When the Grandparents Are Leading the Way

Carol Harrison credits her grandson with helping her get back her travel mojo.

The Atlanta grandmother hadn't traveled much since she was widowed five years ago—until this past summer. She invited 12-year-old Miller Sinyard, her son Todd, and her daughter-in-law Becky to join her on a 78-passenger Inner Seas Discoveries expedition cruise in Alaska.

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"I wanted Miller to not be too old to want to do a trip with me, but old enough to do everything," she explained. And he certainly did everything, from paddle-boarding and taking a "polar plunge" in the frigid water to going along on bushwhacking hikes and kayaking. By the time the trip was over, Harrison had overcome her misgivings about traveling without her husband and was talking about renewing her passport so that she could travel more with her grandchildren.

And she's joining an ever-growing club. The new MMGY Global/Harrison Group 2012 Portrait of American Travelers survey, which polls 2,527 U.S. households nationally, found that 37 percent of leisure travelers say they've traveled with grandkids just this past year. Twenty-two percent report they are even leaving their children behind and just inviting the grandkids along.

Other research commissioned by Disney suggests the number is even higher for those grandparents with incomes more than $40,000 a year.

In some cases, they invite a grandchild to celebrate a special birthday or graduation. "It's wonderful to share this while I can," explained Iro Sotiriadou, traveling from Cyprus with her granddaughter, Melissa Hadjikyriakou, to the Arctic to celebrate Melissa's college graduation.

Texans Suzanne and John Burgess have opted to take each grandchild on a trip of their choice—their granddaughters opted for Orlando and New York, while their 14-year-old grandson, Aaron English, chose Alaska.

"None of them lives near us," Suzanne Burgess explained. "We decided taking them on a trip was a way we'd get to know them better."

These days, I see grandparents and grandkids wherever I go—at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in Orlando and California theme parks, on the beach in Florida and Hawaii, on cruise ships, in national parks, in Europe, and even in far-flung locales.

I met nine-year-old Evie Plunkett, who was traveling with her grandparents on a very expensive Arctic Lindblad National Geographic expedition. She chose the destination, her grandfather William Plunkett said, because she loves polar bears. He and his wife were eager to expand her horizons beyond Texas—Evie had never been out of the United States—and to encourage her interest in the natural world—their passion. "A perfect trip and definitely worth the money," William said.

It seems more and more multigenerational groups are traveling throughout the year, gathering at vacation destinations like Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Florida or rented villas over Thanksgiving, for example, rather than all crowding into Grandma's house. I meet a lot of fit grandparents at ski resorts too, including one grandmother who opted to join a women's ski clinic in Utah just so she could keep up with her grandkids on the slopes.

So many multigenerational families are now cruising that cruise lines have developed special connecting rooms and "family connection" packages, even on lines that you wouldn't think attract a lot of families. Crystal Cruises now offers a Crystal Family Memories package and the Holland America Line offers its Holland America Family Reunion package. Crystal, in fact, reports that multigenerational groups are its fastest growing segment, with the numbers tripling in just the last three years.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has developed multigenerational, family-friendly river cruises, with special shore excursions and pricing for kids and teens, specifically to appeal to grandparents and parents.

I always recommend cruises to multigenerational groups, for the same reason that many people like all-inclusive resorts—supervised activities for the kids (and teens) so adults can get a break, plenty of activities to share, and one price for lodging, meals and entertainment.

I even met a multigenerational family cruising in Croatia aboard Windstar, though you don't traditionally think of sailing yachts as being family-friendly.

Grandparents want to show their grandkids the world, however they choose to travel. TAUCK, which has just launched a new family river cruise on the Rhone River ("Bon Voyage: France Family River Cruise") says two-thirds of its Tauck Bridges family trips are either multigenerational groups or grandparents traveling with grandchildren.

Thomson Family Adventures says multigenerational business is up 50 percent—with Tanzania being the hands-down favorite travel destination.

These baby-boomer grandparents certainly don't shy away from adventure, even on whitewater-rafting trips. The adventure company OARS is seeing so much multigenerational travel that they are devoting an article to it in their 2013 catalog.

At the same time, The Dude Ranchers Association reports that half of its members are seeing an increase in multigenerational trips. The White Stallion Ranch in Tucson even has two separate weeks set aside for such groups.

But these multigenerational trips certainly don't have to be expensive or exotic. Families flock to the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado, for example, and to intergenerational learning trips sponsored by the nonprofit Road Scholar, which you may remember as ElderHostel. This year, there are 180 different programs. Costa Rica, the Badlands of South Dakota, and Washington, D.C. are all very popular.

What do the kids think about all the quality time with Grandma and Grandpa? "So fun!" said Miller Sinyard.

His grandma definitely thought so too.

(c) 2012 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.  

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