A Centennial Family Cruise 

Living to the age of 100 is an amazing feat … but celebrating a centennial birthday aboard a cruise ship with family from all over the country is truly extraordinary. 

We set sail from Miami last spring on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky with four generations of the Guthmann clan to honor our patriarch, my father-in-law Louis Guthmann. 

“I wanted to have all my family together and didn’t know how much longer I had the opportunity to do that,” says Lou, a World War II veteran from Chicago. Having been on nearly 100 cruises spanning more than five decades, Lou chose to spend his 100th birthday on the high seas with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. From a Roaring Twenties–themed birthday party to an exclusive villa on Great Stirrup Cay, we had an unforgettable nine days filled with family, fun, and sun.

Along with highlights of our voyage, I’ve shared insights for a multigenerational cruise that will create lasting memories. 

Be flexible to accommodate the majority of family members 

“Planning a cruise for 27 people was not easy. Even getting a date everyone could make was a challenge,” explains my sister-in-law, Carol Rogers, who helped coordinate our centennial family cruise. 

To accommodate a big group of diverse ages, be flexible with dates and consider cruising when schools are closed. You’re likely to get a larger turnout, but the downside is more crowded ships and higher prices. 

Choose a ship with activities, entertainment, and an itinerary for all ages

Lou’s eldest son, Joel Guthmann, describes the challenge of multigenerational cruising: “It is impossible to give each person exactly the experience they would choose with a single family.” 

One of the oldest and smallest ships in Norwegian’s fleet, Sky didn’t have the water slides, ropes course, zip line, or Broadway-style theatrical productions typically found in newer, larger ships. However, Sky fit the criteria of sailing on Lou’s birthday and being the right size to keep track of his eight great-grandchildren ranging in age from 1 to 7. 

The kiddie pool and Splash Academy youth program tired out our active bunch. But for my 6-year-old granddaughter, Kayla Presto, the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and ice-cream station made the cruise ideal. 

Six Caribbean ports — San Juan, Phillipsburg, St. John’s, St. Thomas, Puerto Plata, and Great Stirrup Cay — offered breathtaking beaches, historical sights, and countless shops to satisfy the adults. 

Plan dinners together so you get enough family time

With activities from poolside games and dance classes to trivia contests and karaoke, your relatives might follow their own interests and wind up on different schedules for meals. Night owls dancing in the nightclub might not wake until noon, but early risers who turn in after the evening show may be first in line at the breakfast buffet. Since one of Norwegian’s many perks was a free drink package, we met for cocktails each day at 5:00pm so we could hang out and reminisce. 

I prefer Norwegian’s “freestyle” flexibility of dining according to your schedule or appetite, but having reservations for the same time each evening works best on a multigenerational cruise. Norwegian treated Lou like a VIP by surprising him with a special birthday cake and serving him a jumbo shrimp cocktail each night that wasn’t even on the menu. 

While Sky had several specialty dining venues, the upcharge would have been wasted on our youngest travelers, who prefer grilled cheese and other kid-friendly foods. We left the children with their parents and had a quiet, relaxing adults-only dinner in the steakhouse with my father-in-law, his four children and their spouses, and his sweetheart, Marilyn Harris. She was my mother-in-law Dotty’s closest friend, and lost her husband — Lou’s best friend, Bob — a couple of months after Dotty passed. This was truly a match made in heaven. 

Organize a special gathering just for your family

Lou’s 100th birthday was the ideal occasion for our group’s private get-together. Since he was born in 1923, the Roaring Twenties made an appropriate theme. We dressed to impress in flapper dresses, feathered headbands, and fedoras, and were transported back in time to a bygone era. We played bingo with cards featuring details of Lou’s life and tested our knowledge of trivia from 1923. We serenaded the guest of honor with… 

By Julie Guthmann


This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.