Although river cruising is primarily an adult activity, it doesn’t mean that kids are totally left out in the cold. A growing number of river cruise lines, including AmaWaterways, Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection actively cater to multigenerational families with special kid-friendly summer sailings and winter voyages timed during school breaks for the Holiday season.
So where can you take your kids river cruising? Here are three of our favorite kid-friendly river cruise destinations.
1. The Romantic Danube: Nuremberg to Budapest
For sheer historical value and overall wonder, you can’t beat the Danube. Sure, it’s not blue like the Johann Strauss classic claims it is, but the Danube offers one great itinerary to experience as a family.
Sailing along the Danube on the classic run from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary (or reverse) is one of the best voyages to take kids on. They’ll enjoy the small, storybook towns like Regensburg and Passau, and the weather here is typically gorgeous in the summer.
For every small town visited, there’s a major European capital of culture as well. Vienna is a good choice for kids of all ages, thanks to its multitude of options; don’t forget to take the kids to the Prater, Vienna’s inner-city amusement park, for a ride on the Weiner Reisenrad, which literally means the “Vienna Giant Wheel,” a Ferris wheel constructed in 1897 that is visible from Vienna’s Ringstrasse.
For teenagers, the Danube run offers a chance to learn about history in a way no text book can replicate. In Nuremberg, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, The Documentation Center Museum, and Courtroom 600 provide a harrowing look at the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, and explain the conditions that led to the Second World War in vivid detail. By the time you reach Budapest, the subject has shifted from the war to the Soviet occupation of Hungary and the Communist era.
If you pick only one river cruise to take your family on, the Danube is tough to beat.
2. The Rhine: Amsterdam to Basel
Cruising between Basel and Amsterdam serves up some of the most visually impressive river cruises out there – and that’s important if you have kids. Depending on their ages, they may get bogged down in a sea of dates and UNESCO descriptions, but they’ll have no issues recalling the windmills at Kinderdijk in the Netherlands, or the numerous castles that line the banks of the Rhine.
Think of a cruise along the Rhine as a journey through Europe’s fairytale past. You’ll visit cities like Cologne, with its imposing Cathedral and walkable streets. You will explore a bit of French culture in Strasbourg, which blends German and French delicacies together in one Medievally themed city.
And of course, there is always Amsterdam – the vibrant Venice of the north. Take the kids and go for a family cycle along the many pathways and bike lanes that tie this city together every bit as much as the canals that run through it. Just be careful to stay in the bike lanes – and watch for pedestrians and trams. Avoid the busy area around Central Station if possible.
What’s more, each and every river cruise line offers sailings along the Rhine, ensuring that family-friendly options will be available. Even if specially designated family sailings aren’t available on a particular ship, this is an itinerary that you and your family can easily enjoy. Much of your time will be spent off of the ship, and though many river cruise companies don’t go out of their way to promote it, families are welcomed on all sailings.
3. Europe’s Christmas Markets
Our final recommendation for the ultimate kid-friendly river cruises might require parents to pull the youngsters out of school before Christmas break – but there’s good reason for that. In doing so, families can experience the romantic, traditional magic of Christmastime in Europe through the vibrant, varied and whimsical Christmas Markets that grace many European cities.
Typically operational between November 25 and December 24 (some even run up until the new year), these markets have been a tradition in Europe, particularly Germany, for hundreds of years. In fact, following the Second World War, a Christmas Market was almost immediately set up in Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt square as the town lay in ruins all around it. That’s how ingrained the Christmas Market tradition is.
For families, travelling to Europe during the Christmas Market season is a double-win. First, you get to experience Europe without the crowds and the searing heat that can beset the region during the summer months. But perhaps more importantly, you get the chance to experience Europe during its most festive and welcoming time – and you get to do so as a family.
Christmas Markets cruises have a funny way of turning into traditions – even the editors of River Cruise Advisor are guilty of planning our respective cruising years around them. Kids will delight in the treats and sweets on offer, as well as the hand-made toys offered at different vendors and stalls. Although kids can’t have the traditional spiced mulled wine known as gluhwein, they can enjoy their own drink created just for them: spiced hot apple cider, or kinderpunsch.
River Cruising: It’s For Families Too
As river cruising grows and matures, more family-friendly options will no doubt be introduced by lines that are increasingly looking to cater to multiple demographics. Make no mistake: These aren’t weeklong Carnival cruises to the Caribbean, but if you and your family are looking for something a little more cerebral, it’s tough to go wrong with a river cruise through Europe.
For more reading, check out: