Gone are the days when a river cruise in Europe meant leaving the kids behind. In the last decade, there has been a big rise in the number of European river cruises for families. While river sailings in Europe undoubtedly appeal to mature travelers, more and more lines are adjusting their offerings to appeal to kids, parents and even grandparents all the same.
Kid-friendly river cruises enable families to spend real quality time together while traveling Europe. On big ocean cruise ships, children can spend all day in a kids' club while parents do their own thing. When a family goes on a European river cruise, the activities themselves are meant for everyone to enjoy together (on land and on the ship). You might be exploring fairy-tale castles, making apple strudel in Austria, searching for clues in a scavenger hunt, meeting French cowboys or cycling along scenic river banks and sampling local specialties along the way.
It's hard to argue with the family-friendly credentials of AmaWaterways for a family river cruise in Europe. The line partners with Adventures by Disney, which organizes immersive family sailings on Europe's Danube, Rhine and Seine Rivers.
AmaWaterways has two family-friendly ships, the AmaStella and AmaViola, which are ideal for European river cruises with children in tow. Designed with multigenerational travelers in mind, AmaWaterways family cruise rooms sleep up to four guests and can be combined with neighboring cabins for more space. Also, the line's spacious double-wide Danube ship -- AmaMagna -- has a swimming pool and theater where youngsters can watch movies and play video games.
Family-oriented activities might include a carriage ride at an equestrian center in Budapest; a visit to an apricot farm; marzipan-making workshops; theme park visits; or traditional folk dance lessons. While it should be noted that these select cruises don't provide the full-on Disney experience with costumed characters, they do include a touch of Disney magic with Mickey Mouse-shaped treats, Disney trivia and Disney movie nights.
German line A-Rosa has long had a reputation for family-friendly English-language sailings. But what makes this one of the best family river cruise lines in Europe? For starters, A-Rosa offers special deals on cruises during school vacation time, including free child travel and discounts.
In 2022, A-Rosa took European river cruises for families to a new level with the launch of the first-ever family river cruise ship in Europe. Sailing on the Rhine, the 280-passenger A-Rosa Sena has a dedicated family pool and a pirate-themed Treasure Island kids' club.
There are 12 big family cabins that sleep up to five on A-Rosa Sena, and mealtimes feature a special buffet for younger children (older kids can create their own favorite dishes at the main buffet). Treasure hunts, craft sessions and kid-friendly films are also on offer. The onboard experience continues ashore with fun excursions such as a trip to the Madurodam miniature park in the Netherlands and Chocolate Nation in Antwerp.
Uniworld offers European river cruises for families on its Generations Collection sailings, including multigenerational family trips. The line's family-friendly sailings offer more onboard bells and whistles for kids than other lines. Activities include dessert-making with the ship's pastry chef, Viking helmets and staffs for shore excursions, craft workshops, a game room, local language classes and a VIP ship tour.
Two family hosts accompany each Uniworld Generations sailing and organize activities such as kid-only movie nights with popcorn. There are also special children's menus and a young travelers' dining table, where kids are split by age groups and can opt to eat with the two family hosts.
Uniworld offers family river cruises in Europe on the Rhine and Danube Rivers. Both are great choices for families with kids who love fantasy or history, as itineraries are packed with castle visits and historic old cities that look lifted straight from a book.
Tauck was one of the first lines to offer family river cruises in Europe. This upscale, all-inclusive line launched its first Tauck Bridges program on the Danube in 2010, catering specifically to families with kids. Tauck now offers family river cruises on Europe's Rhine, Rhone, Seine and Douro Rivers.
Each river has its own style, so it's easy to find a sailing that matches your family's vibe and interests. On Rhine River sailings, families can become "French for a day" in Strasbourg, learning useful phrases and joining a sing-a-long. Back on the ship there's a carnival night where you create your own costumes and join a lively celebration.
Highlights of a family river cruise on the Rhone include a private visit to a ranch in Camargue, France. There, cruisers meet the region's famous white horses and watch Gardians -- the Provencal cowboys that care for them -- take part in a spectacular riding display. And if sweets are more your family's style, hands-on chocolate painting classes in Arles make for a sweet stop along the way.
On select dates in July and August, the French river line CroisiEurope offers English-language European river cruises for families. These Family Club sailings are on the Rhine, Rhone, Douro and Guadalquivir Rivers. The last sailing is unique, as CroisiEurope is the only line that operates on Spain's most famous river, which flows from Seville to the Mediterranean Sea.
These kid-friendly river cruises offer free sailings for youngsters under the age of 16 and children over 5 can either sleep in a cabin next to their parents or one child can share a cabin with their mom and dad. Additionally, there are no solo supplements for single parents or grandparents for these European river itineraries. Family Club sailings also feature a children's menu and onboard entertainment with hosts.