How To Painlessly Connect With Extended Family Through A Family Reunion Cruise

There are as many different types of family reunions as there are different types of families. Some families have reunions every year while others may hold them once every decade or two. And, 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, one of the best family reunion ideas that you can consider is a family reunion cruise.

I. Why a Cruise is a Great Idea for a Family Reunion

(1) A Family Reunion Cruise Provides Something To Appeal to Everyone

No matter what size your family, 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 a wide range of activities for every age and activity level.  People have the ability to do what they want, when they want and to do it at their own pace.


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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. And dozens of other options can be found and sampled. No one has to bored unless they want to be.

(2) A Family Reunion Cruise Simplifies Planning for Meals and Entertainment 
Color vector illustration of family reunion party.
Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

On a family reunion cruise, no one has to plan, cook or clean up after a meal. Nor does everyone have to eat the same types of food. On any given night, there will be many options to choose from whether eating in the main dining room, a specialty restaurant or the buffet.

And, even though family members may be running all over the ship doing their preferred activities, family meals can pull 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.

And then you also have lots of fun opportunities in the various ports that the ship will visit. Your family will be able to see several different exotic places during the cruise. And there will be a wide variety of shore excursions over the course of week to appeal to a wide range of tastes.

(3) A Family Reunion Cruise Provides Great 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 a wide range of price points, everything from interior cabins to multi-level suites. Also cabins come in various configurations sleeping two, four or more. Each family group can choose what best fits their budget and their needs.

One benefit of a cruise is that you can know all of your major 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 rack up additional charges unless you choose to do so. Also, depending on how well organized the reunion planning is, people will be able to budget and pay for their cruise expenses over time.

(4) A Family Reunion Cruise Provides A Built-in Support Team 

Many of the 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.

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

II. Key Planning Steps For an Awesome Family Reunion Cruise

Paper calendar with handwritten reminder of family reunion.
Ekaterina Minaeva/Shutterstock

Planning a successful family reunion of any kind, 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 getting organized, 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 you volunteering yourself 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 are able to 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.

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 be able to get all of the rooms you want, the types of rooms you want, on the itinerary that you want.

C. Research and Narrow Options

Once you start the actual planning, you will need some basic parameters to guide your search. Ideally, you could poll family members informally for a general consensus. You want to figure out 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 some 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 end up booking, you should be able to score some kind of discount and some perks just for having a group booking. You should check around and see what’s the best deal you can get. A travel agent can assist with that.

Potential Perks & Benefits

As a general rule, most cruise lines will give you a free cabin if you are booking 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 of every 8 that are 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 be shy about asking.

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 

Calligraphy signage pointing direction to family reunion.
Derek Hatfield/Shutterstock

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
(1) Email

The easiest (and free) method for group communication is setting up a special 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 to be responsible for reaching out to those folks through non-digital means. For instance, an adult child or sibling who does utilize the internet can be responsible for sharing information with parents, grandparents, etc. who don’t.  (As an example, I have one aunt & uncle who do not have computers or cell phones or internet accounts of any kind. When important or interesting information is circulated by email or Facebook, one of their daughters prints out a hard copy and delivers it to them. Perhaps not efficient, but definitely effective.)

One way to make sure no one is overlooked, is to make a master list of everyone who is invited to the reunion with their contact information — 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 will allow you to establish a private group where only folks who are invited can view messages and participate.  Use this site as a storage spot for cruise details, deadlines, links to shore excursions people are planning on booking (either with the cruise line or through a third party), hotel booking information if relevant and anything else everyone needs to be aware of. The evolving schedule — any special dinners planned or group excursions? When the cruise is over, you can use the site to upload photos for sharing.

(3) Dedicated Website

Finally, you also have the option of setting up a more formal website dedicated to your family reunion planning and activities. There are several commercial entities that 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

http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/destinations/family-reunions/create-family-reunion-website.htm

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. And you want to select a method or methods that are as least labor intensive as possible. As with land-based communications, you cannot assume that everyone will have an electronic way of staying in touch. This is particularly true given 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.

You should also 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.

* * *

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.  Try floating that idea as you gather with family for the holidays.

Have you been part of a family reunion cruise? Please share your experience in the comments.

Are you ready to start planning a cruise vacation for your family? Download our free Quick Start Guide now!