Are river cruises just for old people? A teen responds to the myths.
My daughter Camille and I went on a European River Cruise in the fall of 2021. Camille had just turned 19 and was the youngest passenger on the ship. Yes, she stood out. It wasn’t surprising. The general belief is that teens shouldn’t go on river cruises; they should go on ocean cruises instead.
Several other travel advisors were on our sailing. A few of them approached Camille and asked her if she was enjoying herself. I guess they wanted to check to see if the common belief was accurate or not.
A good travel advisor knows that an essential part of our job is to learn about each of our clients’ travel styles, likes and dislikes, etc. In my experience, I’ve found that there are no hard and fast rules that work for every family in every situation. Just because your neighbor’s family enjoyed a destination doesn’t mean that yours will.
I thought it would be interesting for my readers to hear directly from Camille herself about her opinions on river cruises. She’s an experienced traveler who has been on several ocean cruises, so she has a point of reference to compare river cruises vs. ocean cruises. I asked her to respond to several of the myths about teens and river cruises.
Myth: Teens will be bored on river cruises because they don’t have facilities to occupy teenagers.
It’s true that a river cruise likely won’t have laser tag, go-karts, climbing walls, ice skating rinks, or a kids/teen club. So if your teen relies on those types of activities for entertainment, an ocean cruise may be better. However, for most of our days aboard the Ama Serena, our agenda was so packed with excursions and meals that I don’t think I would have time for laser tag anyway.
Besides, if I have the choice between spending the day exploring a fairytale town in Switzerland with authentic Swiss chocolate and cheese fondue or spending the day go-karting, the former wins by a landslide. Personally, I would much rather spend my time exploring new places and having unique cultural experiences that I can’t have at home.
Myth: Teens won’t enjoy the entertainment on a river cruise.
While the shows aboard river cruises are far from big Broadway productions, there were still many entertaining performers. Our ship had a pianist that played in the lounge frequently, as well as local musical artists that would come aboard to perform for the evening. My favorite guest performer was a string trio with two violins and a guitar.
Myth: Teens won’t enjoy the sleepy towns that river cruises visit.
Our river cruise’s destinations were far from sleepy. Many of the cities had downtown areas that were primarily pedestrian streets filled with lively cafes, shops, restaurants, and historical buildings. Strasbourg, France was perhaps the most beautiful town I have ever visited. The buildings were so picturesque that they could have been pulled straight out of a fairytale. I loved all of the different cafes and restaurants that served authentic food for us to try. We had a very hard time choosing a place to have lunch between tours. And the macarons? Yum!
Myth: The excursions will be boring for teens.
Our river cruise ship offered two or three choices for excursions for most of the ports. The tours had varying activity levels to accommodate all guests. Most of the tour groups are small, which allows for a more personalized experience with the tour guide. One of our favorite excursions was a tour of a mechanical music museum in Rüdesheim am Rhein. The museum featured incredible contraptions that played 20+ different instruments at once.
At the end of the tour, our guide invited me to play an antique hand-crank organ. We definitely came home with more than a few music boxes as souvenirs from the gift shop there.
If your teenagers like to be active, they may enjoy the many city bike tours that are offered. These tours are both adventurous and informational; our guides came equipped with listening devices so we could hear her commentary as we biked. My mom and I enjoyed a bike tour through Cologne, where we saw beautiful architecture that was very different from our other destinations on the cruise.
I appreciated that we had time to explore on our own after each tour. This allowed us to spend time exploring our personal interests, which, in my case, is shopping for shoes. In Heidelberg, Germany, I seriously considered adding to my collection of sneakers. Instead, I scored a pair of Birkenstock sandals for a much better price than I could have found in the US.
Myth: The cultural focus of river cruises won’t appeal to teens.
Our cruise ship did a good job of offering excursions to explore many aspects of the destination’s culture. Some of my favorite excursions were centered around food, such as the Rüdesheimer coffee drink made with local brandy. (Note from Mom: the drinking age in Europe is 18, so this was legal.)
I enjoyed authentic French macarons, Swiss cheese fondue, German pretzels, and Dutch cheese. The local grocery stores were also fun to visit.
Some tours were focused on landmarks and architecture. We saw many enormous cathedrals that dated back hundreds of years.
While I did find some of the historical aspects of the tours a little boring, there were still many topics that interested me. Visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was one of the most interesting excursions on the trip. After learning about Anne Frank and World War II in school, it was incredible to see the house in person. (Photography was not allowed inside the house, so I don’t have a photo to share.)
Moreover, most, if not all, of our tour guides were locals and extremely knowledgeable. They were all happy to answer any questions we had about the area’s culture.
Overall, I prefer river cruising over ocean cruising. I feel like I saw more and experienced more culture on one river cruise than on three Caribbean cruises combined.
A few more words from Terri
It’s important to remember that Camille is speaking for herself, not for all teens. But the main point that I hope comes across is that river cruising just might be a GREAT option for some families. You shouldn’t automatically dismiss the idea because you’ve heard the myths. There ARE some teens out there who appreciate culture and exploring new places. It is possible for them to enjoy both rap music and classical music.
However, it is very important for families to choose the right itinerary and the right cruise line. That is why working with a professional travel advisor is so important. River cruises aren’t inexpensive, so you don’t want to make the wrong choice with your vacation investment.
Are you interested in taking your teens on a river cruise? Read about how my services work here. If you think we might be a good fit for each other, send me an email and we’ll schedule a Zoom call.