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How to Plan a Multigenerational Cruise

Grandparents, toddlers and everyone in between are sure to find onboard activities and entertainment to suit their interests.

 

Last summer, three generations of my family enjoyed a memorable cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Although warmer destinations would have suited the younger members of our family just fine, Alaska was my mother’s dream trip. It wasn’t a hard sell to my 50-something brother-in-law, who wanted nothing more than to catch wild salmon; my 12-year-old naturalist daughter, who longed to see grizzly bears and bald eagles; and my artistic older sister, who wanted to paint the untamed scenery. The rest of us were in it for the midnight chocolate buffet.

The ship’s varied attractions—miniature golf, bingo, ping pong, art auctions, sunbathing, swimming, Pilates, spa treatments, bridge tournaments, yoga, movies, scavenger hunts, pottery classes, belly flop contests—allowed us to pursue our own interests and to keep our own schedules, or to meet for an activity when we found something we liked in common.

Assigned dinner seating meant that regardless of what we’d done during the day, we had a predetermined place and time to meet every night. This especially pleased my mother, who loves having us all sit down to a meal together. It was an added bonus that she didn’t have to cook it herself.

Planning a Multigenerational Family Cruise

For the past several years, the cruise industry has been courting the extended-family vacation market—and consumers have been quick to fall for the idea of a multigenerational getaway on the sea. Leisurely cruise itineraries, a careful balance of free time and organized activities, and a prevailing atmosphere of pampering ensure that guests can reconnect with loved ones in a nearly stress-free environment.

Here are some tips for a memorable cruise:

  • Look for ships that have wide-ranging children’s programs, when planning a multigenerational family cruise, Although most mainstream cruise lines offer them, not all onboard kids’ clubs are created equally.
  • Splurge on a balcony. Even though a balcony stateroom is generally a few hundred dollars more per trip than an outside stateroom, the additional outdoor space allows parents to step out of a cabin with a sleeping child, soak up some sun away from the crowds on public decks, and enjoy unparalleled views, no matter the cruise itinerary. Adjacent cabins often have balconies that can be opened up to connect.
  • Request a table reserved exclusively for your family when you book your cruise. To ensure your request has been honored, head to the main dining room the first day of the cruise (well before the first dinner seating) and verify seating with the maître d’. You can usually make adjustments at this time. We neglected to verify our dinner arrangements during our Alaskan cruise, and on the first night ended up sitting with a perfectly lovely older couple—who had no more interest in hearing our family chatter than we had in imposing ourselves on them. It was awkward to request a change on the second day—and when the maître d’ resolved our request by moving the other couple (instead of us, as we expected), we were so embarrassed that we spent the rest of the cruise avoiding them.
  • Buy travel insurance. A good insurance package allows guests to recoup deposit money if a vacation has to be canceled at the last minute—and when you purchase insurance as a group, this usually means that if even one person in your party has to cancel for an emergency, everyone else can cancel as well. For older cruisers, especially, travel insurance is a necessity to cover any medical expenses while on board. My mother required an EKG on a cruise a few years back. Medicare didn’t cover the procedure because we were in international waters, but our travel insurance reimbursed her for the full $6,000 charge.
  • Don’t miss the chance to get a family portrait: Ship photographers set up before and after dinner, when everyone is already spruced up. There is no sitting fee, so if someone in the family isn’t looking her best, there is no obligation to buy the portraits—and there are plenty of opportunities during the cruise to take additional photos. If you are traveling with a large group, be sure to insist that the photographer take several poses, to maximize your chance of getting at least one shot with everyone’s eyes open.

Pitfalls to Extended-Family Cruising

Relaxing on a luxurious cruise ship, visiting exotic ports and being spoiled by attentive staff can be the experience of a lifetime for families. The advantages make cruising as close to a problem-free vacation for multiple generations as I’ve been able to find. But there are a few pitfalls to extended-family cruising as well:

  • Cruise schedules are inflexible—you can’t just show up for the weekend. This can be difficult for family members who cannot afford a full week’s vacation or who cannot take time off from work or school.
  • Coordinating around school schedules, work schedules, sports seasons—this takes patience and persistence. It’s important to begin thinking about an extended-family vacation well in advance to work out details. We booked our Alaskan trip nine months ahead of time—and started talking about it a more than a year before—and I still ended up having to change the booking twice.
  • Remember that on a ship you are stuck with your loved ones for a predetermined amount of time. If a feud breaks out, there is no getting away from it. This does, however, provide incentive to work out disagreements quickly!

Themes: Family Travel, Cruises

Activities: Sightseeing, Swimming


User Comments

family bonding I've never been big on the idea of a cruise vacation...but I may be changing my mind. A cruise vacation with my mother, aunts, cousins and grandmother would be a lovely bonding experience. Thanks for the info!

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