This week on Avid Travel With Britton Frost we are covering one of the river cruising topics I am most passionate about – family travel.
We have talked about family travel and cruising with families in multiple podcasts, but family travel has never been the focus of an entire podcast. In this episode, we will look at which cruise lines are the most family friendly – not only in their itineraries and cruise offerings, but also in their accommodations.
Read a transcript of the podcast:
Hi everyone and welcome to Avid Travel with Britton Frost. I, of course, am your host, Britton Frost. And today we are going to be talking about one of the topics that I’m most passionate about when it comes to cruising, which is family travel. I talked about this on our sister sites, our ocean cruise site last week about, you know, cruising with children and you know, my experience cruising when I was younger and it got me thinking because I know that we’ve talked about family travel in this podcast a lot, but we haven’t really had a designated podcast about family travel. So we’re to kind of be bringing together all of the information that we’ve learned so far about family travel and then also look at some of the resources that we have over on River Cruise Advisor to kind of give a comprehensive overview of which ships and which companies are suitable for families.
And then also just what the family river cruise experience is like. Because I think that oftentimes when we think of river cruising, we think of a certain demographic and we’ve definitely seen a shift in that recently. Where kind of prior to the real peak in popularity of river cruising, you were seeing a lot of older people, river cruising and you know, my grandparents started river cruising in the late 90s and early 2000s and they were kind of the demographic then. So you know, people in their sixties and seventies but really, you know, you’re even seeing people in their seventies and eighties and, and now you’re seeing more young people. And when I cruise I see more young people and I see people in their forties and 50s and, and that’s kind of what I mean when I say young people. But I also mean young people as in people my age, people.
I’m 24 people my age and then also children and teenagers. So you’re really seeing more of a mix. And I would say recently, even more so than when I started river cruising at the age of 14, so 14, 15, 16, 17, you know, even in the past five or six years, I have really seen that shift kind of happen right in front of my eyes. So I think that one problem that people have when looking at river cruising is oftentimes, and we’re going to look at accommodations first because I think oftentimes we look at are our children going to be bored as this and that and, and is there going to be activities for that reason, you know are they going to be entertained? And so I think first it’s important to look at accommodations because that I think is the most complex part of planning of a river cruise for a family.
So I mean, before we get into accommodations in general, let’s go ahead and look at which river cruise companies allow children because that’s also part of accommodations, right? So with AmaWaterways, the minimum age requirement is four years old. With Avalon, the minimum age requirement is eight. On CroisiEurope there is no minimum age requirement. They welcome children of all ages. Crystal, six months. So again, kind of almost no age requirement. Emerald Waterways, you have 12 years. Riviera, you also have 12 years. And on Scenic you also have 12 years. Tauck, you have three years. Uniworld, you have four years, but eight years is the recommended minimum. But they will take passengers as young as four. And then with Viking, children are not allowed on board at all. That change was made pretty recently, but no children under the age of 18 are allowed.
So yeah, I mean that kind of helps you narrow down your choice a little bit. At least you can kind of take Viking out of the picture. Now I do know people my age who have done Viking sailings and, and been perfectly fine. So younger adults, but no children on those sailings. So then let’s look at, you know, cabins. So I think oftentimes a big problem with planning these river cruising river cruises and figuring out the logistics is the lodging, is the accommodations are the state rooms. So I know that AmaWaterways features triple occupancy cabins. On these ships you have, the traditional river cruise ships, and then you have the bed that can be separated. So if it’s just a one parent and one child, that’s always a feasible option. And then you do have a bed that folds out of a chair.
So that will only sleep one child of course. So that’s a triple occupancy cabin. But AmaWaterways also has adjoining cabins. So I mean, theoretically if you have a triple cabin that opens up to a double cabin, you could sleep five people in those, in the cabins as long as they adjoin. But I think that more often than not it’s more comfortable for families of four to be an adjoining cabins anyway, just because the state rooms on these ships can be very small. And I will tell you that, you know, when I’ve done sailings with other people, I have found it hard to find places for everything, clothes, suitcases and, and with, you know, when you’re looking at more than three people in a cabin, not only is the physical space tight, but your storage space is tight as well, you know, sorry, your living space and your storage space and bathrooms and things like that.
So that is something to consider. Now, AmaWaterways also has recently introduced the new, the new ship AmaMagna, which is the double wide river ship. And that one does have quad occupancy cabins. So you can have four people. So there’s a bed again that separates and then you have a pullout couch as well. So then you also have triples and quads on CroisiEurope, which is a French based company. Uand as I mentioned previously, there is no age limit for children on board. Uso that is an option as well. And then on some of its ships, Emerald, Scenic, Tauck, and Uniworld have single occupancy state rooms. So if you have three people, you could do a single occupancy cabin with a double occupancy cabin. Ubut that’s kind of gonna be the hardest part I think is finding a cruise that you can comfortably fit three to four people.
Because you know, obviously if you have a group of six or seven or eight or nine or 10, you’re going to have to look at booking multiple state rooms as well. But especially cruise passengers coming over from ocean cruises who are so used to being able to just book triple and quad occupancy cabins with their children and all sharing a state room that is going to be an adjustment. So it’s important to make sure that the cruise line that you’re going on is going to be able to accommodate your family just solely in that way. And then also that your children are meeting the age requirements. So there are multiple factors to take into consideration. Now we’re also going to talk about entertainment on board or maybe not entertainment, entertainment, enrichment and child friendly itineraries and you know, child itineraries that are geared toward children.
So before we talk about that though, I just want to talk about my experience river cruising as a child of 14. So not very young, but you know, young enough to really have a different perspective on it than I do now. And I have also cruised with multiple children. So we’ll talk a little bit about that and then we’ll kind of talk about what options there are for families. I have, I will start off by saying that I have never been on a sailing that was geared toward children. So in a second we’ll talk about Adventures by Disney. We’ll talk about Tauck bridges, we’ll talk about the multiple family sailings and I have never participated in one of those and I had never done one as a child, so I cannot speak from my own personal experience to those. What I am speaking to is a normal river cruise experience, a regular itinerary and the children that were on board and how I felt as a child onboard.
So I just want to give that disclaimer because maybe some of the concerns that I would have for families with children are not as relevant on those sailings. So as I mentioned, I did my first river cruise when I was 14 years old and that cruise was on the Mekong. And I think that that experience was really unique not only to be doing my first river cruise but to be doing my first river cruise in Asia because it really did not give me a feel at all for what the river cruise experience was going to be like. And I mean that in that on the Mekong, I feel like all of the activities are, I mean of course when you do a European River cruise, the, the activities are guided as well and your excursions are guided and you’re doing tours. But I find it easier to opt out of these tours when I’m in Europe because Europe is very easy to navigate.
People speak the same language generally, you know, you can find someone easily who speaks English and you know, there’s a sense of familiarity when you go to Europe where you just don’t have that in Asia. And I think that it, you know, it, when you’re in Vietnam, it’s even crossing the street is a, a task. It’s not easy with all of the bikes and everything. And so, I mean, there really is a little bit of a learning curve when you get there of like how to navigate traffic and you know so I think that, that, that experience was different than a traditional European river cruise experience. And it was a great experience and I loved it and I had, you know, the best time on that trip, but I felt like often we were sticking together as a group. I didn’t have as much of a sense of independence as I do on some of the European river cruises that I’ve been on.
And I definitely feel like it was more, I don’t want to say, you know, a learning experience, but it was definitely more of a, I’m going on every tour, I’m soaking this all in. I’m going to really sit back and pay attention to everything. And it was also weird because there was a lot of war history during those cruises. And so I think that people who were alive during the Vietnam War and maybe even partook in the Vietnam War, that would be a really interesting sailing for them. For me as a child, there were things, atrocities that I hadn’t learned about and there were certain things on the cruise that I didn’t fully understand. So now looking back on it, you know, I would love to have that cruise experience again as an adult, as someone who has learned these things in history classes and, and really kind of have that experience again.
But that being said, it is, is to this day, my favorite river cruise that I’ve ever taken. I loved it. I thought that it was amazing. It was so cool to be so far away from home and to try different foods and eat different fruits. And, you know, there were just so many things that I had never experienced and that I was experiencing for the first time ever and going to these markets and it was wonderful and it was fantastic. And all that I’m saying, I think, and that, you know, maybe there were some concerns about my Mekong is that if I were going to take children to travel for the first time using this mode of travel and kind of introducing them to it, I don’t know that the Mekong would be the place that I would do it. I think that European river cruises, it’s easier to get on and off at your leisure because you know, you have bikes on board and you can go off and do tours as families and, and cycle down the river.
And that just wasn’t something that we could do on, on the Mekong just because it’s not set up that way. And so I do think that the European river cruise experience may be a little bit more suitable for families. Now I will say that I was one of four children on this sailing. One child was older than I was by two years. And then two children were quite a bit younger than me, you know, five and six years younger than me, between the ages of like seven and 10. So there were young kids on the sailing and they really enjoyed it and their parents had taken them out of school for a year and they were traveling together and they had traveled, you know, multiple places. And this cruise just happened to be on their list. And these kids had a great time and they didn’t speak English, they were from the Netherlands.
And you know, they, they really took everything in though. They, they participate in all of the tours and, and really enjoyed the experience and we got to play together and that was fun. And there was the pool on the top deck. So the pool always provides, you know, entertainment for children. And they had a great time. And so I’m not saying don’t consider this as an option for a family cruise because it was amazing, but maybe it’s not going to be the same experience that you might get on a European river cruise. So let’s talk about that now. I had been on multiple, multiple European river cruises of course. And, and most of the time I have seen kids on board maybe not young children. I think I’ve only sailed with children under the age of 10, you know, maybe once or twice.
But I, I often see teenagers and I often see people my age, you know, in their early, early twenties. And when I was on AmaMagna, there were, you know, probably six kids under the age of 10 and probably six between the age of 10 and 20, and then probably 10 who were between the ages of 20 and 30. So there was a really nice mixed crowd of, of young people and it was a great experience and all of the kids. Had a really good time. And, and you could tell, you know, and I think that, that was on the Danube on the Upper Danube, but I think that that’s a wonderful itinerary for families because you have Salzburg, you know, you can do the Sound of Music. And then you have Vienna and it’s so easy to bike everywhere. And you know so many kids are familiar with the history of the war.
And so it’s funny to kind of hear them inquire about that because it’s not something that I would think that they would think about. But I was doing a hiking tour with a kid who was in 10th grade. He was 16 years old and we were in Austria and he was so interested in World War II. That’s what he was learning about in school. And he there were only three of us on the hike, actually, because we’re the only ones who opted to do it. And the rest of the people on the cruise when did another tour and he, he just sat and talked to our tour guide and she was like, is there anything that you want to know? And he just started asking her about the war and you know, how, how this particular region in Austria was involved and, and what kind of, what the mentality of the Austrians were.
And she was very open to talking about it. And so it was really interesting just to see him kind of take this take this initiative to, to learn about this and then also kind of take this interest in what she had to say and really kind of using the tour guide to his advantage to, to help talk about something that he was interested in. And so I, I think that that’s the great thing about river cruising as well, is that you’re going to these places they’re familiar. You know, obviously the, the best part about going on the Upper Danube is that you’re going to so many big cities. You go to Vienna and you go to Budapest and go to Bratislava. And I mean, these tours, the, the walking tours can be long and sometimes a little bit dull if you’re not interested in history, but you’re still moving around.
You’re being active and a lot of cruise lines offer active excursions as well. So hiking and bike rides and things like that. So it would be, you know, it would be really easy to take a child on these, on that cruise and on the Rhine as well. I’ve done a Rhine river cruise with a kid who was about 11, so, you know just all in all, I think that regular itineraries are definitely suitable for children. No matter where you’re going, I honestly, I would recommend a European cruise first for like your first time, but after you’ve done that, I think take your kids on the Mekong, take your kids to Africa. One of my friends just got back from a Tauck Bridges tour with her grandson and they went to Africa and they had the best time and they saw so much wildlife and they just looked like they were having the best time ever.
And I’m sure that they were. And I’m sure that that kid was enjoying it. And you know, oftentimes when you travel as a family and you’re staying in hotels, you’re not, you’re not talking to other people anyway and you’re not meeting other people. So the concern about there being no other kids on the sailing, yes, might be a concern. But also, I mean, just think about it in that way. You know, if you were staying at a hotel, do you know for a fact that there are going to be kids staying there? Do you know that you’re going to run into kids on your tours? No. You, you don’t. And so I think it river cruising might feel a little bit different because you’re dining in the same space and you’re living in the same space and you’re trying to find entertainment options in the same space.
But I do think that for the most part it’s, it’s definitely suitable for children from my experience. So now let’s talk about the products that are geared specifically towards children. So we have AmaWaterways who has a partnership with Adventures by Disney. So these cruises are not operated by Disney cruise line, so it’s not going to be the same experience that you would get on a Disney ocean cruise. But it is operated by Disney. So it’s managed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and the Walt Disney Travel Company. So as I said, you’re not going to get Disney’s characters, you’re not going to get things like that, but you do have Disney trained guides. And then you know, they are going to be the ones taking you through Europe. So half of the guides are going to be American and then half are going to be locals.
And then we also have CroisiEurope who I’ve mentioned who has the Family Club Cruises. And then so children under 18 will cruise for free on those. And it includes a second cabin for a family of four. So two parents, two children who are five years and older or one child in the same cabin. So all those, those children will cruise for free on those sailings. Then you also have Tauck who has the Bridges program that’s designed specifically for kids. And then you also have Uniworld who has the Family Adventures Program. So these, these sailings are going to be geared specifically toward children. And what that means is that you’re going to have guides who are selected to be part of these sailings. And then you’re also, because the sailings are geared toward children, of course you’re going to have more children on board.
As far as the itineraries go, they stay pretty much the same. But yeah, they’re open to families. And so if you’re worried about there not being children on board, then I would suggest that you look at one of these sailings. But then again, you know, if these sailings are not being offered at the time that you’re looking at cruising and you know, you’re having hard time, you really want to do this itinerary but it’s not available on a Bridges tour. I would just suggest doing it because, you know, I, I think the bottom line and when I, when we talk about children, I say this almost every time, the bottom line is that you know, your kids better than anyone else does. If your kids do need to be surrounded by other children at all times and they cannot entertain themselves, then by all means get them on a kid friendly sailing, like get them on one of the itineraries that is geared toward children because then they’re going to have more to do on board and you know, they’re going to have kids to play with.
But if your kid is like pretty self sufficient and can sit and read a book or play on an iPad and you know, hold a conversation and be able to sit out on the Sundeck and enjoy the scenic cruising and, and, you know, be engaged, then by all means, I think a regular sailing is fine. And I’ve seen that with my own eyes that children are fine on the sailings. And I think that, you know, people ask me often because I’m, I’m young when I river cruise by myself and I’m cruising with older passengers, people come up to me and they say, are you bored? How can you not be bored? And it’s just because I’m the type of person who can sit and talk to a group of people or I can sit by myself and read a book and have the best time and it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing.
I’m pretty much consistently entertained, whether it’s by others or I’m entertaining myself. And I think that it just, it takes that kind of mindset. So if your child doesn’t have that type of mindset, then then maybe you should look at other options. But at the bottom line for me is that it always comes down to each individual child, what they’re capable of, what they enjoy doing, and then kind of evaluating from there. And then of course, looking back to what we talked about at the beginning of the podcast, which is the accommodations. So not only, you know, is your child, the type of traveler who can enjoy this mode of travel, but also are you going to be able to be accommodated on the ship that you’re looking at? Are you going to be able to be accommodated in one cabin or two cabins?
Are you going to have to pay extra? And so, you know, there are multiple ways about this and I always encourage you all, you know, if you hear this and maybe it sparked something in, you’re interested in taking a sailing with children or grandchildren to please reach out and email us because Ralph and I are here to help all of you. So my contact information is always in the description of this podcast. If you ever have any questions about the sailings because we are more than happy to help you find a ship that’s going to be able to accommodate you. And, and you know, help you find these sailings that are geared toward children and all of those things. And the last thing that I want to mention is the multi gen travel. So I really think that I haven’t gotten a chance to do this.
And I know that I mentioned it in almost every podcast when we talk about children and multi gen travel is that I think that one of the best cruise opportunities that I would ever be able to have, and I hope that I do some time, is to be able to take my mother and my grandmother on a cruise with me and to really be able to enjoy that experience with them and hang out with them. And you know, if they are there, then I will be entertained and, and they will be entertained. And of course the, the trip is special. And you know, being able to do tours is awesome, but being able to share that with a family member, just even thinking about it is something that’s so special and it’s going to create a memory that will last forever. And so, you know, even that, I think is, is a great option.
And looking at some where that has an adjoining cabin and then, you know, maybe the grandparents can be in a suite or the parents can be in a suite and the grandparents can adjoin with the kids. Or you know, when I was young I would share cabins with maybe the children of other journalists and then they would be in suites. And so, you know, there are multiple ways to do it. And there’s no right or wrong way. And I think that that’s something that should be taken away from river cruising in general, is that there’s no right or wrong way to experience this. And there’s no right or wrong way to try to tailor the experience. You know, it’s, it’s really about what is going to be right for you and what is going to be right for your needs and for your family.
And I think that that’s something that we talked about in last week’s podcast and that we talk about often just in, in terms of river cruising in general. It’s just knowing yourself, knowing your needs and then using whatever tools you can to piece that together and find something that works for you. And it’s the same thing with families, but I personally would highly recommend taking a river cruise with your family because it is, it is so, so, so special. And I know that every child that I’ve ever river cruised with has loved it. And I think that it’s, it’s such a special way of traveling. It’s so easy. You’re not packing and unpacking, you know, you’re staying in the same place and you’re moving around and all the tours are organized for you and it, it just really is an effortless way to travel. It’s a fun way to travel. It’s a unique way to travel, and it is definitely a family friendly way to travel if you do it right. So I guess that’s all for this week, but I hope you all have a great week as always, and I will see you next time.