Nancy Hazard's Caribbean cruise this summer will include romantic vistas and exciting ports of call, but she won't be traveling with her husband.
Instead, Hazard, 63, will hit the high seas with her grandchildren.
A psychiatric nurse from Fredericksburg, Va., Hazard is among the growing number of grandparents who are taking their grandkids on vacation, without the children's parents.
"They are growing up fast and my golden opportunity is going to fade away," said Hazard of her traveling partners, 10-year-old Cody and 9-year-old Michaelene. "I think it will be something we'll never forget."
Thirty percent of grandparents who took a leisure trip at least 75 miles from home in the last year traveled with their grandchildren, according to YPB&R/Yankelovich Partners (search), a marketing firm that serves the travel industry.
"It's the personal time that's so important," said Jane King, AARP's (search) manager of independent living and long-term care. "Because they [grandparents] are living longer and have more discretionary income, travel is a good way to do that."
Disney vacations, like the Hazards' cruise aboard The Magic, are popular. And niche organizations such as Elderhostel and Grandtravel take grandparents and grandchildren to destinations such as the International Wolf Center (search) in Minnesota or on safari in Kenya.
"They've been all over the world and they want to transmit to their grandchildren a cultural inheritance," said Helena Koenig, owner of Grandtravel.
The upscale agency offers 16 domestic and international destinations with no more than 20 people per tour. And a certified teacher accompanies each group for the academic portion of the trip.
A 10-day trip to the American Southwest, for example, features a jeep tour through Navajo lands, a scavenger hunt in Santa Fe, N.M., and a float trip on the Rio Grande River. The all-inclusive vacation costs $4,490 per person, based on double occupancy.
The non-profit Elderhostel's intergenerational programs, which had approximately 6,400 grandparent-grandchildren travelers last year, focus on educational adventures.
One program, "Tall Ship Exploration of Puget Sound With Your Grandchildren," is geared toward children ages 12 to 18. Travelers participate in shipboard life and work, including sail handling, navigation and galley duty of the 101-foot schooner Adventuress. Tuition for the six-day trip in Washington State is $522 for adults and $498 for children.
A children's fantasy literature trip takes travelers to England, with an emphasis on the works of Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Highlights include a meal inside Christ Church, where the dining hall scenes were filmed for the Potter movies.
Travel allows grandparents and grandchildren who live far away from each other to spend time together "without the interference of family holidays and grandma having to cook," said Elderhostel's spokesperson Cady Goldfield. "Grandma has time to go dog sledding with you."
Kids will marvel at seeing "grandma rappelling down a rock cliff," she said. "And adults can see how capable and insightful the children are."
Hotel chains have caught on to the trend too.
Loews Hotels offers "Generation G" packages, which include adjoining rooms at reduced rates, a take-home photo album, a disposable camera, a phone card for calling parents and a "Tips for Successful Grandparent Travel" pamphlet.
Other chains allow kids to stay free in the same room as parents or grandparents.
AAA (search) publishes Virginia Spurlock's Traveling With Your Grandkids, which takes travelers from the first step — getting the go-ahead from the children's parents — to dealing with homesickness and easily bored adolescents.
"I cleared the cruise trip with their parents and didn't even mention it to the kids until all the adults were on board with this," Hazard said of planning her upcoming adventure.
She'll also pack a copy of the power of attorney and the children's birth certificates in case they need medical attention.
Spurlock recommends having the children help plan the trip by reading up on the destination and deciding on itinerary "must dos."
The Hazard family, for example, has booked an excursion to a butterfly farm. Onboard, Cody plans to hit the Wide World of Sports deck and Michaelene can't wait to learn the secrets of Disney animation.
"They have one whole deck for adults, but I don't care about that," Hazard said. "The trip is for them; whatever they want to do, that's what we'll do."