Family Travel and River Cruising

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 17 February 2017

In keeping with the ongoing and tremendous growth in the cruise industry, the demand for river cruises also continues to be on the rise. Popular among travelers to whom large, ocean-going cruise ships are not appealing, river cruising traditionally promises smoother water, slower speeds and, especially in recent years, improved accommodation, food, on-board entertainment and cultural activities and excursions.

Family travel and river cruising on the Danube River in Europe

River cruising allows you to see the heart of Europe with your family. Photo courtesy of Adventures by Disney

The rising appeal of river cruising certainly holds true for family and multigenerational groups, too, who see in it all the advantages of all-inclusive resorts matched with the liberating feeling of travel to multiple destinations. More and more river cruise lines are therefore offering special family-focused sailings and ships designed to meet the needs of vacationers of all ages and interests.

Comfortable, Uncomplicated and Cultural

The ease and comforts of family travel and river cruising are hard to deny.

One big bonus is that you only have to unpack once while on vacation. Then, “By way of your luxurious and intimate ‘floating hotel,’ you wake up each morning to a new village, new sites and, sometimes, even a new country,” says Patrick Clark, Chairman of Avalon Waterways, a river cruise operator that belongs to the Globus family of brands.

This kind of effortless and uncomplicated passage is a big draw to multigenerational groups, who also focus on departures “conveniently scheduled during summer and winter school breaks, and include child-friendly menus for all meals,” points out Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, which schedules special multigenerational family cruises.

Amanda Adler, Public Relations Manager of Adventures by Disney, a Disney subsidiary that provides group guided family vacations, including river cruises, also sees beauty in how “River cruise departures take guests off the beaten path in search of the culture, art and unique stories intrinsic to each city and town visited.”

But Pay Attention to What Matters

Of course, care must be taken in making the choices. Despite the well-deserve hoopla about river cruising, “Not all river cruises are created equal,” advises Patricia Monahan, Founder & Chief World Officer of Our Whole Village, an operator of handpicked, local and authentic activities and adventures for the whole family.

Different river cruise lines have specific policies and accommodations for children, all of which are “critical to know when planning a family cruise,” emphasizes Heidi M. Allison, President of CruiseCompete, a free and anonymous service that helps cruisers find the best values for their cruise vacation.

It is a sentiment supported by Julia O’Brien, Senior Brand Manager of Tauck Bridges, which specializes in family travel vacations. She reminds that “families [should] do their homework as some river cruising companies simply designate specific sailings of an existing itinerary as ‘family-friendly,’” which can mean that the itinerary is no different from regular departures and that there are no special programming and activities added for families.

Interior shot of Adventures by Disney’s Amaviola river boat

River cruise ship interiors, like this one of Adventures by Disney’s Amaviola, are comfortable, and more and more are adapted to family travel. Photo courtesy of Adventures by Daddy

Still, It’s Great Fun

And yet, once the research and review are past, and the decisions made, there’s nothing but smooth sailing ahead for the entire clan.

“It is not always easy to plan a trip that is rewarding for the entire family,” observes Monahan of Our Whole Village. “River cruises are the perfect solution to finding a balance between children-focused activities and fun stuff for the adults. They are also a great value for the money, providing the convenience of an ‘all-inclusive’ vacation with the opportunity for authentic connections and real cultural immersion.”

Perhaps that’s why, according to the 2017 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), CLIA cruise line members currently have 184 river cruise ships in operation, with 13 new ships on order for 2017, an increase of about 7 percent.

In Their Own Words

To develop a well-balanced understanding of the buoying bliss of family travel and river cruising, I reached out to a collection of experts with strong cruise experiences.

Six of those experts replied. They have all been introduced above, but what follows below is more of what they had to say about why river cruising can be such a superb family bonding experience. They also shared some key considerations when planning a boat float down one of the earth’s great rivers.



You Do Amazing Things in Great Places

“Each day, in each new location, travelers (families – especially multi-generational travelers) have an opportunity to learn something new.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

“[There’s] the opportunity for daily shore excursions, the chance to experience the historic cities and quaint towns that have grown up along Europe’s rivers.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

“In remote rural areas, such as the Amazon or Southeast Asia, river cruises allow you to cover more territory, enabling families to truly experience the local environment and culture. In urban areas, river cruises offer a different perspective and a unique glimpse into history and how civilizations evolved.”
— Patricia Monahan of Our Whole Village

River cruise ship in the Brazilian Amazon

A family cruise in the Brazilian Amazon is a life-changing experiences, especially for kids. Photo courtesy of Our Whole Village

You’re Together with Great People

“Special family-focused departures are made up of mostly the same demographic in terms of age of adults and kids. This allows for adults and children to make new friends with a similar set of interests.”
— Ellen Bettridge of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“[River cruises are] great for family reunions.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

It’s Not Just About the Boat

“River cruising allows you to see the heart of Europe with your family in a way that’s active, immersive and easy. From revisiting scenes from the movie ‘The Sound of Music’ in Salzburg and exploring Devin Castle in Bratislava to taking a traditional Austrian folk dancing lesson in Melk, the opportunities for exploration are seemingly endless.”
— Amanda Adler of Adventures by Disney

“On our Seine River itineraries, for instance, travelers spend time on the Landing Beaches, explore bullet-torn bunkers, walk through hills filled with bomb holes and learn about the sacrifices Allied soldiers made to free Europe from Hitler’s reign. On this same itinerary, families can also spend time in Auvers-sur-Oise — and step into Van Gogh’s room, where he died. They also explore Monet’s home and gardens made famous by his Water Lily paintings.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

“We offer 4- to 8-day itineraries in the Brazilian Amazon. The spontaneity and cultural immersion these cruises provide are unparalleled. It’s one of those life-changing experiences, where families get to experience the vastitude and richness of the forest, interact with the river communities and learn about conservation projects in the area. The transformation we witness on the families is incredible.”
— Patricia Monahan of Our Whole Village

“Tauck Bridges river cruises have shore excursions, onboard activities, entertainment, meals and more crafted specifically with families in mind.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

“Uniworld is a family-owned company that encourages family experiences and wants to aid in providing exceptional travel memories for adults and children alike. There are activities for everyone to enjoy with Uniworld’s multigenerational itineraries. These departures are designed with activities for families to enjoy together including hiking, biking, cooking demonstrations, language lessons and more.”
— Ellen Bettridge of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

It’s Easy!

“Really the same elements that make river cruising attractive to travelers in general make river cruising great for families… For parents or grandparents who would otherwise have to help children pack their luggage ever other day or so, being able to unpack just once is a true convenience.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

River cruise passengers on a shore excursion bike ride

Many river cruise ships offer bikes that can be checked out for organized shore excursions like this one in Vienne, France. Photo courtesy of Tauck Bridges

“Avalon Waterways is focused more on multigenerational travel than travel for families with young children. Nearly 40 percent of retirees have taken children and/or grandchildren on a trip in the last year. River cruisers are perfect for these trips. They offer travelers – young and old – the opportunity to experience the world in an easy, stress-free way.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

“For parents or grandparents hosting their families on vacation, there is incredible comfort in knowing that virtually everything is paid for in advance in one clear, up-front price. Like all Tauck cruises, our Bridges river cruises are fully-inclusive with all shore excursions, gratuities, airport transfers, onboard beverages of all types and much, much more built into the price.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges



It is very important to ponder things like the price, onboard facilities and amenities for families and children, activities, excursions and cultural immersion opportunities, especially those for children.

Read the Fine Print

“As noted in our annual Family-Friendly Cruise Travel Planner (see link below), river cruises are primarily designed for adult travelers. On most river cruise lines, children are allowed, sometimes at specific ages, but there are not that many child-specific programs or babysitting offerings.”
— Heidi M. Allison of CruiseCompete

“The inclination when booking a river cruise is to focus on the ship. And while that’s certainly important, what truly differentiates river cruises is how well each company connects the guests to the destination and how in depth that connection is.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

It’s Not How Much You Pay, It’s What You Get

“It’s important to understand in advance what the price includes and if you’ll be paying extra for things like port charges, excursions, on-board beverages etc.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

“While many river cruise operators look like they offer similar itineraries and/or excursions, it’s important to know what’s included in the overall price. Some are considered ‘all-inclusive,’ which works well for some families, while others offer a more ‘al a carte’ menu of choices in the price. The latter option often works the best for families who may want to venture off and way from the group to do things on their own.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

Location, Location, Location

“It’s important to look for an itinerary that entices you and your family.”
— Ellen Bettridge of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

River boat on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar

The Avalon Myanmar cruises the water’s of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. Photo courtesy of Avalon Waterways

“For families looking for an off-the-beaten-path getaway, our 36-passenger Suite Ship (the Avalon Myanmar) on our Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irrawaddy is a great choice. Every day, families wake up in a new village. They have the opportunity to deliver alms to monks at sunrise, to spend time with local children in a one-room school house, to meet monks and nuns and learn about their ways of life, spend time on a Sampan at the U Bein Bridge at sunset and even take an oxcart ride to a pagoda, in addition to more traditional sightseeing.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

How Much Time Is Spent Off the Boat?

“Our river cruises also offer maximum port time in each city, arriving at dawn and departing late night. That means more time for travelers to discover the destination through guided activities and individual exploration for a completely tailored and customizable vacation experience.”
— Amanda Adler of Adventures by Disney

“Avalon also offers bikes on our ships that can be checked out daily, as well as organized biking excursions.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

“Compared to ocean cruising, there is less time spent on the ship and more time devoted to exploring the destination. Because Europe is so incredibly rich in history and culture, families should focus on companies with extensive experience designing, creating and leading trips that combine culturally enriching excursions, expert guides, and insider access to allow guests to see and experience things they couldn’t find on their own.
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

Are Their Special Services for Families/Kids?

“First and foremost, check the actual itinerary. That alone might be a good indicator of how family-friendly the cruise is. You also want to make sure the onboard activities and facilities and fun and suitable for your family.”
— Patricia Monahan of Our Whole Village

“Eight Adventures by Disney Adventure Guides on each sailing add to the already renowned crew of AmaWaterways, creating an unprecedented level of support for guests.”
— Amanda Adler of Adventures by Disney

“We are so very excited to bring the beauty of river cruising to the family market through special sailings with Adventures by Disney. River cruising presents a terrific opportunity for immersion into the sights, history and culture of the world’s most magical destinations.”
— Kristin Karst, Co-owner and Executive Vice President, AmaWaterways

Boy on a shore excursion in Venice

Shore excursions to important cities and major cultural centers (like Venice, above) are a big part of river cruising trips. Photo courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“Uniworld offers ‘dedicated family hosts’ onboard each multigen itinerary/departure. These hosts supervise and coordinate onboard activities (such as pastry and cooking demos, arts and crafts), they accompany children on shore excursions, and they even join in during meals at the designated generations’ table and elaborate on the region’s cuisine. Overall, they are responsible for bringing the destination to life for the families, by being the liaison coordinating both the shore and the onboard program complete with social time to meet peers amongst the fellow cruisers and young peers from the host country.”
— Ellen Bettridge of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“A company like Tauck has 90 years experience leading guided travel and 12 years crafting multigenerational family tours, so guests can rest assured they will experience a fun, culturally enriching adventure that the entire family will enjoy.”
— Julia O’Brien of Tauck Bridges

Think About Boat/Room Size and Design

“The size of the ship will often determine the level of meaningful interactions and cultural immersion. Always look for reputable operators, but favor the smaller vessels.”
— Patricia Monahan of Our Whole Village

“It’s also important to look at room size and layout. Avalon Waterways, for instance, offers travelers larger-than-average rooms on ships.”
— Patrick Clark of Avalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

“We worked with AmaWaterways to create a river cruise ship that is custom built with families in mind. New family-friendly design elements include specific room configurations, such as six sets of connecting staterooms, as well as some rooms and suites that accommodate three- and four-person families, and other unique details that lend themselves to luxury family vacations. Shipboard spaces are being reimagined to provide for specially designed activities geared towards kids, teens and adults. The small size of the river cruising vessel allows for an intimate and deeply immersive cruising experience, ensuring guests’ needs are not only met but exceeded.”
— Amanda Adler of Adventures by Disney

“Adventures by Disney is always looking for new ways to deliver extraordinary vacation experiences that are both memorable and effortless for our guests. Recognizing the untapped potential and broadening appeal of the river cruising market, we worked with AmaWaterways to provide families with an immersive, personalized experience unlike anything we’ve presented before.”
— Ken Potrock, Senior Vice President, Adventures by Disney

Read More!

Adventures by DisneyAdventures by Disney

* River Cruising with Disney

Visit here for more about Adventures by Disney.


Globus Family of BrandsAvalon Waterways (Globus family of brands)

* Avalon Waterways
* Cruise FAQs

Visit here for more about the Globus family of brands.



* 2017 Family-Friendly Cruise Travel Planner
* River Cruises

Visit here for more from CruiseCompete.


Our Whole VillageOur Whole Village

* River Cruise Trips in Brazil
* Amazon Cruise, Brazil (video)

Visit here for more about Our Whole Village.


Tauck BridgesTauck Bridges

* Tauck Bridges Kids’ Brochure (pages 52-57)
* Tauck Bridges Family River Cruising (brochure)

Visit here for more about Tauck Bridges.


UniworldUniworld Boutique River Cruises

* 2017 Generations Family Cruises in Europe (website)
* 2017 Generations All-Inclusive Family River Cruise Collection (brochure)

Visit here for more from Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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children, Europe, family travel, whl.travel,

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