Taking children on a river cruise used to be unthinkable but thanks to a select number of lines it’s now a growing trend.

“We have seen a quiet revolution in river cruising. Innovations in dining, itineraries, onboard activities and services, along with excursions and amenities have made it more open and accessible to all – including families and multi-generational groups”

Changing tack

Uniworld and Tauck offer family departures that tie in with British school holidays and Uniworld’s UK Managing Director Kathryn Beadle says there are many activities on these sailings which are geared towards children and family members of all ages.

“There is a big opportunity for the UK trade to embrace family and multi-generational river cruising,” she stressed.

Most family-friendly river cruise vessels have a small swimming pool on the top deck. Another popular option are in-cabin movie libraries which allow youngsters to chill out happily with a good film while parents watch organised evening entertainment in the main lounge.

German line A-Rosa has children’s clubs and youth activity programmes on two of its vessels during Easter and summer school holidays and offers free sailings for under-15s, while small ship specialist eWaterways also offers family river cruises on various lines.

AmaWaterways does not offer specific family-friendly departures, though Marketing Manager Augustus Lonsdale said it had seen a rise in multi-generational families aboard, which had prompted the line to add inter-connecting staterooms to its newest vessels.

Perfect 10

  1. City slickers: Riverside hubs such as Vienna, Cologne, Paris and Lyon offer attractions to appeal to all ages

  2. Pedal-power: Many river vessels have their own fleet of bikes for cycling excursions or self discovery along riverbank paths

  3. Thrills and spills: Take a white-water rafting trip along the River Ilz in Bavaria on a Danube cruise

  4. Wartime history: Learn about the WWII Normandy D-Day landings by allied forces while cruising the Seine

  5. The hills are alive: Follow in Julie Andrews’ footsteps to see where The Sound of Music was shot in and around Salzburg, on a Danube cruise

  6. Haunted houses: Head off the beaten track in Venice on a ghost walking tour during a Po River cruise

  7. On the trail of old masters: Search out some of the world’s most famous works of art in Paris’ Louvre on sailings through France

  8. Food for thought: Sample a pasta-making workshop in Italy’s culinary capital Bologna on a Po river cruise

  9. Knights of old: Explore medieval castles standing guard along the Rhine and hear the legend of the Lorelei siren

  10. Get your motor running: On a Danube cruise get revved up with a visit to the BMW or Audi car factories near Regensburg, a city in south-east Germany situated at the confluence of the Danube, Naab and Regen rivers

My family river cruise

Driving through Austria’s gently rolling green hills, their lush slopes dotted with chocolate-box chalet-style homes, the unmistakeable voice of Julie Andrews suddenly fills our coach with song.

We are nearing the city of Salzburg, where iconic film The Sound of Music (or The Sound of Mucus, as leading man Christopher Plummer apparently dubbed it) was shot and our guide clearly wants to remind us that these hills are, indeed, alive by playing the movie’s distinctive title track.

It certainly catches the imagination of my 13-year-old twin daughters, Dani and Holly, who are keen to see sites from the film. These include the church in the pretty village of Mondsee, where the wedding of Maria and Captain von Trapp was filmed and the fountains and flowers of Salzburg’s Mirabell Gardens where Maria skipped with her young charges as they famously trilled Do Re Mi.

This is one of the excursion highlights on our first family river cruise with AmaWaterways, which takes us along the Danube from Hungary’s capital Budapest to Vilshofen in Germany.

Once the girls recover from their initial shock of cruising on such a tiny vessel compared to the ocean ships they’re used to, we soon settle into a routine of morning walking tours and afternoons relaxing on deck.

Luckily our vessel, AmaSerena, has a small swimming pool and for Holly and Dani this, along with copious amounts of ice cream, put the winning seal on this trip.

What the experts think

“Family ocean cruising has been on the rise for some time and river cruising should be considered as equally open to families.

“A river cruise takes in some of the most incredible cities, towns and areas of countryside. It’s not just a relaxing and enjoyable way to travel but it can be a hugely cultural and educational experience too.

“Take time to explain the destinations and places visited, and the opportunities to explore as a family from the comfort of the ship. And remember that these smaller ships are perfectly built to be sociable and enjoyable spaces for all guests.

“River cruising isn’t just a fabulous holiday for families to spend quality time together, it’s also a great chance to visit fantastic places in Europe and beyond.”

What's new

Tauck is doubling the number of child-friendly departures in 2017 to 20, and this includes the introduction of its fourth dedicated family itinerary. The one-week Paris to Normandy ‘Family Fun along the Seine’ cruise starts with a two-night hotel stay in Paris and five-night sailing where more active diversions include hiking to a medieval chateau and cycling through Marie Antoinette’s farm at Versailles.

Tauck has also bolstered its family sailings along the Rhone with more activities that include a special chocolate art demonstration and a guided bike ride in Paris.

Uniworld has added a 10-day sailing exploring Germany’s Jewish heritage with a voyage along the Rhine and Main rivers, departing on July 14 and 23, 2017. The Rhine-Main Discovery & Munich cruise is aimed at children interested in history and includes a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial.

Where to book it

A-Rosa offers free places for under-15s if sharing a premium cabin on an all-inclusive basis with an adult. A seven-night Rhine sailing from Basle to Amsterdam departs on August 20, 2017, and costs from €1,749pp.

Uniworld’s 14-night Splendours of Northern Italy trip includes hotel stays in Milan, Florence and Rome and a one-week cruise through Venice from £5,259, with a 50% discount for children aged four to 18.