Traveling in packs
As the popularity of multigenerational family vacations grows, companies are responding with packages designed to please all
By Lisa Bertagnoli
Special to the Tribune
April 23, 2007
Alisa Bay took along quite an entourage when she vacationed at Disney World in March.
Three generations -- her 6-year-old twins, her 68-year-old mother and her two sisters and their families -- converged at the theme park.
"It was chaos, but fun chaos," said Bay, 44, a partner at AB Public Relations in Highland Park.
And it was memorable.
"My boys are still talking about how much fun they had with Grandma and their cousins," she said.
Unlike the typical family vacation of the past that involved just mom, dad and the kids, older and younger generations are traveling together more. In a society in which families often live in separate states, sharing a vacation is a way to book some multigenerational quality time and make memories.
Intergenerational travel is a fast-growing segment of the travel industry, travel agents report. Last year, a poll of 279 American Express travel agents found 69 percent of them are booking trips for adult children and their parents. The same percentage of agents reported they saw grandparents traveling exclusively with their grandchildren, and 67 percent planned trips for family and family friends traveling together as one large group.
In another study, the last conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America, 38 percent of families in 2003 took a trip that involved three or more generations, up from 19 percent in 2002.
Carol Kornecki, a Chicago-area franchise owner for SeaMaster Cruises, said that 20 percent of the cruises she booked last year were for families traveling with three or more generations.
Kornecki expects that figure to be higher this year. Cruise ships, she said, are courting multigenerational families with amenities such as family-friendly shows, complimentary children's programs and "freestyle" cruising. That means "you don't have to eat at the same table with the same waiter every night," she said.
Seeing a niche, several travel firms are specifically catering to the intergenerational market. One is the Washington, D.C.-based GrandTravel ( www.grandtrvl.com
), which designs trips for grandparents and grandchildren. Elderhostel (www.elderhostel .com) targets adults over 55, but it also offers more than 100 intergenerational trips in the United States and overseas, including one for grandparents and their grandchildren through the Art Institute of Chicago.
Generations Touring Co. (www.generationstouring.com
) and Cruises For Families (www.cruisesforfamilies.com
) are two other companies that specialize in intergenerational travel.
At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, "family travel is certainly picking up," said Ashley Pope, reservations manager. One package in particular, a "Girls Will Be Girls" weekend, was designed for women friends traveling together but has become popular with families, she said.
Pope said she has noticed that when multiple generations travel together, usually Grandpa and Grandma pick up the tab.
"Grandparents have the disposable income," Pope said.
Indeed, growing interest in intergenerational travel stems from the aging Baby Boomer population, said Cathy Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
"We are a good six years into the Boomers entering the 55-plus market," she said. "This is a group of travelers that has discretionary income to travel, and travels differently than a generation ago. They take more trips and different kinds of trips."
"They're used to traveling, it's part of their lifestyle, and they like to do it with their kids," said Alexandra Petropoulos, vice president of sales for AAA Chicago, which is based in Aurora.
Henry Ristic of Woodridge paid for a Disney World vacation for himself, his wife, their daughter Amber, her husband and their infant son, Jake. The five-day trip in December 2005 included time with past and present Chicago Cubs players at Disney World.
"It was one of those dream-come-true vacations," said Ristic, 60, a lifelong Cubs fan.
"We still talk about it. We still look at the pictures," said Ristic, recalling a moment when a then year-old Jake asleep in his arms. "My daughter snapped a picture of him in my arms and me smiling ear to ear. That flashback keeps coming back."
Paying for the trip "was our way of giving them a gift," Ristic said. "There isn't anything I wouldn't do for my kids."
Petropoulos points to Sept. 11, 2001, as the turning point for intergenerational family vacations.
"That was a fundamental shift in attitude about families, quality time and what really matters," she said. "I've been in the business for 30 years, and if you have to put a marker on it, that would be the time."
Families also vacation as a way to reunite without the psychological angst that can accompany reunions, Petropoulos said. In neutral locations, such as resorts or theme parks, "family dynamics are kept in check. ... Ghosts don't come out of the closet," she said.
Like all vacations, intergenerational travel entails a few decisions: Where to go, how to pay, what to do once you get there. There are extra decisions too. For instance, family members should sort out their expectations of what activities will be done as a family, and when individuals will have time for themselves.
And parents shouldn't assume that grandparents or teens will be available to baby-sit.
"That will create resentment that nobody needs," Petropoulos said.
Genevieve Rapacki of Denver took the lead when she invited 14 family members -- her two sons, daughter, their spouses and eight grandchildren -- on a Caribbean cruise two years ago.
"When my Mom came in that Thanksgiving, she said that the following summer we were going on a cruise," said Rich Rapacki of La Grange. "Carol [Rapacki's sister] called us with dates, and everybody worked around their schedules."
His mother paid the $25,000 tab, which included the cruise and airfare to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the starting point for their vacation.
Before setting sail, the family discussed what they would do together and as individuals. For instance, they agreed to attend the cruise's dinner show together.
"We didn't want any bickering or fighting, and there wasn't any," Rapacki said.
They also decided on cabin arrangements that put the cousins together and left the grown-ups with some privacy.
One of the best parts of the vacation was seeing the children dote on their grandmother.
"They took turns taking care of her," Rapacki said. "It's almost like they were fighting over who would have Grandma next."
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Intergenerational travel on the Web
: Plans trips for grandparents and grandchildren
: Aimed at those older than 55; offers more then 100 intergenerational trips in the U.S. and overseas
: Tour agencies specializing in intergenerational travel
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