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Actually all river cruise companies on the US market do include shore tour:
As for the castles ... it depends on what castles you do expect! The Middle Rhine river (between Koblenz and Rüdesheim) has a lot of castles along the river. But if you do expect to see any of the famous King Ludwig II castles none of them is along the rivers (Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee). You need to add a pre/post cruise stay (to a Danube river cruise) in Munich or surroundings and make daytrips out of Munich to visit those castles. Neuschwanstein is the one Disney copied for their purposes.
Many of the cruises just SEE the castles from the ship
and it can be disappointing to you IF you think you ll be VISITING said castles.Must read the brochure VERY carefully so you ll know exactly what ea.cruise entails.
We did a ground tour of the castles area on previous vacation,so knew ahead of time what to expect.Still lovely,just different.
Be aware that getting into various castles can be difficult for elderly people - requiring climbing a hill or many stairs and then navigating a very uneven cobblestone surface. I recall climbing over 180 stairs to get to the entry of one castle and then climbing yet more wildly uneven stairs and a very rocky hill to get into the castle itself in Germany. If your mother and aunts would be content with scenic views of the various castles, a Castles of the Rhine cruise is ideal - usually Amsterdam to Basel or the reverse, 1 week. There is one day that is specifically spent cruising the castles. There are also visit to some castles, but again, there is a lot of walking on uneven surfaces required to actually get near them.
Although shore excursions are included in the major lines, do some research as those included excursions vary from line to line.
We were attracted to AMA because they offer various excursions depending on ability (active, slower paced), rather than a "one size fits all".
AMAPrima - Danube, Prague to Budapest
Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas - Southern Carib.
Carnival Imagination - Western Carib.
Carnival Valor - Southern Carib.
Norwegian Sun - Baltics, Copenhagen, St Petersburg
Royal Caribbean Brilliance - Mediterranean, Spain Italy
Celebrity Millenium - Alaska
Royal Caribbean - Voyager of the Seas, Western Carib.
Royal Caribbean Nordic Prince - Bermuda
adventurenerd -If you are interested in visiting 'fairy tale' castles my advice would be skip the river cruise and do a land cruise. It sounds like you are interested in Mad King Ludwig's castles which aren't real close to any rivers.
Do some day trips from Munich to see Ludwig's Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee castles. There are tour companies that specialize in castle tours so do some research.
If you are going to do the river cruise make sure you add some pre or post cruise days in order to satisfy your castlemania. Have fun planning and enjoy your fantasy trip!