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Cruising With Grandchildren

By Paula Hughes Court

After September 11th, the travel industry reported a surge in multigenerational travel, citing the need for families to bring everyone closer together. Today, traveling with grandchildren or "grandtravel" accounts for one in every five trips taken. If you're looking for an easy and economical way to vacation with grandchildren, consider taking a cruise.

"Aboard Disney Cruise Line we increasingly play host to more multi-generational travel than ever before," says Angela Bliss, Publicist, Disney Cruise Lines. "More than half of our guests travel in an extended family party and grandparents who want to test the waters of "grandtravel" are discovering cruises to be an ideal holiday itinerary."

Before you book a cruise there are a few things you need to know.


Choosing the right cruise ship is the most important decision you'll make. Most, but not all, cruise lines offer day-camps and scheduled activities for children. This is a necessary requirement unless you want to return home exhausted. Know that most cruise lines require children to be three-years-old and potty-trained to participate in youth activities.

Before booking, confirm that the ship offers their children's program during the time period you're cruising. Some ships only offer scheduled activities during the summer months and the vacation weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, President's Week and Easter. Also ask if the children's program is available while in port and on formal nights.

Another thing to keep in mind is the ship's itinerary. The Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii itineraries are children's favorites. Other itineraries can work as well, but they may require more research for child friendly activities.

  • Discuss all ground rules with the child's parent present to head off any potential problems. An important issue to decide is if your grandchild will be allowed to roam the ship unsupervised. Be forewarned-this issue will come up! Some cruise lines allow children as young as eight to sign themselves out of the supervised program. Walkie-talkies are a good solution to this sticky issue and they work well on ships. Buy one for everyone so you can stay in constant touch.
  • Passports-If the ship's itinerary requires a passport and your grandchild doesn't have one, apply for it immediately and allow several weeks for processing. You should also bring along a letter signed by the parent authorizing any necessary medical attention and a notarized letter by a custodial parent granting permission for the child to travel with you.
  • Don't forget to pack your grandchild's favorite toy and any medications. If you're flying to the port city, pack games, books, a bathing suit and an extra change of clothes for your grandchild in your carryon.
  • Children's Programs-Most cruise lines offer scheduled activities from 9 a.m.-12, 2-5 and 7-10pm. This means you can drop your grandchild off after breakfast, relax by the pool and pick him up for lunch. After a couple of hours together, he'll be ready to rejoin his friends while you enjoy a quiet afternoon movie.
  • Dining-Flexibility is the key here. Coaxing children out of a pool, getting them dressed and ready to sit quietly through a four-course dinner every night can be a challenge. Work out a compromise by eating dinner occasionally at the buffet. The good news is that almost all ships offer a tempting menu of children's favorites-hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and pizza.
  • Shore excursions-Think carefully about your grandchild's interests before booking an expensive shore excursion. A general rule, though each child is different, is to stay away from long bus rides, shopping trips and scenic tours. Choose excursions that include water and/or animals such as snorkeling, aquariums or nature walks and don't forget to pack plenty of snacks. In some ports, it may be more practical to rent a car and explore on your own.
Don't be surprised to see a few tears upon leaving the ship. Children love spending special time with their grandparents and hate for the trip to end. Need a simple foolproof way to turn those tears into smiles? Pull out a stack of brochures and start planning next year's cruise.

The following cruise lines offer year-round children's programs and dedicated play areas.

Disney Cruise Lines-Good food, roomy cabins, fantastic children's programs and Mickey Mouse. What more could anyone ask for?

Norwegian Cruise Lines-Norwegian's new "freestyle cruising" concept is a plus for families with children. Formal attire is never required and you can eat whenever, wherever you like at up to eleven different restaurants.

Royal Caribbean-There's never a shortage of fun things to do on this line that's becoming a favorite for multigenerational travel. Ice-skating, rock-climbing and miniature golf are a few of the many choices.

Paula Hughes Court is a freelance writer specializing in family and senior travel.

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