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Planning a Multigenerational Family Reunion Cruise

Cruises are such a good choice for multigenerational family reunion vacations, even if the ages range from infants to great-grandparents. One of the most common issues with planning these types of cruise events is deciding which cruise line will best suit your group and provide something for every age group. Here's a good approach.

Start by looking carefully at which cruise lines will work best for the youngest and oldest children - as well as for the oldest members of your family group. School-age kids, such as those ages 3-11, are the easiest age group to plan a cruise for. Most of the major cruise lines have excellent programs for kids in that age group and will keep them very happy. It's the younger and older kids that tend to be more of an issue.

So, let's start with infant guests, because that will narrow things down a bit:

It's important to note that babies must be at least 6 months of age to cruise on Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean. Disney Cruise Line will let babies sail starting at 12 weeks of age. These are the age qualifications for most cruises, but check with your travel agent as they can vary somewhat based on itinerary.

In my experience, many parents of young children want a cruise vacation that gives them a chance for some adults-only time AND also has a place that will let their kids in diapers enjoy playing in the water. Only a few cruise ships offer both of these - and it generally makes a big difference in cruise enjoyment.

Disney Cruise Line is a great choice when cruising with infants and toddlers. Sailings on this Disney are often more expensive than those on other cruise lines, but it can be well worth it for parents of little ones. All of their ships have the Flounder's Reef Nursery, which cares for children from 12 weeks to 36 months of age on a pay-by-hour basis. They also have large family-sized staterooms and great water play areas for kids who are still in diapers. I particularly like the infants and toddlers areas on the new Disney Magic ship.

Disney also offers an excellent program where parents can pre-order all their baby items in advance and have them delivered to their stateroom in time for their cruise. The Babies Travel Lite program includes over a thousand brand name baby products - so no more packing and carrying, diapers, formula, bottles and all that gear.

Several Royal Caribbean ships also have infant nurseries, including the Oasis, Allure, Freedom, Liberty and Radiance of the Seas. Their Royal Babies and Tots Nursery takes care of children ages 6-36 months, also on a pay-by-the-hour basis. Royal Caribbean also offers large family cabins on these two ships as well as a baby pool for kids in swim diapers.

As part of its new Royal Advantage Program, Royal Caribbean is expanding their popular baby and toddler nurseries to more of their ships as well. Check with your travel agent when planning your family reunion to get a list of all of the Royal Caribbean ships that will have this option when you cruise. Amenities may vary considerably by ship on Royal Caribbean, so check carefully and ask questions if you're not sure how much babysitting and child care is guaranteed for little tykes.

If parents of infants just want adult time in the evenings, Carnival is also an option. Their ships offer group babysitting in the evening for kids from 6 months to 11 years of age and Port Day babysitting for kids under 2 in the mornings and on other selected hours. This is not provided in a nursery setting, but it does provide some coverage.

Now, let's look at the teens. Both Disney and Royal Caribbean have excellent 'tweens and teens programs - but Royal Caribbean tends to have a bit of an edge here. Their ships are like floating playgrounds complete with amenities that teens love - like the Flowrider, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, miniature golf, Johnny Rockets, Ben & Jerry's and more. In addition, Royal Caribbean breaks their teen program down into two age groups: tweens (12-14 year olds) and teens (15-17 year olds) - and offers dedicated teen facilities for both groups.

Disney also offers teens their own cool teens-only hangouts and lots of programs, activities and amenities. The teen area on the Disney Magic is particularly awesome and rated an A+ with the teens onboard my cruise. Carnival is also excellent for teens - with two teen age groups and tons of cool activities.

For your oldest guests, like grandparents and great-grandparents - it's important to make sure that the ship's activities and shore excursions are suitable for guests who are older, a bit more sedentary, and perhaps have mobility problems. Take a look at the availability of handicapped rooms, how far it's going to be to walk (or push a wheelchair) from their stateroom to the dining rooms, and what the evening entertainment tends to be. Also consider the likelihood that the older guests are going to be overwhelmed by kids and teens running all over the ship. Ask if there are any adults-only areas onboard. Disney offers these on all their ships.

If you want to make sure that family members with infants have lots of choices for time off as well as water play options - you may want to stick with Disney and Royal Caribbean lines. On the other hand, if there will be plenty of family members to spell them off and take care of the little ones, you can easily expand your search to Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, Norwegian and a host of other options. You'll find there's generally something for everyone on most cruise ships. That's why it's such a great option for family reunions.

Now that you've chosen your ship, turn your attention to shore excursions. Families may wish to do their shore excursions separately, meeting back on the ship to talk about the day's adventures over dinner. If you choose to do some shore excursions together, however, choose options that will cater to the needs of every family member. For example, in the Mediterranean, RomeInLimo's private tours work very well for multigenerational families. The company's plush, comfortable vehicles are a hit with grandparents and their attentive drivers customize the day's itinerary to each family's interests. You'll see more in every port of call than you would through the cruise line. Make your shore excursion plans early, as the most popular options book quickly.

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