How to Plan a Cruise for a Large Family
Cruising is as close as it comes to a one-size-fits-all vacation, with a something-for-everyone appeal and value-packed activities and amenities—like accommodations, dining, entertainment, and transportation from port to port—all neatly bundled into one upfront fare.
But arranging cruises for large families—that is, family units that are larger than the cookie-cutter two to four members—can be a bit more complicated. Happily, with just a little know-how, planning a more-the-merrier cruise for large families can be a relative breeze.
The reasons for choosing a family cruise vacation are many: The ease of planning and great value, with nearly all-inclusive pricing, certainly rank tops. Then there are the varied diversions, both on and off the ship, that cater to multigenerational tastes.
Not to mention that you’ll have the chance to reconnect with the brood in a stress-free environment while making memories to share for years to come, as you explore the world on a high seas adventure.
The key to successful cruises for large families? Advance planning. Check off these tasks ahead of time so when you get to the embarkation port, there’ll be nothing left to do but enjoy the smooth sailing ahead.
Follow the Leader
If you’re traveling with extended family, there’s nothing like too many cooks in the kitchen to spoil a vacation. Save some headaches and appoint one person to serve as the group leader (if you’re reading this, then that may be you), who can help research, organize, and work through all of the necessary logistics, like developing the group’s travel itinerary, for instance, or ensuring that payment deadlines are met.
The leader should also be the person who facilitates communications between the family so that everybody is on the same page, while also acting as the point person that can liaise directly with the cruise line and/or travel agent.
Communicate and Collaborate
While every group can benefit from a leader, nobody wants a dictator. The designated cruise leader should be focused on ensuring fluent communication between all participating family members, so that nobody feels left out of the loop or the decision-making process on important factors like budget, sailing dates, and cruising destinations. Even kids can have a say on things like preferred ports and cruise ship activities. After all, this is a vacation for everyone.
(Tip: As the group leader and main researcher, you can help make your family’s decision-making process more manageable by narrowing down the broader choices ahead of time. After all, fewer options make consensus more achievable.)
If you’re cruising with only your own household, hold in-person meetings as developments arise. Otherwise, share plans and information as it comes through via email, a group text thread, or perhaps a private Facebook group page.
Also, the group leader shouldn’t feel bogged down with working through every single aspect of cruise planning: Feel free to have guests “own” certain parts of the trip, like researching a cruise port and coming up with excursion ideas or planning onboard activities.
Consult with the Pros
Loop in some experts that can help ensure your cruise vacation is nothing short of top-notch. Cruise-specialized travel agents and cruise line representatives have plenty of experience booking cruises for large families.
They can help direct you through all of the cruise planning logistics, and if your group is large enough, may even be able to wrangle special perks for your family like group discounts, free or upgraded staterooms, and shipboard credits.
These are also the people to turn to if you’re looking for special arrangements for your large family, like a specific dining reservation, or if you want to arrange a private shore excursion. They can also help manifest special celebratory touches if your family is marking a milestone, like an anniversary or birthday, for instance.
These travel pros can additionally assist you to make sure payment deadlines are met and that all of your cruising questions are answered. Bonus: They can make bookings for other travel essentials, too, like flights and pre- and post-cruise hotel stays.
Cruising may be a relatively easy vacation to plan, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it to the last minute, especially when you have a large family to wrangle. Plan to book as far in advance as possible—count on a minimum of six months out (or more, if you’re planning to sail during the summer or school holidays)—to make sure you’ll have plenty of time to hash out your family’s cruise vacation preferences.
Once you have your perfect cruise pinpointed, you want to be sure that the itinerary isn’t sold out and that the inventory is there to accommodate your group’s preferred staterooms, especially if you’re looking for more limited stateroom types, like connecting staterooms or spacious suites.
Get Your Documentation in Order
Passports are the recommended identification for cruisers since most itineraries involve travel to international ports. (Note: An original birth certificate may suffice for children but additional documentation may be required for kids who are not cruising with both parents, so be sure to inquire ahead.)
Accordingly, check in with the cruise line or your travel agent well in advance of your sailing to ensure that the whole family has valid documentation on hand, with plenty of time to spare.
It’s also a smart idea to book a travel insurance policy for your trip, as soon as your sailing is booked. A good insurance policy can provide reimbursement if your vacation plans are disrupted by an emergency, and can also ensure that you have health insurance should you need it while far away from home.
Choose the Right Cruise
The single most important thing you can do to ensure a winning cruise for large families is to make sure that you’re on the right ship, at the right time, and going to the right place.
You’ll have to determine those factors when you’re choosing a cruise according to your family’s tastes and circumstances. Plan on consulting with your family members on the following options to ensure sailing success:
If an extended family is cruising together, be sure to set a budget that’s comfortable for everybody and limit sailing options to those that fall within the agreed-upon price range. Don’t forget to factor in extras like the costs of flights and hotels (if needed), and shore excursions in port, too. As for the cruise fare itself, keep in mind that different stateroom types can span a wide spectrum of prices, as well.
Select Optimized Sailing Dates
Make sure you take into account all of your sailing party’s various scheduling considerations before settling on a sailing date. Note that if you’re traveling with youngsters, you’ll likely have to fit your sailing into school holiday periods.
Decide on the Duration
Make sure your family is all on board with the duration of the sailing. Not everybody will be able to get away for a two-week-long dream vacation, while others might want more time at sea than just a quickie three-night escape. Luckily, there are plenty of sailing lengths in between to choose from.
Pick a Ship with Multigenerational Features
Make sure you choose a ship that comes loaded with amenities and activities that cater to a wide range of ages, abilities, and interests. Make sure to check off features that are important to you, such as pools, fitness centers, libraries, bars and nightclubs, restaurants, casinos, shops, spas, theaters, music venues, kids’ clubs, etc. And skim through entertainment options and activities like cooking lessons, lectures, fitness classes, Broadway-style shows, too.
Hone in on a Dream Destination
Cruises give you a chance to sample an impressive amount of ports in just a few days. Therefore, try and pick a destination that will appeal to your party’s interests. Whether your family members are primarily beach bums (hello, Caribbean), wildlife enthusiasts (Alaska is at the top of the list), or culture vultures (the Mediterranean is calling), you’ll find there are multiple destinations to choose from.
Pick your shore excursions accordingly and don’t be afraid to split up to pursue different interests on land. (Tip: You might want to settle on a cruise that leaves from a close-to-home embarkation port, which will save you travel time and perhaps the need for airfare, too.)
Book the Best Stateroom
Families come in all shapes and sizes and, happily, so do staterooms. While many standard staterooms cater to parties of two to four, there are a wide range of accommodations to fit your family size.
Connecting or neighboring staterooms are one of the easiest solutions to accommodate larger groups, while spacious, splurge-worthy suites that sleep at least five with plenty of room to spread out are also worth considering, if you have a more comfortable budget.
Just keep in mind that varying stateroom types cover a wide range of costs, so be sure to match each accommodation to your family’s spending caps. Also, staterooms and combinations that accommodate larger families tend to be more limited in supply, so plan well in advance to nab your preferred stateroom on your preferred itinerary.
Break Bread Together
For many, one of the best parts of cruising is the food on the ship—and the fact that you don’t need to pick up the tab or cook or clean up after a large clan. Large families find that dining together is a great way to share some special moments at the beginning and end of each day.
Make sure to reserve a large table and preferred dining time in the main dining room for your group well ahead of the sailing date. And don’t forget to allow for a little flexibility if anybody wants to sample the specialty restaurants, too.
This shared evening mealtime can be the perfect opportunity to catch up on the details of the day, especially if your large family has opted to go their separate ways.
Cruise Together, But Take Time Apart
The beautiful thing about cruising is that it caters to so many individual tastes. So while you should assemble the whole gang for regular meals and shared excursions, don’t plan on scheduling every minute of every day as a group—even if it’s a family reunion cruise. Do leave plenty of time for members to break off as needed and to do their own thing, both on the ship and ashore.
In port, not everybody might have a need for speed (Grandpa may not want to go ziplining, for instance), and a history-rich tour might bore the younger ones. Back on the ship, someone’s idea of sea day bliss might be hanging poolside, while others might want to hit the casino and lecture circuit. Some may be night owls, while some are early birds.
If you have kids, you might want to look into supervised kids’ clubs onboard. That way, parents can have a little time for themselves while kids get to interact with other young cruisers.
Your family is bound to have plenty of individual interests, so be sure to leave plenty of time for each individual to indulge them. It will make the family dinner conversation that much more interesting when you regroup.
Looking for the very best cruises for large families? Celebrity Cruises features fourteen ships that sail to more than 300 destinations around the globe—the perfect fit is just waiting for your brood. Browse our itineraries for inspiration and start planning your dream family cruise today.