One of the most frequently-asked questions that readers are emailing into us here at River Cruise Advisor is: Can I take my kids on a river cruise? We’re not talking teenagers or grown adult children here, but kids – specifically, kids under 12 years of age.
In its historical origins, river cruises were never really intended for kids, families or the like. They were targeted (and priced) at a certain segment of the population, typically retired couples with a bit of cash to burn who were tired of the typical bus-around-Europe land vacation.
What’s truly fascinating is that it turns out families are tired of motorcoach and do-it-yourself tours of Europe as well, and also want to get in on the river cruise craze, especially during the holiday months.
For those who are seriously considering taking their kids on a European river cruise, there are some important things you’re going to want to take into account. To start, we’d recommend only taking a family-friendly river cruise departure. Not only will there likely be other families onboard, but there will be more for your kids to do, with special activities onboard and ashore.
Lines like AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, and Tauck are among the most family-friendly river cruise lines out there. AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney to roll out a series of family-friendly river cruises through Europe that began earlier this year and will continue in the summer and fall of 2018.
AmaWaterways has also committed physically to having family-friendly river cruises in the future. The line has designed its new AmaKristina and AmaViola river cruise ships to feature family-friendly accommodations that include connecting staterooms; still a rarity among European-based river cruise ships.
On an AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney family-friendly sailing, kids (and adults) can participate in fun activities like:
- Ride a toboggan, hike along a waterfall or zipline through the Black Forest.
- Visit the famous storybook Heidelberg Castle.
- Enjoy tubing, snow biking, curling and more at Germany’s first indoor ski hall.
- Explore the Alsace Region of France by canoe or on horseback.
- Get hands-on during clog painting and a cheese making demonstration in Holland.
- Bike along the Rhine River, within the German wine countryside, through towns and beyond.
- Savor unique local dining, including Swiss fondue, a French macaron cooking class, German chocolate tasting.
Both Uniworld and Tauck also have numerous family-friendly river cruise sailings offered during the summer months, when kids are historically off school; and during December, in the run-up to Christmas and New Year’s. Both lines have also designed their programs onboard and ashore to cater specifically to families, but without diluting the onboard experience for adults.
So where do the other river cruise lines stand? Most will accept children of a certain age group (see our table below), but taking kids aboard a standard, non-family river cruise may not be such a good idea. For one, there will be little to no activities designed for kids, who may find themselves bored with decidedly adult activities like lectures, walking tours, and evening entertainment that consists largely of a piano player and adults having cocktails.
The other important consideration before booking your kids on an adult river cruise is that many of your fellow guests have chosen that vacation specifically because it offers an adult experience. That doesn’t mean they don’t like kids; many guests will have children and grandchildren of their own. But it does mean that the reception you may find onboard from your fellow guests could be, well, chilly if you’re not booked on a specially-designated Family Friendly cruise.
So what policies do the major river cruise lines have regarding children? Here’s our full list:
Minimum Age Requirements For European River Cruise Lines
|LINE||Kid-friendly sailings?||Special Onboard Programs for Kids on Select Sailings?||Minimum Age Requirement|
|AmaWaterways||Yes; partnership with Adventures by Disney||Yes||4 Years|
|Avalon Waterways||No||No||8 Years|
|CroisiEurope||Yes; kids accepted on all sailings. Plus, triple cabins||No||None|
|Emerald Waterways||No||No||12 Years|
|Grand Circle||No||No||13 Years|
|Tauck||Yes; Tauck Bridges||Yes||3 Years|
|Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection||Yes; Family Adventures||Yes||4 Years; 8 Years Recommended|
|Vantage||Yes; Family Journeys (beginning in 2017)||Yes||8 Years|
|Viking River Cruises||No||No||12 Years; line reserves the right to limit number of guests under age 18.|
As river cruising grows in popularity, it’s reasonable to expect that other lines will eventually follow suit in offering family-friendly river cruise departures at certain times of the year. Until then, specially-designated sailings aboard the ships of AmaWaterways, Tauck and Uniworld are your best bet.