Multi-generational families now can explore more far-flung and less-touristy destinations by sea

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Taking the Kids

Maybe this is the year to go on a family cruise. Maybe it’s finally time that you gather the extended family for a multi-generational adventure, even if cruising is something you never thought you’d do.

That was the case of an Ohio grandmother who told me on a Regent Seven Seas cruise in Alaska that “never in a billion years,” did she think she would want to go on a cruise. Then life happened. Her husband died after a long illness, and she wanted to plan a trip with her five grandchildren before they grew up. Her two children suggested a cruise where there would be no stressful activities, a solicitous crew who couldn’t do more for you (no need to make a bed or prepare a meal!), and most important, the chance to share a wonderful new place together – whale watching, glacier calving, hiking and kayaking in spectacular environs – where the grandkids would learn something as well as have fun.

A multi-gen cruise excursion

“I’m in heaven,” that grandmother told me, smiling. “My five grandchildren in one place and available to me.”

You might think luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas wouldn’t appeal to families, but I met many multi-generational groups on that trip. Regent, the grandparents said, also appealed because it is all-inclusive so there were no surprise bills at the end.

For a quick review of cruise lines and what they are offering in 2024, check out the very recently updated Taking The Kids Family Cruise Guide.

I’ve also met multi-generational groups – typically three generations – on river cruises ( Adventures by Disney has a partnership with AMA Waterways while Uniworld and Croisi Europe host special family itineraries ), expedition cruises, even in Antarctica, Windstar sailing yachts and, of course, traditional cruise ships.

“We’ve seen a significant increase (in multi-generational bookings) post-Covid,” said Janet Bava, chief commercial officer for Windstar Cruises, with sailing yachts that carry just 148 to 342 passengers.

Happy big multi-generational family preparing luggage for travel
Happy big multi-generational family preparing luggage for travel

Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise noted that with the introduction of new ships and itineraries, multi-generational families now can explore more far- flung and less- touristy destinations by sea, “something that was far more difficult – even impossible – before.”

“Now, more than ever, cruise lines are building products and offerings that really cater to those (multi-generational) groups – from building out even more robust kids clubs and programming, to introducing indulgent adult-only areas onboard and offering a range of price points,“ McDaniel said.

Croisi Europe River Cruises has introduced an all-inclusive multi-generational offer with a waived single supplement, 20 percent discount for the second generation and free cruises for kids up to age 16. The pricing can also be applied to special Family Club cruises with special family and child-oriented activities on board and on excursions.

Todd Smith, whose company AdventureSmith Explorations specializes in expedition cruises, notes that their multi-generational bookings have grown 25 percent in the past few years. “Trade kid’s clubs and water slides for shared adventures in nature that instill a lifelong love of travel, creating family memories that will last a lifetime,” he said, adding that the all-inclusive nature of small ships, including guides and excursions, make the price comparable to traditional cruises.

Kids activities on the Carnival Sunrise
Kids activities on the Carnival Sunrise

Carnival boasts that half the country lives within a five-hour drive or less from one of their ports and carries the most children and families in the industry. Multi-generational families also gravitate toward cruises in Europe as they can introduce the kids to “great sites” without negotiating travel from city to city and with being able to guarantee a comfort zone for the kids where everyone speaks English, and they can always find familiar food after a day of touring.

Today 73 percent of cruise travelers are sailing with family members that represent at least two generations, according to the Cruise Line International Association state of the industry report. There is an increase in accessible cabins across the cruise line fleet, as well as solo cabins. Cruise lines increasingly are offering environmental educational and sustainable tour experiences for passengers, as well as activities for children and teens that focus on giving them insight not only into the region where they are traveling but also how they can be better stewards of the environment. Princess touts Discovery at Sea complete with stargazing, a partnership with Animal Planet that might include meeting local creatures. (Sled puppies in Alaska, perhaps?) and Junior Ranger programs in Glacier Bay.

Multi-generational groups also like that they can divide up during the day for different activities and shore excursions (grandma skips ziplining and the kids skip the trolley tour!) and then all gather for dinner and evening entertainment.

Happy family on cruise vacation.
Happy family on cruise vacation.

Parents like that they can get some adult time with so many on-board activities for kids, even on some for toddlers and day care for babies. Cunard even has complimentary night nurseries to take care of babies starting at six months so parents and grandparents can enjoy dinner. (Just make sure the ship you are booking has appropriate programming for your children or grandchildrens’ age. Some nurseries are an extra charge and may require pre-booking.)

Sound good? The key is to plan smartly. You don’t want to end up like the grandfather who paid a hefty deposit for his family to go on an Alaska cruise only to discover they weren’t interested. Obviously, the first step is to see if your family buys into the idea and to pick some dates that everyone is available. Where do they most want to go? Who is paying?

Next, find a travel adviser who is a cruise expert. The Cruise Lines International Association can help you connect with one in your area, especially if you are new to cruising, it is difficult to sort out all of the options and what would be best for your family. Another plus: If there are hiccups – and there are bound to be some – the travel adviser can sort them out rather than everyone blaming you when things don’t go exactly as planned.

The travel adviser can also help book restaurants (you will want to do this ahead, especially if you are a large group), spa and other on-board activities (say a cooking class), as well as shore excursions.

A tip about shore excursions: When you have a family group, it can be more economical and fun to book privately. You don’t want to be in the situation I found myself in with a sulky, bored child amid a group of 50 in Rome. With a private tour (check out, for example) you can tailor the experience to your family’s interests. And those who offer such tours to cruisers are attuned to the ship’s schedule so they will make sure you are back in plenty of time.

Last but certainly not least, make sure everyone has travel insurance. This will protect you if someone gets sick and can’t go, someone gets injured or sick during the trip, luggage gets lost, or flights are delayed. Some policies insure kids for free.

Bon voyage!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2024 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.