Published Mar/Apr 2006

Left: Disney ships call at Castaway Cay for a family day at the beach. The private island also has adults-only areas for the grown-ups to enjoy.

Above: Youngsters enjoy a Disney character breakfast onboard. ©Janna Graber photos

Below: Steal a romantic moment over dinner at Palo’s. ©Disney Cruise Line photo

Before You Go
Seven-night Disney cruises list at $849 per person, based on double occupancy. Shorter cruises (four-night, $499; three-night, $429) also are available.
To book a family cruise, stop by your nearest AAA Travel office. A list of offices to serve you is at www.aaa.com. AAA can help arrange for extra amenities for your group.

AAA members who book a Disney cruise through AAA Travel receive shipboard credits from $25-$150, onboard 10-percent shopping discount ($75 minimum purchase) and 10-percent discount on equipment rentals at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. See your AAA Travel agent for details.

Calm the waters when planning the next family reuion
and bring your bunch on a cruise.
By Janna Graber

Growing up as the oldest of eight children, I always looked forward to family vacations. We never went far from home–after all, who can afford plane tickets for 10–but I treasured those times with family away from our daily routine.

Fast forward many years and things haven’t changed. My family still loves to get together. Hosting such a large group, though, is no easy task. We’ve had to rent out cabins and even entire church camps. And organizing such a big reunion takes work. Somebody has to plan the meals, figure out housing, collect the money and decide on group activities.

All that effort can be exhausting. So this year, my siblings and I decided to make it easy on ourselves by planning a reunion at sea.

Cruise ships can handle large groups with ease. In fact, it’s what they do best. Need rooms for 45 people? No problem. Want to dine together without cooking one meal? Cruising makes all these usual reunion hassles disappear. For one price, every detail is taken care of–the food, the rooms, and the entertainment–and there is little else to worry about.

Planning the trip

There were a few decisions to make while planning our family cruise. Which cruise line would work best for our diverse group? We wanted an experience that everyone could enjoy, whether they were 2 years old or 65. We took all angles into consideration, including budget, offered activities and the ship’s look and feel.

Every ship is different, with some offering quiet luxury and others like Carnival’s “Fun Ships,” attracting a more bustling, broader demographic. Since our group included children–lots of them–our family chose a Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic®.

Although Disney Cruise Line doesn’t offer special pricing for groups, they did honor our request to put our rooms near each other, and they arranged for us to eat all meals together. Disney Cruise Line also offers a “Family Reunion” package. For $39 per person, reunion guests receive a family T-shirt and a group photo (one per stateroom).

From there, we had to decide on the itinerary. We chose a cruise that offered a few days at sea, which would allow us plenty of downtime together onboard, as well as stops at several popular Caribbean ports.

After setting the itinerary in place, each individual family took it from there. We each chose and paid for our own rooms (some wanted to have a balcony; others wanted to save money with inside cabins), and then we made our own travel arrangements.

And that was it. Now it was time to enjoy the cruise and being together.

Family time onboard

Sometimes it’s hard to find activities that people of all ages enjoy, but there were plenty of options onboard with Disney. My 14-year-old relished beating me at ping-pong on the top deck, while my young nieces and nephews found their groove at the family dances. Several in the family tried their hand at singing karaoke, while others simply enjoyed lounging at the pool all day, a good book in hand.

We all enjoyed attending the nightly family-friendly shows, and several of us went to midnight movie showings in the ship’s onboard theater.

While they braved hanging out with the adults most of the time, the kids said they loved having time on their own. Entertaining children is Disney’s forte, so there was plenty onboard to keep them busy.

Children ages 3 to 7 have their own play area in the Oceaneer Club, where they can dress-up at the “captain’s closet,” listen to stories or make a craft. Older kids, ages 8 to 12, have the Oceaneer Lab, a space-themed room filled with computers, an interactive science lab and a movie area.
And because teens need their own space, Disney created “The Stack” just for them. This teens-only pad has comfy couches, Internet access, big-screen TVs and a full soda bar. Counselors arrange a full schedule of cool teen activities, including dance parties and excursions.

Meanwhile, the adults could do what we wanted. My sister, Debbie, made a daily visit to the Cove Café, a gourmet coffee shop in the adults-only area of the ship, while I made several trips to the 9,000-square-foot Vista Spa and Salon. Other family members hung out on Beat Street, the adults-only entertainment district that is home to three different night clubs.

Each evening, we gathered together for dinner, regaling our adventures of the day and making new plans for tomorrow. At each dinner, we sat by different family members, giving us plenty of time to speak with each other.

Many cruise lines even offer adults-only restaurants. One evening, the adults in our group enjoyed a peaceful dinner at Palo, Disney’s adults-only restaurant. The ambience was elegant and the food superb. But most of all, it was an opportunity to talk with my siblings without the distractions of our children (beloved though they may be).

A cruise is not just about being onboard; it’s about exploring new sights and destinations. Before the cruise began, we planned a few port excursions that family members could opt in or out of.

A little Internet research before our trip led us to Ski Key West, a beachside company who took a group of us on a Jet Ski tour of Key West for a very affordable price. In Grand Cayman, we took taxis to Seven Mile Beach, where we found the best snorkeling of our whole trip just right off-shore. Since we’d brought our own snorkel gear from home, the only cost for our adventure was taxi fare. We came back to the ship tired but thrilled from our day at the shore.

Beautiful places, fun adventures and time spent together. For us, the combination made for some unforgettable family memories. And that, at least in my mind, is what family reunions are all about.

Janna Graber is a contributor from Golden, Colo.

Grouped Together

By Janna Graber

There are other cruise lines that cater to family reunions. To help in your search, here are two to consider. These lines work with AAA to offer the best pricing or upgrades to members seeking a cruise vacation. See your AAA Travel agent for details.

Holland America

A Family Reunion Program is available to families booking five staterooms or more with Holland America. The program includes special group pricing; a Fountain Soda Package for each family member; a family photo per stateroom; and a choice of either dinner for the entire family in the line’s alternative Pinnacle Grill Restaurant or, on Caribbean cruises, free rentals of snorkel gear and swim mats or banana boat rides for all on Half Moon Cay, the line’s private island.
For families booking 10 or more staterooms, the line offers its Head-of-the-Family Reward: one complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to a verandah.

Carnival Cruise Line

For every 15 guests booked (eight cabins) with Carnival, the 16th berth is free. And because Carnival operates from 18 different North American homeports, chances are they offer a convenient meeting spot for your family. Carnival expects to carry a record 525,000 children this year. Recent enhancements include the new fleetwide “Club 02” teen program developed in tandem with The Coca-Cola® Company. New Camp Carnival activities will focus on art, reading, science, geography and physical fitness for younger cruisers. Additional ideas for cruising with a group can be found at www.aaatravelermags.com.

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