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Ultimate Guide to Planning a Memorable Family Reunion Cruise (2024)

There are as many types of family reunions as there are different types of families. Some families have annual reunions like clockwork, while others may hold them once every decade or two. Some families may occasionally contemplate staging a reunion but can never get sufficient agreement or organization to pull it off. Some families arrange for low-key get-togethers at someone’s home, while others make it more of a formal agenda-based event or a special destination-based event. 

Regardless of where your family falls in this mix, a family reunion cruise is one of the best ideas you can consider.

I. Why Choose a Cruise for Your Family Reunion?

Broad Appeal Across Ages

A family reunion cruise provides something to appeal to everyone.

Family Reunion Cruise | photo of multigenerational group racing down the beach with glee.

No matter what size your family is, when planning a family reunion, you must account for a wide range of ages and multiple generations. But unlike a traditional family gathering at someone’s home, a park, or a resort, a cruise ship has activities for every age and activity level. People can do what they want, when they want, and at their own pace.

Depending on the cruise ship selected, families with young children can have ready access to reliable childcare. There will be supervised activities for all kids from toddlers through teens. 

Adults, young and old, will find a wide menu of options. Although specific offerings will vary by ship, generally, thrill seekers can try out rock climbing walls, zip lines, elaborate water slides, or casinos. Sun worshippers can hang out by the pool. Athletic folks can gravitate toward a running track, exercise gym, or dance classes. 

Folks seeking rest and relaxation can retreat to the spa, hot tub, or library. Dozens of other options can also be found and sampled. No one has to be bored unless they want to be.

Simplified Meal and Entertainment Planning

A family reunion cruise simplifies meal and entertainment planning. No one has to plan, cook, or clean up after a meal, and no one has to eat the same types of food.

Oceanview Cafe - Buffet dining on Celebrity Cruise ships.
Oceanview Cafe – buffet dining on Celebrity Cruises. (Credit: E. Warren/Family Cruise Companion)

On any given night, there will be many options, whether eating in the main dining room, a specialty restaurant, or the buffet.

Even though family members may be running around the ship doing their preferred activities, family meals can bring everyone together.  

Indeed, group dining often turns out to be the most enjoyable part of a family reunion cruise. People share experiences of the day and also their plans for the next day.  But folks can also have the opportunity to spend a quieter evening away from the group – whether an intimate couples’ dinner at a romantic restaurant or in-room dining on a balcony.

Likewise, cruise ships provide a varied roster of daily entertainment and recreation. No need to track down family reunion games, haul around recreational equipment, or plan a daily agenda — unless you really want to.

You will also have lots of fun opportunities in the various ports that the ship visits. During the cruise, your family will be able to see several different exotic places. There will be various shore excursions over the week to appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Value for Every Budget

A family reunion cruise provides excellent value for a range of budgets.

Families often encompass folks of varying economic means. Hosting a family reunion on a cruise ship makes the fun accessible to everyone. People can set their own individual budgets and be as economical or luxurious as they choose. Cruise ships offer different types of cabins at various price points, everything from interior cabins to multi-level suites. Cabins also come in various configurations sleeping two, four, or more. Each family group can choose what best fits their budget and their needs.

Photo of ocean view balcony room on Celebrity cruise ship with two bed configuration.
Ocean view balcony room arranged in 2-bed configuration on Odyssey of the Seas (December 2023) (Credit: E. Warren/Family Cruise Companion)

One benefit of a cruise is that you can know all of your significant costs in advance, and all of the basics will be included.  At a minimum, the basic fare for any cruise will include accommodations, daily meals, and multiple daily entertainment and recreational activities without added fees. You will not have to incur additional charges unless you choose to do so. Also, depending on how well-organized the reunion planning is, people can budget and pay for their cruise expenses over time.

Support and Services for Event Planning

A family reunion cruise provides a built-in support team.

Many major cruise lines can provide experts in special events planning readily available to assist at no additional charge. These cruise lines are delighted to supply numerous special services and customized events to family reunion groups. This can take lots of pressure off of the reunion organizers.

Once your family has decided to embark on a family reunion cruise, the next big step is actually executing it. Read on to learn the key planning steps for success.

II. Selecting the Right Cruise Line and Ship

Selecting the ideal cruise line is essential for creating memorable family reunions. The right choice can cater to the diverse preferences and needs of your entire group.

Major Cruise Lines and Their Offerings

Royal Caribbean boasts Oasis-class ships like Wonder of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, with amenities such as zip lines and surf simulators that appeal to all ages. Alternatively, for a family reunion with a wow factor, the Carnival Vista might be your go-to, offering an array of family-friendly activities and entertainment. Each cruise line presents a different vibe and set of options, so assess what suits your family the best.

Luxury vs. Mainstream Options

If you’re looking for a more exclusive experience, options like The Haven on certain Norwegian ships or the MSC Yacht Club offer a luxurious “ship within a ship” setting that provides privacy and personalized service. On the other hand, mainstream cruise lines offer a variety of entertainment and dining options without the luxury price tag. Both luxury and mainstream have their unique benefits that can accommodate your family’s wishes.

Special Amenities for Groups

Many cruise lines offer special perks for group bookings, such as dedicated lounges and group discounts. When booking, inquire about these group-specific amenities to enhance your family reunion cruise.

III. Selecting the Perfect Itinerary for Your Family

When considering possible itineraries for your family reunion, try to balance the interests and needs of all attendees. Collaborating with a travel agent can significantly streamline this process, enabling you to pinpoint cruise ships and itineraries that align with your family’s preferences. 

You want to choose an itinerary that balances relaxation and adventure.  Ideal itineraries include days at sea, allowing your family to take advantage of onboard amenities and entertainment, as well as port calls that offer diverse shore excursions.

Opt for destinations that cater to a wide range of interests, from the thrill of exploring new cultures to the tranquility of lounging on tropical beaches. 

Additionally, selecting a departure port that is easily accessible for most of your family members can help reduce extra travel expenses, such as accommodations the night before embarkation.

This thoughtful approach guarantees that each family member finds joy, regardless of age or interests, making your family reunion cruise successful.

IV. Accommodations: Ensuring Comfort for the Whole Family

Choosing suitable accommodations on a cruise can significantly enhance your family reunion experience. Consider the variety of staterooms available, the perks of suite bookings, and opportunities for group discounts.

Types of Cabins

Cruise ships offer a range of cabin types to suit your family’s needs and preferences. Interior cabins are the most affordable option, providing cozy quarters without windows. Oceanview cabins come with a window or porthole if you prefer a view.

Balcony cabins are an excellent choice for a more spacious experience and a private outdoor area. Families looking for a comfortable and immersive experience should consider family suites, which offer extra space and are often conveniently located near kid-friendly amenities. 

Suite Benefits

Booking a suite typically comes with various added perks that make your cruise even more memorable. Suites usually offer more square footage and may include multiple rooms, such as two-bedroom family villas, allowing for extra privacy and space.

Enjoy dedicated services like priority boarding and disembarkation, concierge service, and sometimes even butler service. Suites often provide exclusive access to certain ship areas and additional amenities that can take your family reunion to the next level.

Discounts for Group Bookings

When planning your family reunion cruise, explore group discounts and rates early in the booking process. Cruise lines frequently offer enticing incentives such as reduced fares, onboard credits, or complimentary amenities when you reserve a block of staterooms as a group. These benefits make group travel both more affordable and enjoyable. Communicating your group’s size to the cruise line early on is crucial for securing the best possible deal for your sea adventure.

Engaging a trusted travel agent can significantly enhance this process. They are adept at navigating special rates and deals exclusive to groups, ensuring your family benefits from the best possible pricing. Additionally, a travel agent can facilitate the booking process, help select preferred stateroom locations, and ensure that your extended family is accommodated close together on the ship. The sooner you book, the more likely you are to access the best deals, enhancing the overall experience for everyone involved.

V. Dining Together: A Feast for the Senses

When planning a family reunion cruise, dining together is one of the most enjoyable aspects. You’ll find a variety of meal plans, specialty dining options, and arrangements to accommodate groups to enhance your family’s culinary adventure at sea.

Meal Plans and Dining Times

Your cruise will offer a range of meal plans to suit your family’s preferences. Main dining rooms typically provide a set dining time, which you can choose early or late seating or a flexible dining option that allows you to dine at different times each day. Buffets are available for a more casual meal, often with extended hours to cater to different schedules.

Specialty Restaurants and Cuisine

For a more exclusive dining experience, explore the ship’s specialty restaurants. These venues often require reservations and an additional fee, but the variety is vast—from Italian trattorias and Asian fusion restaurants to upscale steak eateries. These intimate settings offer crafted menus with unique dishes, such as hand-tossed pizza, authentic Mexican cuisine, and Guy Fieri burgers, creating a memorable dining experience for your family.

Family Reunion Cruises | photo of specialty restaurant Wonderland on Royal Caribbean.
Fine dining is offered at the specialty restaurant Wonderland on Royal Caribbean Oasis-class cruise ships. (Credit: E. Warren/Family Cruise Companion)

Group Dining Options

Most cruise lines understand the importance of family mealtimes and provide group dining options. You can reserve tables or private dining areas to ensure your family eats together. This could be arranged in the main dining room, a reserved section in the buffet, or even a private room in a specialty restaurant to celebrate your reunion with a special banquet.

VI. Exploring Together: Shore Excursions and Port Visits

Embarking on a family reunion cruise offers the unique opportunity to create unforgettable memories with your loved ones through various shore excursions and port visits. These activities provide the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation, allowing you to explore enchanting destinations and participate in exciting activities together.

Here are examples of destinations and excursions that make great settings for a family reunion cruise.

Popular Destinations and Itineraries

The Caribbean: A Tropical Paradise

The Caribbean stands out as a premier destination for family reunion cruises, offering a rich tapestry of cultures, breathtaking landscapes, and various activities to suit every age and interest. From the vibrant rhythms of Jamaica to the serene beauty of the Bahamas, the Caribbean promises a truly memorable experience for your entire family.

Notable Ports:

  • Nassau, Bahamas: Dive into the crystal-clear waters for snorkeling adventures, or enjoy a day at one of the luxurious resort beaches.
  • Cozumel, Mexico: Explore ancient Mayan ruins or experience world-class diving along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico: Wander through the colorful streets of Old San Juan, rich in history and charm, or venture into the lush El Yunque National Forest.
  • Bridgetown, Barbados: Take a submarine tour to discover underwater marvels or relax on pristine beaches with turquoise waters.

Popular itineraries include visits to:

  • The Eastern Caribbean: Perfect for those seeking a blend of picturesque beaches, historical sites, and shopping in places like St. Maarten and Puerto Rico.
  • The Western Caribbean: Offers an adventure-filled experience with activities such as cave tubing in Belize and exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico.
  • The Southern Caribbean: Known for its exotic landscapes and less crowded ports, destinations like Aruba and Curacao provide a unique cultural experience and stunning natural beauty.

Choosing a Caribbean cruise for your family reunion means embracing a world of sun-soaked beaches, diverse cultures, and activities catering to relaxation seekers and adventure enthusiasts. This ensures that every family member, from the youngest to the oldest, will find something to cherish, making your family reunion not just a gathering but a journey of discovery and joy.

Photo of small crowd gathered at a popular tourist attraction in South America with a variety of large tour buses, smaller vans, and private taxis.
Popular shore excursions attract a variety of large tour buses, smaller group vans, and private taxis. (Credit: E. WarrenFamily Cruise Companion)

Alaska: Wilderness and Wonder

An Alaska cruise is an extraordinary choice for a family reunion, offering a blend of awe-inspiring natural beauty, wildlife encounters, and enriching cultural experiences. Alaska cruises provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore the Last Frontier’s vast wilderness, from towering glaciers and rugged coastlines to dense forests teeming with wildlife. Whether your family seeks the thrill of outdoor adventures or the tranquility of nature’s grandeur, an Alaskan cruise itinerary offers something unforgettable for everyone.

Notable Ports:

  • Juneau: Discover the stunning Mendenhall Glacier up close, or take a whale-watching tour to see humpback and orca whales in their natural habitat.
  • Skagway: Step back in time with a visit to the Gold Rush-era town, or embark on a scenic railway journey through the breathtaking landscapes.
  • Ketchikan: Explore the lush rainforest, visit the Totem Bight State Park to learn about indigenous cultures, or enjoy kayaking in the serene waters.
  • Glacier Bay National Park: Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage site, where you can witness active glaciers calving into the sea.

Popular itineraries include visits to:

  • Inside Passage: A voyage through this protected network of waterways offers stunning views of fjords, glaciers, and forested islands, along with wildlife sightings from the deck of your ship.
  • Gulf of Alaska: Cruises that sail the Gulf of Alaska typically feature visits to iconic glaciers like Hubbard Glacier or College Fjord and offer more opportunities for wildlife observation.
  • Glacier Cruises: Focused on bringing passengers up close to Alaska’s most impressive glaciers, these itineraries are perfect for families that marvel at nature’s ice sculptures.

Choosing an Alaska cruise for your family reunion not only promises the adventure of exploring the wilderness but also fosters a deeper connection with nature and each other. The combination of exhilarating excursions and the tranquil beauty of the Alaskan landscape ensures that your family’s experience will be filled with moments of wonder, making your reunion memorable.

Spotlight Example of Great Family Reunion Cruise: A Visit to CocoCay

One standout example of the fantastic possibilities a family reunion cruise can offer comes from this video titled “Haitian Family Reunion Cruise.” The creator captures the essence of family gatherings, no matter the distance or time apart. This joyful recount of their reunion aboard Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas to Nassau, Bahamas, illustrates the wonderful opportunities in a family reunion cruise.

My favorite video segment starts at 1:21, where Day 2 of their adventure unfolds on the cruise line’s private island, CocoCay. This portion beautifully illustrates why CocoCay is an ideal port stop for family reunions. The island brims with various activities catering to all ages and interests, set against its stunning natural beauty. CocoCay offers families the excellent opportunity to spend an entire day together, immersed in fun and relaxation on a tropical island playground.

Organizing Group Excursions

  • Planning: Coordinate with your cruise line or a travel advisor to arrange group shore excursions that cater to your family’s various interests and ages.
  • Activities: Select experiences that will create shared memories, like beach outings, cultural tours, or adventure sports.
  • Diverse Activities for All Ages: Aim to select a variety of excursions that promise something for everyone. In the Caribbean, consider snorkeling adventures, historical tours, or catamaran sails. For an Alaskan journey, glacier walks, wildlife viewing tours, and cultural experiences with local indigenous communities can offer unforgettable moments.
  • Personalized Experiences for Larger Groups: For families with a significant number of members, consider arranging private tours. These can provide a more tailored and intimate experience, allowing your family to enjoy destinations at your own pace and focus on interests that are most meaningful to you.

Choose shore excursions that will cater to everyone in your family and ensure your group itineraries lead to the creation of lasting memories. Whether through the serene beauty of Alaska or the warm breezes of tropical islands, your family reunion cruise will be enriched by the places you visit and the activities you share.

VII. Planning Your Family Reunion Cruise

Planning a successful family reunion, including a family reunion cruise, requires a high level of organization and advanced planning. Here are five key steps to follow.

A. Designate Someone To Be in Charge

Once you move beyond planning a cruise for your immediate family, you really do need to have one or two people who are clearly in charge. Someone must be responsible for organizing, communicating plans, and dealing with the outside world. Designate one to three reliable family members to take on this role. This can be as simple as volunteering and drafting a reasonably responsible comrade.

B. Start As Far In Advance As Possible

You really can’t start planning too early.  Everything will run more smoothly if you can start planning at least 9 to 12 months in advance. Folks will find it much easier to plan a vacation when they have enough time to budget for it — both in terms of arranging work schedules and vacation time as well as saving up money. This will result in better attendance overall.

Family Reunion Cruise | photo of date circled on highlighted on calendar with notation

Furthermore, the earlier you plan, the better access you will have to the best group rates and discounts. And it increases the likelihood that you will get all of the rooms you want, the types of rooms you want, on the itinerary you want.

C. Research and Narrow Options

Once you start planning, you will need some basic parameters to guide your search. You could poll family members informally for a general consensus. You want to determine what potential time frames are best for most people (most likely summer or winter holidays). You will also want to identify the best potential departure ports. For instance, are there ports where most people can drive to? Are there ports that are a more reasonable journey for most folks? Although a Mediterranean or Hawaii cruise may sound extremely appealing, choosing far-away departure ports will likely limit overall participation.

Once you have basic feedback from your family members, you can research and narrow your choices. The organizers should use their best judgment to narrow the list to two or three specific options. You can then get a final round of feedback and make a selection.

As you are considering options, check out “5 Reasons to Cruise Alaska For Awesome Multigenerational Travel.”

D. Negotiate and Secure the Best Deal for Your Group

No matter what cruise you book, you should be able to score some kind of discount and perks just for having a group booking. You should check around and see the best deal you can get. A travel agent can assist with that.

Potential Perks & Benefits

Generally, most cruise lines will give you a free cabin if you book 8 or more cabins. You can use this free room to offset the cost of the entire group or allocate it in some other appropriate manner. If your party is particularly large, you should expect to get at least one free room for every 8 booked.

Other perks and specials that you should investigate are private rooms for a special dinner or cocktail party, cabin upgrades, on-board credit, special in-room amenities like wine and gourmet chocolates, discounted or complimentary beverage packages, discounted or complimentary internet packages, special photo packages, and more. If these things aren’t being offered to you, don’t hesitate to ask.

You should also assess whether the cruise line you will be sailing offers special programs, services or incentives specific to groups. A cruise line host can assist with reserving conference rooms or meeting space, making special dinner reservations, arranging customized shore excursions, or arranging other special events.

Individual Cruise Line Resources

You can find information specific to individual cruise lines at the following links:

Royal Caribbean

Holland America

Carnival

Celebrity

Norwegian

E. Establish Effective Communication Systems 

You will need a reliable means of communicating with family members before the cruise departs, and also once everyone is on board the ship.

Options For Pre-Embarkation Communications

Several modern and effective ways exist to establish and maintain communication with family members in the lead-up to a family reunion cruise. These tools can enhance coordination, engagement, and excitement among all family members.

(1) Email

The easiest (and free) method for group communication is setting up a unique email address where family members can communicate and exchange their cruise vacation excitement. You can also provide them with a list of organized onboard activities or deposit and final payment schedules.

What about family members who are not connected to the internet? One solution is to designate a closely related family member responsible for reaching out to those folks through non-digital means. 

For instance, an adult child or sibling who utilizes the internet can be responsible for sharing information with parents, grandparents, and others who don’t.  (As an example, I have one aunt & uncle who do not have computers, cell phones, or internet accounts of any kind. When essential or exciting information is circulated by email or Facebook, one of their daughters prints a hard copy and delivers it to them. Perhaps not efficient, but definitely effective.)

One way to ensure no one is overlooked is to make a master list of everyone invited to the reunion with their contact information, such as phone numbers and emails. Anyone who doesn’t have an e-mail address will need to have a designated digital buddy.

(2) Facebook

Another free and easy method of group communication is Facebook. Facebook allows you to establish a private group where only invited people can view messages and participate. 

 Use this site as a storage spot for cruise details, deadlines, links to shore excursions people plan on booking (either with the cruise line or through a third party), hotel booking information if relevant, and anything else everyone needs to know about. 

The evolving schedule: Are there any special dinners planned or group excursions? When the cruise is over, you can use the site to upload photos for sharing.

(3) Messaging Apps
  • Group Chats: Use messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal to create a group chat for immediate family communication. These apps offer end-to-end encryption and can facilitate sharing updates, answering questions, and keeping everyone in the loop in real-time.
  • Voice and Video Calls: These apps also support voice and video calls for more personalized communication or to discuss important details. This can be especially helpful for involving family members who prefer speaking over typing.
(4) Other social media platforms
  • Instagram: Create a private Instagram account or use a specific hashtag for your family reunion cruise. Family members can share related photos, countdowns to the cruise, and even research destinations.
  • TikTok: For families that enjoy creative expression, TikTok can be a fun way to share excitement about the cruise, with members posting short videos related to their preparation, what they’re looking forward to, or even packing tips.
(5) Dedicated Website

Finally, you also have the option of setting up a more formal website dedicated to your family reunion planning and activities. Several commercial entities provide this service. You can find a list of some with reviews here.

Other resources for setting up a family reunion cruise website:

https://www.pinterest.com/reunionsmag/create-a-reunion-website/
(6) Be broadly inclusive.

By incorporating a mix of these communication tools and platforms, families can ensure that everyone stays informed, engaged, and excited about the upcoming reunion cruise. You should remember that tech-savviness and preferences can range widely across family members. So, utilizing a mixture of communication methods will get key messages out to a broader range of family members.

Communicating Onboard the Ship

Once you board the ship, you will want a way to keep everyone informed of what is going on and any changes to existing plans. You want to select a method or methods that are as least labor intensive as possible. 

As with land-based communications, you cannot assume everyone will have an electronic way of staying in touch. This is particularly true given that on-board access to wi-fi and data connections can be less reliable and more expensive.

At a minimum, you should circulate a contact sheet with everyone’s cabin assignment. You will most likely know this information in advance and can circulate to everyone before boarding.

Consider bringing along a few whiteboards to hang outside certain cabins. These boards can be designated as central communication hubs where people can post and receive group messages. If there are messages that everyone needs to see, all you would need to do is have someone in those one or few cabins post it.

Discovering the Delights of a Cruise Ship Reunion: Video

This heartwarming video features clips from a 2023 family reunion aboard the Carnival Radiance. This three-day voyage to Ensenada, Mexico, brought together about 45 family members in a festive gathering at sea.

What stands out in the video is not just the novelty of the cruise experience but the depth of engagement and fun that the ship’s environment enabled for the family. The video highlights why a cruise ship is an unparalleled venue for family reunions. The cruise ship emerges as a versatile backdrop to a range of memorable experiences. For those pondering the perfect setting for their next family reunion, “Leata Lutu’s Legacy” showcases the many possibilities a cruise offers. 

FAQs

How far in advance should we book a family reunion cruise?

Booking 9 to 12 months in advance is generally recommended to ensure the best selection of cabins and to take advantage of early booking discounts. This timeline also gives family members ample time to arrange their schedules and budget for the trip.

Can we get group discounts for booking multiple cabins?

Yes, most cruise lines offer group discounts or perks when booking a block of cabins, including reduced rates, onboard credits, or complimentary amenities. The specifics can vary by cruise line, so it’s beneficial to inquire directly or work with a travel advisor to secure the best deal.

How can we ensure that our cabins are located near each other?

When booking as a group, you can request that your cabins be located near each other. A travel advisor can assist with these arrangements to ensure your family members are conveniently situated on the ship.

How can I find the best deals on family reunion cruise packages?

Early booking is key, along with being flexible with your dates, to finding the best deals on family reunion cruise packages. Many cruise lines provide early bird discounts and accommodate larger groups at more affordable rates.

Can we plan a private event for our family reunion on board?

Many cruise lines offer the option to plan group private events, such as family reunions. This could include private dining experiences, cocktail parties, or special gatherings in dedicated spaces on the ship. Contact the cruise line’s group event planner for more information and to make arrangements.

Closing Thoughts

A cruise can be a fantastic idea for your next family reunion! A family reunion cruise can appeal to kids, grandkids, tweens, college-age young adults, Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas, and Grandpas. Whether they are 1 or 100, everyone in your family can have a fabulous time.  

Elaine Warren

Founder & Crew Chief

Elaine founded this website after publishing the book The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids. She has sailed on 39 cruises (and counting). She loves helping families navigate their way to an adventure-filled, fun, and memorable vacation.

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