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Messing about on the river

Upmarket river cruise operator Uniworld has launched a new brochure for British cruisers. Much is made of the boutique hotel look of the ships and the all-inclusive nature of the voyages. But on page 20, there’s an interesting development, for the UK, at least: river cruises for families.

Children on river cruises. Now, there’s a novel thought. Tauck Cruising, a forward-thinking American river cruise company, offers a couple of family-friendly departures in Europe this year and now, Uniworld has earmarked two itineraries and four dates in the summer holidays of 2011 for a multi-generational crowd, with special pricing to match; children from four to 18, one per adult, travel at 50% of the adult fare.

But rest assured. Uniworld isn’t plunging into kids’ clubs and climbing walls or, heaven forbid, affiliations with cartoon characters, although there will be a game room with Playstation and pizza could feature on the menu during the family weeks.

What kid doesn't love legends and ruined castles?

It’s amazing how family river cruising hasn’t taken off before, really. River cruises should, in theory, be perfect for kids – spooky German castles, the Prater in Vienna, going up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Some of Uniworld’s activities will be tailored to families, like learning to paint in the style of Van Gogh on the Paris & Normandy cruise, and the ships carry bicycles on board. So what if there’s not much in the evenings? You can always bring a portable DVD player for the cabin, or play cards.

But how will regular passengers react? One would hope, with indulgence, as these cruises are carefully labelled in the brochure. Having said that, I sailed with Uniworld earlier this year, in a group in which ages ranged from mid-20s to mid-50s. When the cruise director mentioned that there were journalists on board, a regular passenger eyeballed us with some hostility, marched up to me and said: “You’re not going to promote this to young people, are you? We like it the way it is.” Could be some way to go, then.

What do you think? Would river cruising work with families on board? SJB

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