bikes
Our trip was a bike and river boat cruise on the Danube river. We passed through four neighbouring countries, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Every day we had the option to either stay onboard the ship, or head to shore and peddle from one port to the next while the boat made it’s way there via the river.
The tour company provided us with rental bikes, as well as baby seats, tag-along bikes and chariots for the kids.
We found it great how family-friendly they made this trip. Our girls are too small to be able to peddle long distances on their own. But having the extra bike attachments available to us made it so we could partake on this type of adventure even with all the little ones that our crew was bringing along.
Our boat, the Primadonna, was like a mini cruise ship. It offered one restaurant, a lounge bar, a common area, a sauna, and a rooftop deck with a jacuzzi.
Almost everyday after biking, we would find ourselves in the jacuzzi. It was a great way for us to soak our sore muscles, and an excuse for the kids to splash around and be a little wild without bugging everyone else onboard the ship.
We fell into a good routine, once late evening rolled around we’d put a movie on for the kids and the adults would gather for some games of farkle, drinks, and snacks. We’d always try to stay up for the “midnight snack” (which was actually served at 11pm!), but quite often we just couldn’t make it that late.
Helpful tip: Bike helmets are not provided, so either bring your own or rent one from the boat for a fee. The bikes come with saddle bags for your things. If you require any “extras” like my specialized seat bring it.
All of our meals were included in the price of the trip. Every morning, over a buffet breakfast, our waiter would make his rounds noting which of the selections of three-course meals we wanted for our supper.
If you chose to spend your day biking, the boat would have a packed lunch ready for you. If you chose to stay on the boat, there was a three-course lunch waiting for you in the dinning room at noon.
The menu had something for every palate (fish, meat, veggie) and the food was delicious. They also offered local specialties of each of the countries we were going through and served them on their corresponding days.
Helpful Tip: The meal portions are big. If you have a child with you, a half portion is most likely plenty. It was more than enough for our girls.
-Tap water is not customary in many European countries. On the boat, if you ask for water, it will come from a bottle, at a cost. If you wish to avoid this bring your refillable water bottle to meals with you.
Because we were such a large group we were separated into three tables. Every evening we would play musical chairs, choosing different family members as our table mates.
We also sat all the kids together at their own table, keeping their craziness contained, and allowing “us adults” to sip wine and chat. Every night I left the table feeling completely stuffed; a three-course meal, dessert, wine, and cheese platters. Let’s just say that Europe has been good to my hips!
The rooms on the boat varied on what you paid for, of course. Ours were on the lower level and were “family rooms”. For our family of four this meant we had two sets of bunk beds.
It was slightly weird not sleeping in the same bed as Eben for 8 days, but after a long day of biking, sleeping in my own single bed wasn’t all that bad.
We had plenty of closet space, a mini-fridge, tv, and bathroom with a shower.
I can’t say we spent much time in our room. Most days we were out biking, or taking in the sights of whichever city we were in, and we spent our evenings hanging out somewhere on the boat with the other 12 members of our family. We visited our room only briefly each day, to shower, change, and sleep and so they provided everything we needed.
The kids, with their movie nights, used the rooms most of all. And for all they cared the rooms could’ve been tiny or huge, as long as there was a bed that all the cousins could squish on and a tv playing a movie in front of them, they were as happy as could be.
The Biking Part
The length of each day’s biking varied between 32km-57km. And on a couple of the days there were multiple bike routes you could choose from depending on how much you wanted to peddle.
The bike paths offered us all sorts of epic scenery, from riverside paths, to old country farm land, small villages, vineyards and large cities. Every day we had moments where we were completely in awe of our surroundings.
We had the added fun of biking through different countries, with different languages, different currencies, and different beers. Not only was this a bike trip, it was a cultural experience. We either took our breaks on the path somewhere, to take in the scenery, or we took them at small cafes along the way, to take in some of the beverages and gelato.
The difficulty level across our entire trip was pretty moderate. There were no huge hills (other than on one day when I didn’t bike so I didn’t experience it!) and most of the bike paths were extremely well maintained.
Helpful Tip: On our boat, each evening there was an information session where a guide discussed the bike path options/routes for the following day. Our guide was well-informed and provided us with specific information for our group to cycle since we were towing kids.
Of our 8 days of biking there was only one where we found a section too difficult to do the “path” and chose to take the highway instead. This was only due to the fact that I was towing the chariot and the width of it wasn’t working very well with the tall grass that lined the slender gravel path.
Personally, I found some of the days a little tough but that was because I was towing a 50lbs child behind me and I hadn’t been on a bike since my teens. I took it as a physical challenge and powered through biking each day, ending some with really sore thighs but an extreme sense of pride in my abilities and will.
Arias spent most of her time on the tag-along bike behind Eben, and Ellia sat cozily in the chariot singing along with our portable speaker while taking in the European scenery. She had quite the princess ride!
Luckily for me, most of the trip Eben had Arias on the tag-along attached to his bike, meaning I was towing the lighter of our two children. We also came as a large group and many family members were willing to swap with me throughout the day and take on the extra weight of pulling a child, either in the chariot or on a tag-along.
And when my legs just couldn’t handle it anymore, there were times when Eben took on the brunt of it all, and towed both girls in the chariot!
It was a group effort. We got 6 kids under the age of 7 across the four countries!
Some days I felt could’ve been slightly shorter, but again, we were towing kids. For those who weren’t, or for anyone who has experience using a chariot (I had none), the longer days probably felt like a breeze.
I was slightly happy to hear other family members groaning sometimes, due to being “saddle sore”. I’m mean, I know. But it felt like we were commiserating in our pain.
The Guilt-Free Trip
We were on this trip as a very large group. We all knew it had to be guilt-free. If someone didn’t feel like biking and rather stay on the boat, good on them. If someone chose to sightsee in town and meet up with everyone on the boat for supper time, good on them.
On any given bike day, some of our group would be biking, some would be on the boat. Of those that were biking, maybe they biked together, maybe they broke off into smaller groups.
In general, when biking, we all tried to meet up at a certain location for lunch, and then would break off again to continue on their path.
Biking in smaller packs was great for those of us that biked at a slower speed, aka me. This way I didn’t feel stressed about having to keep pace with everyone else. It made it so that each group could choose their own adventure and we would all meet up at supper time and share the stories of our day.
Our family unit of 4 biked together the entire trip (except for the one day I kept the kids on the boat due to a nasty cough, and the one day the ladies stayed on the ship for a “girls day”). We alternated what kid rode the tag-along and kid was towed, and we went with a speed that was comfortable for us.
Eben was full of compliments in my regards, and I was in awe when he towed both kids at once, one was hard enough! We laughed, we chatted, we sang, and I cried once (those tag-along bikes can be a scary thing to steer!). We had just as much fun biking with the larger group as we did with our small family, and this trip gave us every variation of that.
Even with all the biking there were many opportunities for sight-seeing. People could go check out our port towns either after they finished biking, or on our half-days, or by taking a day off of biking.
Many of the paths also brought us through towns where there were monuments, cathedrals, or attractions worth checking out. If you planned your time wisely you could take a break from biking, stop and visit for a bit, and then continue on towards the ship.
We took a couple of days off from biking.
One afternoon to see Vienna with our entire family, and one full-day to visit Budapest where we had a good friend we wanted to meet up with.
There were so many things that we wanted to see and do, but with so little time, we did what we could and told ourselves, “we’ll have to come back some day and see more”.
In Vienna, we had our personal guide, a distant cousin Stephanie, that came to join us. She showed us some of the city’s sites (in passing while we rode the tram), and the square around St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We only had a couple of hours in town, so we saw those sites, sipped on coffee, at more gelato, and then headed back to the boat.
In Budapest I had hoped to experience the thermal baths. And once we found out there are “beer spas” as well, we definitely wanted to do those. But our priority was visiting our friend, and we’re so happy we did. She brought us for a “typical” Hungarian meal, at Gundel’s restaurant. It was so great to have the opportunity to catch up with her, in her home country, and to eat somewhere that the Pope and the Queen have eaten at.
Because we were enjoying ourselves so much with our friend, and because of bad traffic on the way back to the boat, we almost didn’t make it. As our cab pulled up in front of the ship, the deck hands were already outside holding the lines, ready to cast off, and we received a round of embarrassing applause from fellow passengers cheering “you made it!!!” Some of our family was slightly stressed that the boat was going to leave without us, and we’re glad it didn’t, but man did it ever make for a good story!
Was It Worth It?
It was an extremely busy trip. The type where you feel you need a vacation afterwards to recoup from it all. But we brought that on ourselves by having our slew of 16 doing it together. We had early wake-ups, long days of biking, and late evenings of hanging out together.
Everyone was slightly sleep deprived and using a good amount of energy biking, but we don’t often get to hang out all 16 of us together, so we were using up every single minute and making the most of it.
We also felt that it was a fun way for our group, whose *ages* varied from grandparent to infant, to hang out for 9 days and enjoy an active trip.
The whole experience was extremely family-friendly. It gave us the chance to bike through four European countries with our two girls without it being a pain in the neck.
The rentals and child attachments were provided, we didn’t have to worry about food as the boat had that covered, every night we had a place to rest our heads, and best of all, our luggage sat in our ship’s rooms awaiting our return each night meaning we didn’t have to lug it around. We biked with only what we would need for the day.
Without the boat part of this bike + river boat tour, this trip would have been doable, but a lot more work. Having Tripsite and the local tour company taking care of all the organization and details, all that was left for us to do was peddle, eat, and enjoy.