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It rained the day Jennifer Stevens and her family were supposed to visit Mayan ruins. Despite the rain, a shore excursion on a family reunion cruise became one of her favourite memories from the trip.
Stevens’ grandparents, who loved cruising, organised the Princess Cruises trip for about 20 relatives in the late 1990s. In Mexico, the tour guide gave them ponchos made of black garbage bags, and she and her family made the best of it.
Cruises are popular options for family reunions because they allow passengers to plan ahead of time, travel as a group, and bond through unique activities and experiences, even if things don’t go as planned.
Are cruises suitable for family vacations?
Stevens’ family had so much fun on their first reunion cruise that they went on two more in the years that followed.
Her relatives could choose from a variety of activities on a cruise ship, she said, from bingo to seeing a show to sunbathing, all while sailing to different ports.
“There was enough variety for everyone that they didn’t get bored, as opposed to sitting in one resort in one location,” said Stevens, 49, who works as an executive assistant in a children’s hospital and is based in the Hudson Valley, New York.
According to Linda Terrill, founder of The Luxury Travel Group, a Brownell Travel affiliate, shore excursions in particular offer something for everyone when travelling with multiple generations.
“The teens could go on a kayaking adventure, for example,” she explained. “Grandma and Grandpa can stay on the ship or go on more cultural excursions, or they can go all together.”
Terrill also mentioned that larger lines have “great children’s programmes and teen clubs” for families travelling with children.
Why is cruising an excellent choice for family reunions?
Cruising, perhaps more than any other type of travel, promotes quality time.
Charity Jackson took advantage of the opportunity to disconnect from life back home when her father’s family took its biannual family reunions to sea in 2013 and 2019.
“As a cousin group, we’ve had a lot of fun on cruises without cell reception because, you know, your parents can’t call you to see where you are,” the 29-year-old digital marketing manager said.
The ships became a backdrop for family time during the Bahamas cruises with Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line: they dined and drank together, had beach days, and even had a family reunion roast where Jackson said she “slayed.”
Ricky Yahn and his wife, Lindsey, went on a 2019 Disney Cruise Line sailing to the Caribbean to see her family, and he found the ship to be a nice mix of togetherness and freedom.
If the family had chosen to visit a specific city, he believes they would have had to plan out each activity or risk not spending as much time together.
They had a set dinner together every night on the cruise, for example, but “there was also enough freedom built in that we could all kind of do our own thing,” according to the 38-year-old college basketball coach. The ship’s limited confines also meant more frequent run-ins than might occur in another setting.
Yahn speculated that multiple family members might unexpectedly attend the same show or bump into one another on the pool deck, creating impromptu opportunities to socialise.
Jackson said she found it easy to get space without making a fuss for those who were concerned about spending too much time together. “I think sometimes you don’t get along with everyone in your family, and I don’t get along with everyone in my family,” she explained.
She noted that if she got into an argument with a relative on land, she could return to her room or call an Uber to take her somewhere else.
“However, if I’m on a cruise, I can literally walk away and say, ‘Well, I just want to do something different and fun,’ ” According to Jackson. “So, I’m not going to my room sad, but I’m also going to a comedy show or the casino or another part of the (ship) where there will be less drama.”
Planning a Family Reunion Cruise
Before booking a family reunion cruise, travellers should ensure that “the entire extended family or multi-generational family is comfortable with cruising as an option,” according to Jared Feldman, owner of travel agency Jafeldma Travel.
He also emphasised the significance of appointing one or two relatives to serve as leaders, corralling the rest of the family and handling logistics and communication.
According to Feldman, some cruise lines, such as Princess, Royal Caribbean International, and Celebrity Cruises, are especially popular with families.
He stated that in order to qualify for a group rate, cruise lines generally require either 16 passengers or eight cabins. “So, when it comes to a family reunion, that’s a pretty low bar to meet,” he explained.
According to Feldman, group rates generally offer travellers a lower cost per passenger than regular fares if they book early.
Feldman said that when a family expresses interest in having a reunion on a cruise, he contacts the cruise line to reserve a handful of staterooms across different categories at a variety of price points. From there, guests can choose the type of room they want, and the cabin selection is customizable.
During their first reunion cruise, Stevens, for example, shared an interior room with her sister. “I remember the room being so small that we couldn’t move,” she recalled. “You couldn’t open the door while taking a deep breath.” On the next sailing, they upgraded to a room with a balcony.
Stevens recalled watching the New York City skyline fade away as the ship pulled away from land on another reunion cruise, while her father pointed out where he had worked in the World Trade Center prior to 9/11. Her grandparents and father have both passed away, but the reunion sailings remain special shared memories.