Cruises - once the preserve of the elderly – have become increasingly family-friendly in recent years and there are now more child-friendly amenities and family offers than ever before. The main benefit of cruises with kids is that they take in a lot of different cities without you having to lug all your stuff with you. But cruises don't all have to be about waterparks and playrooms, as our feature on a Mediterranean cruise with kids attests.
Alternatively, go for something smaller-scale and hire a self-drive cruiser to roam Europe's waterways, from canals to lakes. Kids love being part of the crew as Mum and Dad take turns at being Captain and First Mate, and crucially, a family boating holiday allows you to travel at your own pace, stopping when and where you want, whether to shop at a local market before dining alfresco on your deck or hopping into a waterside bistro. Boats are available to suit all budgets and family sizes, and itineraries are available for short breaks, 1-week holidays or longer stays. See our features on a family boating holiday on the Mecklenburg Lakes of Germany and on Boating with Kids on the Norfolk Broads.
If you’re unsure whether your kids will enjoy being on a ship for a week or more, try a ferry-based ‘mini-cruise’ such as those offered by Brittany Ferries to Spain or DFDS Seaways to Denmark and other destinations. Vessels have play areas and activities in high season, from magic shows to tours of the bridge.
Seek out a family-friendly cruise company with suitable entertainment and – crucially – other children on board who can speak the same language - or languages - as your own, plus play areas or rooms that are solely for children.
Make sure the dining arrangements are suitable for kids: some cruise companies allocate tables and family dinner slots, but a ship with a ‘relaxed dining’ policy is better, so you can eat when you want, and have a choice of restaurants offering food that both adults and children enjoy.
Choose your cabin wisely – it needs to be big enough, with adequate storage space and, if possible, a private balcony (invaluable for getting away from the crowds now and again, and a great spot for parents to enjoy an evening glass of wine while the children are asleep inside).
Check which currency you’ll be expected to pay in, as exchange rates may adversely affect your bill. It’s particularly worth finding out in advance if a particular operator charges in Euros for everything on board.
Make sure that a given cruise employs staff who speak good English, especially those providing childcare – it’s important that children feel happy and secure.
Choose a company offering on-board so you can explore the area and make day-trips to the beach or local towns and attractions.
Choose your area according to your family's interests – with older kids, for instance, you may want easy access to sporting activities including kayaking, sailing and horse-riding.
If you're holidaying with another family, think about hiring two smaller boats rather than one big one - not only will you get more privacy, but you can enjoy racing each other!