Family Vacation Tips

10 Things to Know About Family River Cruises

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 18, 2019 8:58:38 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Things to know about Family River Cruises

If your family is looking to really  connect with one another in a memorable way, then a river cruise may be the right choice for your next vacation. It's the ideal choice for families looking to enjoy  history, cuisine and culture of exotic locales or fairy tale European cities in a peaceful, scenic and enriching way.

River cruise are an excellent family vacation option for the right kind of family.  They offer a truly unique and immersive vacation experience.  Like classical music or jazz, they will be enjoyed by connoisseurs who appreciate that style of music.

It's important that parents fully understands these differences so that you enjoy a wonderful holiday with the right expectations.  So what are some things parents need to know about what makes a family river cruise so different:

1. More Like Escorted Tours on water

It would make sense to assume if your family enjoys ocean cruising, they would also enjoy a river cruise.  It's important to recognize that even though both offer fun and interesting activities on water, the experiences are very different.

Family friendly ocean cruises offer their guests a myriad of choices when it comes to their shipboard activities, schedules and excursions.   River cruise vacations are a bit more scheduled, similar to a guided escorted tour schedule. For example, there is one main dining room option with kid friendly menu options.  Families who choose a river cruise experience are interested in local immersion activities, visiting historic iconic places and experiencing local traditions. When docked, they are not interested in spending the day at the shipboard waterpark.

2. River Cruises are More Expensive

Parents can expect to pay $400-$700 per person per night for a river cruise with children receiving about a 25% discount.  When you consider a typical family ocean cruise averages $100-$200 per person per night this is a big price point difference.  River cruise ships are small. Generally there are accommodations to serve around 200 guests with higher staff to guest ratios.  When you consider some of the large family friendly ocean cruise lines can serve 3000-5000 guests per sailing, their volume pricing compared to a river cruise helps to put price point into perspective.

3. Have a limited sailing season

River cruise lines sail the waters of Asia, Africa and even the U.S. but European rivers are by far, the most popular choice for U.S. families.  This means most sailings to Europe are offered during fair weather months with the exception of some Christmas market Cruises near the holidays. Again, for the same reason Alaska summer cruises price higher than all year round Caribbean destinations, this also adds to the higher price point of river cruises.

4. Tips, Wifi, drinks & excursions included

Generally speaking, the higher price point of a river cruise does come with more inclusions.  It's important to always read the fine print when comparing options but river cruise prices usually include items like gratuities, free WiFi and shore excursions.  Some lines offer free beverages while others include soda, wine, beer and alcohol only with meals. Adventures by Disney River cruises include multiple guides on board to escort excursions and sightseeing for children of different ages as well as tours for adults.

5. Perfect for Extended Family Groups

Originally river cruises were geared for retirees and baby boomers.  Families were introduced to river cruising as part of multi-generational events like family reunions or milestone celebration vacations with grandparents.  As popularity increased, river cruise lines saw the need for more family friendly itineraries and ships. While family facilities have evolved, river cruises maintain their traditions and are an ideal choice for those looking for an intimate venue and experience for celebrating special events and milestones.  It's also an excellent choice for a memorable heritage vacation experience with families of several generations.

6. Recommended for Older Children

 While infants and young children are welcome on board, this type of vacation experience is better suited to older school age children and teens who can appreciate the destinations and experiences river cruising offers.

7. River Cruise Ships are Small

River cruise ships are small compared to ocean liners and offer limited facilities.  Their size is regulated by the areas they need to navigate.  Most look relatively the same from the outside.  Again, these ships were originally made to accommodate older couples and solo travelers.  This means there are few suites or adjoining cabins that can accommodate triples, quads and larger families.  As always, cabins prices are usually based on double adult occupancy so this can mean children might need to pay adult pricing for their cabins.  For this reason, it's important for families to book cabins in advance, preferable at least a year out so they have the best options for availability.

8. A Balcony may not be an Upgrade

With ocean cruise ships everyone craves balcony upgrades for those expansive ocean views. While European river cruises offer families scenic views and glimpses of fairy tale castles and buildings, there are some considerations with balcony cabins.

Again, due to size, river cruise ship balconies tend to be just large enough for two people. This may not offer ideal comfortable for a family.  

European river water levels vary and river cruise ships have to navigate their way through locks.  This can mean your balcony view might be a cement wall  for a short period of time while the water level in the lock is rising. (tip - There can be mechanical noises while ships pass through these locks. Packing earplugs can be helpful during the night for those who are light sleepers).

Dock space is also limited on European waterways.  River cruise ships often park side by side to one another. It can also mean your balcony might be right up against the balcony or room of another ship while docked.

9. Not for Guests With Mobility Issues

When it comes to docking side by side, gangways are placed from one ship to another  to enable guests to disembark. Guests will often  need to  navigate these gangways and cut across another ship in order to reach land.  This means of disembarkation can be a problem for any guest with mobility issues. 

In addition, many of the historic cities visited on River Cruises are medieval cities complete with cobblestones and uneven ancient steps.  Biking and hiking tours are often on offer.  River cruises are ideal for families who are fit, health and active.


10. Travel Insurance for Water Levels

Travel insurance is always HIGHLY recommended for peace of mind when it comes to protecting your family and your vacation investment. Particularly because when traveling overseas, most medical insurance will not cover your family.  With river cruises, you also need to protect your family from cancellation due to high or low river levels.

Excessive rain or drought can affect the levels of the river. If there is a problem in one specific area, often guests can disembark, take a bus to their excursion or to a different point in the river and then proceed with their cruise.  If the water level problem is wide spread, which can happen, then river cruises are often cancelled with short notice.  Guests are offered the option to cancel their cruise or rebook for a different date without penalty from the cruise line.  That said, most airline tickets are non-refundable or come with high changed fees per ticket.  This can be costly for families.

Again we highly recommend river cruising as long as it matches your family's needs and expectations. When you work one of our experienced travel advisors here at Vacationkids, we make sure your vacation experiences exceed your expectations. Our fees are already included in the cost of your cruise so why not work with us!  We are here to inform and help you make the right family vacation decisions every step of the way.

Connect with a Vacationkids River Cruise Advisor


Topics: family group travel, celebration vacations, Best family cruises, family river cruise

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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