Grandparents and grandkids act a little differently on vacation than when they're gathered around a formal holiday table. That's one reason why more and more families are opting to spend time together beyond visits at home.
In some cases they are forgoing gifts and savings bonds in favor of memory-making trips to hotels and resorts, historic towns, the Grand Canyon, Disney World, Europe and beyond.
There are even several travel agencies that cater to "multigenerational travel."
Such trips allow "the younger generation to develop a deep appreciation and understanding for their elders, unfiltered or altered by the parents' perspectives or interactions," said Kate Simpson, spokeswoman for Grandtravel, a travel company based in Chevy Chase, Md. "On one trip . . . a granddaughter exclaimed 'I didn't know my grandfather was so funny!' "
But how can the same trip appeal to a teen and a senior?
"Activities are planned to be interactive and engaging, whether you are 7 or 70," Simpson said. "If you are cooking pasta, riding ponies, making Venice carnival masks, dressing up in Elizabethan costumes or dog-mushing, the grandparents have as much fun as the kids."
The most popular Grandtravel trips include jaunts to Alaska, Washington, D.C., Italy and London. Prices start at $3,000 per person.
Mary Ann and Bruce Marger of St. Petersburg have taken their grandchildren to New York, Yosemite and Berlin and Poland. The trip to Yosemite was through the Country Walkers tour company, but the others they planned on their own.
"We did things in Yellowstone we would have never done if we hadn't been on a tour," said Mary Ann Marger, a former arts critic for the St. Petersburg Times. said "We went kayaking, white water rafting, swimming, horseback riding and did a lot of hiking."
The Margers have traveled with different combinations of grandchildren, taking two or three cousins or siblings at a time.
Last summer they took the two oldest cousins to Germany and Poland, including a visit to Auschwitz, the concentration camp 40 miles west of Krakow.
"I felt it was important for the kids to go to these places. My granddaughter wrote about being at Auschwitz later in her college admission essay."
She said she wouldn't advise taking anyone younger than 16 to a concentration camp but actually thinks 10 is the perfect age to start traveling most places with grandchildren sans parents.
"They are old enough to be self sufficient. They are receptive and curious but not turned off like they get in middle school," she said
This summer they are taking the two grandsons on a Holland America cruise through New England and Canada.
But it's not all roses and chocolates under the pillows. Marger tried to get the two boys to come over and watch Anne of Green Gables, the fabled story by L.M. Montgomery, which takes place on Prince Edward Island and is at the center of much of the island's tourism.
"They had no interest at all in seeing it so I took it back to the video store," she said with a laugh.
Ginny and John Aita of Omaha, Neb., reduce the family travel equation to the lowest common denominator by taking their St. Petersburg grandkids one at a time on a trip designed to their interests.
Rose McCoy, the middle grandchild, was the first to go to New York City in 2007 when she was 8. Her younger sister Ellie went a year later after she had turned 8.
"The trip with Ellie was all together different than the trip with Rose," Ginny Aita recalled. Rose was dying to go to the American Girl Store and loved shopping in the city's smorgasbord of possibilities.
"We went to the Fashion Institute of Technology . . . they had an exhibit of shoes from around the world and I could barely get her out of there. Then there were formal gowns from the 19th and 20th centuries," Aita said. "Ellie wouldn't have cared one minute for something like that but Rose was so fascinated by it."
One year later, it was Ellie who was enthralled with every word played by the lecture phones at Ellis Island. She typed in all her grandparents' surnames to see what distant relatives might have set foot on this first steppingstone to America. Since Ellie was studying Theodore Roosevelt at school, her grandfather suggested they tour the house he grew up in on the East Side and once again Ellie was mesmerized.
"It wasn't until we really got her entirely alone that we found out she was a real history buff," Ginny Aita mused. Now 12-year-old Jack will go with his grandparents to Washington, D.C., this summer. He'll see the house he lived in as a baby, take in a baseball game and spend hours at the Smithsonian.
"We do see a lot of grandparents and grandchildren who like to go on Disney and Royal Caribbean cruises," said Kathy Pohl, a travel agent who works in the Brandon office for Cruise Planners. "With a cruise all your food, all your entertainment your activities are all included in one price." There's no added stress of deciding how much to spend on what. Gram and Gramps will rarely, if at all, have to tell their grandkids "that costs too much."
Cruises have activities all ages can take in together such as talent shows, Pictionary contests or cake decorating sessions. They also offer a wide variety of entertainment so families can separate on occasion if they want to, Pohl said.
While the Disney cruises don't have casinos for grandparents who want to try their luck, they are adding golf. And Royal Caribbean has ice skating, boxing, rock climbing walls and surfing at sea. Its new Oasis on the Sea will have a boardwalk with carousel and zipline.
Disney World is also a natural fit for multigenerational travelers, said Michelle Stepney, Disney spokeswoman. "We truly have something for everyone to enjoy," she said.
"At Disney's Hollywood Studios, for example, we have Playhouse Disney for the younger kids and we just launched the American Idol Experience for teens and tweens," she added. "The Great Movie Ride looks at classic movies and takes grandparents on a journey back in time."
Katherine Snow Smith is editor of Go Momma magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]
This story appeared in the May/June issue of Go Momma magazine.