Travel for the Ages
Intergenerational trips are taking off on the Main Line.
“When are we going on the boat?” Peggy Beston’s grandchildren asked her every time they saw her. The boat they were referring to was Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas, which sailed out of Philadelphia in August and took the whole family to Bermuda for eight days.
To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Rosemont’s Frank and Peggy Beston, 75 and 73, thought about renting a house on the Eastern Shore for their 15 children and grandchildren ages five to 21. “But the cruise won out,” Frank says. “The inspiration was really us just thinking about what would be a really neat thing to do for our anniversary. And we love our family more than anything else.”
The Beston’s intergenerational vacation is part of a growing trend—that of grandparents’ generosity going far beyond weekend babysitting gigs and homemade chocolate chip cookies for the grandkids. Now they’re taking their children and grandchildren on trips for some much needed family R&R.
These sorts of elaborate dress-down gatherings between weddings and holidays are becoming increasingly popular for many reasons. First and foremost, in an era of increasingly efficient retirement planning, seniors can afford it—and most will agree that it’s a reasonable price to pay to get everyone in the same place for a week. Elders also want to impart values on their grandchildren and play a role in their upbringing, all while doing their part to create cherished family memories.
All in the Family
As far as imparting values goes, the Bestons have already done a good job of encouraging a sense of adventure in their own children. Their daughter, Peggy Stathes, a Villanova University grad, has a goal to visit all 50 states before she turns 50. She recently visited her 49th with her son. The cruise, no doubt, is a way for the Bestons to instill that same spirit of adventure in their grandchildren.
Collegeville’s Mary Claire Wreck, 64, started planning her family’s trip to Disney World in April. “Two friends had gone on the trips, and it sounded like they had a really nice time. It intrigued us, but we knew it would take awhile to coordinate schedules, so we started planning right away,” she says. “We’d done weeks at the beach, but not everyone could make it.”
Wreck’s itinerary for her husband, six adults and four grandchildren is wide open—just the way most grandparents like it. In an AARP study, having “no schedules to meet” was ranked fourth in importance for those planning an intergenerational trip. “We made dinner reservations for a few nights at the resort, but we made sure all of them were cancelable,” Wreck says.
On the flipside, some grandparents crave bonding time with their grandchildren, sans parents. “We all met in South Carolina as a family,” says Debbie Roberts of Drexel Hill. “But we only did it once, so that might say something.”
Roberts, a serial traveler and avid learner, takes each of her grandchildren on a handpicked vacation, usually before they hit high-school age. So far, she’s taken a grandchild swimming with dolphins in Florida and another to Manhattan. “I grew up in the Village during the ’20s and ’30s myself,” she says. “That will mold your mind.”
Roberts escorted another grandchild to Oxford, England, on a Harry Potter-themed adventure. And most recently, she embarked on a week-long Elderhostel trip with a granddaughter dubbed “Experiencing Costa Rica through Soccer.”
“When the children played together, the North American children tried to use their Spanish and the Costa Rican children tried to use their English. They taught each other basic soccer terms like ‘left foot’ and ‘right foot,’” she says. “I think it’s important to take them outside of their comfort zone. And surprise, surprise—they do well.”
William and Dorothy Smith of Newtown Square took grandchildren Ellen and Ross, 13 and 16, on a Bermuda cruise simply “because we told them we would.” And though they were often apart for meals—William and Dorothy ate in the ship’s dining rooms while the grandchildren ate “a lot of pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers”—they came together while at port in Bermuda, where William and Ross went golfing and Dorothy and Ellen took a shopping trip. The trips provide many opportunities for funny, generationally mismatched moments. On the last night of the cruise, Dorothy and William, 75 and 83, had to call security on their own grandchildren when they played host to other rambunctious teenagers in the room next door. The next day, Dorothy’s grandson asked her, “Grandmom, why did you do that?”
“With teenagers, you never know what to expect,” Dorothy admits. “They were in action from dawn until 2 a.m.”
Next up, the Smiths aim to instill the value of hard work in their grandchildren by taking them on an investment cruise. Sponsored by high-profile organizations like CBS Market Watch and Forbes, investment cruises allow guests to meet and learn from top investment experts during all-day seminars. “It’s time the kids learn about money—that you have to work to earn it,” says Dorothy.
There are obvious similarities among the grandparents who take family members on vacations: They’ve been bitten by the travel bug; and, of course, they love their families.
As a youngster, Frank Beston spent three years sailing around the world in the Navy, which he partially accounts for his love of the sea. Dorothy Smith was a Pan American Airways stewardess before she married her husband, a physician; she met him while volunteering in a Manhattan hospital.
For her part, Debbie Roberts, with her insatiable appetite for learning and travel says, “I’ve been in 12 Elderhostel trips. My favorite one is always the one I just got back from.”
And Mary Claire Wreck couldn’t be more pleased that her children and grandchildren are “all very excited” about their December trip to Disney World.
To some, six, eight or 10 days with 10, 12 or 14 family members might not seem like a little slice of heaven. But for those who are connected and want to remain so, such trips are fun and functional. “It’s important for us to be with everyone, having a lot of fun,” says Frank Beston. “This cruise could go to Timbuktu and we would still have a good time.”
Plan Your Trip
There’s a flourishing market for travel agencies focusing solely on trips for seniors and their offspring. Try these two if you’re interested in taking an intergenerational trip.
Elderhostel: Adventures in Lifelong Learning. This not-for-profit organization currently offers 67 all-inclusive intergenerational learning trips for travelers 55-plus and their grandchildren. Share in the excitement of a two-week safari to South Africa and Botswana; six nights of rock climbing and hiking in British Columbia; or a Rocky Mountain romp in Provo, Utah. Visit elderhostel.com.
Grandtravel. Developed by a team of teachers, psychologists and leisure counselors, Grandtravel is dedicated to fostering lasting memories for grandparents and grandchildren. The program offers carefully researched travel concepts that devote special attention to the benefits of intergenerational experiences. Take a walk along the south rim of the Grand Canyon; visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on a London morning; or lunch with a cosmonaut in Moscow. Visit grandtrvl.com.
Port o’ Philly
While cruise lines long ago expanded their East Coast departure points beyond Florida to New York City, Boston and Baltimore, Philadelphia’s port in the old Navy Yard opened for business just eight years ago. Planning ahead is important, since trips are gaining popularity and filling up early. Here are some vital stats.
Name: The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier 1
Location: 5100 S. Broad St.
Access: Within one mile of I-76 and I-95, and 10 minutes from the airport
Parking: Secure, affordable spaces at $10 per day
Number of departures per season: 36 Dates: April 25-Oct. 28 (visit cruisephilly.com for updates)
Number of travelers: 131,000 expected this year
Economic impact: The port is estimated to generate nearly $35 million in business revenue and $8 million in employment income during 2006.
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