Sara Macefield takes her children on an action-packed Uniworld Generations itinerary on the Danube and looks at multi-generational cruises – an increasingly popular option for extended families looking to spend some quality time together
It’s like The Sound of Music all over again as a family on our Danube cruise – all 17 of them – amusingly enact their version of the movie’s famous Do-Re-Mi sequence in Salzburg’s Mirabell Gardens, where
it was originally filmed.
A video of them skipping up the stone steps where Julie Andrews led her troupe of charges made charming viewing at our evening briefing aboard SS Beatrice as the Brown family, headed by grandparents Karen and Art from Orlando, were a popular fixture on this sailing.
With their four children, who had flown in from across the States and also from Shanghai, bringing seven grandchildren with them aged between 11 and 25, they were easily the biggest multi-generational group on board, but not the only ones.
This week-long family-friendly Uniworld Generations cruise attracted several two and three-generation groups, and the mix of ages brought a buzz to the onboard ambience, especially as there were 28 under-18s on this sailing, with the youngest aged just six, although mostly they were tweens and teens.
Uniworld is one of a handful of river cruise lines offering such departures, with a programme of Generations excursions designed to appeal to younger tastes that included hikes, castle visits and treasure hunts.
In the Bavarian city of Passau, I joined my husband and twin 16-year-old daughters to paddle kayaks, canoes and paddleboards during a ‘River Splash’ afternoon along the quiet backwaters of the River Ilz, having explored the city on a morning treasure hunt that used geocaching to track down clues.
The Baroque splendour of Artstetten Castle high in the Austrian hills was the scene of a fascinating living history lesson at a private reception with Princess Anita von Hohenberg, a member of the legendary Hapsburg dynasty and great-granddaughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination sparked World War I.
Another legendary name, but of a different kind, featured in Regensburg with a ‘Revved Engines’ visit to the giant BMW factory that proved popular with young motoring enthusiasts (but not my twins who, to my dismay, vetoed the excursion).
But it underlined the choice to tempt all-comers – and that went for life on board, too.
Children’s hosts were on hand to organise fun activities that included a cookery class and treasure hunt for younger children, while the teens were happiest lazing on deck and sunbathing, although sadly there was no pool or hot tub. There was also a fleet of mountain bikes for those wanting to explore on two wheels.
At first glance, I wouldn’t have thought the classically-styled grand surroundings of SS Beatrice would necessarily suit families, but well-placed pots of sweets were devoured by all ages and child-friendly dining menus and the general helpfulness of the crew were big pluses.
Many of the larger family groups had their own reserved tables in the main restaurant, Mozart’s, but the rest of us were free to sit where we wanted to, and it wasn’t long before we joined up with a Canadian couple and their 15-year-old son.
The all-inclusive nature of this sailing contributed to the sociable atmosphere as drinks flowed freely. We didn’t even have to worry about gratuities (aboard and onshore) or most excursions as these were included too.
Our tour of Vienna was among the most memorable as we took an exhilarating journey through 2,000 years of history at the interactive Time Travel museum before tackling the punishing climb up 343 steps to the top of the city’s landmark St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Complimentary ice creams added a welcome final flourish to this outing and, while they may have been primarily aimed at the children, they were welcomed by us parents too. To quote a certain film, they were definitely a few of our favourite things.
The rise of the multi-generational cruise and why it’s a lucrative market for agents to tap into
Cruises are increasingly crossing the generational divide when it comes to family groups wanting holidays that come with attractions to suit every age range.
The breadth of facilities offered on ocean ships and the cosy ambience of river cruise vessels make them more appealing for such gatherings, especially when combined with the additional bonus of visiting so many different destinations in one trip.
Combine this with the prevalence of kids’ clubs and onboard attractions aimed at younger cruisers, along with the ease of cruising from UK ports, which may tempt older travellers, and it’s clear cruising ticks many multi-generational boxes.
“Over recent years, we’ve seen a significant increase in multi-generational travel – where grandparents, parents and children cruise together,” explained Clia UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer.
“With the offer of an excellent mix of activities to suit all ages, a cruise holiday is the perfect fit for multi-generational families.”
Holland America Line UK & Ireland sales director Wendy Lahmich agreed, adding: “Savvy travellers are now realising the value of cruise when planning a big family holiday, as it ticks the boxes for all ages, offers ‘time apart and time together’, plus the benefit of group amenities.
“It’s a lucrative market for agents to tap into, as most will already have clients who they know will be celebrating a major life event at some point and may be looking to celebrate with extended family.”
The increase in all-inclusive cruise is another plus factor that makes it easier to balance the demands of youngsters, especially when such trips are often paid for by grandparents as a family treat, and this is where river cruises score highly, too.
“We are increasingly seeing inter-generational family groups where grandparents are travelling with grown-up children and grandkids,” said AmaWaterways sales, marketing and digital director Jamie Loizou.
“We can offer bespoke private shore excursions for groups of a certain size and also have inter-connecting rooms, which are perfect for families.”
The increasing range of accommodation, particularly on ocean ships, gives a good choice for families who may opt for suites or choose to stay in upscale areas such as The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line ships; MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club; or Havana Cabana accommodation on Carnival Cruise Line.
Many ocean and river companies offer special group benefits, which can include a free place for groups of 10 or more and some lines offer special children’s rates.
Another growing trend is the “skip-generation” cruise, which Clia says has surged as more grandparents take their grandchildren away without their parents, freeing them up to work
or go away on their own.
“With its ease and safety, a cruise is stress-free and hassle-free, meaning that grandparents can spend their time making lifelong memories with their grandchildren,” Harmer added.