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Ensure smooth sailing on a family cruise

Before you book your trip, you must all decide where you’d like to go: Key West, shown, St. Maarten, Cozumel, somewhere else?

Associated Press

Before you book your trip, you must all decide where you’d like to go: Key West, shown, St. Maarten, Cozumel, somewhere else?

Cruising with a senior parent is a rewarding and fun-filled vacation. Multigenerational cruising provides all family members time to reconnect while allowing time to pursue separate interests. Abraham Hughes, cruise director of Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, noted ". . . up to seven day cruises seem more family-oriented."

This summer my mother, Harriet, 82, and I took a cruise together. We had a wonderful time. Mom and I established four ground rules: We do not have to do all activities together; we would try the same shore excursions; we would not comment on each other's food choices; and we would immediately deal with any issues. These rules worked well for us.

Before booking the cruise, we discussed basics, including finances, ports of call, relaxing, food preferences, activity levels and physical limitations. We bought trip cancellation insurance.

Although Mom was comfortable with me going on an excursion without her, I felt responsible to stay with her. Fortunately, we liked most of the same activities. According to Mom, "Sometimes I felt like I was the child and my daughter was the 'mommy' but that was only because she was so solicitous. Also, I had to remember that she was an adult and I didn't have to tell her what to do and where to do it."

Tampa resident John Abbenger, 81, who was traveling with his son and three granddaughters, said his grandchildren were the reason for their trip. His advice was to be tolerant and plan some excursions. However, staying onboard during shore days can be a relaxing experience.

Stateroom to dining room

Obtaining the right cabin is essential. My travel agent was essential in choosing a comfortable, quiet and centrally located cabin. Hughes pointed out that cabins are not set up like hotels and some cabins have fold-out bunk beds, which are not appropriate for older passengers.

The first hurdle Mom and I had was arranging our cabin. Mom was used to her way; I had mine. Our first compromise was designating sides. I had the left side of the cabin and Mom had the right side.

Plan for any health concerns. Pack extra medication and bring it onboard, as baggage might be delivered after medicine time. Some shore excursions have restrictions, so visit your doctor prior to travel.

Because Mom obtained a doctor's note clearing her to snorkel, she felt more confident. Hughes said that ships are more handicapped accessible but passengers need to plan for their special needs.

A cruise offers a wide array of food choices and dining experiences. All cruisers choose the first or second dinner seating in the dining room and were assigned to dinner tables. We requested a table for eight, hoping to meet congenial dinner companions. However, we sat by ourselves for two nights because some people chose to dine in one of the specialty restaurants. Others preferred the more relaxed dining atmosphere in the buffet area, which afforded the freedom to meet after activities on a more relaxed and flexible schedule. However, we felt extra special as we had the undivided attention of our waiter and busboy and were able to ask people we met later in the cruise to join us, resulting in a fun-filled table. We were also able to modify some food choices; Mom and I had some sauces omitted and chose different vegetables.

Playing and staying together

Delivered to our cabin each evening was an activities list for the next day. Mom and I coordinated activities. We included movies, a makeup makeover by a licensed cosmetologist, specialty classes such as acting for non-actors, miniature golf and stage and ice shows. Other family activities included bingo, line dancing, sports and pool activities.

Travel with my mother was a very special experience. I greatly admired her adventurous spirit to snorkel for the first time. She did a great job in the improvisational acting class and walked the mile course on deck almost every day. She was a wonderful companion and I look forward to our next adventure together.

When asked, my mother said, "My daughter and I have always had a close relationship. Bonding was not an issue. At the end of the cruise, we both agreed we would certainly like to travel together on other trips. That says it all."

>>fast facts

Travel tips

1Decide on vacation type, goal, duration, activity level, expectations and cost. Research options and discuss plans

with friends, relatives and/or travel


2Check with physician for travel and activity clearance.

3List all medication, vitamins and times taken. Bring medication in original

packaging if possible. Bring copy of prescriptions.

4Bring over-the-counter medicines such as antidiarrheal, allergy, antibiotic cream and suntan lotion. Bring bandages, nail clipper, tweezers and other frequently used implements. Pack items that will not be available on a ship or in a foreign country.

5Make a checklist of items to bring. Try and for printable cruise packing tips and checklists. For general travel packing try

6Bring glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses and solutions.

7Investigate purchasing trip cancellation insurance and additional medical coverage. Check with your insurance company concerning medical care coverage if travel is outside the United States, as Medicare and Medicaid will not be in effect. Look into Medicare supplemental plans.

Check (toll-free 1-800-487-4722) to compare travel insurance options. Other insurers to check are AIG Travel Guard International (, toll-free 1-800-826-4919), Medjet Assist (, toll-free 1-800-527-7478) and International SOS (, toll-free 1-800-523-8661).

8 Complete registration material in advance.

9Arrange for a wheelchair or handicap

status if flying. If cruising, rent a wheelchair or other equipment and have it delivered to the ship. Many cruise ships provide additional services to accommodate passengers.

10Be prepared for some role reversal; you might become caregiver to your parent. You might have to plan activities and be responsible for booking additional tours and arranging meals. Look for common activities and interests.

11 Establish ground rules. Discuss differences.

12Clear the air if misunderstandings occur. Explain your reason for doing something because your parent's way is probably different.

Ensure smooth sailing on a family cruise 11/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:31pm]
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