Secrets to a Successful Family Reunion at Sea

[Published by CLIA on June 9, 2014]  Whether families are traveling to celebrate a special birthday, retirement, graduation, or simply to celebrate each other, a cruise vacation is sure to bring them closer together.

imageFamily-focused activities for a range of ages, superior dining and entertainment, good value and stress-free planning are among the top reasons that cruise lines are in demand for family reunion vacations, according to Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise association. MMGY Global 2014 Portrait of American Travelers reports that over three in 10 grandparents traveled with their grandchildren in the past 12 months and eight in 10 of those also took the parents along.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) recommends these tips when planning a multigenerational family reunion:

Think Bang for Your Buck
The inclusive nature of a cruise helps keep families on a budget. There are no worries about who is going to pay for this dinner or that activity as almost all meals, entertainment and activities are included in the rate. Extras, such as specialty restaurants, can be decided ahead of time. Kids even sail for free on select Crystal Cruises (ages 17 and under) and MSC Cruises (ages 11 and under, plus kids 17 and under sail at a reduced rate.)

Work with a Qualified Travel Agent
CLIA member certified agents are the best resource for ship, itinerary selection and cruise planning based on the specialized CLIA training they undergo and their knowledge of the cruise industry. They can also coordinate group and family reunion arrangements directly with the cruise lines. Visit CLIA’s website, cruising.org, to find an expert cruise counselor.

Kid’s Programming
For parents who may want a break from their children – and vice versa – most cruise ships offer structured and supervised recreation programs and facilities. Carnival Cruise Lines, in addition to its Seuss at Sea program, has added Camp Ocean, a new themed children’s program on all of its ships. Kids can also run into such “characters” as SpongeBob SquarePants and other Nickelodeon friends on Norwegian Cruise Line ships and the Marvel characters recently joined their Disney pals on Disney Cruise Line.

Teens have their own cool spaces and activities just for them too, such as mocktail mixology classes, teen yoga, tech classes and teen only night club events on Holland America Line ships. Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess features Remix, a lounge area with foosball and video games, plus an outdoor trendy teen lounge area. Teens can enjoy a little financial independence with MSC Cruises’ Teen Card, a prepaid card designed for small onboard purchases – such as refreshments. On Celebrity Cruises, teens can be film directors with iTake, where they get to take videos from storyboard to filming to editing, with the project ending with a film festival and award ceremony.

Adults-Only Time
Many CLIA lines have adults-only areas where they can enjoy a mini-escape while the kids are at play. The Sanctuary on Princess Cruises is an adults-only outdoor spa-inspired space for relaxing and pampering. The Serenity adults-only retreat on Carnival Cruise Line’s ships offer a tranquil space with whirlpools, lounge chairs and bar service for grown-up relaxation.

Adults also should set aside at least one guilt-free night to enjoy a specialty restaurant that caters to adult tastes. Palo and Remy are both adult-only restaurants on Disney Cruise Line ships, offering Italian and French cuisine respectively, as well as sea views.

And even if the families want to have evening meals together, My Family Time Dining on Royal Caribbean International ships has kids complete their dinner within 45 minutes and be escorted to the kids club by youth program counselors, freeing the adults to enjoy the rest of their meal on their own. During Parents Night Out on Costa Cruises, kids spend the evening at a fun themed dinner, while parents have their own special time alone.

The More the Merrier
The minimum number of staterooms to benefit from a group rate differs with each cruise line. Many lines offer group discounts and points for onboard group amenities. Usually the bigger the group, the more extras they can enjoy. The Crystal Family Memories Program, for example, starts with benefits, such as a shipboard credit, with only six full-fare, full-payment guests.

If your group is large enough, it’s possible to charter an entire ship for a customized cruise on such CLIA lines as SeaDream Yacht Club and Paul Gauguin Cruises. Plus, cruise lines are offering more choice in staterooms to accommodate families. On select MSC Cruises’ ships, parents can have their own private stateroom with family accommodations in an adjacent stateroom with a connecting door. Norwegian Cruise Line features a number of family staterooms with more space and privacy for mom, dad and the kids.

Take Advantage of Home Ports
CLIA member cruise lines leave from numerous ports throughout the U.S., such as New York City, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Galveston, Texas and more. Families can save time and money on airfare and drive to their closest home embarkation and disembarkation port.

Do Your Own Thing
Families are full of diverse people and a cruise lets everyone find their own fun and then share it later. Part of that fun is new experiences. Adrenaline seekers will get their rush rock climbing or zip lining on many of the ships on Royal Caribbean International’s fleet, or walking The Plank that extends eight feet over the side of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ newest ships, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 boasts a planetarium for out-of-this-world exploration. And, foodies can enjoy a wine or culinary class in Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Center or Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Cooking School, where there are also classes for young aspiring chefs.

Together Time
Family members should do what interests them, but remember they are on vacation to bond and spend time together. CLIA advises that reservations for specialty restaurants be made at the time of the cruise booking, since they fill up fast. For larger groups, a pre-dinner reception in one of the ship’s bars can be arranged. Many CLIA member cruise lines offer Broadway-caliber entertainment and big shows, and most of them are kid-friendly such as Disney Cruise Line’s Aladdin and Royal Caribbean International’s Hairspray.

While in port, groups can explore together on family-friendly shore excursions. Paul Gauguin Cruises encourages parents to join their children on eco-excursions to the natural wonders of French Polynesia as part of the line’s youth program, created by explorer and environmentalist Jean Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Future Society. Celebrity Cruises offers Customized Shore Excursions, so families can truly have alone time together. Tauck and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offer specific European river cruise departures designed especially for families, with shore excursions tailored for shared adventures.

For more on information on cruise vacations and to find a CLIA cruise counselor to plan a cruise vacation of a lifetime, visit http://www.cruising.org.

Photo Credit: J. Neves, Seven Sea Journeys

 

Cruising: Tips for Your First Day on Board

IMG_2059You’re finally here!  You’ve checked in for your cruise, been given your sign & sail card, cleared security, and made it to the grand atrium. Your eyes glaze over in wonder at all the glass, marble, circular staircases – or maybe you’re observing a simple, classy, wood-trimmed room representing the nautical themes of old. Whatever the case, you’re probably thinking – what now? Where do you begin this marvelous journey at sea? Here are some ideas to make the magic last the whole embarkation day.

If it’s ready, head straight for your cabin.  Take a few quick snapshots before you mess it up, drop your stuff, give it a quick look around, and try out the plumbing to make sure all is in order. If everything seems ship-shape, then it’s time to go exploring. Unpacking can wait. Meet your cabin attendant if he’s nearby.

Head for the pool or hot tub.  If you were smart, you remembered to pack a swimsuit in your carry on. So, if a long, cool drink, a dip in the pool or a sun lounger are most on your mind, head straight for the sun deck.

What if your cabin’s not ready? Since the buffet is the craziest place on earth during embarkation day, do yourself a favor and enjoy lunch in one of the sit-down venues on board or a quick snack at a cafe. You can always eat more later!

Make reservations, if not already done in advance.  Call or visit the spa, a favorite specialty restaurant, or any other venue which suggests reservations. Book a cabana or lounger on the adults-only, extra-fee sun deck, as these go fast. Popular restaurants and spa treatments may also sell out early, and you don’t want to be disappointed.

Conduct your own photo shoot.  With camera in hand, go on a self-tour of the ship, taking photos of everything you see before the locations are overrun with fellow passengers. Besides, tomorrow you’ll be too busy having fun!

Sign your kids up for the onboard youth club or kids’ camps.  You’ll have the opportunity to meet the counselors and tour the facilities, while helping your kids warm up to the idea of camp.

Book excursions.  If you have no inkling of what you want to do on shore, this would be a good time to visit the excursion desk, ask questions and sign up for tours. Despite convenient access to shore excursions in advance of the cruise, a vast number of people still wait to book on board – some even the day before, making the excursion desk a crowded place later on in the cruise when folks are scrambling for last minute seats.

Purchase a soda card or beverage package.  Just do the math beforehand to make sure the packages will actually save you money.

Phone a friend or text your fond fare-the-wells.  Once you’re at sea, you’ll be subject to sky-high satellite rates from the ship, which brings me to the next point …

Sign up for the ship’s internet plan.  If you can’t bear to disconnect on vacation, sign up for an internet plan – as long as you don’t mind paying for mediocre WIFI service. If you’re a loyalty member, chances are you’ll have the benefit of free minutes.

Don’t forget the muster drill.  You may be tempted to hide out somewhere in a cozy nook somewhere when the muster alarm sounds. Don’t even think of it … the crew will hunt you down and escort you to your appointed muster station as the other passengers glare at you for making them wait.

Lastly, don’t miss the sailaway party.  Even if you’ve got a balcony, it’s all happening on deck. Grab a drink and join in the celebration. You’ve earned it!IMG_1690