Note from Wendy: River cruises are not known for being kid-friendly. Ships are small, with no space to run; there are no children’s facilities or eateries; and there are rarely other kids onboard. But my 10- and 12-year-old sons loved their Danube cruise on Viking River Cruises’ Viking Alsvin. We sailed over the Thanksgiving school break, which worked well because the kids didn’t miss too much school and most Christmas Markets were open. The trip was fun, educational, and logistically a breeze, so I asked my older son, Charlie, to share his advice for parents who might be wondering whether they should take their kids on a river cruise.
Hi. I’m Charlie. I’m 12 years old, and I’ve been on ten ocean cruises, but this was my first river cruise. To me and my brother Doug’s dismay, we were the only kids on the ship. But we made the most of it. In the end, we had a great trip because we found fun things to do on the ship and because we were in port walking around most of the time anyway. Here is my advice for parents:
1. Get a ship that’s almost always in port.
We spent every day—and almost every night—walking around a new port. The ship served mainly as just our overnight hotel, so we never felt like we were stuck on it.
2. Get an interesting observation deck.
We had shuffleboard on the observation deck, so we made a series out of it. Every day was a game, and whoever won the most games would win, so we were motivated to play every day. And while we played we could see views of the ports we were in.
3. Check out the locks.
Try to be up on the observation deck when going through locks because it’s interesting to see how they work.
4. Find playgrounds in port.
European countries tend to have more exotic things in their playgrounds, and your kids likely will be wowed.
5. Don’t go around with the group from the ship.
They go too slowly for kids and are not interested in the same things you are. It was easy to get around on our own on foot or by subway.
The ship’s concierge arranged kid-friendly experiences for us too. For instance, in Austria at Melk Abbey we got to see the Minerals Room.
The only time we went with a group from the ship was when we took a bus to Salzburg because Salzburg isn’t on the Danube.
6. While you’re walking around all day, try new foods.
There are many foods that you can find in Europe that you can’t find in the United States. There are also many European foods that you can find in the United States but they taste much better in Europe.
7. Back on the ship, eat upstairs on the Aquavit Terrace.
The food came quickly. It made for a yummy family dinner without having to sit in the dining room for two hours. The menu had six entrees, and I promise your kid would like at least one of them. We also loved Milan, our waiter who was so nice to us.
8. Look for kid-friendly movies and TV shows in your cabin.
In our cabin they played The Sound of Music, which was great because we went to Salzburg where they filmed the movie and we recognized the gardens where the Von Trapp children played.
9. Find board games in the ship’s library.
Our ship’s library had Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, chess, checkers, and backgammon. There were also two computers there, so I could catch up on schoolwork when my laptop wasn’t working.
10. Talk to the older passengers.
They liked talking to me and Doug, and they were easy to talk to. One even asked to play shuffleboard with us.
So my advice to parents is: If you plan on spending a lot of time in port, and if your kids are at least nine to ten years old, and you think they are mature enough, then you can consider bringing them on your next river cruise.
My dad has advice too:
The Easiest Way to See Europe: A River Cruise
And here’s my mom’s advice:
How to Make a Low-Season European River Cruise Awesome
Europe’s Christmas Markets: How to Plan the Perfect Trip
I also have advice for parents thinking of taking their kids on ocean cruises: Things to Know Before Booking a Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old.