7 River and Small-Ship Cruise Lines to Watch in 2017

Intimate ships carrying no more than 150 passengers, leisurely time in picturesque ports of call and the chance to travel to diverse destinations without unpacking and repacking a suitcase are just a few reasons why a rising number of travelers are interested in river and small-ship cruising. Cruising where large ocean liners cannot, small ships reveal dramatic views of scenic landscapes, and are increasingly tapping into the family and multigenerational travel market. “Many families find the cozy atmosphere of a riverboat more appealing than the enormous scale of many ocean-going cruise ships; with fewer people aboard you get to know your fellow passengers better, and it’s easier for family members of all ages to meet new like-minded friends,” says Katharine Bonner, senior vice president for Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising.

River Cruise Passau, Germany

© (Getty Images). View on Passau, the city of three Rivers in Bavaria, Germany.

With that in mind, here are seven river and small-ship cruise lines offering fun, enriching and engaging activities for families and multigenerational groups.


© AmaWaterways via Facebook AmaPrima cruising through Budapest.

AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney

AmaWaterways has partnered with Disney’s guided tour division, Adventures by Disney, to offer kid-friendly river cruises on ships specifically designed for larger, multigenerational groups. The company debuted cruises along the Danube River last summer on the AmaViola, and cruises along the Rhine River aboard the AmaKristina are scheduled to launch in June 2017. “We often aim to tell the amazing stories of each town or city in active ways such as climbing above the trees in Germany, sliding down into salt mines in Austria and more,” says Heather Killingbeck, Adventure by Disney’s director of program development and operations. AmaWaterways’ kid-friendly Adventures by Disney Danube River Cruise visits eight destinations in four different countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Meanwhile, the Adventures by Disney Rhine River itinerary offers families the chance to visit six destinations in four countries – France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Avalon Waterways

© Avalon Waterways via Facebook Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways

In 2017, Avalon Waterways will revamp its Danube River cruise experience to include more hands-on activities that are perfect for families with children. According to Avalon Waterways’ managing director Patrick Clark, these Active Discovery itineraries “give cruisers the opportunity to bike, hike and canoe along the Danube.” Highlights include hiking along a WWII smuggler route, exploring an ice cave, taking an archery lesson and biking along the ancient border of the Roman Empire. Avalon Waterways also offers a number of themed cruises for 2017 that focus on food, music and history.

Crystal Cruises

© Crystal Cruises via Facebook Crystal River Cruises

Crystal River Cruises

Two new ships within the Crystal Cruises fleet, Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, will debut in summer 2017. These all-balcony, all-suite river ships will sail on the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers, offering itineraries through Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands. Families will particularly appreciate the glass-roofed pool for swimming in all weather and seasons, and open dining will allow families to eat when most convenient for them. The river yachts are the first of four new Crystal River Cruise ships scheduled to launch, with Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel offering sailings in 2018.

Lindblad Expeditions ship National Geographic Explorer

© robertharding/REX Shutterstock The Lindblad Expeditions ship National Geographic Explorer in Icy Arm, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic

The 100-guest National Geographic Quest in the National Geographic-Lindblad fleet, will debut in June 2017, and a second ship, National Geographic Venture, will launch the following year. Both ships will feature 50 cabins and cater to families and multigenerational groups. On the National Geographic Quest’s sailings to Costa Rica & Panama, families can experience the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, the idyllic islands in the Gulf of Panama and the man-made wonder of the Panama Canal. What’s more, naturalist-led excursions and knowledgeable photo instructors make the cruise vacation a learning experience from start to finish.

Tauck River Cruises

© TAUCK via Facebook Tauck River Cruises

Tauck River Cruises

In 2017, Tauck River Cruises will unveil its fourth family river cruise itinerary. The “Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy” sailing begins with two nights in Paris followed by a five-night cruise on the Seine aboard the reimagined ms Sapphire, which will be outfitted with spacious family cabins. While in Paris, guides lead visitors to the Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame Cathedral, participate in a Louvre scavenger hunt and dine inside the iconic Eiffel Tower. During the river cruise portion of the itinerary, families explore Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny, hike to a medieval castle and bike to Marie Antoinette’s farm and the gardens of Versailles. And upon arriving in Caudebec-en-Caux, families can opt for a full-day excursion to the D-Day Beaches of Normandy to pay their respects at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer before participating in a hands-on history lesson with World War II-era military vehicles, weapons and communications equipment.

UnCruise Adventures

© UnCruise Adventures Wilderness Explorer

UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures takes 20 to 80 people on weeklong, all-inclusive trips to Alaska, the Galápagos, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez and other destinations. Children ages 8 and older are welcome aboard all ships. In 2017, UnCruise will debut a Panama cruise as well as a combined Costa Rica and Panama adventure. Sarah Scoltock, director of communications at UnCruise Adventures, says there are a number of experiences catering to kids, including “snorkeling in clear blue waters with colorful fish and turtles, hearing howler monkeys in the jungle, seeing toucans and other birds, and watching curious white-faced monkeys swinging through the trees.” The line’s Pure Panama cruise begins in April 2017 and includes cultural excursions to the Embera Village in the Darién Jungle in Panama and meeting the Kuna people on the Guna Yala archipelago. On itineraries to Costa Rica, local expedition guides join families on the ship to share insight on the country’s rich biodiversity and wildlife.

Uniworld's Cruise ship River Ambassador

© Horacio Villalobos/Corbis Historical/Getty Images Uniworld’s Cruise ship River Ambassador.


In March 2017, Uniworld will launch their latest river cruise ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre, which will sail along the Seine River, from Paris to Normandy. Uniworld’s river boats are floating boutique hotels, with each one individually appointed with elegant decor, fine art and antiques and farm-to-table culinary offerings. Uniworld’s Generations Family Cruise collection offers excursions tailored to teens and tweens, and children ages 4-17 cruise for half the standard price on certain itineraries, including the S.S. Joie de Vivre’s June and July sailings from Paris to Normandy. To attract younger millennial families, Uniworld is developing “U By Uniworld” sailings, and will begin taking reservations this year for its 2018 launch. Two Uniworld ships, the River Baroness and River Ambassador, will be redesigned to appeal to younger travelers between the ages of 18 and 40 and will include a new culinary program, creative mixologists and international DJs. Itineraries for U By Uniworld will include longer stays in destination ports to allow for immersive cultural experiences that enable passengers to meet locals, discover restaurants and enjoy vibrant nightlife scenes.

A version of this article originally appeared on U.S. News & World Report, MSN.com and Yahoo!. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.