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The Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard line. (Photograph courtesy Cunard Line)

All Aboard! Multigenerational Cruising

I can remember New Year’s Eve, 1977 like it was yesterday. My family and I were aboard the Stella Solaris on a two-week Caribbean cruise and I was having the time of my life. Fast forward 36 years, and I found myself back on a ship celebrating the holidays with my parents. Only this time, I have my own children in tow — who just so happen to be around the same age I was the last time I was on a cruise with my mom and dad.

Industry trends suggest that this travel scenario is becoming more and more common. Multi-generational travel, broadly defined as three generations traveling together, is on the rise. In fact, one industry study reported that more than a third (37%) of all grandparents who travel, have done so with grandkids. “That’s not surprising when you consider that grandparents are healthier and more active than ever before,” says Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Forum. “They’re eager to experience the world with their children and grandchildren.”

The key to planning a successful multi-generational trip is making sure the itinerary offers something appropriate for everyone involved. After all, it can be quite a challenge finding a destination that satisfies both a slow-moving senior and a high-energy preteen. That’s precisely what makes cruises such an attractive option.

Being that my parents have attained the highest level of the Cunard World Club, the decision to go on the Queen Mary 2 was more or less predetermined. Although the company doesn’t exactly go out of its way to cater to kids the way some cruise lines do, the QM2 certainly kept our boys smiling. Though there were no water slides, zip lines, or state-of-the-art game rooms onboard, they had a fine time at the pool, checking out the planetarium, playing ping pong and shuffleboard, and — best of all — hanging out with their Oma and Opa.

The true test for us, and other families who cruise together with grandparents and their grandkids, was how to handle our time in port. We’ve never been big on organized tours, so the idea of pre-booking shore excursions Cunard offered didn’t hold much appeal.

While there are definite advantages to going this route, especially if you place a premium on ease and convenience, what about families where some members want high adventure while others prefer more casual activities? Given the nature of these uber-structured outings, the only real option seemed to be to divide and conquer. Or was it?

Most Caribbean islands can be easily navigated by taxi, so, if you do a little homework, there’s no real need to book a shore excursion. But the Caribbean has changed quite a bit since 1977 — there’s a heck of a lot more to do than sunbathing and shopping for jewelry.

One of our ports of call was St. Lucia, the island where my wife and I spent a week as part of our honeymoon. Only this time, we had our parents and kids with us — and just seven hours on land. There were options aplenty: ATV adventures, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, heritage tours, whale watching, hiking to waterfalls, the list goes on and on.

It all sounded great to us and the kids, but what about the grandparents?

If you really want to have everyone together, think about arranging a private tour with a land operator before you depart on your cruise. For our day in St. Lucia, we hooked up with Island Routes Caribbean Adventures, a company that works with cruise lines to provide land excursions to their passengers, but can also arrange customized day trips tailored to your specific interests — and physical limitations. (They also have operations in the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos.)

So while my wife and I went horseback riding with the kids on the beach, our private guide could escort my parents around the famous Craft Market of Pointe Seraphine. Reunited, we had the option of taking an easy hike to a waterfall, touring Soufriere, or visiting the Hotel Chocolat, where everything on the menu is infused with chocolate, for a bite to eat. Now that’s an activity our entire extended family could easily agree on!

Follow Rainer’s travels on Twitter @JenssTravels.