My husband and I have traveled a lot in the past few years but two things were missing - our sons.
Our boys are 26 and 21. Both are adults with their own schedules. our family time together is extremely limited and I was missing it.
What to do?
Speaking as a travel agent, there are some vacation itineraries that work especially well for families with older teens, college kids or 20-somethings. Time and again, these are the types of vacations my colleagues and I at Vacationkids recommend...
- Urban City Escapes - Now that the kids are older, you CAN enjoy museums, historical sites, a night at the theater together and more
- International Destinations/Guided Tours - Older kids can appreciate participating in some of their parent's "bucket list" trips
- All Inclusive Resorts - If you're kids are legal drinking age this will certainly ease your bar tab.
- Villas/Home Rentals - Being together with a bit more privacy, especially if your child wants to bring their significant other along
- Cruises - Plenty of fun activities for a wide range of ages with great value for dollar.
As a mom considering our personal vacation options, I thought a cruise would be the perfect fit. Cruises truly offer something of interest for all ages. The boys would be happy and my husband and I would have a great time too. We opted for adjoining balcony cabins. We could all be together, the kids could sleep late and I didn't have to share one bathroom with 3 boys! A cruise would allow us to visit several destinations all in one trip. It's really a vacation getting to your vacation destinations.
My original idea was a Mediterranean cruise. I knew would be a great experience for all of us but the boys did not have enough vacation time for that. We'll save that for next time when we can plan a bit farther out. Most European cruises are at least a week long. You need to arrive a few days early not only to see the sights but to adjust to the time difference. Starting a vacation hung over from jet lag is not fun.
I decided on the Caribbean. We've traveled to the Caribbean before. This time I wanted something a little more unique than an Eastern or Western cruise. We decided on a Southern Caribbean cruise with more unusual port stops.
When it comes to choosing the perfect cruise for your family, here at Vacationkids we often say..."Sometimes the ships make up our minds for us". I had to laugh because that's exactly what happened to us. Our family had previously sailed Royal Caribbean and my boys loved it. Royal Caribbean offered two Southern Caribbean cruises for our dates on different class ships; the Radiance class and the larger Voyager class. I thought that the boys might enjoy the larger ship but it sailed on a Saturday and the smaller ship on Sunday. Since Sunday best with our schedules that made our decision for us. We'd be sailing on the smaller Voyager class ship - Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas.
The Jewel turned out to be a perfect fit for us. It's smaller size makes getting around easy and there is still plenty to do. My younger son who is 21 enjoyed the casino and trying his hand at the blackjack table. He is a night owl and went to many of the evening activities. My older son who is 26 is more laid back and enjoyed the indoor pool area called the Solarium and also sitting on the balcony in his room. The boys also enjoyed a bit of old fashioned sibling rivalry at the self leveling pool tables We used My Time Dining since we did not want to commit to a set time for dinner. There is also a buffet option and three Specialty Restaurants.
Another reason I choose this particular cruise was because it sailed out of Puerto Rico. We have sailed out of Florida many times that I thought this would be a nice change. Flights to Puerto Rico are relatively inexpensive and are not much longer than flights to Florida. We flew in the day before the ship sailed which we always do. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Our flight was delayed due to weather but we still got to Puerto Rico with plenty of time for sightseeing. We met people once on board the Jewel whose flights were canceled due to the weather problems. They ended up driving over six hours in bad weather to reach an airport where they could get a flight. We stayed at the Sheraton in Old San Juan. This was a great location. Everything we needed and wanted was within easy walking distance. The cabs in Puerto Rico are regulated so you always know the cost. Be aware that they only take cash and plan accordingly.
As soon as it was decided that we'd be taking a Southern Caribbean cruise, the boys had a wish list of activities, sightseeing and excursions for our adventure. I always book these prior to sailing and I use independent tour companies. They usually cost the same or less than excursions offered on board the ship.
St. Croix - I booked a combo ATV/Jet Ski tour. We had an hour ATV tour through the rain forest (and lots of mud) and then were dropped at the beach where we could Jet Ski for an hour. This tour also included 4 beach chairs, 2 umbrellas and food/drink vouchers for their restaurant. This would be a wonderful tour for people with teens.
St. Martin- We made this our beach day. You can get taxis at port to go to many of the different beaches all over the island.
Dominica - This was by far my favorite port of call. Dominica is known as the nature island. We snorkeled at Champagne Reef. This is a volcanic island and this reef has fissures which release warm bubbles into the water which looks like champagne bubbles. After snorkeling we were taken to Titou Gorge where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 were filmed. We swam through 60 degree water through a cave to a waterfall that you could jump off. The final destination was Trafalgar Falls which started with a short hike through the rain forest. This is a tour for which you should be a good swimmer (floatation devices were provided) and also physically fit. Not recommended for folks with any health or mobility issues.
Barbados -We did a catamaran tour. This was more laid back but loads of fun. We were provided breakfast and lunch and all the soda, beer, wine and rum punch that you wanted. The food was home cooked and tasty. We were taken to an area where we snorkeled with sea turtles. After that we moved to an area with two different shipwrecks where we could snorkel. All gear was provided. After snorkeling, we went to a different area of the island where we anchored and had lunch and could take a swim. This tour could work well with most families.
Grenada - Here we booked an island tour that gave us a little taste of everything. We visited Annandale Waterfall, Grand Etang rain forest, a rum factory, Fort Frederick and a spice shop which gave a nice demonstration of the spices. This was a good tour that gave insight into the island culture.
The only regret was our lack of time for this cruise. Touring every day was exhausting and it limited what we could do on the ship. I wished we could have had an extra day or two on board to enjoy the ship a bit more and visit with each other.
This cruise is a good fit for all families but keep in mind that most of the activities are geared toward families with slightly older children or teens. All of the islands had beaches that would suit young families that may not want to do all of the active tours that we did.