fb-pixel Skip to main content

Forget the Elks Lodge. Have your family reunion at sea.

Maine Windjammer Cruises, while lacking staterooms and ample shopping opportunities, do offer stars, sunsets, and maybe even Northern Lights.handout

Great news, the Elks Lodge is available for your family reunion. Get ready for green bean casseroles and gelatin desserts. (Face it, unless your last name is Osbourne, another boring get-together is in the works.)

Isn’t it about time the family tree let’s its bark down? Like reconnecting on a cruise that sails to the Caribbean. Or, Europe. Heck, you could care less if it’s a cruise to nowhere. All aboard!

Think about it: Your kids will be the envy of their besties, and cruise selfies with the coolest family ever will take over your Facebook feed. And gram and gramps will be the envy of their friends, too.


Ah, families. Here are some cruise lines that put out the welcome gangway for intergenerational reunions. And we’ve got some expert family reunion planning tips, too.

“Intergenerational cruising has become an extremely popular selection for family reunions or simply a family vacation of a lifetime,” says Lorri Christou, senior vice president at Cruise Lines International Association. “Cruises provide the togetherness that families are often looking for, yet still offer the independence that some travelers desire.”

The beauty of a cruise is this: You can play together all day and night — or, you can play keep away, too, at least part of the time. “Family members can pick and choose what to do on the ship and then come together for dinner (or not), says Faraz Qureshi, general manager at Cruiseline.com.

And you can select your cruise according to your family’s interests. “Active family members will appreciate ships with rock walls, zip lines, even basketball courts, while the intellectually curious can book a trip with an impressive list of learning opportunities like cooking classes or guest speakers, says Qureshi.

And beach-loving families are also drawn to cruising, of course. “Southern Caribbean itineraries in particular are known for the famous beaches of Aruba, Curacao, and Barbados,” says Qureshi. “However, since cruise ships only have a limited time in port, beach enthusiasts who plan on spending nearly every free moment of their vacation camped out in the sand will find it easier to do so in a resort.”


If a rub and wrap float your boat, you’ll find a spa on most cruise ships — and often more elaborate than your typical resort spa. “The difference is that cruise ship spas are typically larger and have more amenities — saunas, steam rooms, and, in some cases, Turkish baths and heated lounge chairs,” says Qureshi.

Still, a cruise vacation is not for every family, says Qureshi. “There really is not a cruise ship that has a large pool,” says Qureshi. “So, if you are looking for the pool scene, a resort mightbe best.”

Disney Cruise Line

“The trend of multiple households traveling together continues to grow aboard Disney Cruise Line, with extended and multigenerational family groups and even groups of family friends,” says Jennifer Haile Tinn, manager of marketing and sales strategy.

Disney accommodates larger families and groups traveling together with adjoining staterooms with connecting doors. And on connecting verandah staterooms, the partition between verandahs can open to create a large shared balcony.

“Whether you’re 9 or 92, there really is something for everyone aboard a Disney cruise,” says Tinn. “Kids unleash their imaginations in the youth clubs, adults relax at the spa and indulge at our upscale, adults-only restaurants, and families come together for shared experiences like only Disney can provide.” Thanks to the hit film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Disney is featuring special “Star Wars” events every other week through mid-April.


And if you want to celebrate your English or Norwegian family roots, The Disney Magic will sail its first-ever British Isles itinerary this year, along with new itineraries to Norway and the Norwegian fjords. disneycruise.disney.go.com

Carnival Cruise Line

“Multigenerational travel, where parents, kids, and grandparents vacation on the same trip, is certainly a growing trend in cruising,” says Carnival Cruise Line’s public relations manager, Vance Gulliksen.” And when you factor in the incredible value and all-inclusive nature of a cruise, a seagoing family reunion or multigenerational cruise is a superior option to land-based venues.”

Carnival operates from 17 North American homeports and carries more than 700,000 children and more than a million seniors annually, says Gulliksen. The ships feature the Seuss at Sea program and “some of the largest water parks at sea.” For adults, there are secluded spots like the Serenity adults-only retreats, where parents can get some much-needed “we” time, says Gulliksen. “Plus, there are opportunities for shared experiences, whether it’s family-friendly comedy at the Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez or the audience-participation favorite Hasbro, The Game Show, with larger-than-life adaptions of the brand’s iconic games.”

Carnival’s newest, largest, and most innovative ship, Carnival Vista, is set to debut in Europe this spring. “It will be the line’s most family-friendly ship to date, with innovations such as a unique suspended cycling experience called SkyRide, the first IMAX Theatre on a cruise ship, the new Family Harbor staterooms and suites, and our first on-board brewery housed within the island-inspired RedFrog Pub & Brewery,” says Gulliksen. www.carnival.com


Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line also woos the intergenerational market. “We continue to see large number of families, and especially multigenerational families cruise with us,” says Vanessa Picariello, senior director, public relations. “On average, between 15 to 20 percent of guests on each cruise are part of a multigenerational travel group. International travelers especially are a demographic who traditionally vacation together with their extended family, including the family matriarch/patriarch, siblings, and their children.” In fact, families are the second-largest cruising segment, says Picariello; the first is the 55-and-older cruise market.

Norwegian has also seen a huge increase in the number of “junior cruisers.” “Much more so today, children are the ones driving their parents’ decision to cruise,” says Picariello. More than 40 percent of kids who are cruising on Norwegian are teenagers, she says, and there is a dedicated space just for them called Entourage, a high-energy, exclusive teen zone for ages 13 through 17 with air hockey, foosball, and an arcade center with large screens and comfy sofas. At night it transforms into a teens-only nightclub with a dance floor, large-screen TV, and a video jukebox.

“Cruising is a cost-effective vacation that allows adults to relax and enjoy time together, secure in the knowledge that their children are being entertained in a safe and fun environment,” says Picariello. www.ncl.com


Maine Windjammer Cruises

A Maine Windjammer cruise is an option for families seeking a more intimate sailing experience. “About 15 percent of our passengers are part of family groups,” says Meg Maiden, marketing director for the Maine Windjammer Association. “Some families charter a whole windjammer (capacity between 16 to 40 guests) but these trips need to be booked well in advance. More often we get smaller groups of family members who meet up for a vacation on a Maine windjammer, joining with other guests who happen to be on the same trip. It’s actually pretty fun that way — families can have quality time together, but then there are new people to get to know, too.”

A typical Maine Windjammer experience includes lobster bakes and shore excursions. “Family bonds deepen, surrounded by incredible natural beauty — stars, sunsets, maybe even Northern Lights,” says Maiden. “No itinerary! Sailing vacations unfold organically.”

That being said, it’s not for everyone. Accommodations are sparse — there are no staterooms. “More like camping at sea, but with much better food,” says Maiden. There’s also not much shopping, although the windjammers do visit some interesting towns like Stonington and Castine, Maine. And, horror of horrors, the cell service is spotty, says Maiden. “There will be opportunities to check e-mail, just not 24/7.” Bliss. www.sailmainecoast.com

Laurie Wilson can be reached at laurieheather@yahoo.com.