Family Cruise 411

by MaggiePowell

Are you taking your 1st cruise? Are you cruising with your family? Maybe you are planning a family reunion Cruise? Here's some information and a few tips before sailing.

When my mom turned 70 she invited all of the family to join her on a Cruise to Mexico. Now... she didn't have to ask me twice.

There is no more relaxing vacation with a large group of people than a Cruise. An Extended Family Cruise or Family Reunion Cruise is a great way to travel with lots of family, and yet still maintain some privacy and quiet time. Everyone had a chance to do the activities that they like best. Sometimes we did things together, other times we split into smaller family units. There is plenty to do for all ages.

Or... you can chose to do nothing at all... just curl up with a book in a quiet place that you've discovered.

And we all came together at dinner time to share our day..... and enjoy a meal that none of us had to cook.

Best of all... no one is stuck with the dishes!

Benefits to Cruising as a Group

You Can Stay Together... Or Split into Smaller Groups

Group cruiseWe've done plenty of Family trips.... you know the ones... 12 people in a cabin and someone is stuck with the cooking and cleaning....then there's the bathroom. Dividing up chores and chasing after loads of kids sort of sucks the fun out of vacations. Not to mention the fact that trying to get large groups of people to agree on a day full of activities requires skills found only in professional hostage negotiations.

On a Cruise...
Our large groups would always make a point to have dinner together. Someone else does all the cooking, washing up, cleaning up, and table setting. You just have to get dressed and show up on time. Share the day. Since our group needed two tables, we would rotate spots so we get new conversation every night.

And if you have a crowd that dislikes "getting dressed up EVERY night for dinner" ? There are always other food options... poolside pizza stations, large buffet rooms, and room service.

After dinner, splinter groups would head to the kid center, the show rooms or the lounges. It worked very well.

Our group would eat at the buffet every morning. Since we had some early risers and some late risers, we never set an absolute time, but we always sat in the same area. This way, we could greet each other and get a handle on where everyone was going for the day. (Those smug early risers would generally be finishing their coffee as others arrived....)

During the day, we generally did our own thing- sometimes we traveled in groups, but seldom as a whole. Some would go to the pool, some to the art auction, the kids loved the pools but ADORED the kid center. The Teens were gone...they found other teens, and vanished. This was ok, as long as they checked in, and joined us for dinner. And funny thing, some days would find all of us together around the pool, and we could swim, play a game or read surrounded by the family.

As for excursions? Some would go ever time, others only went for special things. One of our best coordinations was when we sent a group ziplining, and the rest of us went to a beach resort. The Zip liners were later delivered to the resort, and everyone was happy.

Because, that's the point... it's supposed to be fun for everyone.

You can also plan activities for the whole group to enjoy together. Contact the ship ahead of time, and set up a Table Tennis match, a special cocktail party (with mocktails for the younger set), you can reserve a larger room for family gatherings or a party.

Some larger groups will reserve a bus tour just for their group... and all would go together to see the natural wonders of that port of call (or they'd all go banana boat riding... totally hilarious for those on shore watching).

Let the ship personnel or travel agent help you come up with the perfect itinerary for your group.

Booking for a Large Group

Go through a Travel Agent

I know, these days everything is done through the internet... but in the case of a large group... go with a travel agent. They'll make sure your rooms are booked on the same floor, make sure your paperwork is in order, and handle all the details of a big group of people coming in from a lot of different places.

For example, our group of 14 had people coming in from all parts of California, and a few from Germany. All went seamlessly.

We got our adjoining rooms, got tables booked for our dinner seating, all the paperwork arrived on time, and she made sure we had all the correct documentation.

All You Need On Board Ship is Your Key and and Maybe a Camera

Carry Them on a Lanyard, And You Won't Lose Them (You Won't Even Need a Pocket)
DRY PAK DP-44 Alligator Waterproof Wa...Kwik Tek Dry Pak Gps and Pocket Pc Ca...COACH Signature "C" Lanyard ID Badge ...

Cruise Ship Cabins

Pick your room

Ships CabinWhen it was time to book our cruise, we had to do a little shuffling with the kids. Most Cruise companies will only allow 4 people per room... so... we sent kids to other rooms. With an extended family you can work it out so that the kids are spread out. Luckily my mom didn't mind taking on a few kids.

Each room had a double bed... which felt like it was made of two cradles. On the other side of the room we had a sofa that pulled out, and a bunk that pulled out of the ceiling.

This suite cost a little more, but the added space was amazing. We even had a balcony for some alone time.

Some Cruise Lines offer rooms that sleep six. Or have two rooms with a private sitting room. It does cost more, and you might ask yourself is the cost worth it. Usually our group would find tucked away lounges or tables where we could gather without loads of other people around.



Get them EARLY

Remember, any travel out of your home country requires a passport.

Fill out your application WELL in advance... it takes time.

Carry A Nice Tote Bag

Always Handy... and Necessary!

A nice tote bag is great on a cruise. You can use it as a carry on for your flight, a shopping bag in port, and remember, you have to put your luggage out in the hallway the night before you arrive at your home port, so you will need a bag to put the rest of your stuff in.

Does a Family Cruise Sound Like A Great Idea?

Would You Plan a Family Reunion Cruise?
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Which Cruise Line is Best?

Which Cruise Line Would Work for YOU

cruise shipWe've cruised a few times, both in large groups, and as a couple.

For a large group, with different ages, you need to take a few things into account.
- Kid Programs
-Swimming Pools
-Entertainment suitable for all ages
-Restaurants/ Food

We've been on Carnival, Royal Carribean, and Princess... I've talked to people who've traveled with Disney and Norwegian, and my parents have traveled on Celebrity and (their favorite) Lindblad.

Carnival is geared towards families and fun. Unfortunately, they are also geared to a younger party crowd. Pools get crowded with people having a very good time. It's fun.. but maybe not the best atmosphere for Grandma? or little people.
On the other hand, they are rather inexpensive, and therefore, more affordable for larger groups of people.

Royal Carribean is a bit more "upscale' than Carnival. They have pools, and entertainment geared towards everyone. The dining room is good, food is pretty good, and not too stuffy for the little people. Decent kids programs.

Princess The most recent cruise we took was with Princess. Our group ranged in age from 5 to 73. Everyone seemed satisfied. Food was good, dining room catered to the little ones as well as the big ones. The pool areas were nice, we tended to stay near the covered pool as it was quieter and more family oriented. Entertainment was good- music shows, magician (ok, he used off-color language...) and dancers.
GREAT kids program.
Downside- a bit more expensive, and on the cruise before this, there wasn't nearly enough security to handle the vast numbers of children that were onboard for spring break. Also, there are no lifeguards at the pools.

Disney Cruise Lines Our family has not yet taken a Disney Cruise, but we have friends who have. They say the ships are super nice, but are really geared to the younger (read.. under 10) set and to super Disney Fans. She told me her teens didn't have as much fun as the 8 year old, and she was overwhelmed by the disneyness of it all. But if you are a fan, or want a very kid oriented cruise... give it a whirl.

Celebrity Cruises Upscale, super nice ships, perfect for adults. Kids... not so much. They do have kid programs, but this cruise company is really geared more toward grown ups.

Lindblad CruisesTalk about a dream cruise for nature lovers. These ships are small... very small... under 200 passengers... No giant showrooms with dancing girls, No swimming pools with slides BUT they are all inclusive, and they are loaded with gear to take you on adventures to places you can only find in National Geographic. In fact... they work with National Geographic. My folks have sailed with them a few times, and we plan to join them some day. It's pricey, but what other cruise ship will let you take a kayak off the back of the ship to see the whales, and then photograph them with the help of a National Geographic Photographer. No kid's programs...but the family will have a great time if they like real nature and adventure, not the kind that comes in a can. These cruises are pricey though...

More Cruise Ship Information

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Where Do You Want to Cruise?

What is the Best Cruise Desination for YOU?

Deciding where you want to go with your group can be

Do you want sun? Nature? a party on a boat?
Are you coming from the East or West Coast?

A family meeting and vote needs to happen. In our case the decision was limited by the spring break week, and the desire to sail out of Los Angeles. This limited us to just a few ships, so it wasn't an overwhelming decision. We ended up sailing the Mexican Riviera, which was perfect for our group.

Some Popular Routes-
Mexico- West Coast- Ships typically leave from Los Angeles or San Diego and travel down the coast of Baja California to Cabo San Lucas. Other Ports include Puerta Valljarta, Mazatlan and Acapulco. For those of you who remember "the Love Boat"... this is the route.

Western Caribbean- Ships typically leave from Galveston, New Orleans, Miami,Tampa or even Ft. Lauderdale. Ports include Cozumel Mexico, Belize, and the Cayman Islands. Expect warm sun, sandy beaches and a relaxed atmosphere. Swimming and snorkeling are great.

Eastern Caribbean- Ships typically leave from Miami or Puerto Rico. Ports include Jamaica, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Anguilla and the Dominican Republic. Again... warm sun, sandy beaches and tropical sunsets.

Alaska- The cruises leave from Seattle or Vancouver... and travel north. YOU MUST SEE THE INSIDE PASSAGE You will see Sitka, Anchorage and Glacier Bay. Add a land tour to see more. Expect lots and lots of nature, and not so many warm sandy beaches.

Hawaii- Cruise around the Hawaiian Islands, see them all in one trip- the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. Often these trips leave from San Diego or Vancouver.

New England- Great in the Fall. You can see the coast of New Hampshire, and Maine, as well as cities like Boston.

Panama Canal- Generally they start on the East or West Coast of the US, then head down and through the canal. You can tie in a trip to the Caribbean. Along the way you will see the massive locks that make it possible for the cruise ships to travel through the canal. There are great lakes, rain forests and jungles. Quite amazing.

Mediterranean-This is a perfect way for the family to explore the coast of Spain, France and Italy without having to deal with hotels or cars. Some tourist sites are further inland, and will require a bus trip, but it is a great way to put your toes in the water of Europe.

There are many many many many more routes, go where you and your group will feel the most comfortable.

I've met the most interesting people while flying or on a boat. These methods of travel seem to attract the kind of people I want to be with.
Hedy Lamarr

What to Pack?

How much Stuff Do You NEED?

PackThis really depends on where your cruise is going... and what you plan to do. Please don't go watching "Titanic" and presume that everyone is wandering the deck in Frocks and Waist Coats...

For warmer weather cruises.. shorts, skirts, capri pants, T-shirts or sweat shirts are perfectly acceptable. Some people spend their entire cruise in a bathing suit. Whatever works... Be sure to take a sun hat and lotion

For cooler weather cruising (like Alaska) dress warmer... take jackets, gloves and a hat.

Most Cruise lines geared toward families are going more casual these days, and it is quite acceptable to arrive in the dining room wearing a collared shirt and slacks (men) or a nice top and slacks or skirt (women).

Generally there is one 'Captain's Dinner'. Some people go all out for this.. tux and evening gown (note.. some ships have tuxedo rentals on board). Other people just throw on a nice suit or dress. This is a nice evening of dress up. (If you want to get a family photo, grab your chance while everyone is looking sharp). Often the waiters put on a special show, there is a very nice meal, and you might get a flaming dessert.
If you hate to dress up, and can't get the kids out of their shorts... hit the buffet. 

Take comfortable shoes especially if you plan to do a lot of walking excursions.
And if you like to use a gym at home, you can use the on board gym... so take exercise gear.
Bathing suits... for pool and spa.

All of your medications, especially the prescription ones... IN LABELED bottles. Don't go dumping all your pills in one bottle (customs people don't like that).

Toiletries, Pain Medication, and Sun Screen...yes, you can buy them on the ship, but it would almost be cheaper to fly home and get some at your local drugstore. There is a premium for convenience.

You won't need beach towels, the ships provide them.

Getting alcohol on board is virtually impossible (I won't say absolutely, because I just know someone has come up with a magnificent plan that involves hollowing out the inside of his walking stick). They screen all luggage and hand bags coming on to the ship. All that cheap duty free booze is taken away and stored until the cruise is over. You are at their mercy.

You can take a book, but there is generally a library on board... and there is often one of those shelves where you can take a book if you leave a book.

Games for the family. We are game players, so we always travel with games. Most cruise ships have a game room with tables and comfy chairs for playing.

And don't forget the matching Family Reunion T-Shirts!

Final Tips

Make one person the point person for organizing everything with the travel agent or cruise line. (Make sure this is a reasonably oganized person). Any changes should go through that person, so there are no surprises.

Take Two Way Radios- Phones don't always work on ship (in fact, phones seldom work... drives the teens crazy) If you NEED to keep in touch, use the walkie-talkies.

Don't Feel like you have to do everything together ALL THE TIME. Togetherness is nice... but it can be refreshing to be away from the crowd for a bit. 


Updated: 09/07/2013, MaggiePowell
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MaggiePowell on 06/26/2013

Thanks.... hope you get a chance to cruise

MaggiePowell on 06/12/2013

Do go, if nothing else, it's a vacation from the every day...

jptanabe on 06/12/2013

Great information about cruises - definitely makes me want to go on one!

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