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Travel industry offers fun for the whole family, including grandparents

When Grandma Florence wanted to see her grandchildren, the lure was tollhouse cookies. They were worth the Belt Parkway traffic, the “eat some of this chopped liver,” the existential vacuum that followed dessert.

Travel operators like Thomson Family Adventures are catering to extended families by offering packages that meet the needs of multiple generations.

Two generations later, cookies don’t cut it. Not simply because kids have more sophisticated tastes, but because grandmas may not feel like baking.

Now, believe it or not, baby boomers are as old as their grandmas once were. Which explains the newest and biggest trend in travel: multigenerational vacations.

  • It’s hard enough coming up with a vacation that will please the members of your own nuclear family. The multigenerational trip, with more participants as well as a wider age span, presents even more challenges. Here’s some advice and points to consider from various family travel experts:
  • Cater to the youngest and oldest. Does this trip suit the mobility of the grandparents, and the attention span and interests of the grandchildren?
  • Let everyone in the family help choose vacation activities. When kids — or adults — have a voice and a choice, they feel more invested in the trip and stay more positive.
  • Will you have enough privacy? Will there be enough doors to close, and places to retreat to, so members of your group won’t be constantly disturbing each other?
  • Don’t stereotype. Grandparents are more active than in the past. Don’t assume they want to come along just to baby-sit. Then again, make sure everyone is realistic about how much they are able to do.
  • Be clear about who pays for what. Grandparents increasingly pay part of family trips, but make sure everyone knows what aspects of the trip they will be responsible for. Money is the biggest source of stress on the family vacation.
  • If any of the children in your group are traveling without their parents, you may need a notarized statement from the parents giving the grandparent authority to get medical treatment for a child.
  • Don’t feel you need to be together all of the time. Take some down time, alone time, quality time with one or two others in your group.
  • Consider your group’s individual medical and dietary needs.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Some questions to ask when selecting a multigenerational cruise or all-inclusive resort:

  • What is the age range for children’s programs? Some are more limited than others.
  • What amenities are there for babies (baby food, cribs and shallow swimming)?
  • Is there baby-sitting?
  • What medical facilities are available?

If you go

For more information on the companies and services in the accompanying story, check these websites. We’ve also included some helpful websites for families — including grandparents — considering a multigenerational trip.

Tour companies

  • Abercrombie Kent Travel:
  • Adventures by Disney:
  • Austin-Lehman Adventures:
  • Collette Vacations: colletteva
  • Elderhostel intergenerational programs:
  • Generations Touring Co.:
  • Tauck Tours (Tauck Bridges):
  • Trafalgar Tours: ences
  • Thomson Safaris: thomson (a division of Thomson Family Adventures, also a good site, at
  • Micato Safaris:


  • Carnival Cruise Lines:
  • Disney Cruise Line:
  • Innersea Discoveries:
  • Norwegian Cruise Line:
  • Royal Caribbean Cruises:
  • Uniworld River Cruises:


  • Azulsensatori:
  • Beaches resorts:
  • Club Med:
  • Franklyn D. Resort and Spa:
  • Guide to dude ranches:

Vacation rentals

  • RCI:
  • The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions:
  • Abercrombie Kent’s Residence Club:

Informational websites

  • Family Travel Forum has a, well, family of websites with information; start at
  • Family travel Network:
  • Family Travel Files: thefamily
  • Travel and Leisure Family:
  • Taking the Kids: taking
  • WeJustGotBack: WeJustGot

Grandparents now account for one-third of all leisure travelers. They not only have the time and the money to travel, they’re also more physically fit and accustomed to travel.

They also want to see their grandkids.

At the same time, parents are working longer hours and fielding e-mails at night and on weekends to keep their jobs; they often look to vacations as an opportunity for family time. Grandparents see their own grown children struggling to meet rising costs in two-income households, and in the you-can’t-take-it-with-you spirit, have offered to take the whole pack on a multigenerational, or “3G” (three generations of same family), vacation.

Research from the 2011 “Portrait of American Travelers” by the YPartnership/Harrison Group found that these trips are the leading driver of leisure travel activity. The survey showed that 44 percent of all leisure travelers took a family vacation last year. Among the findings: 70 percent took a “celebration vacation” to mark a “life event,” 50 percent took a leisure trip to visit family and friends, and 42 percent took a family vacation.

The size and revenue potential from the market have been duly noted by the travel industry. Today you’ll find not only family-oriented but multi-generational-oriented tours, accommodations, activities, special departures, resorts and more. The trend is especially strong in high-end travel — high-end tour operators like Collette Vacations reported double the number of families with children on their tours in the past three years. Abercrombie Kent report similarly sharp increases in family and multigenerational travel — 11 percent of its clients traveled with children under 18 to Kenya, Egypt, the Galapagos, Costa Rica and Alaska.

Adventure outfitters have noted that grandparents are spearheading trips that most of their parents would never have considered. Grandparents are game not only for exotic places, but for active, even multisport, experiences such as whitewater rafting and hiking. Austin-Lehman Adventures has experienced “an explosion” in multigenerational travel; for the fourth year in a row, the upscale adventure company has seen double-digit growth in 3G trips. Its national park adventures are especially popular.

“Family vacations are no longer the preserve of young kids and their parents, but a time for relations of all ages to come together for quality time,” said Karen Drake, senior director of communications for TripAdvisor. Its annual family travel survey reported that family travel rose 6 percent in 2011, and 38 percent of families planned multigenerational trips.

More and more families are using that philosophy, especially around holidays. Instead of descending upon one relative’s house for a celebration, they’re all leaving home. Holiday cruises, holiday tours, holidays at Caribbean resorts — the destinations and experiences are many, and growing. Their common lure is that someone else does the cooking and the cleaning, and much of the planning and organizing to keep everyone happy.

The travel industry is scurrying to accommodate the 3G market on many fronts. Family-oriented resorts are being built — and established ones renovated — to include more connecting rooms and family suites. New cruise ships are being designed with spacious cabins that can be configured to accommodate large family groups.

Vacation home rental agencies are stocking up on villas and other properties with four or five bedrooms; luxury rental agents are adding personal services such as nannies, cooks and activities coordinators. Tour companies are adding itineraries just for families, accompanied by guides who are trained to engage children and designed to accommodate the wide spectrum of interests and physical capabilities of the participants. For the most part, 3G trips do not come cheap — grandparents can plunk down $30,000 for a five-person trip. Most say it’s worth it for a shared experience that will offer memories of a lifetime.

The rewards of multigenerational travel are many — but so are the challenges. The biggest of these is planning an experience for such a wide span of ages. Happily, you don’t have to start from scratch. Traveling parents (mostly moms) and grandparents have set up websites offering a wealth of information, reviews of cruises and resorts, plus helpful tips on multigeneration trips. And many tour operators, travel consultants and agencies specializing in family travel can help you find the perfect trip, as well.

We’ve gathered a sampling of ideas and experiences perfect for multigenerational trips. And yes, some programs even come with homemade cookies at bedtime.

Not like Grandma Florence’s tollhouse cookies, of course. Then again, these are not your Grandma-Florence-type vacations …

Rental vacation homes and villas

Renting your own private digs somewhere scenic will provide flexibility and amenities not available in hotels — things like full kitchens and common rooms add immensely to the big-group stay. Vacation rentals include two-, three- and four-bedroom single-family homes, condominiums and town homes with full kitchens, multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, private pools, Jacuzzi tubs, washers and dryers. RCI Holiday Network is probably the biggest player. Another upscale option is Hideaways International.

Recently, Travel Impressions introduced “The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions,” a collection of more than 400 villa rental properties in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe and Mexico that is geared toward larger groups, such as big family gatherings.

Abercrombie Kent’s Residence Club has added seven new villas in Mykonos, Greece, for its travel clientele, specifically for family-friendly, multigenerational club members. In all, AK has 22 villas in Europe.

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