River cruises have often been thought of as vacations best suited for an older generation, particularly those meandering down the rivers of Europe. Slow-moving with walking excursions of quaint European villages and lacking swimming pools and kids’ clubs, why would any family consider a river cruise, right? Wrong!
Uniworld, one of the most luxurious of river cruises, has set out to prove families may also enjoy its boutique ships on special “Generations” family cruises offered throughout the summer and Christmastime holidays. As the name implies, Uniworld is enticing not only grandparents who may already enjoy the notion of river cruising, but also inviting their children and grandchildren to join them, with accommodations and excursions to appeal to all ages. And it works quite well, as evident from our own experience on Uniworld Empress’ cruise along the Rhine River.
The Castles Along the Rhine cruise was filled with families, with the youngest children hovering around 8. Most families aboard were multigenerational, with one extended family of 18 traveling together to celebrate the patriarch’s 85th birthday. It was his daughter, a mother to a 12-year-old, who decided a river cruise would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate with her two sisters, her brothers-in-law, her husband, her grown stepchildren, and a collection of children ranging in age from 12 to 31. Each member of the family could select accommodations within their budget. During meal times, the family united and were seated together, and during the day and evening, family members split to enjoy various onboard activities and on land excursions, from biking along the Rhine to visiting castles ands fortresses to walking tours of Cologne to wine tastings in the valley.
The other surprise? The cruise is all-inclusive. Unlike major cruise liners that charge for any excursions, fine dining or beverages (especially beverages), UniWorld is entirely all-inclusive. Yes, you’ll pay more at the start, but the royal treatment throughout the adventure is worth every penny. Don’t see what you were craving on the menu? Just ask, and the kitchen will prepare it for you. Don’t feel like joining the ship for meal time? Twenty four-hour room service is available. Want to join in an excursion? All included, save for a couple of all-day excursions, for example, a day trip to the Black Forest.
Our experience aboard Uniworld was by far one of the best cruising experiences we have ever enjoyed, as well as one of our favorite vacations. For families who are looking for a new, unique vacation, a Uniworld river cruise aboard the Empress is definitely one that should be considered.
Related: Europe Cruises for Families
When cruising down the river, families have headsets (Quiet Vox) they can listen to that explains the scenery and the multiple castles they are seeing along the Rhine River Valley. Many of the castles are part of the UNESCO heritage.
Various kids’ activities are offered to keep kids entertained, from face painting to ice cream socials to disco nights in the lounge after dinner. Even when docked, the cruise’s kids’ activity leader host surprises like a scavenger hunt around the town of Boppard. Fairytale hour story time coincides with the Castles Along the Rhine tour.
A game room features board games, card games, and video games, as well as a library of books. In-room movies are also available, with categories under Blockbuster, Classics, Drama, Comedy and Travel. On the sundeck, a large chess set is often in play, with chess pieces as large as the smaller children.
Excursions specifically for families include taking an aerial cable car to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress and a tour to Marksburg Castle and Rehinstein Castle in Koblenz. In Cologne, families can visit the famous Cologne Cathedral and visit the Cologne interactive adventure museum. In Rudesheim, a mini train takes kids to Siegfried’s Mechanical Instruments to listen to the self-playing instruments and then ride a cable car to Niederwald monument. In Breisach, Germany, a two-hour family bike tour along the Rhine is an easy, flat ride through a picturesque region.
Suites, which are just larger cabins and not actually full suites, are gorgeous on Uniworld’s Empress. The enormous marble bathroom with glass-encased shower and double porcelain sinks is about the size of the sleeping quarter, which features two twin beds that can be combined to create a queen. A small sitting area with a table and chair and a table filled to the brim with coffees, teas, fruits, and spirits is outfitted with fine crystal and glass so the entire gray and white d?cor sparkles and shines.
There are no private deck rooms on the Empress, but the double sliding doors may be opened to enjoy the views and the warm summer air. Small refrigerators are stocked with sodas and spirits, as well, and guests are welcomed with a bottle of wine. The suites are located on the main level, along with the dining and common areas.
As cabins descend floors, the amenities and prices also descend. Guests will not find a refrigerator and spirits or wine, but the cruise is all-inclusive and all beverages are available all day at no charge. A coffee and tea station is available 24 hours a day, although there may be lines during morning coffee rushes. Bathrooms are smaller as the cabins descend, with only one sink and a smaller shower. A sitting area is not available in these cabins.
A number of rooms can be connected to create family suites, although many families elect to enjoy separate rooms, trusting their children to be on their own. The ship requires an adult shares a room with each child, but we found many families checked in with an adult and a child and then swapped rooms to have kids have their own rooms opposite the parents’ room. (This, again, is not allowed by the cruise line, but may be overlooked by staff if children are well behaved.)
Breakfast and Lunch
Breakfast and lunch offerings are buffet style, with vegetarian and gluten-free offerings available at dinner. Kids can order from the children’s menu or the adult menu, with similar offerings on both, as well as more traditional kids’ items, such as hot dogs and spaghetti. The kids’ menu changes nightly, but the ship will gladly accommodate any kid request, including, as we saw one child receive, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Coffee and pastries are available for early risers, 6 to 7:30 a.m. Breakfast buffets are provided daily in the restaurant from 7:30 to 9 a.m., with a late breakfast available in the lounge from 9 to 10 a.m.
Cocktail hour with onboard entertainment features snacks and kid-friendly mocktails before dinner each night.
Dinner is offered nightly in the restaurant from 7 to 9 p.m., with al fresco dining on the sundeck offering in the Sky Lounge twice per sailing. (Weather permitting.)
Planning & Tips
Currently, the River Empress has two itineraries: Castles Along the Rhine (The Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland) and European Jewels (Austria, Germany, Hungary, and The Netherlands).
All About the Extras
The Empress is an all-inclusive ship.
A small fitness center is located on the first floor with one treadmill, one elliptical, one bicycle, one recumbent bike, and a rowing machine, as well as small space for yoga mats.
Fitness classes may be offered during sailing periods, with the sundeck a popular place for yoga in the morning.
Sixteen bicycles are available to enjoy at your leisure during port stops, with one excursion providing guests the opportunity to ride between two ports of call to meet up with the ship.
A washer and dryer are available for guest use, at no cost. The ship has laundry detergent. Guests of the suite can have their clothes laundered for them, at no additional charge.
Outlets in the rooms are both European and American, including the bathrooms. Guests won’t need to bring adapters on board the ship.
For Mom and Dad
A small spa space is available with an array of massage treatments available.