Where to Next, Grandma?
Published: June 2009
By Jane Margolies
See you later, Mom and Dad. Grandparents and grandchildren are taking off—together. Here, tips, trips, and deals for a grand time.
Alaska, the Virgin Islands, Kenya, Holland. Today's seniors are heading out on adventures—and suitcases aren't all they're taking with them. According to a 2002 report by Yesawich Pepperdine Brown & Russell, Orlando-based market researchers, 35 percent of all grandparents traveled with a grandchild in 2001, up from 29 percent the previous year. Grandparents and grandkids can chart their own course (hotel and airline senior discounts available) or pick a tour designed for intergenerational groups. They can even sign up for camp together. Just make sure they remember to drop a postcard to the folks back home.
Take an organized trip
Butterfield & Robinson, Thomson Family Adventures, Abercrombie & Kent, Backroads, and scores of other outfitters orchestrate group outings for families. In addition, the following firms have trips specifically for grandparents and grandkids—in many cases, no parents allowed.
Grandtravel 800/247-7651 or 301/986-0790; www.grandtrvl.com . How about 13 nights in Alaska ($6,475 per adult, $6,010 per child, airfare not included) with sea kayaking, river rafting, and a ride in a sled pulled by huskies?Or maybe a 14-day Kenya safari ($7,995 per adult, from $6,950 per child, round-trip airfare from New York City included) with a tour of a giraffe refuge, a night game drive, and luxurious tented camps?Grandtravel, a pioneer in upscale trips for grandparents and grandkids (ages 7 to 17), leads 16 different teacher-escorted summer vacations (each with several date options) in the United States and abroad. Seventy-five percent of its clients are grandmothers; average age, 65.
Elderhostel 877/426-8056; www.elderhostel.org . This not-for-profit educational travel outfit, specializing in trips for elders, has also offered intergenerational programs since 1985. Bike through Holland ($3,020 per adult for 13 nights, airfare from New York City and hotels included; call for child rate); research UFO hoaxes and build rockets near Roswell, New Mexico ($550 per adult for 5 nights, airfare not included; call for child rate); bask in art and urban culture at Chicago's Art Institute ($684 per adult, $656 per child, with six nights in a hotel, airfare not included). There are 200 trips—and counting—to choose from.
Sierra Club Outings 415/977-5522; www.sierraclub.org/outings/national . It's off to the Sierra Nevada for the environmental organization's annual six-day summer experience, Just for Grandparents and Grandkids (from $425 per adult, $325 per child, ages five and up). Participants stay at the club's Clair Tappaan Lodge, near the Donner Pass, a 45-minute drive from Reno. Days are devoted to hikes, tram rides above Squaw Valley, and trips to Lake Tahoe. Meals are family-style, and everyone pitches in with clean-up. Thanks to the popularity of this trip, the Sierra Club is debuting two new itineraries—seven days in the U.S. Virgin Islands ($1,095 per adult, $845 per child) and six in the foothills of western Massachusetts ($595 per adult, $495 per child).
Go to camp
Great Camp Sagamore Raquette Lake, N.Y.; 315/354-5311; www.sagamore.org . Throughout July and August, grandparents and kids (ages 6 to 14) converge on the Gilded Age Adirondacks retreat of Alfred Vanderbilt—the only historic "great camp" that's now a public institution—for six-day "Grands Camps" ($595 per adult, $475 per teen, $375 per preteen; Elderhostel runs five of the six sessions). No phones or TV's in the lodge rooms, but there's plenty to do: canoeing, biking, swimming, outings to Sagamore Lake, and, of course (this being camp), arts and crafts.
Hit a hotel
Loews Hotels 800/235-6397; www.loewshotels.com . Eighteen of the chain's hotels in the United States and Canada put up grandparents and grandchildren in suites or adjoining rooms at 20 to 50 percent off standard rates. They'll also get you tickets to sporting events and arrange V.I.P. tours of places such as the San Diego Zoo.
Candlewood Suites 888/226-3539; www.candlewoodsuites.com . Grandparents who bring a grandchild (or simply flash a photo of one) when checking in for the first time, or during one of 11 major holidays, get to stay a second night free. Candlewood has more than 100 locations, from Syracuse to Sacramento.
The Homestead U.S. Route 220, Hot Springs, Virginia; 800/838-1766 or 540/839-1766; www.thehomestead.com ; doubles from $198 per person, breakfast and dinner included. The newly expanded spa at this old Virginia resort—Thomas Jefferson steeped in the mineral springs here—is set up for grandparents, parents, and children to have tandem treatments. Pile onto a sofa for side-by-side pedicures (herbal soak or chocolate soak, your pick). Ready for more?The "Generations" package buys an adult mini-facial and manicure, plus a "Teen Facial" and "Fun Fingers" strawberries-and-cream manicure, for $139.
—Reported by Leah Cumsky-Whitlock
Five Road Rules for Seniors and Squirts
How can young and old travel well together?WE asked dozens of grandparents and their sidekicks for advice. The consensus is that kids ages 9 to 12 make the best on-the-road companions (teens are not to be ruled out—especially if they agree to leave their tongue studs at home). When it comes to itinerary planning, a grandkid should be allowed plenty of input, but it's best not to be too ambitious in scheduling or total number of days spent. And shared interests should be kept in mind—no need to head straight to the roller coaster.
Before heading out, grandparents and grandkids can read books, watch movies and search the web together to bone up on what they'll be seeing—and to get excited. Lastly, grandparents must consult with parents on often tricky issues, such as bedtimes, and then be prepared to lay down the law.
1. Cap the sugar count
In addition to inquiring about a grandchild's favorite (and most despised) foods, and willingness to try new things, grandparents should learn the parental restrictions on soda, candy, and other treats—and make sure the child understands the limits. Who wants to bicker over Diet Cokes and Kit Kat bars?
2. Settle the money
It's wise to figure out a budget for presents and souvenirs. The grandchild might make a list of gift recipients, and of each person's wish list (and if Dad wants a belt, say, jot down his size). Helena Koenig, owner of Grandtravel, recommends deciding in advance to "collect one type of thing, such as spoons, T-shirts or books," as a way to minimize the time spent browsing—and agonizing over purchases.
3. Agree on a bedtime
What is the child's bedtime at home?When does he or she like to wake up?Enforce the former; learn to live with the latter. If grandparent and grandchild will be sharing a room, they should discuss habits, such as whether one needs to sleep with a light on or is known to snore (and then consider packing a night-light, sleep mask, and earplugs).
4. Share the load
Only one person has to lug certain essentials, such as a hair dryer, an umbrella, even toothpaste. Why let duplicates weigh a trip down?
5. Hang up the phone
On arrival, the grandchild should call home, and after that get in touch every other night or so. Phoning more frequently puts the parents too prominently in the picture; calls to friends should be banned. Remember: this is a chance for grandparent and child to lend each other an ear.