Stephanie Holmes boards the biggest ship in the world for a sneak preview with Royal Caribbean
When your holiday needs to be suitable for the whole whānau, success is all in the planning, writes Ewan McDonald
Some see it as a chance to rekindle that quality time that we lost during the pandemic years. Others say it’s because our older generations have never been as fit and healthy – some might add wealthy, but that’s a matter for debate – as they are today.
And as destinations continue to open up, airlines and cruise and travel providers return to something approaching the opportunities that existed before 2019, more families are turning to group travel – maybe to mark an anniversary, maybe to celebrate a significant birthday.
You know it’s become a trend when it’s got its own nickname: once the lumpy “multigenerational travel”, it’s now 3G (for three generations) or, less lovably, “gramping”.
It could be as easy as a long weekend in an Airbnb on Waiheke or a Pacific cruise. More ambitious options for Kiwi families have included hiking in the Italian Alps, whitewater rafting in the US, African safaris, whale-watching around the globe, or snorkelling in our neighbouring islands.
Like any holiday, like any adventure, you’ll likely come home having had a tremendous time, with a memory card full of photos and tales to share around the next barbecue. But even more than other trips, the success of 3G getaways is largely due to the hard yards put in before you get to the boarding gate.
It’s down to planning and even more, it’s down to compromising on some key decisions during the time away.
Let’s think about the pros and cons:
- Your children will enjoy having their grandparents around for an extended period, especially if they live in another town, bringing extra fun, spoiling them and sharing and mentoring new discoveries.
- Grandparents will adore making memories with their grandkids and, likewise, being around them for an extended period.
- Connecting with family can have huge mental health benefits, especially after the past few years, and help combat loneliness, especially for grandparents who live alone.
- Parents can have a break as grandparents can share the load when it comes to babysitting. Parents may even be able to squeeze in a night off for dinner as a couple while grandparents tuck the kids into bed.
- On the other side of the coin, lots of people on board means you have lots of different tastes and needs to satisfy.
- It can be hard to agree on a destination that fits everyone’s vision of the perfect holiday.
- Sharing accommodation with a large number of people will need extra compromise when it comes to chores, and quiet time will be harder to find on a trip away with extended family.
Yep, there’s the “compromise” word again. Everybody’s idea of the perfect holiday is different – maybe it’s somewhere hot where they can lounge by a pool, somewhere there’s a different art gallery or museum every day, somewhere to tramp for 12 hours before… you get the picture.
Most travel advisers suggest beginning your research a year before take-off; others push it out to 18 months. The important thing is to involve all the prospective travellers; the more they’re invested at the beginning, the more engagement, accomplishment and reward they will bring home.
And don’t be surprised or offended if Uncle Bill or Aunt Mary decide that no, it’s not for them, after sitting in on a couple of round-tables. Better they opt out now than tag along and feel grumpy later.
Chances are, the family will expend most energy in this phase on deciding what sort of holiday the group wants. Do you want to mostly unwind and bond together? Do you want a physical challenge? Do you want to immerse in a foreign country and culture? List the goals to ensure that at least some aspect of each, and every, tripper’s dreams are in the itinerary.
Show them the money. Create a budget and your travel timeframe, accounting for the time and cost for each family member to get from home to your trip’s departure point and back. That could mean Nana and Grandad’s air tickets to and from Christchurch, and a night or two’s accommodation in Auckland before and after the holiday.
Again, compromise. Splitting the costs between the whole family can mean large savings, leaving more money to spend on going further or longer away, accommodation upgrades, and wine or other personal priorities. It’s also guaranteed to lead to more grumbling and disharmony than any other single factor if it’s not agreed upon early and fairly.
Well… perhaps. Remember, if you’re sharing that Airbnb on Waiheke or villa in Tuscany with the grandparents, parents and kids, you’ll be housemates with your relatives for a week, a fortnight or longer, and we all know of family get-togethers that have gone south in less time than it takes to eat Christmas dinner and do the dishes.
You don’t need to have a daily printout listing when it’s everyone’s turn for the shower but it’s a good idea to agree on a daily routine. Sharing responsibility is crucial – it can’t be left to one family member or even one generation to be cruise director, caterer, diplomat, chauffeur and cleaner.
If you’re on a self-drive holiday, then a democratic system to determine who’s in charge of the music each day and who gets to drink wine at lunch will dodge a lot of arguments.
And then there’s childcare; remember, you all agreed on this holiday to get to know one another, so spread that so parents can put their feet up for a while and grandparents get to spend time getting to know the kids.
Another major decision is the style of accommodation. Staying together under one roof, sharing responsibility for cooking and cleaning, and squaring away the food costs, may sound great. But, if your family includes babies or younger kids who wake early, how will that affect other adults? It might be better to take separate hotel/motel rooms and meet for breakfast in the morning. Or brunch.
Flexibility is key when it comes to holidaying with several generations, especially if your family is new to travelling as a group, and that goes right back to those early planning and daydreaming evenings at home.
The range of 3G holidays on offer is increasing as the world travels again. Most major companies, both New Zealand and global brands, have created trips designed to appeal to all generations.
In-demand destinations for Kiwi families with younger children are Hawaii, Bali and Fiji; older kids have been going for skiing holidays, particularly in Japan and Canada. South African safaris and Northern Lights expeditions to Norway are also on our families’ radar.
Operators point out that a resort holiday – say in the Pacific Islands or Bali – is perfect for giving the family a safe, drop-and-flop base, and most have a huge range of activities to suit everyone’s idea of a great holiday.
Family cruises are popular for similar reasons, with all ships offering kids’ clubs and watersports, the bigger ships include a range of restaurants for parents and grandparents to sample differing cuisines.
Apart from the opportunity for families who live in different places to get together, they’re popular for marking occasions such as a birthday, wedding or anniversary. Many family groups number 10 or more.
Ships have staterooms suitable for family groups, from interconnecting rooms to suites that sleep up to eight. Royal Caribbean launched its Symphony of the Seas with the Ultimate Family Suite with a floor-to-ceiling Lego wall, a slide from the kids’ bedroom to the living room below, air hockey table, 3D movie theatre room with popcorn machine and a balcony with pool table, climbing wall and whirlpool.
Multigen river cruisers tend to opt for Central Europe, with the Rhine through the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland a popular choice.
Time to wind this up with some suggestions about what to pack. There are only two items that you should on no account forget to take along with you on a 3G or gramping holiday.
One, a copy of the Serenity Prayer, the one that goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Because there are going to be times when no one can satisfy the grandparents who would like to be in a fine-dining restaurant rather than munching on pizza with the teenagers at a bar, the parents who were hoping to have the night off childcare but father-in-law has come down with a migraine, the teenagers grumpy about not having Wi-Fi, and the kids who are bouncing off the walls because the grandparents bought those sugary treats.
And two, your sense of humour. Because, even on the most meticulously organised trips, something will go wrong. Planes will be delayed, buses will break down, and museums will be closed for the local saint’s day. This is the point at which your nearest and usually dearest turns to you with a look that says something along the lines of, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve got us into.”
Relax. Breathe. Look forward to getting home, looking at those photos, and hearing someone speaking for the whole family and saying, “That was a great holiday. Where shall we go next time?”