Sign Up for Our Monthly Family Getaways Newsletter
As little as five years ago, the terms “river cruise” and “family travel” seemed mutually exclusive, as river cruise operators typically catered to mature guests beyond their child-rearing years.
However, that’s now changing, and AmaWaterways is leading the way by not only accommodating family travel, but fully embracing it. And as my recent seven-day Melodies of the Danube sailing on the 156-guest AmaViola aptly demonstrated, the river cruise line carefully and successfully balances the needs of families and its core clientele.
AmaWaterways’ sophisticated guests naturally want their kids to absorb European culture and history. However, travel advisors should understand that for guests ages 8 to 14 (the ideal age range for this product) to truly benefit, such knowledge is best delivered in short bursts via brief city tours, active excursions and onboard entertainment.
The AmaViola, one of four sister ships launched in the last two years, features 12 triple-occupancy staterooms at 235 square feet, including the line’s proprietary twin balconies; six sets of adjoining cabins; and four suites for larger families. And although the line partners with Adventures by Disney to offer chartered, branded sailings on these ships, our non-Disney sailing was probably a better gauge of a real-world, multigenerational experience.
While there are no dedicated children’s facilities onboard, staff and crew do a wonderful job of remembering kids’ names and accommodating their desires — especially those that revolve around fantasies of ice cream with multiple toppings, as my 14-year-old daughter and I discovered. But European river cruising is all about destination immersion, and that’s where AmaWaterways really excels.
On our sailing, we enjoyed using the ship’s fleet of bicycles (with provided helmets) to pedal along the bike path adjoining the Danube’s scenic shore in Linz, Austria. Other family passengers joined guided, organized rides in nearly every port of call.
Additionally, central Europe’s medieval castles, rich with lore and fairytale features, offer easy-to-digest history lessons for kids. In fact, hiking tours — with varying levels of difficulty — were available in every port we visited. We particularly liked the laid-back hike up to the impressive 15th-century Greinburg Castle in Grein, Austria, then reveled in exploring its gilded interiors, period furnishings and fascinating history.
According to Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways, that’s precisely the goal. She explained that the “escorted hiking and biking excursions allow kids and adults alike to explore destinations in a fun, dynamic and very safe way.”
AmaWaterways’ fares include city tours in every port; these are expertly conducted by English-speaking, local guides, aided by state-of-the-art Quietvox listening devices and conveniently offered in either regular- or gentle-walking speeds. Passengers are able to join whichever tour suited their needs, with no advance notice.
I observed that guides tailored some commentary to the younger members of the group, and due to the small tour group sizes, kids were naturally more engaged and encouraged to ask questions. The morning city tours on the Danube were often short, lasting 1.5 to three hours, thus making them a no-risk proposition perfect for short attention spans. Plus, due to a city-center docking location in most ports, guests could return independently to explore areas of interest after lunch.
Continuing the enrichment back onboard, families got comfortable, yet in-depth, exposure to regional culture with evening performances by talented local musicians, dancers and actors in the ship’s main lounge.
At dinner, parents learned about wine with unlimited, complimentary pours of locally sourced vintages, while our kids tasted port-specific, regional cuisine. My daughter tried goulash in Hungary, wienerschnitzel in Austria and pigs’ knuckles with sauerkraut in Germany — all deliciously prepared onboard by our European chef.
AmaWaterways ships’ small size also confers a measure of safety and security, as parents were never more than a minute or two away from their children, even when on opposite ends of the vessel.
And when the culture and history theme wears thin for kids (which, alas, can happen quickly), the free, unlimited Wi-Fi access onboard the ship is a savior — for the parents, that is.
The DetailsAmaWaterways www.amawaterways.com