Family Cruising: Three Generations, One Cabin

Can four family members from different age groups survive in one stateroom?


When I first proposed a summer tri-generational Mediterranean cruise to my daughter, she was concerned about the logistics—making plane connections, finding an itinerary attractive to my two grandsons (Zachary, 17 and Samuel, 15) and finding time for some rest and relaxation for herself. I reassured Megan, “Don’t worry. We can get a stateroom for four—with balcony. And the price is right. Holland America is offering a huge discount for any third and fourth person sharing a room!”

Next came consultation with my grandsons. Which itineraries did they prefer? They settled on a 10-day western Mediterranean cruise on the ms Noordam. We chose shore excursions for all seven ports of call. Who knew when we’d come this way again?

The kids took time off from their summer jobs—something that gets more difficult as they become older. It was an opportunity to expose them to a bigger world and a rare chance for quality time with “Nanny.” Extra time with my daughter would be the icing on the cake!

As for finances, I planned to pay for the cruise for all, plus my own airfare and shore excursions. Megan would cover airfare and shore excursions for the three of them. I had one condition—we’d all keep a daily journal. I’d get to know their feelings about a cruise in general, and in particular whether adult experiences on shore excursions coincided with teen impressions. It also would help me in planning future trips.

With notebooks dutifully packed, off we flew to Rome!

Boarding the Ship

When we arrived in Rome’s airport, Holland America representatives provided shuttle service to our ship. Boarding was efficient because we’d already been sent boarding information. While our bags were sent to our rooms, we went overboard on that first meal of fresh and abundant food fare for which Holland America is famous. The boys were ecstatic already!

We were astounded by our beautiful outside room and a diligent room steward. But, would it turn into a Marx Brothers parody once we unpacked, having four individuals sharing a single cruise cabin? My fears proved groundless.

When the beds (two twins, one overhead bunk and one pullout couch) weren’t open, the room was compact but comfortable. Fortunately, my grandsons are neat freaks! At night with beds open, there wasn’t much room to maneuver, but fortunately we’re not sleepwalkers. And that adjoining ample balcony was available as a retreat to view early sunrises or night stars. Besides, we weren’t in the room that much. Too many things to do outside. With plenty of elevators for me, the bionic woman with two new knees and two new hips, I didn’t hold back my more active family.

As for other concerns, the only time we experienced tension was early on when one of the boys was late getting back to the cabin. Since my daughter hadn’t laid down rules regarding hours, she was worried, and had visions of him falling overboard. His reply: “We’re at sea. I couldn’t have gone anywhere.” That’s when we realized curfew hours should be clear at the start of a cruise.  

Onboard Choices are Endless

That first day we explored the ship independently. At dinner, we compared notes. Activities available included swimming, dancing, listening to live music in the piano bars, playing bingo, attending talent night, seeing Las Vegas-style shows, playing bridge, going to the casino, soaking in the hot tubs, using the fitness facilities and spa, reading in the library, attending daily Catholic mass, taking cooking classes, attending lectures by the captain and staff, viewing the Noordam’s paintings and relaxing to a string quartet in a lounge. And those were only half! Casual meals were always available as well as two formal and eight “smart casual” dinners. Two full days at sea would give us time to try many things.

Broadening Our Horizons

We took seven shore excursions—Florence, Monte Carlo/Nice, Barcelona, Mallorca, Carthage/Tunis, Palermo and Naples. The boys’ evaluations in their diaries were frank: “We got to see and experience Italy’s natural beauty. Gorgeous!” (Zach); “Biking through Palma (Mallorca) was incredible” (Sam); “I really liked Nice. Wouldn’t mind moving there when I’m older—if I could afford it.” (Zach); “Naples and Pompeii was an amazing excursion. I’ll never forget it.” (Sam).

Fostering Togetherness When Apart

If you’re worried about your kids being bored or not having others to spend time with, don’t. The boys quickly made contacts with other teens. During the trip—except for port excursions—they all roamed the ship in packs, spending inordinate amounts of time at the hot tub and pools. Younger teenagers frequented supervised programs, but Zach and Sam linked up with older teens who didn’t want organized activities.

My daughter and I did our own thing—Megan loved the fitness opportunities, spa, reading books and a kitchen tour. I read, slept, played bridge, people-watched or played the slots. We’d meet to watch Vegas-style shows, movies or try the “cocktail of the day.”

So in the end, would we do it again? Absolutely. I knew the trip was a success when halfway through our journey we were offered a second additional room and the boys turned it down. Togetherness had won out!


Next: Tips for a Successful Family Cruise Vacation

Tips for a Successful Family Cruise Vacation

Based on my family’s cruise experience along with some general good family travel advice, here are some tips to make sure your multigenerational family cruise vacation steers clear of rough waters

1.  Get everyone’s input on what itinerary to select. Teens won’t want to tour museums or churches for seven of the 10 days. A variety of countries ensures anticipation for each new destination. 

2.  Prearrange boarding information to avoid delays. Book shore excursions before you leave, otherwise you might not get your first choice.

3.  Let kids order room service occasionally. It’s a rare treat, and there’s no extra charge!

4.  Make rules about curfews while on the ship. The newfound freedom of roaming all day and night might cause problems if teens aren’t given some guidelines.

5.  Insist on some “family meals” together during the trip.

6.  Accept teenage moodiness at unexpected times. Remember when you were that age!

7.  Force everyone to read the daily “newspaper” delivered to your room. It gives tips about daily events you might miss.

8.  Recommend that they keep a journal, then collect them at the end of the trip. Cry with joy as you read what the experience has meant to them. My daughter wrote, “It was wonderful to spend time together … This trip will hold many memories into the future, and I’m so glad for the opportunity we had to do it. Thanks, Mom.”

9.  Insist on having some dinner meals together—even two or three. This gives everyone a chance to share the day’s experiences in other than a perfunctory way.

10.  Choose a reliable established cruise line. I knew Holland America’s sterling reputation for service, staff and facilities, so it was easy.

Themes: Cruises

Activities: Sightseeing

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