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.
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 http://www.cruising.org/vacation/welcome,
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
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
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.
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.
Glancing down at the Lido deck during sailaway to see my in-laws participating in
a conga line with passengers one-half or one-third their age. And, they were having
Winning a game of Name That Tune, in the piano bar on Ryndam, with my adult niece
and nephew through combined efforts. “Flying Purple People Eater” now has special
Seeing our nephew, then three years old, swimming in the children’s splash pool on
a sea day near Nova Scotia on a cool summer day, while his dad sat nearby wrapped
in a blanket. Today, this child is a young teen who has won a number of medals for
Enjoying the Thalassotherapy pool, and great conversation, with my cousins on Celebrity
Watching my mother- and father-in-law gracefully maneuver the dance floor on Dreamward.
Years later, my husband and I were on the same ship by ourselves, and I could feel
their presence in this same venue.
Joining in a rousing rendition of “Happy Anniversary” to my parents by a cadre of
dining room staff bearing cake.
Sharing our dinner table with an officer on each of two formal nights on Ryndam.
The maitre d’ later told us that our table was selected as we had an extra seat (we
were a party of seven), and that we “were a nice family having fun together.”
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