Once upon a time, river cruising was mostly considered an “adults only” experience. That story is being rewritten, though, as river cruise lines continue to expand on their family itineraries, add kids-sail-free discounts, and up the ‘cool’ factor on ships. On European river cruises for families these days, expect to find kids’ clubs, swimming pools, family cabins, and shore excursions that are equal parts fun and educational, plus plenty more perks.
If excursions like an apple streusel-baking workshop, art museum scavenger hunt, and a day spent on a local farm are your vibe, then consider one of these six river cruise lines for your next adventure. Did I mention you only have to unpack once?
How we chose these European river cruise companies: Read our methodology for selecting family cruises.
1. Tauck Bridges
- Minimum Age for Europe River Cruises: 4 years old (although the line recommends 8)
Since pioneering family river cruises in 2010, Tauck Bridges has grown to offer arguably the most robust and thoughtfully designed, kid-friendly trips across Europe’s waterways.
Each itinerary begins as a blank canvas—and every shore excursion, onboard activity, menu, and other detail is curated specifically for youngsters and their parents or caregivers. Shore excursions include exclusive access passes and pre-opening visits, and are further embellished with on-land activities intended to make history and culture fun for all kids (think a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, medieval games at a Slovakian castle, and a baking workshop in Germany). Bicycles are also available for use.
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Back on the ship, you can engage in games and activities inspired by the destinations along your itinerary. Exercise those vocal cords at “The Sound of Music” karaoke, for example, before you visit locations from the movie along the Danube River. Or celebrate “Carnival Night” the German way on a Rhine River itinerary.
When it comes to resting up for the next day’s adventures, the ships’ 300-square-foot suites are a sought-after option as they can comfortably sleep a family of four. These accommodations—and the cruises themselves—come at a pretty penny. However, they deliver an excellent value for the money, and families can still save with discounts like $500 off for children 12 and under. The line also waives single supplement fees on Category 1 cabins (psst: you should totally invite one of your parents or in-laws on the cruise to help out with the kids).
All ships come with a putting green and either a plunge pool or hot tub, except for the line’s Douro River-based ship. That one flaunts a large, infinity-style pool and more deck space with Balinese day beds that allow you to take full advantage of Portugal’s Mediterranean climate.
2. Adventures by Disney
- Age Minimum for Europe River Cruises: 5 years old
You won’t find any theme park rides or character appearances on Adventures by Disney’s river cruises. Families instead enjoy an adventurous vacation, underpinned by the peace of mind that comes from the brand’s reputation for high-quality service and programming.
Adventures by Disney, one of the company’s travel arms, collaborates with AmaWaterways for its river cruise itineraries. The chartered ships are then sprinkled with Disney magic, thanks to Adventure Guides (rocking Mickey ears) who provide hands-on concierge service as well as design and lead activities onboard and on land.
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Onboard activities on ABD’s family friendly river cruises are tailored to the guests on a given cruise and offer something for every member of the family, with everything from movie nights, trivia and other games to crafts inspired by destinations along the itinerary. All shore excursions cater to families, too, even those that might sound more alluring to parents. When I traveled with Adventures by Disney in Spain, for example, a flamenco performance treated parents to a sangria tasting and kiddos to cute mocktails prepared just for them, while everyone was encouraged to get up and dance.
Other special family perks range from immersive storytelling to occasional Mickey-shaped foods that complement daily menus of fine dining and kid-friendly cuisine. A Junior Adventurer Dinner onboard is one of a handful of activities that take place on select nights and treat kids. (Note: This activity is not a childcare service, but it does give you a chance to sneak away for a little date night on the ship.) The ships also have pools on the top deck, for an extra dose of fun on warm, sunny days.
3. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
- Minimum Age on Europe River Cruises: 4 years old
Step foot onto a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship, and you might feel like you’ve entered a luxurious doll house. The cruise line undoubtedly boasts the prettiest ships, but it’s the fun-filled activities and exclusive excursions on Generations Collection itineraries that will get the biggest reaction from your discerning, little travel companions.
Imaginative play comes easy with excursions like the “Schloss Schonbrunn Experience” Children’s Museum in Vienna, on the line’s Authentic Danube itinerary. Here, kids can learn more about the everyday life of the imperial family while dressing up as a prince or princess, playing with imperial toys, and more. Adventure seekers on Uniworld’s Castles Along the Rhine itinerary, meanwhile, can climb trees and platforms at Speyer’s Climbing Forest, choosing among 24 different outdoor courses.
While the options on land are bountiful, Uniworld excels when it comes to keeping kids entertained onboard. A Young Travelers’ Lounge and game room with PlayStation, games, movies, and local treats for snacking mean little ones never get bored onboard while the ship makes its way from one port to another.
Two dedicated family hosts onboard offer family friendly movie nights and other kid-approved activities, as well as special menus for every meal to satisfy young palates. A supervised kids’ table is a fun change of pace (and an excuse for you to snag a romantic dinner with your other half). More culturally immersive activities are also available onboard—like dessert making with the onboard pastry chef, crafts, local language classes, and a ship tour.
Generations Collection sailings aren’t offered year-round, but they are scheduled over school breaks and available on select Rhine and Danube River itineraries. S.S. Victoria and S.S. Antoinette are the only ships with a pool onboard that offer these itineraries.
- Minimum Age for Europe River Cruises: None
Nobody puts baby in a corner on a CroisiEurope sailing. That’s because all ages are welcome on this French river cruise line, which offers a “kids sail free” program that makes exploring Europe’s waterways accessible to a diverse range of families. Just take it from the company’s General Manager of North America, Michael Da Costa:
“Being a family-owned company, CroisiEurope has created a river cruise experience with something for every age. Our Family Club program also allows kids to sail free on select itineraries, further expanding the options for those traveling as a family or multi-generational group.”
Kids 16 and under sail for free in Southern Spain, Italy, and Portugal through the Family Club program. (CroisiEurope is the only river cruise line that offers dedicated family cruises on Italy’s Po River.) Regardless of the destination, passengers ages 10 and under always enjoy 20 percent off, while little ones two and under cruise for free.
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In addition to price incentives, CroisiEurope takes the cake (gateau) when it comes to accommodations. A number of ships offer triple- and quadruple-occupancy cabins. Bigger families and multigenerational groups can easily book adjacent cabins for convenient proximity. Babies and toddlers are pampered with comfy digs, too, courtesy of pack-and-plays available upon request.
Many of the ships that offer Family Club river cruises have swimming pools on their top decks. (Note: The first language onboard is French; however, crewmembers also speak English, and announcements are translated in all languages spoken by the passengers on a given sailing.)
5. Avalon Waterways
- Minimum Age for Europe River Cruises: 8 years old (although the line recommends teens)
Kids as young as 8 are welcome onboard Avalon Waterways’ ships. But to fully experience what the line does best—hands-on, culturally enriching activities and rugged adventures—families should zero in on its Active and Discovery cruises. These itineraries take absorbing the history and culture of a place one step further by allowing you to be a part of it.
Learn how to cook a dish passed down through generations—and if you’re like me, you’ll continue to apply the locals’ “secret” preparation methods in your own kitchen for years to come. (Heck, I’ve saved so much time peeling garlic cloves since learning a hack during a past Avalon Waterways’ cruise.) Take a painting class in the South of France, where famous artists flocked for inspiration, or enjoy a fresh catch at a family-owned oyster farm in The Netherlands.
Craving more of the outdoors? Active and Discovery cruise itineraries also offer a handful of outdoor adventures that run the gamut from hiking and biking to kayaking and canoeing through picture-perfect scenery. While some river cruise lines include only a select few excursions in the fare, Avalon Waterways provides more “bang for your buck” with an average of 22 tours covered in each itinerary. This added value is particularly attractive for multigenerational groups who want to stick together for most of their activities.
Families also will appreciate Avalon Waterways’ roomy standard cabins with beds facing a wall of windows and open-air balconies, so you never miss a view. Suites with even more space are ideal for larger groups. On the top deck, families can enjoy a hot tub, putting green, and games such as cornhole.
- Minimum Age for Europe River Cruises: None
If your kiddos are 15 and under, A-Rosa will let them hitch a free cruise (or, at the very least, take 30 percent off their fare) depending on which deck your cabin is located. But there’s much more to this German cruise line designed for families of all ages.
Spacious family cabins; family tables at mealtime; special menus for picky little eaters; a youth club and childcare on select cruises (an amenity you won’t find on other river cruise ships); and a lively top deck with a swimming pool and putting green and other games round out the other perquisites.
A-Rosa also gets major kudos for debuting the first-ever, family river cruise ship in Europe. A-Rosa Sena, which focuses on Rhine River itineraries, takes it up a notch with more family cabins and larger cabins altogether, a dedicated kids’ club room, and a separate children’s pool in addition to the main pool. Activities for youngsters vary by ship, space, how many are onboard, and other factors. Examples include designing your own t-shirt, a treasure hunt on the ship, face painting, and theme days.
Don’t worry: All the fun onboard is balanced out by even more to do off the ship. Dedicated family excursions include trips to places kids want to go, such as Comics Station Antwerp, an indoor theme park inspired by Belgian comic heroes. Family port guides are also on the ship to ensure families make the most of their time on shore. (Note: English is one of the main languages used onboard.)
Why a European River Cruise with Kids?
European river cruises allow you and your family to experience a destination authentically and mindfully. They also make it easy to explore big cities and smaller, fairytale villages throughout countries like France, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, The Netherlands, Slovakia, and Italy. Lower passenger capacities onboard mean more time to connect, and get to know other passengers and crew members.
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