Maria Hsieh had a hunch that her family would welcome the idea of joining her on a cruise vacation. Her hunch was spot on.
“My granddaughters loved riding the carousel,” says Hsieh, a grandmother of two and a veteran of 70 cruises, referring to Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the ship she and her granddaughters boarded with her two daughters, one son, and their spouses, in October 2012. “They rode it over and over again.”
With plenty of other supervised activities for the kids and a chance for the adults to relax and catch up, the family was sold on future multigenerational cruises.
“We didn’t have to do everything together,” Hsieh says. “I only cared that we ate dinner together every night — that’s when everyone shared stories of what they did all day.”
Welcome to multigenerational cruising, a vacation that promises endless options for family members, whether the group has more 7-year-olds or 70-year-olds. In fact, so many multigenerational families are booking cruises that accommodations, such as special connecting rooms, have become regular requests, and customized packages for several generations of families traveling together are par for the course. For some cruise lines, extended families have become one of the fastest-growing segments of customers.
Cruises are ideal in other ways, too. During other vacations in which families travel together, it can be tough to balance personalities, age-appropriate activities and, frankly, stamina. Not so on a cruise.
“The wonderful thing about a cruise is that if there are 1,000 people onboard, chances are there will be more than 50 people in your age group doing what you want to do,” says Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia. “If you’re a grandma, you might want to relax on a deck chair and read. If you’re a grandchild, you might want to do the WaveRunner® [personal watercraft]. You can share space and both have fun.”
Here are seven benefits of making your next family vacation a cruise:
1. There are enough food choices to serve everyone’s needs.
With dine-around options, there’s plenty to choose from for the little ones, including casual restaurants with fun kids’ menus and others that serve burgers and fries poolside.
“You don’t have to drag everyone to the formal dining room,” Scully says. “All of that has been an incredible evolution that aims to satisfy cruisers’ needs.”
That said, before you board, reserve a table (or tables) in the main dining room that will accommodate everyone — ideally as soon as you can. This way, on the nights you want to eat together, you’ll have a space assigned to you.
“If you’re traveling with 25 people, you’ll want to get your request in as soon as the dining options open, which is usually 90 days before the cruise,” Scully says. “As a group, look at how many dining venues there are and decide how often you want to eat together.”
2. Tots — and teens — will both have fun.
With clubs specifically aimed at notoriously hard-to-please kids at different ages and stages, a toddler can have just as much fun as a teenager.
This worked really well for Lorna Wendt, a regular cruiser, who took her two daughters, their spouses, and three grandkids (two are 6, and one is 10) on a 10-day Disney cruise earlier this year. “There was something for everyone to do,” Wendt says. “My eldest granddaughter went to a tween club, and the younger ones enjoyed the younger kids’ club. No one was bored.”
3. You can set up a private shore excursion.
If you’re traveling with a large group of family members, you can put together your own private excursion and save on cost with a group rate.
“A lot of families don’t want to join the rest of the passengers on a scheduled activity, and that’s just fine,” Scully says. “You don’t have to get on a bus with 54 people. You can arrange for an art historian to meet you for a tour. By pre-arranging a shore excursion, you’ll build memories on land as well as on the sea.”
4. The staterooms are geared toward families.
As more and more intergenerational families are traveling together, the cruise lines have taken notice and now offer a wide array of connected stateroom choices. For example, on Norwegian Cruise Line, where 15 to 20 percent of guests are part of a multigenerational travel group, the ship-within-a-ship complex (the Haven), offers the ability to book luxurious staterooms that are located near Norwegian’s complimentary youth spaces — Splash Academy and Entourage — and the pool deck. At the same time, there are also studio accommodations for single family members.
When in doubt, study a map of the ship and, if possible, reserve cabins on the highest floor at the back. “That’s usually a deck that no one goes to, so it can become your own family deck,” Scully says. “As a group, you’ll be able to step out on your own deck and meet for coffee or hang out during cocktail hour.”
5. The entertainment will be family-friendly.
Because cruises target families, the entertainment follows suit. For example, a Carnival cruise promises a host of G-rated options.
“We do family-friendly comedy shows each night at 7:30 p.m.,” says Vance Gulliksen, a Carnival spokesperson. “It’s appropriate for everyone in the audience.” This is in addition to the R-rated shows later that Carnival is also known for. During weeklong cruises, Carnival offers up to 20 comedy shows per week with different comedians flying into different ports to keep the jokes fresh.
And then there’s the Carnival Live concert series, featuring artists like Martina McBride, REO Speedwagon, and Styx. “For some kids, it’s their first concert ever,” Gulliksen adds. “There will be several generations in our show lounges enjoying a show for $20 each, and best of all, no one has to walk to a faraway parking lot afterward.”
While most large ships offer an incredible variety of activities on sea days and in the evenings, you can always create your own entertainment. “Ask a chef to lead a cooking class for the whole family, or see if you can book the yoga instructor for a private class,” Scully suggests. “Some of these things come with a fee — others don’t — but the point is that you need to think outside the box when looking for activities the whole family will enjoy.”
6. A cruise can be educational.
To keep everyone engaged, make sure your itinerary includes a shore excursion that’s focused on learning something new, recommends Margie Hand, a travel consultant in Birmingham, Alabama.
“On a multigenerational cruise, the grandparents want kids to have fun but learn something, too,” she says. “So the shore excursion, whether it’s to a chocolate or spice factory or a visit to a historic place, is an important component of the cruise. Grandparents want kids to see that people in other parts of the world don’t live the way we do.”
7. You don’t have to drive home.
At hometown family reunions, someone eventually has to drive home. That’s not the case on a cruise.
“You can stretch out on a lounger with popcorn and a cocktail,” Scully says, “and watch a movie under the stars.”
On a ship, whether you’re heading to the deck to dance or to a bar for a wine tasting, you can all drink without worrying about who’s getting behind the wheel.
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