A Family Shannon Cruise

a family Shannon cruise

Our Family Shannon Cruise

In July we headed off on a self-drive boat cruise along the river Shannon with Emerald Star operated by Le Boat. I have always wanted to do a Shannon Cruise and was inspired when family friends of ours had made a trip at the beginning of lock down with a young family, raving about the fun they had and the ease of which it was to travel with the kids.

Many of you may have seen our trip in our stories last Summer and this trip generated the largest number of enquiries and questions we ever received so I will aim to answer as many of these in this post as possible. The most common question we were asked was “what activities there were for children”. Well on this trip while we did do one or two, they need no distraction or means to be occupied as the journey becomes the adventure and the water becomes their playground.

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Life Onboard

When we first arrived at the pick-up point to check in to our boat we were stunned at the size of the boat as the pictures did not prepare us for the life size version. Emerald Star have a base in Portumna which is an excellent starting point with its large array of shops and restaurants and it’s the perfect spot to stock up for the trip with a great Supervalu in the centre of town. Portumna Castle is open for tours and there is a gorgeous cafe there that you have to visit. The playground is just around the corner and if you are staying the night make sure to check out Modena Restaurant which is a delicious Indian Restaurant that also does takeaway. This is our second visit to Modena as the food is truly delicious.

Our boat was the Elegance model which was spacious and modern easily sleeping up to six. It was sleek and attractive from the outside while well laid out and comfortable on the inside. With three bedrooms, two had twin beds and one a single and small double. Each had storage space, individual climate controls and very roomy en suites with superb shower pressure and temperature controls.

family river cruise boat

Towels, linen and blankets are provided, and the beds so comfortable, we slept like babies which is testament not only to the gently rocking from the water but comfortable surroundings.

Our generous living area was divided into a kitchenette and a large seating area. The kitchen was decked out in all mod cons with a gas cooker, oven, microwave and fridge. There was always plenty of hot water so no excuses not to wash the wear and most importantly it was spotlessly clean. It was clear, these boats are very well kept and at no time did they feel anyway gritty or unclean. Tea towels, cloths, cutlery and wash up liquid were provided. I made some soup and a shepherd’s pie which I stored in the adequate freezer so I was not fulltime cook and bottle washer for the few days on board. These came in handy as I was surprised at how much they ate out on the water.

The spacious lounge was divided in two with comfortable sofa seating and dining on both sides. The boat also provides WIFI access (at an extra charge) and television with the normal free to air channels.

 

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The large sundeck on top became our main hangout, while Saoirse took full advantage of the vessel’s flat construction with the sun deck spanning the full width of the boat and her own private sun bathing spot to the front. This area was furnished with seating and for an extra charge you can rent cushions and a small BBQ. I would highly recommend the BBQ as each morning I thoroughly enjoyed cooking breakfast while watching the world drift by and keeping up with what’s happening.

Emerald Star operated by Le Boat has a range of different sized boats for different sized groups, ours was the Elegance model which can sleep up to six adults. There are options to suit various budgets too, ours was the mid-range and we were extremely impressed so I can’t imagine what top of the range would be. I did spot a number of the budget ranges along the route and these were perfectly adequate too but may be slightly older. I can’t stress enough that on a trip like this, you spend very little time inside the vessel, life revolves around the outside area and the harbours where you dock.

 

our family Shannon cruise

Our Boating Adventure

This trip was truly a family adventure with Craig (my husband) our captain and the kids his crew. Before we set off from the base, one of the Emerald Star team, Jason, spent at least an hour running through how to operate everything. We had absolutely no boating experience but these self- drive boats were pretty idiot proof and the training was extremely thorough with every eventuality covered. They even take you for a dummy run and assigned the teenagers roles with the ropes, ensuring they were well practiced and versed before we set out.

 

shannon cruise

We were given a book of large maps showing the different sections along the Shannon that was very easy to follow, as well as a guide to the towns and villages we’d see along the way so we could decide where we’d stop to see some sights, have a bite to eat and spend the night. Again, Jason provided us with a wealth of local knowledge in which stops would suit us as a family on that particular weekend and how to get the most out of our few days. We were also instructed to download a free app that works similar to a sat nav tracking our progress as we moved so we were sure we were always staying on course.

cruise Shannon

At the height of the Summer, Lough Derg is the main playing ground for families with many family orientated activities but we chose to travel up the River Shannon first so we could experience a lock. After setting off, our first encounter was Victoria Lock, also known as Meelick Lock. This area is a lively spot with many boats stopping to take in a walk and locals jumping into the water.

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As we navigated our first lock with the kids at the helm guided by the lock keeper on how to handle their ropes, I did not realise that this was setting the scene for the holiday to come. The novelty of navigation never waned throughout this trip and the kids bounded out of bed each morning running upstairs to get going out on the water. They spent hours mapping our course, checking for buoys through the binoculars and taking turns to man the steering wheel under Craig’s watchful eye. We spent hours each day chatting idly while taking in the stunning surroundings that makes the River Shannon so famous with foreign and Irish tourists alike.

I think this was one of the rare times that we could include the word peaceful as a word to describe our family holiday. It was relaxed and each crew member had to work together so it was great for the older two, Saoirse (14) and Thomas (12). There was no rush to be anywhere and the kids did not need anything to occupy them but the open water. In fact you almost needed something to alure them back to shore as they would of spent all day navigating and sailing. Once we docked all they wanted was a place to jump into the sea meeting many other kids to splash around with and a playground for the little one which is available at most harbours we chose.

the little mermaid

Best Family Holiday Idea for Teenagers

I often get asked about holiday ideas for teenagers and I can honestly say nothing comes near this one. In fact on our first evening we met a family of six with four teenagers ranging in age from 14 – 19 and due to their first trip on the River Shannon in lockdown, they were back to finish this leg of the river even after their parents suggested they go back out abroad that year. This holiday was purely led by their teenagers and after 17 years going abroad, the teenagers all said it was the most enjoyable.

cruise the Shannon

However, the burning question that many ask is how did Lonán (aged 6) get on in terms of safety and keeping her occupied. We made a rule from the beginning as advised from the ever helpful Jason, that no one was allowed outside at any time without a life jacket. All the jackets stayed at the door and after a while we were in the habit of keeping them on at all times. We also spent most of our time together, so our second rule that she was never left alone, was very easy to keep.

When she wanted a break I put on her tablet or gave her some arts and crafts  and she chilled out in the living room while I made the meals or tidied up. She loved the opportunity to look for the numbers on the buoys as we navigated along as much as the older two and she took her first jumps into the open water from the pier as it became the norm. When we docked, we had selected places that had playgrounds or little walks so she was always busy.

cuising the Shannon

Popular Family Harbours

Banagher

Banagher is a pretty marina town and a popular spot with boaters as the marina is right beside the town so you can just moor up and walk into the heart of the action. Banagher has a gorgeous playground at the marina itself but I can highly recommend you take a taxi to Birr Castle just a fifteen-minute drive away. We did not visit on this occasion but have in the past and there is a science centre as well as beautiful gardens full of flowers, wildlife, waterfalls and a brilliant treehouse adventure area. Not only that, but it is home to what once was the world’s largest telescope and because of that it is a fascinating place that every child should see.

crank road restaurant

Crank Rd. Restaurant

While in Banagher we dined at Crank Rd. Restaurant which is a fantastic spot for families as it has excellent well portioned kids meals and the food was delicious. It is a two minute stroll from the marina and you can bring your own wine. I would highly recommend stopping here if you are looking for an evening of good food in a relaxed atmosphere.

Dromineer Lough Derg

Dromineer

Dromineer is located on the east side of Lough Derg north of Garrykennedy and is a classic holiday village which is a popular spot for boat tourist as it is easy to explore on foot. During the summer months it is a hive of tourist activity as people come to enjoy its marina and relax by the small beach. There is an 11th century tower house which overlooks the harbour and makes for a beautiful sight when approaching. For children, there is a large well equipped playground but it is the large Inflatable Waterpark, Aqua Splash that makes Dromineer a great destination for families on Lough Derg. This aqua park is one of the largest we have seen which was good for kids as there was little pushing and shoving. Aqua Splash also offer a number of other activities such as paddle boats and kayaking.

 

aqua park domineer

Lough Derg House & The Lake Café next to the pier looking out onto the lake is very popular amongst boaters, offering lunch, coffee and fresh scones which are also available to take away. Overlooking the tower and lake, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine with lunch while the kids run over and back to the playground and really gives you a sense of what holidays are all about. Lough Derg House is a renowned B&B and offers a range of rooms including excellent new refurbished family rooms if you just wanted to take a short break to Domineer or should you have visiting grandparents like in the case of the family in the boat next to us!

Interestingly Dromineer is home to Lough Derg Yacht Club, one of the world’s oldest yacht clubs.

Garrykennedy

Garrykennedy

Garrykennedy is another picturesque hamlet on Lough Derg, with its quaint village home to the famous Larkins Thatched Bar & Restaurant, a multi award winning destination popular for its traditional Irish music which can be enjoyed most evenings throughout the summer. Here you will find another lovely playground and a woodland with a gorgeous fairy walk.

 

Mountshannon

Mountshannon

Mountshannon is another popular spot for families. It is a beautiful and scenic village with an impressive range of tourist facilities and activities within easy reach. Inis Cealtra or Holy Island is a monastic settlement of great importance in ancient Ireland. The island is just a short boat trip from the village, and is home to a number of churches, graveyards, a holy well and a selection of religious stone carvings.

 

Killaloe on the Shannon cruise

Killaloe

Killaloe and Ballina sit at a point where the lake narrows into the River Shannon and is a place of incredible beauty. I don’t think my pictures will do it justice but for the first time ever I felt like Ireland was on the med. From the water it was picture postcard perfect.

Surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, the town is alive with energy thanks to great local pubs and restaurants, artisan bakeries and little galleries along narrow streets. We took a taxi to West Lake Aqua Park located just about 5 minutes drive from town. This area is a popular swimming spot for locals and it is easy to see why with its stunning scenery and clear water. West Lake Aqua Park have a large inflatable obstacle course on site. This is a very popular spot for locals and tourist alike with great amenities like a small shop and café offering ice-creams and coffees so I can highly recommend it and the Aqua Park had excellent facilities and lifeguards at hand in their area.

family activities on Shannon Cruise

We stocked up at the Supervalu in Killaloe and when you can tear yourself away from the harbour, it is a beautiful old town to walk around. We were allured by the atmosphere spilling out from a local bar/restaurant, Bóruma on the shoreline and enjoyed a relaxed family meal here where they catered for coeliac very well. On the Ballina side, there is a large outdoor public swimming which is a clean and well-kept facility. There are separate male and female dressing rooms with toilets and showers. Lifeguards are on duty when the pool is open. Alongside the pool are a couple of tables, chairs and playground. You will need to check opening times and book in before you arrive.

a river Shannon cruise

Summary

We enjoyed four nights onboard but to be honest even if we had a week it would not be enough. We will definitely return and travel along by Lough key which is an excellent destination for families and it’s not as if we have a choice as the children are still going on about it and for the first time ever, pleading to go back to a place we have been. It’s a wonderful way to immerse them in the great outdoors and it was the easiest holiday in the world. There was no rushing, no panic, no agendas. We just took our time and went with the day. There is no need for any activities to fill the day as the journey itself is the adventure. It was relaxing and there was all the time in the world to chill out and soak up some good auld family time. We brought card and board games but they never came out as the kids were happy every day and evening at the water so all we could do was relax while look on.

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