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Cruising with Bubbie

The Benefits of Multi-Generational Cruising

By Lisa Plotnick


Dedicated in loving memory of Mildred and Arnold Plotnick



Many people think of cruising as a romantic vacation. Bring the kids? No way. Even worse—how about your parents?


According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) 2008 Cruise Market Profile Study, the most recent demographic study available, 25% of cruisers traveled with children under the age of 18, while 23% traveled with other family members. (Note that these groups are not mutually exclusive.) Additionally, in its Cruise Industry Media Update presented in 2009, CLIA executives expected family and multi-generational cruising to continue to increase in the coming years.


My family and I have cruised twice as members of a three-generation party. In 1995, my husband, then-2-year-old son, and I cruised with his parents on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Dreamward to Bermuda. Five years later, my parents celebrated a milestone wedding anniversary by taking the whole brood—two daughters, two sons-in-law, and three young grandsons—on a Carnival Destiny cruise to Halifax.

Additionally, we have a number of two-generation cruises outside of our own family unit—including one with our adult niece and her extended family, including her mom, to Alaska, and one with my husband’s cousins and our son on Celebrity Infinity to the Caribbean. And, like many cruisers, we have seen plenty of family groups over the years, as evidenced by their closeness, laughter, as well as their matching T-shirts.


There are various reasons for families to vacation together. Immediate and extended families might live a distance apart, resulting in visits that are few and far too brief. Even if family is close geographically, some don’t spend a lot of time together due to work and other commitments. And, spending several days together at a time is a rarity. Cruising can fit the bill for many families as there is little day-to-day planning, a wide variety of activities for all to enjoy, and plenty of time for relaxing—enabling a focus on enjoying each others’ company.


Besides, how often do you get to see your parents in public sporting silly, paper Viking hats? We have the photos to prove it. (And, we are happy to share one as it represents one of many wonderful memories.)

                                               A dinner on Dreamward


In this article, I recount our experiences of traveling with family members of multiple generations, and provide some thoughts on how to make this an enjoyable vacation for all while respecting the parental hierarchies.



Getting Started


Most families have had minor arguments about selecting a restaurant in which to dine at home. How will you ever decide how to spend an entire vacation, one that involves a large outlay of both time and finances?


Working with a CLIA-certified travel agent is very helpful in this regard, as he or she has both the experience and expertise to ascertain the best options for specific family groupings based on the likes, expectations, and budget of the family members. (A directory is available on the CLIA Web site, at, should you choose.)


Right off the bat, it must be realized that it will be impossible to please everybody to a large extent. Fortunately, today’s cruise ships offer myriad activities for passengers of all ages. Many lines—most notably Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean—actively promote their ships as multi-generational family destinations. Some mainstream lines—including HAL and Celebrity—are widely perceived as being exclusively for older generations, yet also offer programs for the entire family. Some other lines fall firmly in the middle. It’s also important to put stereotypes aside. On our 2000 cruise, I was leery about trying the cruise line, yet had a good time and have enjoyed subsequent cruises on the line. The point is to go with an open mind.


Itinerary is also an important consideration. Ideally, you’d like to minimize travel time and expenses for all parties. Nearby embarkation ports are preferable—yet, if you have to fly, look for those that do not require more than one connection, especially if traveling with children.


Budgeting is another manner, although more controllable given the number of ships and cabin options available. Additionally, there is no need for all parties to select the same cabin type, unless you all want to be in the same vicinity. For example, on Carnival Destiny, my family and my sister’s family opted for adjoining oceanview cabins. On HAL Ryndam, our three separate parties occupied two inside cabins and one suite, all on different decks.


For all practical purposes, not all cruise decisions involve a family sitting around a table weighing the pros and cons. Each of our family cruises came about in a different manner. In one instance, my parents—who were graciously hosting the vacation in honor of their anniversary—selected the ship and itinerary after quickly consulting with us to make sure their choice was alright. In another, my parents-in-law had already organized a fund-raising cruise for an organization with which they were involved, and asked if we wanted to join them.


In some cases, family cruises may come together informally. One year, my niece and her husband decided to cruise to Alaska, and asked family members if they’d like to join them. We actually canceled another cruise to do this. We made a deal—she chose the itinerary, we chose the ship. Others decided subsequently to join us.



The Booking Process


In general, planning a family cruise is not much different than planning one with friends. There are different ways to go about the booking—and we’ve done several. And, as stated earlier, working with a CLIA-certified travel agent is a good idea, especially if there are novice or nervous cruisers in the family.


Group bookings: If your family group is large enough, you may qualify as an official group and qualify for discounts and other incentives. Typically, this requires eight staterooms booked at a minimum of double occupancy each. Most cruise travel agents handle group bookings, and there are a growing number of accredited travel agents who specialize in multi-generational or family reunion cruises. Check with CLIA or your own travel agent.


Non-group bookings, one travel agent: In this scenario, a family that does not have the numbers to qualify as a group books through the same travel agent, who will then cross-reference booking numbers to ensure that everyone is kept together for set dining times and, possibly, other activities. Typically, one member of the party acts as the point person. This works well when one party is paying for everyone else, or when all of the travelers do not already have a relationship with a cruise agent.


Non-group bookings with separate travel agents: This is how we do many of our cruises, particularly with those who have cruised prior, so that no one feels pressured to abandon a trusted agent with whom they have built a solid relationship. It is highly recommended to have booking numbers cross-referenced, as noted above, and this is a fairly simple process. Once each party has its booking number, just forward it to the others, and then send them along to your respective travel agents.


No matter how you make your booking, be certain to check that arrangements are in order once you are onboard the ship. We always get a set dining time (as that is our preference), so our first stop is usually the maitre d’ station, so that we can verify that we are all seated together, and request table changes if needed.



Onboard: The Ground Rules


For smooth sailing, we’ve found it helpful to set expectations ahead of time. How much time will everyone spend together, and when? Are grandparents built-in babysitters, or there to enjoy their cruise with each other and the rest of their family? Who will pay for what?


There are no correct answers—yet, having clear ground rules prior to the cruise will prevent issues from cropping up while you are supposed to be enjoying your vacation. I can only share our experiences.


Our key requirement for family cruising is that, at a minimum, everyone eat dinner together. This way, we can each do what we enjoy during the day and in port, yet be assured of family time in the evening. If we happen to select the same organized shore excursion, we will go together to be assured of being on the same bus—yet, each subgroup is open to do its own thing during the day.


We tend to play it by ear in the ports of call. For example, when in Halifax, my husband and son and I wished to visit the Citadel and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, yet the rest of the family did not share our interest in the former. So, we all left the ship together, walked along the boardwalk, visited the Maritime Museum, and then went our separate ways for the rest of the morning. Amazingly, we happened to select the same restaurant for lunch at the same time.

                  Three generations on                   Our son and his grandparents enjoy

                        boardwalk in Halifax                  lunch while mom and dad go on a date


Babysitting can also turn into an issue if not addressed ahead of time. On our cruise with my parents, my sister and I decided to have adjoining cabins so that we could help each other with the kids. For two nights of the four-night cruise, all of us went out together to the shows and other venues. On one of the other nights, my husband and I watched our nephews—with the door between the two cabins open—so that my sister and brother-in-law could have a date. The following night, they did the same for us.


My mother- and father-in-law were huge proponents of their adult children spending alone time with their spouses. We happened to be in St. George’s, Bermuda, on my birthday—my in-laws insisted that my husband and I go on a lunch date in town, while they had lunch on the ship with our young son. And, after our cousins raved about the SS United States Restaurant onboard Celebrity Infinity, they urged us to go and offered to bring our son to the main dining room and evening show. Our niece and nephew-in-law did the same so that my husband and I could have a night out on Ryndam. So, this turned into quality time for our son, as well, who doesn’t get to see his favorite relatives as much as we would like.



Family Moments


If you are still not convinced to at least consider a multi-generational cruise, I leave you with some memories made on our own cruises with relatives.



Now, this doesn’t guarantee that multi-generational cruising leads to the sharing of a meal with a ship’s officer, yet it is one example of a family memory that will last a lifetime. We look forward to future cruises with extended family for years to come.