When many think of river cruises meandering through picturesque villages of Europe, they think it’s too slow paced and meant for an older crowd. However, as families look to experience destinations further afield and off-the-beaten path, interest is growing in river cruising in Europe. To capitalize on this interest, two river cruise companies in Europe launched family specific sailings in 2016: Uniworld, with its Multigenerational program, and AmaWaterways, which launched a partnership with Adventures by Disney. We took a trip on both lines and compared the two programs across several categories.
Best Excursions for Kids: AmaWaterways
When it comes to kids’ fun, it’s no contest: Adventures by Disney caters to kids and comes out on top. They have an entire Disney team sailing with the Ama ships to lead kids’ activities and excursions, which are friendly for kids ages 6 and up. When Adventures by Disney plans excursions, they provide options and tailor programs for children. For example, a tour of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna includes a 10-room guided tour of the palace that may bore children, but Junior Adventurers (as they are called) are brought to the palace’s labyrinth and gardens to play. Then parents and children reunite to enjoy a 30-minute strudel-making demonstration with a slice of strudel and a mug of hot chocolate, followed by a 30-minute marionette performance and backstage look at how marionettes work.
Best Bang for the Buck: AmaWaterways
Uniworld is top of the line when it comes to river cruising, which means it comes with the biggest price tag. Adventures by Disney is no budget vacation either, but what is included with its costs give families a bigger bang for their buck. The trips are fully immersive programs and unless families elect to skip excursions, kids will have more opportunities to truly visit more places, interact with locals and receive more surprises with Disney. In fact, treats and gifts are at every turn as a part of the magic of Disney.
Best Service: Uniworld
As one of the most expensive river cruise lines, you better believe the service aboard Uniworld is top-notch. While both Uniworld and AmaWaterways crews get to know each guest, Uniworld goes above and beyond in service. Anything you want, just ask. Room service? Check. A dish not on the menu? Check. We never heard the word “no” spoken by a crew member on Uniworld, whereas when we asked for breakfast in our room aboard AmaWaterways, they asked, “Are you ill?” Also, because the cruise is run by Adventures by Disney, there is a slight disconnect from the AmaWaterways team, and families become closer to the Adventures by Disney team instead.
Best Dining: Uniworld
AmaWaterways may have two restaurant options, one of which is a special chef selection service, but we found Uniworld offered a consistently fantastic menu, whereas AmaWaterways had a hit-or-miss selection and less options. If you were in the mood for a certain dish not on the menu, all you had to do was ask aboard Uniworld and they would do as much as they could to accommodate requests. The restaurant manager even noted a picky eater and asked for suggestions on what they would like to eat so they could get the ingredients and prepare certain dishes. Seconds were never frowned upon either, as they sometimes were on Ama.
Best Cabins for Families: Uniworld
When it comes to selection, as well as size, the Uniworld offerings were tops. Yes, there are smaller rooms with porthole windows, but there were more connecting room options and larger suites available aboard Uniworld. The suites, which connected, even had bathrooms nearly as large as the rooms with double sinks and plenty of space for multiple people to share at the same time. Ama’s cabin bathrooms were tight and built for one at a time. Connecting rooms were fewer, as well, with families finding themselves with convertible chair cots – good for kids, but if you can splurge on the connecting rooms and the space, go with Uniworld. Uniworld also provided more storage space and drawers. Note: AmaWaterways rooms have more balconies, but they only fit two and the ships are often connected to other ships at ports so you can touch the balcony of the neighboring ship and don’t see the daylight. No need for balconies when you can enjoy the sundeck.
Best Sundeck: AmaWaterways
That leads us to add that although balconies seem to be wasted on Ama ships, they do have the better sundeck. Uniworld offers covered lounge chairs and a seated area, but Ama offers these plus a comfortable cushioned and rattan seating lounge, as well. The big hit for families is its swimming pool, which is heated and jetted and comes attached to a bar for refreshments. A walking/running track has also been provided on Ama’s sundeck. We liked that Ama requested guests do not run before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. so guests below could sleep. Uniworld’s desire to give guests all they desire meant some had to endure children running on the deck after midnight.
Best Kids’ Team: AmaWaterways
It’s hard to beat Disney when it comes to kids’ programs and Adventure Guides. On an Adventures by Disney cruise, multiple guides, many of them from the countries the cruise is visiting, are available and become friends to the kids, with special onboard activities provided specifically at dinner each night so kids can play together and parents and grandparents can have some adult time. Ama has two kids’ leaders and more limited programs at night.
Related: 10 Best Cruise Ships for Teens
Best Wi-Fi: AmaWaterways
Ama’s ships sailing the Adventure’s by Disney program are brand-new: launched in 2016. They have the best state-of-the-art Wi-Fi service that works even between villages while on the river. Uniworld’s Wi-Fi taps out frequently.
To see what’s included in rates on both lines, as well as other popular river cruise lines for families, see Family River Cruises.