Our World Family holidays: Our guide to multi-generational travel

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Whether it's time as a family or a better deal, the benefits of three or four generations travelling together are increasingly clear. 

Quality time. It’s at the heart of multi-generational travel. Quality time between grandparents and grandchildren, adult children and their parents, siblings and cousins. It’s travel where the stresses and routine are stripped away, leaving time to really spend with each other.

It’s also a time where the love of travel or place can be passed on, experiences can be shared between the generations, and where different ages encourage each other out of comfort zones.

The advantages of multi-generational travel, where three and sometimes four generations holiday together, are being recognised by more Australians. Increasingly generations are boarding cruise ships together, going on African safaris, lounging around villas in Bali, skiing in Colorado or simply letting the grandkids loose in the time-honoured tradition of the West Australian caravan park. 

“People want to use travel to gain meaningful experiences and they have come to the conclusion if they are going to have these experiences, the nicest way to share those are with the people that are nearest and dearest to them — their family,” says Claudia Rossi Hudson, owner of Mary Rossi Travel, who has seen the trend grow over the past two years. She attributes this to a more mobile older generation — in terms of fitness, wealth and travel frequency after retirement. 

“Most of these trips are substantially paid for by the grandparents. Instead of leaving money to their children or grandchildren when they die, they would much rather spend it with them while they are still alive and can all enjoy the experience together.”

Tom Walley, head of leisure travel for Flight Centre Travel Group, says the quality time results from an environment where everyone is feeling relaxed. Plus it’s economical — bigger groups mean travel agents can negotiate better deals with room bookings.

Families tend to encourage participation when they travel together, according to managing director of AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys Hans Belle. 

“The beauty of multi-generational travel is that you often find our families pushing each other’s boundaries, where the younger travellers begin to explore a more adult style of travel, and vice versa with grandparents wanting to take advantage of time spent with the kids, getting involved in as many activities as possible,” Mr Belle says.

According to Trafalgar managing director Matthew Cameron-Smith, organised tours are becoming more popular because they remove the difficulty of having to organise a trip that keeps everyone happy.

Trafalgar offers Family Experiences, trips designed to appeal to all generations and cater for children. Like many other Trafalgar tours, Family Experiences allow guests to skip queues for big attractions (a win with impatient kids) and stay in places that tell a story. The 13th-century castle in North Wales on the Castles and Kilts tour is a proven winner with the kids. 

Top destinations

Mary Rossi Travel’s in-demand destinations for families with younger children are Hawaii, Bali and Fiji, while older children have been going for skiing holidays particularly in Colorado and Canada. Ms Rossi Hudson says Africa has been popular with teenagers and their families.

And some families are opting for more out-there holidays. She says one three-generation family “crazy about horse riding” opted for a trip to Iceland where they spent a week riding Icelandic horses.

For Trafalgar, South Africa has proved a great destination for an intergenerational family due to the perception that it’s a more difficult trip to organise. But Trafalgar’s number one destination is Italy with plenty to do and see for every age — think fresh pasta and pizza making, great wine for the adults and visiting a gladiator school in Rome.

Tom Walley says that aside from Bali, Thailand and the South Pacific, Flight Centre has seen demand for skiing in Japan and Canada, as well as trips to see the northern lights. “Skiing is growing in popularity and combined with a white Christmas, it truly is a perfect holiday for the whole family,” he says.

AAT Kings has found the Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania are popular destinations for multi-generational groups.

Accommodation that works

Resorts, especially those with interconnecting rooms and family suites, big private homes and villas are great for multi-generational families.

For Italian Villa Vacations, which has access to 150 luxury staffed villas spread across Italy, Tuscany and Lake Como have proven popular. Staff can cook, babysit and organise restaurant bookings, day trips, private boats, cooking classes and even activities such as interior design courses with staff in Florence or design your own dress with staff in Puglia. 

Director Jane Black says clients seeking an Italian holiday should come with a list of what they want out of the experience. “We pick the right region, villa and season for the requirements. It is important we understand the full list of requirements before we suggest the property.”

On the water

Cruises are a great opportunity for families who live in different places with very busy lives to come together, according to P&O Cruises president Sture Myrmell.

“We also see families use a cruise holiday as an opportunity to celebrate an occasion or milestone such as a birthday, wedding or anniversary,” Mr Myrmell says.

About half of the families travelling on a P&O Cruise have an average group size of 10 people and Royal Caribbean reports a 24 per cent growth in multi-generational cruising in Australia.

Royal Caribbean Australia and New Zealand managing director Adam Armstrong says cruising is a relaxing way to enjoy a family holiday.

“The stress of travel for young kids and the elderly is minimal, because all you have to do is arrive, unpack once, and you’ll wake up in a new destination every day,” Mr Armstrong says.

Cruise ships continue to lure families with attractions such as water slides and water parks, bumper cars, ice-skating and rock climbing.

Royal Caribbean ships have a range of cabins suitable for big family groups, from interconnecting rooms to Royal Family Suites that sleep up to eight people. In March Symphony of the Seas will debut with its Ultimate Family Suite with a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, a slide from the kids’ bedroom to the living room below, an air hockey table, a 3-D movie theatre TV room with popcorn machine and a balcony with pool table, climbing wall and whirlpool. Royal Caribbean’s South Pacific itineraries have proven the most popular followed by New Zealand, and internationally Asia and the Caribbean.

P&O has interconnecting cabins in a number of configurations, sleeping from four to eight people, but the cabins are in demand and need to be booked early.

The fleet’s most popular family itineraries are also to the South Pacific and nearly half of its cruises went there last year. Short three and four-night cruises — P&O Cruises SeaBreaks — are also in favour for families looking for a quick getaway, to try a cruise holiday for the first time or to celebrate a big occasion.

Bicton Travel sales and marketing manager Barry Downs says West Australian families often use local cruises to celebrate a milestone, using a ship’s facilities to entertain all the ages and then coming together to dine as a group. He says the Astor Festive cruise from Fremantle is particularly popular with big intergenerational family groups. 

Mr Downs says river cruising has grown in the family market as older generations introduce newer generations to the benefits of this intimate style.

He says river cruising can work well for families, having recently experienced it with his eight year-old daughter, but on vessels that weren’t all-inclusive. 

“You need a river cruise product that is almost a floating hotel allowing you to do your own activities ashore using public transport as kids don’t have the attention span to be out on tour all day.” 

He recommends a-ROSA because it includes everything except shore excursions and under 15s cruise free. 

An increase in younger travellers has prompted Uniworld to increase family departures from five to 13 over the past two years.

Uniworld managing director Fiona Dalton says Uniworld’s multi-gen travellers are opting for Central Europe, with the Rhine through the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland a popular choice.

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