Part Two of our step-by-step guide to bringing the whole clan together at sea.
Step 6 - Select an Itinerary When it's time to pick an itinerary, the decision should be influenced by family members' feedback on dates and destinations, as well as your budget considerations, desired group perks, and how the cruise line will appeal to your specific family members.
Four-, five- or seven-day voyages to the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera are popular family choices. Alaska is also a great choice for multi-generational travel, but pricier. Europe may appeal to experienced family reunion cruisers who have previously sailed to more close-to-home destinations.
Two weeks - even if your budget permits - is generally too long! One consumer we spoke to still shudders at memories of a two-week family reunion cruise through the Panama Canal with multiple consecutive days at sea and 16 relatives. By the end, the whole family was dying to get away from each other. Seven days is usually a good mix of sea and port days and just about the right amount of family togetherness.
Boil your itinerary choices down to two or three options (a good agent will do this automatically). Group leaders often select way too many choices and get bogged down. So select two or three, then a small group (the leader and perhaps two family volunteer assistants) can announce its choice. Or, you can re-poll all family members, going with the majority decision.
Step 7 - Promote to the Family Email or send a simple flyer to your family. Tell them what's been selected based on dates, budget and itinerary choices in their feedback. Most family members should be happy, but it's impossible to please everyone. If you get complaints, note that the cruise was chosen because it was the best choice when considering the desires and budgets of the family group as a whole.
When it's time to book the selected voyage to lock in the best rates, be enthusiastic. Don't just talk "hardware" - pricing, itinerary, the ship and the cruise line. Also talk "software" - the importance of family time together, the way time is passing, and what fun you'll have on the cruise!
Specify how many cabins the family must book to secure the group rate. List all the bountiful cruise vacation inclusions. Assure the family that meals onboard, entertainment and most activities are included. And tell them what other amenities your family will have, like dedicated tables for dinner together, or the special perks mentioned above.
If you use an agent, let the agent send out the flyer or email. That introduces the agent to the rest of the family so they have a good resource for questions, and it takes pressure off the group leader. A good agent will remind family members of deposit-due dates well in advance, so you're not racing to make payments at the last minute.
Many cruise lines offer downloadable flyers that can jazz up your communications. Whatever you send, emphatically say "we hope you'll join us." If some members are disinterested, don't panic. Keep mailing updates and a running total of how many family members are now "on board" with firm bookings. Inevitably, more hold-outs will sign up.
Step 8: -- Book the Trip, Make Deposits, Consider Insurance/Passports Once you have the minimum number of cabins for a group, it's time to block space with the cruise line. You'll need to pay an initial deposit for each cabin. Make sure your family members understand the due dates are for further payments.
Strongly consider travel insurance to protect your cruise investment in the event of a problem. It can help you get your money back if you can't go due to an unexpected family illness, flight delay or cancellation, airport security issues, problems at the office or a death in the family. Some families build it into the overall cruise price; your agent can assist.
While new rules requiring citizens to have U.S. passports to cruise in the Caribbean were delayed recently, ultimately those rules will be implemented. It's only a matter of time, says Sabine Harris, owner of Cruise Planners, Tampa, Fla., who tells all her clients to get a passport now. It's a proof of citizenship, a "must" for travel to Europe or more exotic locales, and valid for 10 years.
Step 9 - Plan Your Family Activities Once cabin space is under deposit, involve the entire family in the activity planning. Send out lists of potential activities for days ashore in certain ports. Ask what the family would like to do. Provide a sampling of shore trips; detail what the cruise line offers, and explain the option of creating your own family shore trip with a private bus or a couple of vans. For many clients, Horos uses www.ShoreTrips.com to create personalized, private shore trips. The cost can be cheaper than the cruise line trips.
Reunion groups love to celebrate occasions while on a cruise. So a grandmother's 50th wedding anniversary might be celebrated ashore with all the couples in the family renewing their wedding vows. Families could also create tee-shirts with wording like "Cruising South This Summer with the Tate Family" or "Hernandez Family Reunion". Wearing them creates an aura of fun and allows you to keep your eyes on the kids in a crowd.
Family history should be a big part of any reunion. Ask every family member to send in one old and one new photo for each person. Ask a family member to compile those into a remembrance book to be distributed to all onboard; leave space in the book or on its cover for a group family shot by the ship's photographer.
Plan onboard group activities -- anything from a fitness contest to a scavenger hunt with prizes. Many family reunion couples love an "adults only" evening with drinks and a show, while kids spend time in the kids' center with babysitters.
And leave plenty of free time. Give family members the "out" to do their own thing, to enjoy their own activities and get a breather from the family fun. Some may wish to simply kick back in the cabin, others to take spa treatments, and children to enjoy the onboard kids' activities.
Send out regular updates on the cruise project. Provide packing tips, a map to the airport, information on security requirements, and update family members on the latest decisions about group activities. If you've agreed to a beach party in Aruba or a kid-friendly eco-tour in Belize, explain what's planned. Keep pitching this type of perk to entice more hold-outs.
Inevitably someone will want to change the date. Perhaps their child has a last-minute recital, a boss wants to plan a corporate retreat, or they need some medical attention. Be nice, but hold your ground. At this point, it's too late.
If you change the date, you could lose your cabin bookings, pay a penalty to rebook, not find the type of space needed, or lose other folks who signed on at the outset. Just say, "We're sorry and we'll miss you, but it would be too inconvenient for others to change at this late date."
Step 10: Go Cruising Once you get to the cruise ship, you're home free, right? Not always. If a glitch develops onboard, don't panic. The maitre d' can help sort out dining problems. The purser's office can help in handling hospitality issues. If your cabin's air conditioning isn't working, the purser will arrange for maintenance to visit. If you need more pillows, they'll call housekeeping. If someone is ill, there is usually a medical facility onboard.
Some cruise lines appoint a "group representative" for you if any problems develop while onboard. If you have a travel agent, take your agent's emergency contact number. Call them if a major problem develops. Even on a weekend or at night, agents are amazingly adept at getting action from a cruise line for major issues.
Hopefully the entire family will love the cruise. If so, poll family members mid-way through the cruise and ask if they want to start planning another. If so, ask where they want to go. Talk to the onboard cruise consultant and provide a few suggestions.
If the group can agree onboard about the next reunion trip, you'll get an additional price discount, often five percent or so (beyond any early booking discount) if you confirm the trip onboard with the cruise line's onboard sales consultant. The line will gladly transfer the handling of the booking to your agent at home.
So, when someone in your family says, "how about a family reunion?" you might suggest an inclusive cruise. Start early, and remember - a cruise is a great way for family bonding time but also flexible enough so you can savor private time with your spouse or kids.
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