Travel through a Kid's Eye

Family River Trips: Water Worlds

With the coming summer months, the bursts of your child's freedom are usually best personified in the splashes of water as they race down the coast and into the surf or, more often, tear across the tarmac toward the next water park ride. But getting wet need not be limited exclusively to your next beach outing or carpool ride to the neighborhood water theme park. This year, why not explore a new way of getting wet with your loved ones—take a whitewater river trip, or travel to Europe and tour a new land in style.
River trips through the U.S. wilderness are very different from the luxurious ocean-bound cruises or rambling European canal trips. Floating in canoes or rafts, children can experience an ever-changing nature-scape, without being subjected the typical rigorous pace and heavy burdens of backpacking. Rolling down the river is a comfortable, relaxed way to introduce kids to the joys of water sports and the beauty of our country.

Of course the ultimate river adventure for kids has to be a trip through the rainforest in the Amazon. We tried it with a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old and can heartily recommend it. A direct flight from Miami lands you in just four hours in the Brazilian city of Manaos. After an overnight stay, you can travel three hours by steamer up the Rio Negro tributary to a rainforest lodge. Some lodges have aerial catwalks through the jungle canopy and can seem like the world's biggest treehouse for kids. Morning and afternoon river excursions range from mild to wild—even piranha fishing and alligator hunting. Most lodges gave multi-lingual naturalist guides and feature international cuisine to please all palettes.
For those with younger children and for families anxious for rest and relaxation over the threat of sudden whitewater, a barge tour through Europe may offer the perfect solution to the summertime family woes. As Toad said in Wind in the Willows, "There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." For children, the carefree adventure of drifting down canals, negotiating locks, and mooring is an adventure in itself. For parents, it is an ideal way to experience the calm, classic beauty of the European countryside.
Barging is much more pleasurable than the conventional whirlwind tour of endless European capital cities. The long, narrow barges with their homey cabins, compact galley, and cozy living room remind children of a floating playhouse; parents enjoy the privacy and quiet that the aft-cabin and fore-deck areas provide. For a change of pace, jump ashore and bike or jog along the riverbank keeping up with the barge - not difficult at four mph.
Practically Speaking
There are a variety of methods to get to the Amazon—though going with an established tour operator usually assures that the difficult decision will be made for you as you juggle the myraid responsibilities of traveling with your children in tow. More domestic pursuits are also available throughout the United States. Most national parks with rivers have camping and canoeing rental information and there are also a variety of outfitters who specialize in family river running adventures.
Barges vary in size and price. Suitable for two families of four, a 45-footer typically costs $2000 in England and $2500 in Europe for one week during peak season. After a shakedown course with the barge company, you'll know how to enter a lock, secure the barge for the changing water level, and leap aboard just before the water surges out of the opening lock doors. It sounds harder than it is—two adults can handle the barge competently and you'll find plenty of helping hands at each lock-keeper's house.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 16 Mar 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »