Multigenerational Cruising - The Perfect Family Vacation
If there ever was a place tailor-made for multigenerational family vacations, it’s a cruise ship — in part for its myriad of onboard activities fit for adults, grandparents and kids of all ages. But picking the right cruise can be tricky. That's why Onboard.com is bringing you a handy guide to multigenerational cruising, so you can see what destinations and cruises are best for you and your family.
Why should you take a multigenerational cruise?
- Something for everyone: One of our favorite things about cruising is the great variety of options that you can find on board, making cruise ships the ideal place for families where the interests are varied. Think of this scenario: kids spend the day playing at the kid’s club, parents lounge and enjoy a drink by the pool, grandparents spend some time in the casino and in the adults-only pool decks, and your teenage cousins, we’ll, they’re taking up the ropes courses or playing basketball on board. Everyone can do what they want, no arguments needed.
- Price: Family vacations are pricy, no matter how you slice it. But cruises are some of the most affordable vacations around. Your cruise fare normally includes lodging, most onboard activities and food. While some cruise lines charge extra for specialty dining, if you don’t want to pay for anything outside the base cruise fare, you don’t have to.
- Stress Free: You don’t have to worry about packing, unpacking and then packing again. Forget having to deal with multiple airports, ground transportation and finicky hotels. Once you board a cruise ship, you’re in for the however many number of days and for the most part, everything is taken care of for you. To make it even better, most, if not all shore excursions will take care of the transportation, activities and meals.
Here’s what you should keep in mind
- Large ships are best: For multigenerational families, large cruise ships with a greater variety of entertainment, activities and dining venues work best. As we mentioned before, we love that on these ships one can doze on a deck chair or hit the spa on a sea day, while more social types can join classes or participate in all sorts of fun games on board. Also, the kids’ programs tend to be top-notch, which is a huge plus if your extended family includes mini-cruisers.
- Close Cabins: Book a block of staterooms nearby or find connecting cabins to share with younger kids. This makes it easier for the entire family to get together before meals, excursions and other activities.
- Group perks: Many cruise lines offer perks and help make group planning easy. From arranging shore excursions, special dinners and private parties to deals on drink packages and specialty dining, it’s worth asking when booking or inquiring about it once on board.
- Minimum Age: If you’re traveling with a baby, make sure you check with your cruise line about the minimum age allowed. Many cruise lines start at 6 months.
- Kids Programs: check with the cruise line to find out more about their kids and teens clubs. Many cruise lines split younger kids from older kids, same with teens. And we find that kids of all ages are happiest when amongst kids of their own age groups. If you have really young kids, we recommend looking into babysitting programs as they’re not always included.
- Time of year: Avoid peak dates like spring break, Memorial and Labor Day weekends if what you’re looking for is a calm and relaxing family cruise. These dates, especially in shorter cruises, are usually popular with cruisers looking for a non-stop party.
- Adult-only spaces: Make sure you check out the options for adult-only spaces on the ship. Many cruise lines now offer private pool areas, like the Vibe Beach Club on Norwegian Getaway or Carnival’s Serenity Pool deck. But for some, you may have to pay extra. So, keep that in mind.
When getting ready to cruise:
- Pre-book dining: If getting together at the dinner table is important you, make sure you request either a large table or a section of the dining room for the whole family before your cruise, or have a quick chat with the maître d’ immediately after boarding the cruise ship. That way you’re not sitting separately, on opposite ends of the dining room or, worse yet, dining at different times.
- Shore excursions: Private tours, such as fishing trips in Alaska and car/driver combos in Europe, can be a great option for multigenerational groups who have similar interests or who are willing to discover something new together. However, splitting up works too. Grandpa can do the all-day bus tour in Seville while Grandma and the kids head to a nearby beach.
- Drink packages: Most cruise lines only include water, coffee and tea in the cruise fare. While some others may include selected juicesif your kids drink a lot of soda, we highly recommend looking into drink packages. The same goes for alcoholic beverages. It may save you a lot in the long run.
On the ship:
- Meeting places: Designate a meeting place (in case anyone gets lost or is running late) or get everyone together before dinner (my husband and I hosted pre-dinner drinks in our suite) to take the stress out of having to be somewhere on time.
- Communication: Check with your cruise line to see if they offer shipboard apps that you can use to communicate with your group or if they offer other solutions. Disney Cruise Line, for example, has little telephones you can take from your cabin to stay in touch with your family and friends, let you know if you kids need to be picked up and more. If nothing is offered, bring your walkie-talkies along, you’ll be glad you did
- Read the daily schedules: This you mustn’t forget. The daily schedules are your guide too all things on board. They’re packed with activities and shows you won’t want to miss. Go through them the night before and plan your day out , then carry them with you to make sure you don’t miss your favorite activities.
The Best Cruises for Young Kids
Cruising with kids can be tricky. You have to choose the right time and the right destination for that specific time of year, specially if you want to avoid the rowdy party crowds. With so many things to keep in mind, the last thing you should worry about is how to keep your kids entertained. Thankfully, cruise lines’ offerings for children are ever-expanding with wonderful kids club’s activities, after hours baby sitting and dining options that go beyond having a simple kids menu. Here are our two favorite cruises for young kids:
1) Cruise to the Bahamas on Disney Cruise Line:
Bahamas cruises are great for parents cruising with young kids. Most cruises average 3-4 days allowing you to test the cruise scene before committing to the typical 7-day cruises. Also, many cruise lines have private islands that offer a controlled environment where your day at port can range from playing on the beach with low waves to napping under a shaded cabana and sliding down inflatable watersides to mild hiking. One of our favorite private islands is Disney’s Castaway Cay. There’s something from everybody, which is why we love cruising to the Bahamas with Disney.
Disney cruises are made for families with young kids. The staterooms are bigger than on other cruise lines and they include bath tubs which are definitely great for babies and toddlers. Plus, Disney’s kids clubs are out of this world. With innovative programming and cutting-edge technology, your children will never be bored and could even end up making a steaming volcano in the Craft Studio within the Oceaneer Lab. Babies 6 months and up can spend the day in the “It’s a Small World” nursery, so parents can enjoy some of the ship’s adult-only areas. Let’s not forget the spectacular entertainment options, magic shows, character meet & greets and other activities that will have the entire family smiling from ear-to-ear.
2) Cruise to the Caribbean on Carnival Horizon:
We love the Caribbean. With so many islands to explore, you can cruise there many times and never get enough. The ports vary from large to very small and families with kids can find a wide range of activities to indulge in. Get them in touch with nature while visiting Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman, discover their inner explorer in the Mayan ruins of Costa Maya or simply play to their hearts content in one of the 365 beautiful beaches of Antigua.
If it’s fun you’re looking for, look no further than Carnival Cruise Lines and their beautiful Carnival Horizon. The newest ship in the line, the Horizon hosts one of the largest water parks at sea. With no age restrictions, the slides will keep both kids and adults going for hours. Kids that love books will love to see Dr. Seuss at Sea, including a breakfast with green eggs and ham and a character parade on board. Camp ocean also provides 2 to 11 year olds with plenty of activities. Campers are divided into smaller groups, Penguin for ages 2 to 5, Stingrays for ages 6 to 8, and Sharks for ages 9 to 11.
The Best Cruises For Teens
How do you choose a great vacation for those hard-to-please teens in your family? Yes, we all have some of those! Keep them happy and their attentions piqued with a cruise to exotic locations like Alaska or the Panama Canal. The cruises below are among our favorites for teens because they provide new learning opportunities, give plenty of chances to hang out with peers of their same age, and will give you a chance to reconnect with them.
1) Alaska on Princess Cruises:
Alaska is unpredictable, wild and free - sort of like teens - and that’s what makes it the perfect cruise destination for families with teens. Alaskan itineraries focus more on the destinations than organized fun on board, which can get boring quickly, for the teens that is. It’s all about learning and experiencing the wildlife, climbing glaciers, zip lining and whale watching. It’s difficult for a teen to say, “do I have to go?” once they see a grizzly bear roaming the untamed terrain, sail past tall glaciers and see a bald eagle in the trees as they zip line past it.
Princess Cruises might not immediately come to mind when you think of “teenager friendly cruises,” but their Alaskan cruises are some of the best with seven ships sailing to Alaska this summer. And while Princess might be known for ‘The Love Boat,’ we love those ships for the opportunities they give families to reconnect with each other. With less things to do on the ship than, for example, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, we find that families find time to bond on Princess. Plus, on Alaska itineraries Princess has the Teen Explorer Program, developed by the National Park Service, teaching teens about Glacier Bay, the Alaskan Wilderness and much more.
2) Panama Canal on Norwegian Pearl
If your teen is the kind that likes to discover something new, a Panama Canal cruise is the perfect option for them. You’ll cruise from one ocean through the other, all through the 51-mile water bridge that goes across Panama. The impressive locks will have their jaws dropping, but if that’s not enough, the ports of call in Central America offer plenty of thrills like volcano climbing in Guatemala or zip lining through rainforests in Costa Rica.
Norwegian Pearl isn’t the youngest in the NCL family, but she still makes perfect ship for teens. That’s where Entourage comes in, the ship’s private teen area. They’ll be able to enjoy flat screen TVs, Wii U, air hockey and also enjoy nightly dance parties. And to top if off, Pearl also has an onboard bowling area and rock climbing wall we’re sure they’ll love. There’s usually a fair amount of teens on these cruises, but if you want to increase the chances of having a more age-appropriate crowd try cruising in the summer or around Christmas time.
The Best Cruises for Grandparents
Get grandma and grandpa the special treat they really want: quality time with the entire family.
1) The Mediterranean or Baltic on Celebrity Cruises
There’s a better way to see Europe than hopping on and off a plane (or train). Hop on a cruise instead and explore all the sights without the stress and hassle of handling luggage, making boarding times to travel from one historic city to another. For us, cruising is the perfect way to see Europe. Going to sleep by the shores of Italy and waking up in Croatia is the perfect experience for grandparents with a sense of wander and who want to explore the world with their kids and grandkids. Indulge them a little with the wines and gourmet cuisine of Europe as they tell you their childhood stories inspired by the historical setting that surrounds you. Europe is the perfect setting to build memories that will last a lifetime.
We love to pair this destination with a Celebrity cruise. Sleek, stylish and sophisticated, this cruise line provides a more relaxed, top-shelf experience without making it inaccessible for younger kids. They’ll love to relax in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, grandma will love to have a multigenerational dance session during a Zumba class while the boys spend their time in the Fortunes Casino. Celebrity also offers special enrichment opportunities for seniors that include computer and mobile device classes and foreign language courses by Rosetta Stone. Plus, with one of the best wine selections at sea, the oenophiles in your family are guaranteed to have a great time.
2) Mississippi River Cruise on the American Queen
See the U.S. like you’ve never seen it before on a Mississippi River Cruise. Discover the lands that Mark Twain called home, traveling from Memphis down to the Big Easy, places where food and history reign supreme. See the famous ducks at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, visit Civil War battle grounds in Vicksburg, and see the great plantations of Louisiana all in one trip. If the lower Mississippi isn’t your cup of tea, itineraries through the upper Mississippi, the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, and the Columbia and Snake Rivers are also available, but one thing is for sure: You’ll find unique charm wherever you go.
The American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built and she’s filled with all of today’s modern amenities. A cruise on her is like going back in time, without compromising the everyday comforts we’re used to. This ship’s onboard library, The Mark Twain Gallery, will enchant adults with a literary flair. Complimentary wines and beer with dinner, gourmet dinning and a luxurious two-deck tall Grand Saloon will give this cruise vacation a unique style. She’s the perfect river boat for families traveling without children.
The Best Cruises for the Whole Family
Traveling with the whole clan? We have two great picks for you. If you like large ships where everyone will be constantly entertained, try Allure or Oasis of the Seas. But if you’re looking for a more intimate, less loud setting, Holland America has just what you need.
1) The Caribbean on Symphony of the Seas or Harmony of the Seas
We’re back to the Caribbean for this one. Why? Well, with over 7,000 islands we guarantee you’ll find one everyone in the family will love. Discover historic St. Kitts, a low-key Caribbean port with views you’ll never forget, shop till you drop in St. Thomas, the Caribbean’s best shopping destination, or indulge in some authentic jerk chicken in Falmouth, Jamaica. And our favorite ways to get there are definitely the Royal Caribbean megaships.
Packed with activities from rock climbing, surf simulators and ice skating rinks your family will never get a chance to get bored. Those looking for a more relaxed experience can find their little nirvanas in the ship’s Vitality Spa and the Adults-only Solarium. Plus, with 25 different dining options and tons of entertainment, you can rest assured the entire family will have a great time.
2) Alaska on Holland America
It’s impossible to say the word “Hawaii” and not smile. That’s why we’ve picked it as a great destination for the entire family. The Hawaiian Islands, with their volcanic shores, have beautiful landscapes that will enchant even the most cynical of teens. Younger kids and adults looking to relax can spend the days in the beautiful Hawaiian beaches, playing in the sand or taking in a bit of light snorkeling. The more adventurous can partake in Hawaii’s most famous sport- Surfing - or climb to the peak of mountains like Diamond Head, for spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
Holland America has four ships sailing to Hawaii at different times of the year. We love this cruise line for large family groups because of their ‘Family Reunion Program.’ With this, families booking 8 or more staterooms can enjoy a $50 soda card per stateroom, lunch for everyone at the Pinnacle Grill, and more. And while Holland America might sound like it’s more catered to adults, Club HAL provides age-specific activities for kids from 3 to 12, while Tweens and Teens have their own space. Adults will love taking part of the Culinary Arts Center, one of the only cooking schools at sea (the Culinary Arts Center also offers programs from Tweens).