Cruising with Grandchildren

Increasingly, grandparents are vacationing with their grandchildren who may live in other parts of the country because of parents' jobs or split families. Or just because it's ideal for cementing their relationship without the parents around. One elderly couple I met on an Alaska cruise habitually takes one grandchild annually on such a special vacation.

"Because grandparents tend to retire younger these days," says Vicki Freed, chairperson of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Carnival Cruise Lines' senior vice president sales and marketing, "they want to spend quality time with their grandkids. And a cruise vacation offers more variety and things to do for both grandparents and children than on a land-based vacation."

She cites the varied children's programs found onboard -"children are usually happier in children's programs"- and the opportunities for generations to come together at dinner and other times that they wish, such as playing around the pool or touring ashore.

"On a land-based vacation," she adds, "grandparents might be exhausted by a hot theme park, or little ones may not find enough to do at gambling-based resorts. Here, everyone finds appealing activities."

The kids' programs are sure to help youngsters find their newest best friend, making a cruise vacation zoom to the top of the list.

And, as all-inclusive trips, cruises provide an easy and often economical way to vacation. Cruise rates include accommodations, food and entertainment, and sometimes day camp programs and air transportation. More and more have inaugurated some form of day camp, which grands may choose so they don't get worn out entertaining the little ones or have to forego their afternoon naps.

Remember special precautions, such as bringing the child's medications, books and games. You should also have a letter signed by the parents authorizing any necessary medical attention and - in the case of divorced families - a notarized letter by the custodial parent granting permission for the child to travel with you (need we mention the possibility of other parent-kidnapping?).

Of course, it's OK for grandmoms and granddads to indulge the kids more than the parents do, but they shouldn't overstep important food allergy rules or stretch bedtimes by too much.

And while most ships offer kids' menus of favorites such as hot dogs, fried chicken and pb&j, we've learned this is a great opportunity to try dishes that might be costly experiments in a restaurant. Some ships offer 24-hour pizzerias, as well as complimentary ice cream bars.

Remember that prices are usually highest during school vacations, while special promotions take place during off-peak times.

Itineraries? Caribbean and Alaska cruises attract most families.

Other advice: If you're flying to the ship, have the youngsters bring a change of underwear and swim suit in their carryon, plus some books, games and favorite snacks. (Adults take charge of the medicines.) Luggage sometimes gets lost.

Little ones may need cuddlies such as a favorite stuffed doll or blanket - or even a nightlight - to help sleep. However, they'll probably be so exhausted from all the fun that, along with the ship's gentle rocking, dreamland should be no problem.

Cruise ships usually carry motion sickness medication (although that's rarely a problem with today's stabilized ships), and have an infirmary with physician and nurse onboard.

Older kids may want to bring a simple camera (even the smallest can usually manage a disposable) and a diary or logbook. The inadvertent education makes long-term impressions. And make sure someone takes your picture together - the staff photographer will be sure to snap you, but we've found the dining room crew more than willing.
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