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Cruise: Caribbean

Family Afloat

Three generations sail together and share good times--but not simultaneously

September 14, 1997|EILEEN OGINTZ | Ogintz writes the Taking the Kids column for The Times Travel section

ABOARD THE MAJESTY OF THE SEAS — The gleaming ship is gigantic, especially to a 6-year-old. Melanie doesn't know where to look first. So much glitz! So many people! She's thrilled to be greeted by a kids' counselor when she boards, and to see so many other children--more than 300 this sailing.

Too bad my mom isn't as impressed. With nearly 2,700 people on board, the Royal Caribbean ship Majesty of the Seas is too crowded, she grouses. While Melanie is entranced by her fold-down bed, my mom worries the cabin is too small for the three of us. When we go on deck to watch the ship sail, she's nervous that my two nephews, who at 9 and 6 can't resist hugging the rail, will fall overboard.

This is the first time in more than 30 years I'm sharing a room with my mother, and before the ship leaves Miami, I'm already wondering whether our attempt at family togetherness--we live across the country from each other--is a good idea.

My sister and I have left our husbands and some of our kids at home for this trip. Her 3-year-old stayed with her dad; my two older kids are conveniently away at camp. We're to have an entire week to catch up and enjoy each other.

Everywhere I go on the ship, from the pool to the dining room, I see smiling grandparents with their children and grandchildren. It's obvious multigenerational cruising is popular. Cruise experts say it's a fast-growing trend, and I get frequent queries from readers around the country asking how best to plan one.

"This is so easy," says Margaret Buller, a 73-year-old accountant from Michigan who is traveling with her son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. "Here I can be with the grandchildren, but I don't have to worry about planning meals or cleaning up after them."

"I love seeing the whole family having fun together," says Zelda Beazer, a New Yorker traveling with her children and three grandchildren. "There's so much to see and do on the ship that I can always escape them when I need to," she added, laughing.

Late fall, after hurricane season, is a good time for families with young children to try a cruise with their grandparents. Ships are less crowded then when older kids are in school, and many lines offer deals in which kids can cruise at reduced prices. This year Norwegian Cruise Line is offering selected Caribbean cruises for as low as $99 for a week to just $49 for a three-day trip, when a child is traveling with two adults. Disney Cruise Lines is offering early booking discounts for those who want to be aboard the line's first cruises next spring.

Cruises typically are booked through travel agents. We have used the Miami-based Cruise Line Inc., which can offer substantial discounts because of its high-volume business. (Call Cruise Line Inc. at [800] 777-0707 or World Wide Cruises, another large cruise discount agency, at [800] 882-9000.) If you opt for a local travel agent, make sure that agent is a cruise expert and a member of Cruise Lines International Assn. Ask if the agent has personal experience cruising with children or grandchildren. They may offer booking advice that wouldn't occur to an agent who hasn't traveled with kids recently.

To give you a taste of family life aboard ship, here are diary excerpts of our week:

MONDAY--We will be at sea all day, so we sleep in. Grandma sleeps until nearly noon. She never did that when I was a kid. Melanie and her cousins opt for activities offered by the well-run children's program while I explore the ship. My sister and I hit the crowded pool. After lunch, my mother and 9-year-old nephew play bingo while the two 6-year-olds happily return to the Kids Connection playroom. My sister gets a massage and I read. It's nice that everyone can go in different directions. My mom worries she's spending too much on bingo, and she's less than thrilled when the kids trash the cabin before dinner. I wish I'd gotten my mom her own cabin.

At dinner the kids can't sit still for long, despite the extra attention from the smiling waiters and the chance to order anything they'd like. They choose cheeseburgers, chicken soup and ice cream. My mother worries that their antics are bothering the other passengers, who seem too involved at their own tables to notice. But I'm glad I've arranged for one of the counselors to pick the kids up early and watch them for half an hour until the evening youth activities begin at 7:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY--We dock in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I'm petrified but the kids are thrilled as we follow a barefooted guide up the slippery rocks to the top of Dunn's River Falls, the giant waterfall that is one of the country's premier attractions. My mother waits for us at the top.

We spend the afternoon at the kid-friendly Boscobel Beach Resort where my mother takes Melanie to get her hair braided with beads. When we return to the ship, it seems nearly every little girl and a lot of big ones are sporting braids.

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