Family Reunion? Pros and Cons of a Cruise Vs. a Vacation Rental

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I mentioned earlier this week that I was had just returned from a family reunion at the beach in Alabama. Many people do family reunions in large vacation rental homes much like the one we rented in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Other families choose to take a cruises together for their family reunions. I have done both with members of my extended family and I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast these two types of family vacations.
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Background
Back in the 70’s shortly after my Grandfather’s death, my Grandmother sold their family summer home, a small cabin on Mobile Bay. My mother, her brother and two sisters had spent their summers together at this home, and had hoped to be able to share the joy of water front family time with their own children. My Grandmother said “Well, I’ll plan to rent a house over at Gulf Shores for everyone to get together during the summer.” During our first couple of summer vacations there in Gulf Shores their were 6 of us cousins, and 9 adults. Over the course of 35 years this family tradition has continued even as our family has grown exponentially. Now with the addition of more cousins and the original set of cousins grown up and married with their own kids, our number has grown to over 32 people if all the descendants of my Grandmother are able to attend. This year we were able to find a house, a two sided duplex with connecting door, that had sleeping accommodations for up to 42 people. The brand new house was across the street from the beach, featured its own pool, and had beautifully decorated rooms and bedrooms. Most of the bedrooms had balconies with either an slightly obstructed gulf view or distant lagoon view.

The most recent family reunion cruise we took was a cruise to Alaska with my husband’s side of the family. We were joined by my Mother-in-law, her sister, my husband’s sister and husband. Our room on the Celebrity Mercury was a family ocean view with veranda.

Accommodations

The accommodations in both this type of brand new vacation rental and a cruise ship are actually surprisingly similar. We had our own bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bed with a pull out trundle at the beach rental. Our cruise ship room also had a queen size bed and two twins in the form of day bed and Pullman bed. The bath room was much larger in the beach rental, but the closet space and amenities were really about the same in both accommodations. Both the cruise ship and the beach rental had balconies.

Food

This is another area where the family vacation rental compared favorably to a cruise ship. While a cruise ship provides diners with more variety and upscale presentation, our family cooks and caterers provided us with delicious family meals every night. During our family reunion each family took a different night to prepare a gourmet meal for our family. These meals included shrimp creole, Southern barbecue, lasagna and chicken parmigiana, grilled chicken, and seafood gumbo. Though the food was more home style than gourmet, everyone loved the evening dinners. There was plenty of food left over for the guests to reheat and have for lunch the next day. Of course on a cruise ship diners have more choices with usually 3 appetizers, 2 soups, 2 salads, and 5 to 6 entrees on the menu. At the buffet or grill lunch there are many options for cruisers. However, we felt that with freshness and quality of ingredients, our home style food was actually nearly as good as gourmet cruise food.

Service

If you want to be waited on hand and foot all day long, don’t book a vacation rental unless your husband or Mom are ready to wait on you. Seriously, there is no staff at a vacation rental other than the cleaning crew that comes on Saturdays between rentals. During the week you are on your own for cooking, cleaning, and beverages. On a cruise ship your cabin is cleaned by your attendant daily, your dinners come with first class wait staff, and you usually only have to waive your hand and sign a paper to get a beverage of your choice. Of course if you so choose you could always eat out for dinner while staying in your vacation rental. We went out to lunch one day, and the service was okay, but nothing compared to the high level of service given on a cruise ship. So the edge for service is really “no contest’ and goes to the cruise ships.

Scenery

I have to give the advantage to a cruise ship over a beach rental in terms of scenery. While a beach view is absolutely gorgeous, an ever changing panorama of either tropical paradises or Arctic mountain scenery and glaciers has a definite edge. We loved the Alaska cruise when we could hang out on our balcony with our family and take in the beautiful scenery of Alaska and British Columbia. We’ve also enjoyed the beautiful beaches and tropical scenery during our warm weather cruises. The moving ship also provides a cool breeze to combat the tropical humidity.

Entertainment and Excursions

For entertainment at a beach rental family reunion, vacationers are pretty much on their own. There are some bars and night clubs in town with live music, but for the most part the emphasis is on family time. During our vacation we did have one night when we watched our old home movies on DVD. On another night we held a family talent show which gave both the kids and adults a chance to show their hidden talents. There was also time spent at the beach playing in the ocean and at the house’s private pool. In terms of excursions my Son and I spent a day at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, and a half hour on a rental wave runner. My daughter and I also spent a day shopping. Finally, I took the kids to a go-cart park where they got to ride and play mini golf.

On a cruise ship there is live music day and night and live performance shows every night in a variety of music and entertainment genres. The Broadway style production shows and occasional folkloric performances are our favorite parts of the cruise experience. We also enjoy the variety of theme parties offered on a cruise ship from tropical nights to 50’s and 60’s night. In terms of excursion opportunities, the cruise ships also bring visitors to a different and exciting place to explore every day. Often cruiser can choose from 10 to 15 different activities to enjoy while in port. On our Alaska cruise we enjoyed a train trip into the mountains, the Alaska State Museum, and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Hence, in the area of entertainment and excursions the cruise ship offers much more than a vacation rental.

Quality Family Time

This is a difficult area for comparison. At the beach house there is plenty of casual opportunity to relax enjoy family time. We could sit around in either one of the large family rooms and catch up on all the changes in our lives since the last time we got together. There was time for long walks on the beach. During a cruise, with less responsibilities in terms of cooking and cleaning, family members also have plenty of quiet time to get caught up with each-other. Often on excursions, like our train ride in Alaska, provide an opportunity for a shared family experience. With a cruise often everyone can plan separate activities during the day and then get together for a relaxing dinner every night. The relaxed dinner atmosphere creates a great opportunity for conversation and quality time together. I would have to give a tie to both the vacation rental and cruise experience in terms of family time. There is less to do in the vacation rental, but less responsibilities while on a cruise.

Privacy

In terms of family privacy, the the vacation rental afforded the best opportunity to enjoy our extended family to enjoy our rental facilities for ourselves. We had exclusive use of the pool so the kids didn’t have to worry about disrupting others swim time. We could also be as loud as a group as we wanted with out worrying about disrupting others vacations. On the flip side, we had to be very conscious about not being too loud individually. Several of the small children and a few of the adults needed quiet time midday to take a nap. Also, we had no late night parties as most of the adults wanted quiet in order to go to bed around 10 pm. On a cruise ship, vacationers share all of their public facilities, but then enjoy quiet time in their rooms. Groups need to be aware of not become too loud and boisterous, but individuals are free to stay up dancing or talking until the lounges close. While they do need to make sure they are not making noise in the halls, the public rooms are separate from the the cabins, so for the most part the noise from these areas is not going to bother those sleeping in their cabins. In the vacation rental the three of the bedrooms were located directly below, above or on the same floor as the main living room. Again, I give a tie to privacy because of the trade offs in the balance between public and shared space when comparing a cruise to the vacation rental.


Cost

The cost of the vacation rental was much less expensive per family than a cruise. When we divided up the cost of the vacation rental between the different families, the cost was around $1100 per family. We also kept a food money pouch in which every one ended up contributing a total of $180 per family for food for the entire week. Beverages were not included in that charge, for which we spent about $30 total for the entire week. That brought our cost for the rental and food to total of $1310 four a family of four. At typical 7 day cruise costs about $1100 per person for the first two cruisers in a balcony cabin, and $750 for the second two, bringing the basic cost of the cruise to around $4200 for the entire week. On top of that cruisers must pay for soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, and tips. Depending on wine selections and the amount of beverages purchased these charges can easily reach $50 to $150 per day. Adding a mean cost of $100 per day that brings to total for the 7 day cruise to about $4900. Obviously if budget is a huge consideration, the vacation rental makes for a a better choice. However, if service, entertainment,sheer relaxation, and variety are more important then the cruise vacation might be worth the extra expense. Oh and don’t forget that formal night on a cruise cruise ship makes for a great photo opportunity for the whole family.