How to Plan a Family Reunion Cruise

Cruises can offer fun for the whole family, making for a memorable family reunion experience.
Cruises can offer fun for the whole family, making for a memorable family reunion experience.
Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Families that span several generations are often scattered long distances apart or just don't have a lot of time to keep in touch. Reunions might be the only time some family members see each other. If you're organizing a family reunion, you'll want that rare time together to be enjoyable and memorable for everyone.

One of the challenges in planning a family reunion is finding a location that's suitable for family members of all ages. A 2007 report by the U.S. Travel Association stated that a third of American adults had traveled to a family reunion in the three years prior [source: Today]. To make the most of the event for those who have traveled, you'll probably want more than just a banquet to bring everyone together. If you plan a longer event, such as over a weekend or an entire week, consider a location that's a fun-filled vacation for everyone.

Another challenge is keeping your reunion affordable. Remember that the people you bring together have different budgets and different priorities. That same Travel Association report stated that about half the reunions were held at someone's home. This may be your cheapest option, but it may not accommodate a large number of people for several days. As an organizer, choose a location and activities that are both enjoyable and fit family members' budgets so they can arrive stress-free and ready to enjoy themselves.

Group cruises can take the guesswork out of choosing locations, making arrangements and planning activities. Cruise ships provide a variety of activities in one place, complete with accommodations and meals, all for one price. Plus, you'll likely stop in exotic ports along the way, combining the reunion with the thrill of traveling to new places. You can even choose from a variety of cruises based on the ages, interests and budgets of your family members.

Sail ahead to the next page to read about some of the different packages cruise lines offer that can help you plan your family reunion cruise.

Family Reunion Cruise Packages

Take time to read brochures and do online research, and then contact the cruise lines and travel services to find the best deal for your family reunion event.
Take time to read brochures and do online research, and then contact the cruise lines and travel services to find the best deal for your family reunion event.
Comstock/Comstock/Thinkstock

When you start shopping, compare locations and lengths of time as you choose what will work best for your family reunion. Most of the cruise lines have 4-, 5-, and 7-day itineraries starting from major ports across the United States and around the world. You can go shorter too: Carnival has a trip called a Cruise to Nowhere that's only 2 days and departs from either New York or Norfolk -- the focus is on enjoying your time on the ship.

Next, choose your group accommodations. According to Cruise.com, a group cruise is any group sailing together using eight or more staterooms. That number can be easy to reach for a family reunion: The members of each household will take often one or two staterooms each. The pricing of the trip for each family member starts with the size, deck level and location of the stateroom. You'll hear these terms used to describe your stateroom choices:

  • Interior -- the room doesn't have windows
  • Oceanview -- the room has a porthole or picture window
  • Balcony -- the room has a private balcony
  • Suite -- the largest rooms on the ship, often with luxurious extras

If you only look at the per-stateroom price, features and prices vary significantly between cruise lines and ships. For example, you could sail Holland America for seven nights in New England and Canada in a deluxe suite for $3,799, or you could sail Carnival in the Bahamas in an oceanview room for less than $300 [sources: Holland America, Carnival]. Don't let these prices fool you, though: When you come together as a group, cruise lines offer many special packages and significant discounts.

After you do this preliminary research, there are two approaches you can take to getting more information and estimates. One way is to contact each cruise line to ask for a vacation planning kit and some customized estimates for your group. This gives you lots of information but takes longer to research. Another approach is to use a travel agent -- agents can help you narrow your search, offering special advice and services customized to your specific family reunion.

As you get estimates and move closer to booking your family reunion cruise, be sure to ask about the following options for your package:

  • Costs for your special group events onboard, like private dinners
  • Extras and bonus offers, like discounts on shore excursions or shipboard credit to spend at shops, spas, and bars onboard
  • Deposit and payment plans for each family member, to avoid a one-time bill up front

Before you make reservations and start to plan activities for your family reunion cruise, check out the important tips on the next page.

Tips for Planning a Family Reunion Cruise

If you choose a cruise that stops at international ports, make sure each family member is prepared for onshore excursions with passport in hand.
If you choose a cruise that stops at international ports, make sure each family member is prepared for onshore excursions with passport in hand.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A family reunion cruise can be a great way to bring people together, but be sure to consider the tips on this page so it doesn't backfire on you.

Start early and shop around. Give yourself time to learn about who you're inviting, and to shop and negotiate with different cruise lines for the best deals. You'll want to make your selection a year in advance of the family reunion itself so those attending have time to budget and plan to attend.

Create a Web page. Why wait to keep in touch? You can start an online social network with family members to keep people informed about the reunion planning as well as to start getting to know each other better before the event. To make your family reunion Web page quick and convenient for everyone, including yourself, choose free social networking sites like Facebook or dedicated family reunion sites like familyreunion.com.

Who are all these people? Get to know the family members you're inviting. You may be speaking to some of them for the first time in many years, if ever! Find out who's married, who's got kids, the ages of the kids, and what they do for careers, hobbies and entertainment. When you call each household, start by introducing yourself, say how glad you are to be in touch and that you're planning a family reunion. Plus, ask what their family unit can budget for a vacation, when in the calendar they could take that vacation and what they think of your idea of a cruise if it's within that budget.

What special needs do I need to accommodate? As you get to know the family members you're inviting, be sure to ask if they have any disabilities or special dietary considerations. If you have an aunt who's wheelchair-bound, a cousin who's diabetic or a grandmother who's legally blind, you'll want to be sure the cruise you choose has accommodations and activities that they can all enjoy. Also, be sure to know what medical staff and equipment you'll have available on the ship, and assure family members they'll have professional help in case of an emergency.

More Family Vacation Cruise Tips

What does the price include? Note what's included in the group price and what individuals will have to pay separately on the boat. Typically included are the accommodations, meals, shows, supervised kids' programs, pools and fitness activities. Not included are alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, gambling, shopping, babysitting, onshore activities and tips for the ship's staff. To help with those non-included costs, ask each cruise line about bonus offers that include shipboard credit for each group member.

You're on a boat! A cruise ship is a floating resort, and you could easily spend the whole time never seeing the ocean around you. Even though this is true, you'll have some family members who are apprehensive about being on the boat or about visiting the climate you'll be sailing in. Talk to the cruise line about ways to ease these concerns for those family members.

Don't go overboard selecting the location. A Mediterranean cruise may sound great, but Florida might be a lot closer. If you're asking family members to travel a long distance just to get on the ship, this could be too much extra cost and prevent some family members from coming. Remember that the family reunion is the main reason for the cruise, and select a location to board the ship with the same consideration you'd take when considering a location on land.

Be sure everyone can pass the port. If your boat is stopping at any international ports, make sure every family member has a passport to go on shore. Check with the cruise line about their expectations for passengers and passports.

Know your cancellation deadlines. Some cruise lines require 60 days or more notice for cancelling with a refund, and only partial refunds for less notice. Be sure each family member knows these deadlines.

Let the cruise line help. The cruise line has people whose job it is to make sure your group comes together and enjoys their experiences. Once you've decided a cruise is the way to go, let those people help you get the information out to your family members so they know what to expect. They market the cruise for you, so you don't have to make the sale.

If you'd like more information on family reunions, set sail for the next page, where you'll find lots of related information.

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Sources

  • Carnival Cruise Lines. "Cruise Deals & Specials." (April 29, 2010)http://www.carnival.com/cms/fun/specials/default.aspx
  • CruiseCheap.com. "Family Reunion Cruises." (April 26, 2010)http://www.cruisecheap.com/group_cruises.asp?PageID=180
  • Cruises.com. "What is a group?" (April 22, 2010)http://www.cruises.com/groupcruises/promos/whatisgroup.asp
  • Forman, Gayle. "Family Reunion Destinations, 2007." Travel + Leisure. June 2007. (April 22, 2010)http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/all-together-now/1
  • Holland America Line. (April 29, 2010)http://www.hollandamerica.com/find-cruise-vacation/SpecialOffers.action?destCode=N
  • Today. "Plan a 'Destination' Family Reunion." MSNBC.com. May 4, 2007. (April 22, 2010)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/18468876