Spring break is a popular time for families with elementary school aged children to travel. But while water parks and theme parks draw large crowds, Houston native Stephanie H. and her husband Tom prefer to take a different approach to their family vacations – and were certain their well-traveled and well-mannered kids were old enough to experience everything one of our Mekong River cruises through Vietnam and Cambodia had to offer.
Already Global Citizens
“We both believe it is important to expose our kids to an international, worldly view so they go into their lives as adults recognizing the way you do things is not the only way things are done,” said Stephanie. “We have so much ‘stuff’, they don’t need more ‘stuff’, they need experiences they will take with them through their life. We hope this will make them well rounded and more understanding adults.”
With several stamps each in their passports from Belgium to France to Germany and the Netherlands, Calvin and Daphne were excited to embark on their “farthest trip away from home” that would take the “longest time ever to get there.”
“You gotta get exposed to stuff, you can’t just stay in your hometown,” announced an impassioned Calvin. “Going to different places and trying new stuff is fun!”
“I like getting to see things you don’t hear about on the Internet,” Daphne said thoughtfully. “Things people don’t bother to mention that aren’t big to them but are a big deal to us.”
The Onboard Experience
Together with three generations, including Tom’s parents, the family arrived on March 13th to board our beautiful AmaDara in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, for their 7-night Riches of the Mekong itinerary. After the bus ride from a humid Siem Reap, they were more than ready to stretch their legs and explore – and felt immediately pampered by the crew. Shared Daphne of her embarkation experience: “The hospitality was really amazing when we first stepped on board. I loved the cold towels with the lemongrass on them.”
When the family entered their staterooms, they were also pleasantly surprised. Not only is AmaDara a beautifully designed ship with rich carved woods reflective of the region’s French Colonial history, but it is also one of our many ships that includes our signature twin-balcony staterooms, with both a French balcony and an outside balcony from which to enjoy fresh air and scenic views. “Compared to other river cruises, it felt spacious,” recalled Stephanie. “Having balconies in every stateroom made a huge difference to us.”
While some children may find trying new foods a challenge, Stephanie and Tom exposed their kids at a young age to many different ethnic cuisines. Though our crew is more than willing to accommodate kids’ often less adventurous tastebuds with Western favorites such as pizza, pasta and hamburgers, Calvin and Daphne needed no such special attention when it came to food. Daphne is a self-described sushi connoisseur, though it was the pastry chef’s fresh-baked flaky chocolate croissants that made her mouth water each day. Calvin preferred to indulge in the freshly made regionally inspired soups, sometimes twice a day, for breakfast and dinner.
In addition, Tom stated that AmaDara’s Hotel Manager, Jason, “went out of his way to make us feel comfortable and engage us in conversation. He greeted our kids and gave them local candy, chatted with us in the evenings and made us feel more at home on the ship.”
With the kids’ youthful energy driving their choices, one of the family’s favorite excursions they embarked upon during their Mekong itinerary was to the Buddhist monastery in Oudong. Following the blessing ceremony, they climbed Phreah Reach Troap (Oudong Mountain) on a tour designed for active guests. Calvin enjoyed this, and later in the itinerary, had a self-described “laugh attack” while riding the exhilarating tuk tuks through Phnom Penh.
Daphne similarly found the various forms of transportation along the Mekong River entertaining, from the oxcart ride in the remote village of Kampong-Tralach to the tender boats that took them from the ship to the shore each day. She also mentioned: “I liked seeing the silk factory and trying all the foods. The sticky coconut candy was my favorite. And there are so many great places to take photographs!”
Wonderful Local Guides
Having sailed with other cruise lines before, Stephanie was particularly impressed by AmaWaterways’ knowledgeable local guides. “On other cruise lines, the guides typically aren’t local, but with Ama, half were from Vietnam and half were from Cambodia and we loved that they could speak to their experiences growing up in these areas,” she said. “In fact, on the bus ride to the ship in Cambodia, our guide was able to point out his mother’s house!” The kids agreed that the guides were phenomenal and answered every question they had – a testament to their patience and ability to explain things to guests of all ages in ways they can easily understand.
Extra Special Touches from the Crew
Our wonderful AmaWaterways crew members around the globe are one of the main reasons past guests come back to cruise with us year after year – and you need only talk to Calvin and Daphne to comprehend how special AmaDara’s crew makes all our guests feel while exploring Vietnam and Cambodia. “One night I hurt my knee and it was bleeding and one of the people at the front desk helped me and made it stop and bandaged me up. He was really kind,” Calvin recalled. “I forgot my key card one time and I needed to go in the stateroom and relax and one of the crew members let me in. And every night they folded my tiger stuffed animal and tucked him into the bed.” These small touches made a big impact on Calvin and truly dominated some of his memories of the journey.
According to Daphne, all the crew members knew the kids by name. She was also touched that one of the chefs memorized her omelet order at breakfast time. “And the people at the bar knew exactly what I liked: Sprite!” In addition, Tom mentioned a crew member who assisted Daphne with acquiring and filling out complimentary AmaWaterways postcards for each of her 11 classmates back home.
Even the evening entertainment appealed to the kids. Daphne shared, “I enjoyed all the trivia and the games they had. And every night I went out and was on the dance floor!”
What They Brought Home
Calvin bought an outfit from the silk factory in Oknhatey, Cambodia, known as the “Silk Island”, while Daphne found a pretty dress in a local market, among Tom’s favorite experiences of the entire cruise, perhaps in part because Calvin found negotiating so humorous. The family also won a round of Bingo on board and were gifted a small trishaw figurine. But what will stay with them the most from this family vacation are the memories.
The kids particularly loved visiting the local elementary school supported by AmaWaterways in Oknhatey. Calvin was given an origami heart from a little girl at the school who chased after him. “I still have it in my backpack,” he said.
Some of Daphne’s strongest memories were from the military base in Xeo Quyt, Vietnam, but not necessarily because of the destination and its history. “When we were leaving, all these kids wanted a photograph with us as we left,” she said. “As we got on the bus, they lined up and started waving at us.”
Calvin and Daphne prove you are never too young to appreciate the connections you can make with others on the other side of the world.
Contact your preferred travel advisor to reserve your Mekong River cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia today!