Go-kart racing, sky-diving, ropes courses, rock climbing walls, water parks, celebrity chef-curated eateries… each new ship outdoes the previous one with Instagram-worthy activities. “Every time there’s something new and exciting, people think ‘I have to try that,’” says Marni Becker, senior director of cruise sales for Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group.
Yet the latest “wow” features are just the start of why so many families are getting on board with cruising. The wide range of accommodations, activities and pricing makes cruising an attractive option for the growing numbers of multigen and skip-gen family groups. There’s even a new family travel demographic taking hold, notes Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners: PANKS and PUNKS —Professional Aunts/Uncles, No Kid—who take their nieces, nephews and/or extended families on vacation.
“The growth of the family cruise market is outpacing the general cruise market,” reports Adolfo Perez, sr. v.p. of sales and trade marketing for Carnival Cruise Line, which carries more than 800,000 kids a year—more than double the number of a decade ago.
Expect that trend to continue, says Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association. Its 2017 study reported that only 19 percent of families have cruised with their children, but 60 percent would like to. “That is an impressive gap between have done and want to!” says Jenss.
Accommodating Mixed Styles
In addition to kids clubs tailored to each age group, many families want adults-only pools and entertainment, plus activities the whole family can bond around. Meanwhile, “family” accommodations have morphed from two adjoining cabins to a slew of more exotic and varied choices.
Garcia, who recently returned from a cruise on the Norwegian Getaway, explains the appeal. “The Haven gave me and my spouse the luxury experience we wanted (an exclusive ship-within-a-ship with a 24-hour personal butler and private restaurant, pool and sundeck) while my brother’s family and their teen and tween enjoyed all the ship’s activities. Often, we all were doing completely different things, but then we would meet up for dinner or a show and everyone had a great time.”
MSC Cruises also has an exclusive ship-within-a-ship, the MSC Yacht Club, and its newer ships, including the MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside, allow families to connect up to three flexible modular staterooms to accommodate up to 10 people, notes Lori Sheller, sr. v.p., strategic sales & groups, MSC Cruises USA.
Princess Cruises, whose 2017 Caribbean Princess renovation included 87 interconnected staterooms, is rolling out two Sky Suites on its new Sky Princess, slated to debut in October 2019. The suites will sleep up to five with generous space for family entertaining including 700-sq.-ft. balconies, ideally situated for viewing the line’s outdoor “Movies Under the Stars.”
The new Carnival Horizon has a Family Harbor section with extra-roomy staterooms and its own lounge, and Holland America Line’s Koningsdam has introduced family staterooms that can accommodate up to five people along with single staterooms, a great combination for extended family gatherings. And if money is no object, Royal Caribbean’s 1,346-sq.-ft. Ultimate Family Suite on Symphony of the Seas features a colorful slide that spirals down from a loft sleeping space to a living room where air hockey and a LEGO wall are part of the fun and a wraparound balcony with a climbing wall and full-sized whirlpool.
Celebrity Cruises has noted growing demand for activities and events families can participate in together, both on board and in port, says Clint Wells, manager onboard product marketing. The line has responded with over 578 shore excursions, including special interest activities from nature hikes and drives to ghost tours and enriching culinary experiences, for families to share.”
Going Farther Afield
The beaches and private island escapes of the Caribbean and Mexico are often a first destination for families, but other destinations continue to grow as cruise lines deploy family-friendly ships farther afield.
A long-time favorite is Alaska, which brings you right into nature, says Garcia. “Everyone gets excited about seeing bald eagles, bears and doing things like gold panning and fishing. And parents love that what they’re seeing often ties into what kids are learning in school.”
Alaska is especially attractive to multi-gen groups because of the many compelling ways it offers to experience nature together, notes Sharon Strelzer, owner/luxury travel advisor, Travel Made Special. “Unlike warm-weather trips where kids and adults often go off in different directions, in Alaska, everyone in the family typically can enjoy the same activity. Because it is so popular and space is limited, I advise clients to plan a summer ahead if possible—especially if they are planning to bring a large group.”
Europe is also increasingly on the radar of families, especially those with tweens and teens, says Strelzer. “It’s similar to Alaska in that the whole family often can share extraordinary and authentic experiences together. Plus cruising is a great way to see a lot in one trip conveniently without worrying about packing and unpacking or transportation from place to place.”
And it’s not just ocean liners plying the European waterways. AmaWaterways has teamed up with Adventures by Disney on select sailings and its newest ships offer connecting staterooms, many with triple occupancy, notes Kristin Karst, executive v.p. and co-owner of AmaWaterways. Plus AmaMagna, the line’s new double width ship launching in May 2019, will feature spacious 355-sq.-ft. suites.
Building Your Family Business
“It’s important to recognize that the lines, destinations and even accommodations that best suit a client vary, depending on who they are traveling with and where and why they’re going,” stresses Garcia. “Qualify not just the client but what your client wants on that vacation.”
Look for new opportunities by tuning into client mentions of children, grandchildren and parents, suggests Ashley Hunter, v.p. of business development, Avoya Travel. “In sharing best practices, a frequent tip from top-selling independent agencies is to ask clients ‘Is there anyone you may think is interested in sailing with you?’ or ‘Are you celebrating an event you would like to invite family or friends to join?’”
Carnival Cruise Line: carnival.com
Celebrity Cruises: celebritycruises.com
Holland America Line: hollandamerica.com
MSC Cruises: msccruisesusa.com
Norwegian Cruise Line: ncl.com
Princess Cruises: princess.com
Royal Caribbean International: royalcaribbean.com