European River Cruising with Families

By Aaron Saunders

There’s no point in being coy about it, so we’re just going to say it: river cruises and families do mix. In fact, a river cruise can be an excellent getaway for families with grown children, teenagers, or even younger kids – but there are a few things you’ll want to consider before you book the gang on a river cruise down the Danube.

--- Some Lines Are More Family-Friendly Than Others
For extended families with grown children or late teens, this is less of a consideration, as you can pretty well book any river cruise line, destination and ship you’d like. But for families with younger teenagers or kids, you’ll definitely want to actively seek out cruise lines that offer dedicated, family-friendly sailings.

AmaWaterways, Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection all feature special family-friendly cruises, typically during July and August when school is out, but also again in December when Europe’s festive Holiday season is in full-swing. These can feature special programs, activities, shore excursions, entertainment and even menu offerings tailored towards young cruisers. Highly recommended for families.

AmaWaterways is a natural fit for families. Their ships are sleek and well-designed, and they offer a very well-rounded river cruise program that is accessible to everyone.

Despite being an all-inclusive luxury line known for its exceptional private experiences, great cuisine and stellar service, Tauck embraces families through their extensive Tauck Bridges program which extends beyond their river cruises to their land tour programs as well.  The same goes for Uniworld, which could typically be thought of as a very high-end luxury product that might not be the first thing people think of when they picture family-friendly river cruising.

For those who want more departure date flexibility, two of the most family-friendly river cruise lines are A-ROSA and Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope. A-ROSA will accept children (accompanied by an adult, of course) who are at least two years of age on any river cruise itinerary. The company also has staterooms that feature third-berth capacity. Best of all, the company offers the ability for kids to sail for free provided they don’t need an additional bed.

Perhaps it’s because the line is still a family-run company at heart, but CroisiEurope is downright generous to families, accepting kids of all ages and even offering up to a 20 percent discount on kid’s fares if they’re between the ages of two and 10. Kids under two years of age sail for free.

Some lines, however, actively discourage bringing kids onboard – and the one with what is arguably the greatest brand recognition is one of them. While Viking River Cruises will accept kids who are 12 years of age and older, the line reserves the right to limit the number of guests under the age of 18 on any particular sailing. We’re huge fans of Viking’s river cruise product, but we’d give them a pass if you still have teenage kids. Viking is an experience better enjoyed as an adult.

--- Not All Ships Have Connecting Staterooms
One thing to be aware of when booking a family river cruise is that river cruising features some substantial differences from deep ocean cruise ships. Though not nonexistent, connecting staterooms are very rare; be prepared to get either neighboring staterooms or ones directly across the hall from each other.

Third and fourth berth capacity? Almost non-existent. Again, with a few exceptions, you’ll likely have to book two separate staterooms for a family of four. And that can add up in terms of cost. However, most river cruise lines with special family-friendly sailings will try to work around this by offering very attractive pricing or more value for your money. Both Tauck and Uniworld cater spectacularly to families, and both river cruise lines offer included gratuities and all beverages, including alcohol for adults.

--- Pick A Destination You Can All Enjoy
Whereas family ocean cruising tends to be primarily about the ship, you should pick a destination that the whole family can enjoy seeing. This isn’t so difficult to do, as European river cruise itineraries in particular offer a tremendous cultural immersion experience for kids. But take the time to figure out what you all want: are you excited at the thought of going to France, but so revved up about Germany? Perhaps a cruise along the Seine River is right for you.

--- No Shows? No Problem
You’re going to be so exhausted (wonderfully, of course) after a full day of touring ashore that you’ll have little time to care that river cruises don’t have “manufactured fun” like Broadway shows, waterslides and the like. Between meals, touring and local entertainment in the main lounge – all of which is suitable for people of all ages – chances are good that you’ll want to turn in early to rest up for the next day ahead.

But do bring things that interest you along for the trip. Books, small games like travel Scrabble, or iPads are great to use while you’ve got some down-time, and they can be just the diversion that younger kids or teenagers need. Many river cruise lines that have dedicated family-friendly sailings will also have special onboard activities planned that kids can participate in – not to mention, a ship full of new friends for them to meet.

So if river cruising interests your family, give it a try! There are plenty of river cruise lines that would love to have you.

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