Cruise lines are uniquely positioned to handle family reunions because of the wide variety of activities and amenities offered, both at sea and onshore. Ships offer tremendous values, accommodations for every budget, high quality entertainment, and a wide variety of dining options. In addition, family reunions held at sea are convenient and fairly hassle-free. Cruise ships sail from more than 20 ports across the United States. Just come aboard, unpack once and let your friendly shipís crew help with many of the details.
Royal Caribbean offers families two Royal Reunions packages from which to choose. The standard Royal Reunions program provides family members with a welcome aboard letter from the Captain; a rock-climbing session; a photo package; door decorations; a personalized cake on the last evening of the cruise; a Royal Reunions gift set; and a daily Royal Reunions challenge that creates competition with other family reunion groups onboard the ship. The Royal Reunions Elite package offers all of the standard amenities plus VIP in-room treats, a Royal Reunions elite activity and special welcome messages. These packages are available to groups booking a minimum of eight staterooms and an additional per person fee is charged depending on the package chosen.
Carnival Cruise Linesí group program applies to family reunions. Families booking at least eight cabins qualify for special benefits. These may include special group rates, complimentary champagne and chocolates, or a private cocktail party onboard.
Holland America caters to family gatherings with their special Family Reunion Program for groups booking a minimum of eight or more staterooms. The package includes special group pricing; a fountain soda card for every member of the family group; one family photo per stateroom; lunch for the entire family in the Pinnacle Grill Restaurant; and a special Head-of-the-Family Reward for one stateroom in the 8+ cabin group, which includes all of the previously mentioned amenities plus a complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to a verandah stateroom.
Mark Pells, Hotel Manager for Holland Americaís ms Zuiderdam, held his own family reunion aboard the ship. His group included 31 family members ranging from 87 to 8 years of age. Here are a few of his tips for planning a great family reunion at sea:
∑ Prior to sailing, send out information about the places you will be visiting to get family members excited about what they are going to see. This will also allow them to be ready to make informed decisions when choices need to be made.
∑ Book shore excursions together in advance, but leave options for free time.
∑ Talk to the Cruise Director to get ideas for fun things you may want to do together as a group.
∑ Create a separate daily program or newsletter, if possible, outlining family events taking place outside the shipís normal daily program. Make sure to clarify meeting places and times before doing a group activity ashore and let family members know how long the excursion will take, whether they should bring money for food or eat earlier onboard the ship, whether shopping is available, and other details.
∑ Be aware of the shipís activities, such as scenic cruising or a performance that you donít want to miss, and make sure to incorporate these into your familyís schedule. If you talk to the shipís Events Manager or Beverage Manager, they may be able to arrange refreshments to coincide with your groupís activities.
∑ Meet in different places onboard the ship for drinks, high tea, or a swim. This is a fun way to catch up on what everyone did the night before and plans for the next day.
∑ Designate one room as a hospitality suite and stock it with water, necessities, and information.
∑ Try different venues for dining together onboard the ship and inform the shipís staff in advance so that they can make special arrangements.
∑ If you have young or physically challenged family members, see if you can hire off duty shipís crew members if available to act as escorts to push wheelchairs or watch the kids. This allows moms, dads and spouses to have some freedom and enjoy their vacation to the fullest. This may not always be possible, but check with the Front Desk to make arrangements.
∑ Most importantly, tell everyone to be flexible and to anticipate changes, challenges and delays. That way, they wonít be disappointed if something different occurs. Itís not only about the destination Ė the journey there is just as important.
On my recent cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line, a large family reunion group posed for photos on the staircase. One of the participants confided,"This has been our best family reunion ever .... everyone has had so much fun!" The reason? Members of the group had the opportunity to pursue their interests alone during the day and come together for breakfasts and dinners. They already have their next reunion cruise planned for next year.
Carnival Cruise Lines: www.carnival.com
Holland America Line: www.hollandamerica.com
Royal Caribbean International: www.royalcaribbean.com
Norwegian Cruise Line: www.ncl.com