Traveling in a group can be the death knell of vacation fun. It sounds like a great idea at first – reunite with far-flung family and friends on neutral ground where no one has to host – but the reality doesn’t always live up to expectations. Differing budgets, activity levels and interests, as well as travel style clashes, can lead to more headaches than memories.
Cruises offer the best of all worlds for groups: They appeal to travelers of all ages, offer various levels and types of activity, and allow people with different budgets to still vacation together. Your group is contained in one place, everyone can set their own onboard agenda, and there’s no need for National Security Council-level strategic planning just to choose the restaurant for dinner.
6. Establish a calendar of important dates
Knowing how busy most folks are, your fellow travelers will appreciate receiving a calendar noting payment due dates, the “opening day” for booking shore excursions through the cruise line and deadlines for filling out passenger information forms online. It’s also useful to send out e-mail reminders about upcoming due dates.
7. Decide in advance how to handle shore excursions
Just as you want to set expectations for your group for the cruise itself, you want to set expectations for ports of call. Would your group be amenable to doing all excursions together? Or are there so many different ages, abilities and interests that people prefer to do their own thing, teaming up only when interests coincide?
The same rule applies if you want to plan a special shore excursion just for your group. Carnival, for example, allows you to custom-design an excursion if your group has booked eight or more staterooms, and it absolutely has to be planned in advance. Also, if you have a large enough group, you might be able to save money by booking a private independent tour, versus booking many spaces on a cruise line-sponsored excursion. If you plan to go this route, you will want to make arrangements prior to the trip.
8. Fly to the homeport city a day early
It’s best to arrive the day before embarkation, not the day of – “especially in the winter,” when weather delays could risk your on-time arrival. The trip would start on a sour note if a few from your group missed the boat – literally. Reserve a few hotel rooms for the night. If four people share one room, you can divvy up the cost, making it reasonably priced for that extra day.
9. Do your own thing
Countless groups advise the same concept: When on the cruise, do what it is you enjoy doing, when you want to do it. You’re on vacation, after all; you should be able to sleep late if you want, laze by the pool all day, or dance in the nightclub until the wee hours.
10. Come up with a plan to periodically regroup
Even if your group is committed to splitting up during the cruise, it’s a good idea to regroup at least once a day. Because communication can be tough – using cell phones during a cruise can accrue eye-popping roaming charges – setting a specific time to meet up is helpful.
Groups often use dinner as the regrouping time, sitting together at a big table in the dining room. Others even get together for happy hour in one of the cabins or a lounge first. There might be one special event that everyone could attend as one group – a particular show onboard, for example, or a group-friendly shore excursion. And don’t forget about arranging to meet for the requisite group photo…just to prove you were all traveling together!