No longer only targeted at mature travellers, river cruising has opened up to the multigenerational market with family-friendly sailings.

At one time, you would never hear the words ‘families’ and ‘river cruising’ in the same sentence. However, all that’s changed thanks to a raft of child-friendly sailings designed to float everyone’s boat. From exploring fairy-tale castles on the Rhine or exciting treasure hunts in the Louvre Museum in Paris to apple strudel-making classes in Vienna or meeting French ‘cowboys’ in the Camargue, river cruise lines now offer sailings to appeal to youngsters, parents and grandparents alike.

As river vessels are small, multigenerational groups get to spend much more time together than they might on a large ocean ship where the kids are packed off to clubs while adults do their own thing. Agents should also point out that river cruises are far less tiring than land tours – which involve different hotels and constantly having to pack and unpack.

Plus, river cruises offer transparent fixed pricing, often with extras such as drinks and tips included.

Budget-friendly fares

Tauck pioneered family river cruises in 2010 with the introduction of its Tauck Bridges Danube itinerary, which has since being extended to the Rhine, Rhone and Seine, with a second family itinerary set to be introduced on the Danube for 2019.

Corporate communications manager Tom Armstrong said: “In creating our Bridges river cruises we didn’t simply set aside departures of existing Tauck itineraries for families – we designed each of our Bridges cruises from the ground up specifically for family groups.

“Our cruises offer the convenience and indulgence of true all-inclusive prices, so families aren’t dealing with the stress of mounting expenses when they should be enjoying their holiday. Our prices include air fares, gratuities, shore excursions, unlimited on-board drinks, transfers, luggage handling and much more.

“Parents or grandparents really appreciate the opportunity to explore multiple destinations with the convenience of not having to repack children’s belongings every couple of days. Also, the intimate size of our riverboats, compared to large ocean-going cruise ships, encourages families to spend time together.”

Fellow luxury line Uniworld offers all-inclusive Generations Programmes in Europe. These cruises include dedicated family hosts, hands-on craft sessions geared to the destinations visited, on-board cookery classes and a VIP ship tour with the captain.

Value-for-money operator CroisiEurope has Family Club sailings in Portugal, Spain and Italy, the latter offering the chance to sail along the lesser-known River Po and explore Venice. All itineraries feature children’s entertainment, adapted menus and free or discounted child fares.

A-Rosa, river cruise, river cruising,
A-Rosa offers free cruises for children under 15.

Family-friendly ships

A-Rosa is the only line to offer free cruises for children under 15 on all departures on every itinerary, with one child sailing free for every full-paying adult. There are also flexible dining times, so families can eat whenever the restaurant is open rather than at the fixed time that is the norm on many ships. Vessels have interconnecting cabins, and bicycles to take out on shore, and some have pools.

As Lucia Rowe, head of A-Rosa UK and Ireland, notes: “Our free kids’ policy was introduced in 2014 and we really began to push it in the UK in 2016. Back then we aimed to carry 1,000 children, and in fact we took 1,600, and in 2017 we carried 2,000 children on our ships. We expect this to continue to grow as we focus more and more on this segment of the market.

“A holiday on the river is not necessarily what many agents or customers think of for family vacations. Cruise operators and agents need to work together to change perceptions and prove this type of holiday actually lends itself perfectly to all generations travelling together.

“We have created a concept with a family-friendly atmosphere where children are genuinely welcomed on all sailings. They are invited to get involved in the day-to-day programmes and become part of the ship’s ‘family’, be it visiting the captain and officers on the bridge, or running their own little shows on the sundeck. The relaxed atmosphere on board and the informal dining options are perfect for accommodating all ages.”

Another line with dedicated family accommodation is AmaWaterways, with 12 cabins on AmaViola and AmaStella that sleep three, plus six sets of adjoining cabins accommodating up to five and four suites for families of up to four.

Regular river cruises

Away from designated family itineraries, many lines accommodate children on their regular sailings. Each has age restrictions, with the lowest being Crystal River Cruises, where parents can take babies over the age of six months. In general, these sailings are best sold to clients with older children and teenagers interested in history and culture, as there will be no facilities or activities specifically aimed at youngsters.

For adventurous families who are not averse to long-haul travel, small-ship Asia specialist Pandaw offers special promotions on selected cruises in Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia during school holidays. Two adults pay full price for the first cabin and one or two children aged between five and 18 travel for free in the second.

Closer to home, another option is barge cruising; the majority of hotel boats operated by European Waterways offer full-charter cruises sleeping six to 12, with a crew to take care of all the work.

Whatever line or itinerary you recommend, it seems that river cruising is now very much a family affair.

Sales tips:

  • Quality time spent together as a family
  • Different destinations each day, with no ‘boring’ sea days
  • Short-haul flights and flexible travel options, including Eurostar
  • High level of inclusions – such as all meals – making it easy to budget
  • The convenience of only having to unpack once