Set Sail for a Great Family Reunion

Planning Tips

Family cruise vacations are more popular than ever. According to Cruise Lines International Association’s 2017 Cruise Travel Report, 46 percent of cruise travelers bring their families on their shipboard vacations. Given cruising’s strong family appeal, it’s easy to see why some travel agencies and cruise lines are seeing double-digit growth in family reunion cruise bookings.

Cruises are an excellent vacation value and provide an ideal setting for family reunions. Among cruising’s many benefits, reunion planners highlight these:

■ Highly inclusive vacation packages
■ Activities and amenities for all ages
and interests
■ Flexible daily itineraries
■ Wide variety of dining choices
■ Opportunities for fun, both together and apart
■ Hassle-free planning, particularly with the help of a travel agent
■ Exciting shore excursions and ports of call
■ Group discounts and free perks

Cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes, from massive ocean liners to yachts, expedition vessels and river cruise ships. Today’s ships offer accommodation choices at all budget levels, enabling reunion guests to have a vacation they can afford while making great family memories together. With so many alternatives, it’s easy for reunion planners to match their group with the right ship and itinerary. Here are some of the many cruise options that reunion planners can consider:

Amenity-Rich Megaships

Today’s ocean-going cruise ships are like floating family-friendly resorts, offering dozens of restaurants, Broadway-style shows and recreational opportunities galore. With its wide range of ships and itineraries, Carnival Cruise Line is a popular choice for family reunions.

“Carnival Cruise Line carries 4.5 million people a year, including 700,000 kids and more than a million seniors, which is reflective of our role as the leading cruise line for multigenerational travel,” says Carnival’s Vance Gulliksen. Carnival estimates that about half of all Americans live within a day’s drive of one of its 17 homeports, making it convenient and cost-effective for families to reach their reunion destination.

Carnival’s ships are loaded with fun activities for guests of all ages. Kids get their own spaces like the ships’ massive water parks and kids & teens club areas, while adults have their own amenities such as the outdoor Serenity adult-only retreat and Playlist Production shows. Carnival ships also feature attractions that families can enjoy together, including Hasbro, The Game Show and fun Seuss at Sea programs. Carnival’s standard group policy is that for every 15 full-fare guests, the 16th full-fare guest receives a credit equal to the sailing’s average cruise fare.

Beloved Disney characters, beautifully designed ships and exceptional family-style entertainment have made Disney Cruise Line a top destination for family reunions. The cruise line is renowned for its programs and venues for every generation, as well as outstanding activities designed to bring families together. Ships feature original, Broadway-caliber Disney shows, rotational dining at multiple upscale restaurants and an entire deck for the youth clubs. Adults have their own entertainment districts, restaurants and pool areas.

Families create magical moments and memories together on Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

Reunion groups can arrange for connecting staterooms based on availability, plus special dining celebrations and in-room amenities. Planners can make their reunions even more magical by combining a Port Canaveral-based Disney cruise with a land package at nearby Walt Disney World. Convenient transfers make these land-and-sea vacations seamless.

Norwegian Cruise Line is ideal for family reunions due to its extensive choice of family-friendly shipboard accommodations, amenities and activities for every age group. The line’s huge Aqua Parks, youth programs and Freestyle Dining program have strong appeal for family reunion groups.

The Haven by Norwegian, a boutique-hotel-within-a-ship, provides luxurious accommodations, personalized service and privileged access for those seeking a more upscale cruise experience. Studio staterooms for single guests are available, too.
Norwegian’s generous groups program makes it popular with reunion planners. Family reunion groups receive two complimentary berths for every 14 sold, or one free berth plus two selections from a group of 10 amenity options.

A special events coordinator and onboard dedicated group services coordinator can help with reunion arrangements.

MSC Cruises provides a wide variety of programs and venues for all ages on their ships in North America and abroad. The cruise line’s extensive children’s activities, “kids sail free” program for children ages 11 and under, and discounts for military and civil servants can make it an attractive option for family reunions. Guests desiring a luxury experience can stay in the MSC Yacht Club, an all-inclusive private VIP club level with 24-hour concierge service. MSC’s dedicated groups department can help reunion planners arrange free meeting space, private parties and special packages for their event.

Intimate Smaller Ships

Family reunions on smaller ships can offer more opportunities for group bonding along with unique itineraries. “Small ships are ideal for family reunions because they offer exclusivity, flexibility and savings,” said Todd Smith, founder and president of AdventureSmith Explorations. Reunions can take place on small ships in captivating destinations such as Alaska, the

Young guest get up close to a grey whale in Bahia Magdalena. Baja California, March 2013

Galapagos, Hawaii and the South Pacific.

Paul Gauguin Cruises is seeing growth in family reunions bookings. “Sailing to exotic islands in French Polynesia is special and offers families a way to experience this unique destination seamlessly, creating unforgettable lifetime memories together,” says Paul Gauguin’s Vanessa Bloy. The line has partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society to create an experiential family program offered during the summer months and holiday season.

Small-ship charters offer opportunities for customization as well. “A full ship charter is appealing because it’s a one-stop shop,” says Yolanda Brown of UnCruise Adventures. The line’s itineraries in Alaska, Costa Rica/Panama, Hawaii and Baja Mexico are popular with families. Lindblad Expeditions is seeing much more demand for larger family groups and reunions across all destinations. Lindblad’s ships range in size from 28-248 guests. Groups over eight guests receive a five percent savings plus a $500 per child savings for passengers under 18.

Family celebrating 50th anniversary in Galapagos

European River Cruises

Multigenerational travel and river cruising are two of today’s most popular travel trends, so it’s easy to see why more family reunions are taking place on European river cruises. Several cruise lines have been highly successful in catering to multigenerational cruisers. River cruises provide a hassle-free way to experience Europe’s enchanting cities and towns, offering families opportunities for greater cultural immersion.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has been chosen by Travel + Leisure readers as the leader in the “World’s Best River Cruising for Families” for four consecutive years and is seeing a strong increase in multigenerational bookings.
“Our multigenerational departures are catered to accommodate individuals of all ages through onboard programming and shore excursions,” says Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld’s president & CEO. On Uniworld’s multigenerational departures, one child
(age 4-17) qualifies for 50 percent savings on the cruise-only fare for every accompanying adult.

AmaWaterways has designed its river cruise experiences to suit family members of all ages. The line recently partnered with Adventures by Disney and Backroads to provide more immersive travel experiences for multigenerational groups. AmaWaterways’ newest ship design provides connecting adjoining cabins and family-friendly state-room configurations. Group rates are offered for bookings with five cabins of 10 full-paying adults or more. Other river cruise lines, such as Viking River Cruises and CroisiEurope, are also good options.

Cruise ships provide the perfect venue for making lifelong family memories. With so many opportunities for fun for all ages, your family reunion afloat is sure to be a big success.

By Nancy Schretter

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