What does your favorite vacation involve? Relaxation? Adventure? Learning? Time together? Perhaps it’s a balanced mix of all of these. If so, we have a solution that covers the waterfront: A Locaboat holiday spent cruising the canals of Europe and visiting some small villages, as well as marquee cities, along the way.
You get to captain your own canal yacht and choose from many options for your itinerary. You don’t necessarily need to know a lot about boating to do this. They train you on the basics and the boat is built like a virtual floating bumper car, no doubt the product of experience on their part.
Our boat, the Nieuwegein, a 14-meter-long vessel, was equipped with a flying bridge, allowing us to steer from above or below. It’s a perfect solution for any situation and weather. Inside was a surprising amount space, including four staterooms, three full bathrooms, a kitchen equipped with stove and refrigerator, and a living room/dining room/lounge area that was great for family dining or sitting around playing cards and games or reviewing maps.
The top deck contained an upper dining table and a pilot station, as well as storage for our five bicycles. In the bow, an outdoor seating area and table provided a front-row seat to the views.
Good heat and abundant hot water are all part of this self-contained craft. It holds several days’ supply of water for five adults and we could refill at any marina. There is no need to worry about fuel because the large tanks hold a three-week supply. Daily cruising keeps the massive batteries charged.
Mechanically, the craft is quite simple. The low-revving diesel just putts along at about 6 knots, and, best of all, there are bow thrusters, small motors that nudge the bow of the boat to the left or right, which is vital for tight conditions.
Insider tip: Insist on good training for docking with several practice attempts and really familiarize yourself with procedures for bridges and locks.
It’s also important to always have a navigator with the captain because you can’t drive and review maps at the same time. Set a game plan of where to stay each night to pace out the trip and get the best accommodations. Plan some sites to see in advance, but leave buffers in your schedule for weather.
The boating experience
Boating skills and planning aside, what makes this trip so much fun for families and so popular in Europe and the U.K.? To us, it is very similar to camping in an RV except your RV is a canal yacht. And, the trip is really more like “glamping,” because you don’t need to pack up any gear. Dishes, pots and pans, towels, sheets, glassware, bikes (for a fee), a private room, indoor dining, and outdoor dining (if you choose a yacht with that option) are all part of the package.
This is a vacation which, like camping, allows for great family togetherness. In this age of almost everyone being techno-obsessed (most especially our teens, tweens, and young adults), or at the very least attached to our electronic devices, this is a vacation that gives everyone a chance to unplug and truly get away from it all while experiencing Europe with all of its stunning beauty and culture. This is a vacation that will never be forgotten, while the cost of renting the yacht is quite affordable when one compares it to a vacation to Europe, the U.K., or even Disney World. Those kinds of grand vacations can be quite pricey when you add up hotel lodging, transportation, meals, and visiting attractions.
For instance, a quick look at the Internet shows that a middle-of-the-road vacation for a family of four to Disney World costs approximately $4,000, not including transportation (plane fare and a rental car). That is approximately equal to what you would pay for a week-long high-season canal yacht vacation in France, Italy, or Holland on a yacht that sleeps six to seven people. Grandmother and grandfather can go along, too! You and your family can see the real world for the same amount you would pay to experience Disney World!
Staying in a hotel cannot hold a candle to the ability to cook all of your own meals (if you desire), shower in your own bathroom, and lounge inside or out, all the while cruising by amazing scenery and biking through enchanting little towns. People like to be outside to enjoy the peace of the outdoors, hear the sounds of birds singing, smell the scent of newly mown hay or the perfume of a thousand wildflowers, feel the breeze, and breathe in the fresh air. And, the sights you will see will blow you away.
Multiple windmills from centuries past are just around the corner. Bucolic fields of green dotted with sheep, cows, and goats will steal your heart. The charm of the little towns or the friendly Dutch lockkeeper, bridgekeeper, or marina owner will fill you full of wonder. The Dutch are very warm, friendly, and helpful, and the smaller towns are incredibly delightful. Pulling the yacht over, tying up to a mooring spot on the side of the canal (every town has several places to do so), and hopping on your bike to pedal through town on the designated bike lanes (everyone bicycles in Holland, including school children) is quite safe and more fun than you can imagine.
A bicycle ride across the little bridge we just passed under and through the winding streets to visit to the unique shops and large gothic churches was great exercise to burn off the calories from the village bakery’s delicious pastries. Picking up extra provisions is easy at the town supermarket, wine store, or souvenir shop. Restaurants and sidewalk cafes are great places to sit, relax, and watch the locals go about their business. We even saw a man walking through town in an old-fashioned pair of wooden clogs.
Our Dutch itinerary
Our itinerary covered southern Holland. Fighting jet lag, we taxied to the Holland Locaboat base (just a 30-minute drive from the airport) with a stop at the grocery store along the way to quickly pick up a few provisions. On arrival, we received our tutorial and were on our way. We did a short distance that first day, passing one lock and a few bridges, then spent the night in Weesp, a sleepy little Dutch town where we could buy some wine and cheese and found a delightful French restaurant. It was a nice introduction to what we would experience in the coming week.
Following a much-needed rest, we were off to Amsterdam. In the beginning, we glided past some windmills and splendid summer homes for the wealthy, but before we knew it we were passing through a series of 13 bridges. We calculated their clearances from the maps and learned that we could clear each (by as little as an inch and a half).
Amsterdam is a fascinating city rich in history, worthy of more than a night’s stay.
We will cover Amsterdam and the other towns we visited, including Gouda, our side trip to Belgium, more about the canal yacht experience, and other available itineraries in next month’s issue.