Family River Cruises vs. Ocean Cruises
Unlike traditional ocean cruise ships that can hold thousands of passengers, river cruise ships hold a maximum of approximately 200 guests. With that small size comes much less onboard amenities. You'll find no water parks or climbing walls; one, maybe two restaurants; and maybe one or two lounges. There may be a small fitness center and spa for adults, and some ships may have a small pool.
The intimate river cruises, however, also lack long lines to get on and off the ship and crowds. More of a tour where the mode of transportation is a ship, river cruise itineraries also provide a more personal and immersive experience with the ships ability to visit small cities and towns. Local experts and guides lead shore excursions that provide an authentic feel. Rates on river cruises are generally all-inclusive, with dining, drinks, gratuities, and even shore excursions included. Airfare is additional.
Here's a look at some of the best European river cruises for families:
Adventures by Disney/AmaWaterways
Adventures by Disney partners with AmaWaterways river cruise line, and will offer 14 departures in 2017: eight on the Danube River and six on the Rhine River. Countries to be visited include Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
Adventures by Disney excursion highlights include an Oktoberfest celebration with costumed local entertainers, bike ride through Austria's Wachau Valley vineyards, marionette performance and strudel making demonstration in Vienna, clog painting and a cheese making demonstration in Holland, and zip-lining through the Black Forest in Strasbourg, France. The holiday sailing features visits to Christmas markets and a Vienna Boys Choir performance.
Eight Disney Adventure Guides are on each sailing serving as hosts in each destination and onboard the ship. The guides are in addition to AmaWaterways' crew and Cruise Manager. Onboard the ship, guest spaces are repurposed during the family sailings to provide for specially designed activities geared towards children, teens, and adults. Adjoining staterooms and suites are available and can sleep three to four guests. The ships also have swimming pools.
Recommended Age: 8 and up
Rates: Rates start at $4,719 for adults and $4,489 for children.
Related: Destination Guide to a Danube River Cruise
Though A-ROSA does not offer family programming or dedicated multigenerational departures on its European itineraries, the river cruise company does offer a number of family-friendly features. Especially appealing is that each child ages 2 to 15 sails for free with an adult. A-ROSA's ships have triples and adjoining staterooms to cater to the family market. Their newest ship, A-ROSA Flora, has two family suites that accommodate four passengers. Almost all of A-ROSA's ships also have swimming pools. Marilyn Conroy, executive vice president of David Morris International, the U.S. sales agent for A-ROSA, estimates that between 8 to 10 percent of passengers are under 18, though she adds that this number varies by departure with more in the summer. Cruise passengers come from across the globe, instilling a true international feel to the river cruise experience.
Destinations include cruises along the Rhine, Maine, Moselle, Danube, Rhine and Saine Rivers, visiting Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Switzerland.
Recommended Age: Age 2 is the minimum age on A-Rosa, but children age 6 and older will most enjoy the experience.
Rates: A-ROSA's "value-driven pricing" averages $2,000 per person for a seven-night river cruise, with one child sailing free for each adult.
Tauck Bridges/Tauck River Cruising
For 2017, Tauck Bridges (the family brand of Tauck)/Tauck River Cruising has 20 family river cruising departures on four itineraries that include the Seine from Paris to Normandy; the Rhine from Paris to Lyon; the Danube from Budapest to Regensburg through Slovakia, Austria, and Germany; and the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam through Germany. Family-friendly fun includes a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, Bratislava Devin Castle Jousting in Slovakia, French cooking class in Valence, and a private dinner and tour of Reichenstein Castle on the Rhine.
Tauck has four director level staff on each departure in addition to the local guides. Though there are no connecting rooms onboard, Tauck does offer family-friendly configurations with some suites that can accommodate three or four with a pullout couch. It also waives its single supplement, ideal for grandma or an aunt traveling with a family.
Recommended Age: The recommend age is 8 and up for enjoyment, but the minimum age is 4 on the Tauck Bridges river cruise departures.
Rates: Prices start at $3,490 for 12 and under and $3,990 for adults. New for 2017 is the offer that all children 12 and under receive a $500 savings when traveling on a family river cruise.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Uniworld is featuring 18 multigenerational Generations departures on nine itineraries for 2017. Rivers include the Rhine, Danube, Main, Seine, Po and Venice Lagoon. Countries that are visited are Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. A December Christmas markets cruise in Germany is also available. Family shore excursion highlights include Frankfurt's paleontological museum, a tour of Vienna's Spanish Riding School, glass-blowing and mask-making workshop in Italy, hot air balloon rides over Paris, and visiting Marksburg Castle and its armor collection in Braubach, Germany.
The Generations departures also include kid-friendly menus and nightly Young Travelers Table (though kids can also eat with their parents if they chose), onboard Family Hosts, special ship tours with the Captain or hotel manager, use of bicycles, onboard language and dessert making lessons, and a Young Travelers' Lounge & Game Room. Each night with turndown, children receive a special gift reflective of the destination.
Recommended Age: Kids should be at least 4 years old to get the full multigenerational experience that Uniworld offers.
Rates: Third person berths are available on select ships. Per person rates start at $2,849; early booking discounts available. Families get a 50 percent savings off the cruise-only fare for guests ages 4 to 18 when traveling with an adult.
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