Family holiday tips: The things they don't tell you about multi-generational travel

The seven-year-old is in seventh heaven. She's wriggled into a pretty pink-and-blue shimmery mermaid's tail and is now lying back with a garland of flowers on her head, posing on an over-sized inflatable oyster shell, floating on the surface of the picturesque Hawaiian lagoon.

"Beautiful!" the photographer exclaims as she snaps away, wading waist-deep in the water. "You look adorable." My granddaughter smiles back, suitably adorably. "Being a mermaid is fun," she says. "Isn't it, nanny Sue?"

I try to smile back, but fear it's turned into a grimace. For me, being squeezed into a rather larger mermaid tail and looking like a beached whale next to the little mermaid isn't my proudest moment. And now, struggling to hold my head above the water as I attempt to ripple along like the fish I've become, I'm wondering how much longer I can last.

Already, I've been struck in the head by an aqua-cycle being pedalled by someone who clearly shouldn't have been let loose on any stretch of water, and I've swallowed probably twice my weight in water while suffering two bouts of excruciating cramp inside the restrictive tail.

What's more, every time I try to stand I feel the hot sun burning my shoulders, and also my back whenever I have a crack at swimming. "Have you had enough yet?" I cry plaintively towards the back of the pink shell, which seems constantly to be twirling away from me. "Oh no!" drifts the languid voice back. "I think I could stay here forever."

TALKIN' ABOUT MY MULTI-GENERATION

Multi-generational holidays are today one of the biggest trends in travel, but there are certainly ups, downs and bruises along the way. Nevertheless, the numbers of generations travelling together show no signs of abating with more than half of young adult Australians having gone on a holiday with their parents since turning 18 – usually with their parents paying – according to research conducted this year for P&O Cruises based on a national survey of more than 1000 adults aged 18 to 29.

In addition, 82 per cent of young adults said they'd happily consider a multi-generational holiday. It's not simply the lure of an all-expenses-paid trip, either. Fifty per cent said the main reason they'd like to travel with their parents was to spend more time together, and 81 per cent who'd already travelled with parents said they were surprised by how much fun they'd had. Ninety-one per cent said they'd travel with their parents again if they had the chance.

"Young Australians experience many financial pressures today, so parents play a key role in helping their adult children save, study and now travel," says Mark McCrindle, principal of social research company McCrindle, which carried out the study. "And when it comes to travel, having a close relationship with mum and dad can clearly have significant benefits, both emotional and financial."

The research supports the trend P&O Cruises has noticed on its ships, with an 18 per cent increase in the number of young adults travelling with their parents in 2018 compared with 2016.

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"Cruising is an incredibly affordable way for an extended family to travel," says P&O Cruises president Sture Myrmell. "We're seeing more and more parents travel with their adult children on our ships, which means the whole family can explore new horizons together and carry the bonds of childhood into adulthood."

Destinations such as Hawaii are also noticing a marked increase in the number of generations visiting together. "For the Australian market, multi-generational family groups make up 20 per cent of visitors to the Hawaiian Islands," says Giselle Radulovic, country manager Australia of Hawaii Tourism Oceania. "The Hawaiian Islands are great destinations for multi-generational holidays. Hawaii is the perfect spot for milestone celebrations, whether that's significant birthdays, anniversaries or family celebrations. With direct flights taking less than 10 hours and three airline carriers with flights into Honolulu, there are plenty of options for travel in larger groups."

And, in theory, that sounds wonderful. Take a relaxing spot of R&R with a couple of generations of your own family and rediscover the joys of the ties that bind, in a location you can all enjoy without the daily chores of cooking, washing and driving to each other's houses. But sometimes the reality is somewhat different. In normal day-to-day life, you can hand the grandkids back to their parents when you've had enough of them; when you're all on holiday together, and you offer to look after the little ones, the parents have a strange habit of disappearing and are not to be found for hours.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

I choose Hawaii for my first "mul-gen" – as it's fast becoming known – because I feel it offers the perfect mix of activities for children, their parents and grandparents alike. I'm holidaying together with my partner's son, his son's wife and their young daughter, and I try to remind myself that these are precious times, and memories of her childhood are to be savoured forever – especially when the actual events are over.

The mermaid experience at the boisterous family-friendly Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort looked a shoo-in for kids, and I'd somehow assumed her mum would do it with her. That was my first mistake.

When, finally, the photographer takes what feels like 10,000 pictures and video, and the little girl declares she is finished, we stroll over to the family Paradise Pool with its water slides of various heights and shapes. Here is my second mistake.

I'd imagined I'd sit and watch her gambol as I drank a pina colada by the pool's edge. No such luck. "No, come in with me," she insists. "MUMMY wouldn't let me in by myself." I wonder, uncharitably, where MUMMY is … probably drinking pina coladas by another pool.

And then I climb in, dutifully following her around as she tries the smallest slide through a rock wall, then a larger one down the side of another wall. But then she drags me up to the biggest slide, Waikiki's biggest, apparently, into what looks like a cave. She crouches down and peers thoughtfully into the long, dark tunnel. When she turns back, there's real fear in her eyes. "Nanny Sue, I think you'd better go first," she says. "Then I can go." I sigh, take a deep breath and launch myself into the gushing water flooding through the narrow tunnel. I'm lying on my back and the tunnel twists and turns, throwing me from side to side in the pitch blackness before finally shooting me out into the blinding light and a pool on the other side. I manage to get back to my feet, spluttering from all the water I've drunk on the way, and climb back up the stairs to where she's waiting

I smile with as much bravado as I can muster. "That was excellent," I lie. "Your turn now!" She looks at me doubtfully. "No, I don't think so," she replies, with a wisdom far beyond her years. "I think I want an ice-cream."

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Mul-gens today take many forms. For Carnival Cruises, it's one of the biggest trends among passengers, particularly for voyages around the Pacific Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia and along the Queensland coast, and especially on ships with lots of kids' activities. Hotels such as the Cook Islands' Edgewater Resort & Spa say it's a huge growth area, while tour companies like Wendy Wu say almost every second "special group" is a mul-gen one.

Locations such as Hawaii are benefiting hugely from the vogue. Hilton Hawaii's Cynthia Rankin says she's now seeing a lot of mul-gen parties arrive from Australia and the US. "Multi-generational travel is becoming more and more popular, and Hawaii is a great place for that because there's such a variety of things to do for parent, kids and grandparents," she says.

"There are a lot of family suites with two bedrooms or multiple rooms now in hotels, too, which makes it easier. I think some older people have more disposable income and they're helping the others with airfares, hotels and expenses, which is a lovely thing for them to do. Grandparents often want to help when they're in a position to do so, particularly if they don't live near their children and grandchildren.

"For them it's a chance to spend quality time with the kids, and it gives the parents a bit of a break, too. Baby Boomers love to travel and they enjoy helping the next generations to travel with them."

A MATCH MERMAID IN HEAVEN

It's easy to see why, too. At Waikiki, families make up a huge proportion of the visitors, and extended families are equally evident. The Hilton Hawaiian Village is set on nine hectares of oceanfront beach and land – full of kids building sandcastles and paddling in the water – and has five pools, 20 restaurants and bars, a kids' program, gardens, water sports and daily activities from hula lessons to becoming a mermaid.

It also has a nightly luau – an outdoor Hawaiian feast with dancing – with a separate kids' buffet. The show features acrobatic fire dancers who the granddaughter watches, eyes wide in wonder. At one point she stands up and hulas to the music, imitating what she's seeing on stage.

There's the catamaran sunset cruise, too, with snacks and the netting to play on. While I hide in the shade, nursing my horribly sunburnt shoulders and back, she chats away to the other passengers and eats far more than her fair share of corn chips. The only silence comes when a crew member catches a fish, and there's tears and a declaration that she won't eat fish any more now she knows what happens to them. Luckily, that only lasts two days.

There are other activities, perfect for different ages. We drive up to the north shore of Oahu and stay there for two nights. On the first day, we visit Laniakea Beach, popularly known as Turtle Beach, where there are meant to be lots of turtles either sunbaking or swimming by the shore.

We luck in and arrive to find no fewer than eight green sea turtles of different sizes floating around on the waves, feeding on the rocks. We're all entranced. Lunch at the foodtrucks nearby turns into a celebration toast to the turtles, with a selection of coconut-encrusted and garlic prawns from a shrimp shack, served with potato and salad, and vegetarian nachos for the seafood-free child.

In the afternoon, we go to the stunning Kualoa Ranch, the picturesque 16 square kilometre nature reserve and cattle property on the windward coast, full of steep cliffs and green valleys, that offers nearly every type of adventure from horse-riding, bike trails, quad-biking and various strange-looking vehicles to explore. We plump for the UTV (ultra-terrain vehicle). The adults take turns to bump over the muddy paths while the child screams in the back with pleasure at the puddles and sprays of water that soak us. Our guided convoy of vehicles wind around the stunningly scenic place, with lush pastures, towering mountains and gorgeous views.

This is where so many movies and TV series were filmed – Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Godzilla, Snatched and Lost, and we stop to take photos at the Jurassic Park sign while our guide sneaks in a hand puppet of a dinosaur against the lens. For a family, it's a shared adventure that turns out to be enormous fun.

We then return to Honolulu for the 52-minute Hawaiian Airlines inter-island flight to Hilo on the wilder Big Island. There, we stay on the quieter side of the island, where the Grand Naniloa Hilton Hilo is right on the water and has rocks for children to climb and play on, steps down into the sea, a pool and a beach nearby.

On our first afternoon, looking down to the water from our balconies, we see a group of manta rays, accompanied by a school of fish, floating in the water before they find an opening in the rocks to go back out to sea.

LET'S MAKE IT ZIPPY

The next morning I've planned a Zipline Through Paradise jaunt on an eight-line course over 3.2 kilometres, the biggest in Hawaii. It was meant to be a fun family trip, but the grandchild looks at it on the internet, turns white and flatly refuses to go. Her parents look relieved and say they'll stay behind to look after her, despite my offer to do so. In the end, bizarrely, we grandparents go alone, but it proves to be seriously fabulous zipping along the eight lines 50 metres in the air, over valleys, waterfalls and incredible views.

Another hit is an evening snorkel with manta rays. We take a Fair Wind trip to cruise out from Kona's Keauhou Bay, on the other side of Big Island, as the sun sets. When we reach our snorkel spot, the crew lay out a set of bars on the water behind the boat for us to hold on to, with noodles under our hips to keep us horizontal, and shine lights into the water to attract the mantas. Then we put our faces into the water and wait.

It's not long before the first manta ray arrives, barrel rolls slowly below us in his hunt for plankton, and then sweeps up to just centimetres away from us. He's huge, with a wing span of around 3.5 metres. Then another appears and performs the same majestic acrobatic manoeuvre. Then another. And another. It's an absolutely magical experience.

Afterwards, we clamber back on to the boat and, over mugs of hot chocolate and soup, we all chat excitedly about what we've just seen. "The only thing that could possibly beat that would be seeing a mermaid," someone jokes.

I smile knowingly. No it wouldn't. Although I know not all of my mul-gen party would agree.

TEN SECRETS TO A SUCCESSFUL MUL-GEN HOLIDAY

Be careful not to book too many activities. Adults like to relax and kids need to spend unstructured free time playing on the beach, in the park and in pools.

Give everyone scheduled time out from each other.

Allocate different times for the shared hire car so each of you can have separate trips out.

Don't try to have all your meals together – parents need a break from worrying their children aren't behaving as well as they might in front of others at the table.

Remember, room service is great for parents, especially for drinks after little ones go to bed.

Try to watch at least one sunrise and sunset together.

Look at the scenery rather than at each other all of the time.

Grandparents should offer their services as childminders at least one evening of the holiday.

Remember to ask someone to take a photo of you all together. It's too easy to end a trip with none of you as a group.

When putting sunblock on children, always be sure to put some on yourself.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE EXPERTS' VIEW

MICHAEL MCCALL, SANCTUARY RETREATS

"African safaris, a popular family get-together option, provide the perfect opportunity for multi-generational travel, incorporating everything from wildlife viewing and walking safaris, to canoe trips and cultural experiences with the Maasai." See sanctuaryretreats.com

JENNIFER VANDEKREEKE, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

"We have more than 45 daily activities to choose from, so kids, parents and grandparents have no problem having fun onboard. There are also activities in which families can participate together or even compete against each other." See carnival.com.au

EMILE KAIRUA, EDGEWATER RESORT & SPA, COOK ISLANDS

"Nowadays families can be spread out over multiple countries and they use an island holiday as an easy middle ground to meet. Larger resorts such as the Edgewater have multiple room choices, so the family can choose a room to suit their needs and budget. See edgewater.co.ck

SONIA ORREGO, WENDY WU TOURS

"We're seeing situations where the child – now an adult – is in a position to pamper and give something back to their parents. Or perhaps circumstances where the parent is left alone and they ask one of their now older kids to accompany them on a holiday." See wendywutours.com.au

GISELLE RADULOVIC, HAWAI'I TOURISM

"As well as the traditional beach holiday, there are soft adventure activities, the outstanding natural beauty and the warm hospitality which is part of the Hawaiian culture. Some days will be spent by the beach, whereas the next will be out ziplining and hiking, or road trip itineraries. Groups can explore at their own pace." See gohawaii.com

TRIP NOTES

Sue Williams was a guest of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore, Hawaii Tourism and Hawaiian Airlines' inter-island flights.

MORE

traveller.com.au/Hawaii

gohawaii.com/au

FLY

Qantas, Hawaiian Airlines, Jetstar and Virgin all fly non-stop to Honolulu from Sydney; Jetstar flies direct from Melbourne four times a week, and Qantas, Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin all fly via Sydney.

STAY

Waikiki: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Phone (+1) 808 949 4321. See hiltonhawaiianvillage.com; Oahu north shore: Courtyard by Marriott Oahu North Shore. Phone (+1) 808 293 4900. See marriott.com/hotels/travel/hnloa-courtyard-oahu-north-shore; Big Island: Grand Naniloa Hilton Hilo. Phone (+1) 808 969 3333. See grandnaniloahilo.com

DO

Mermaid experience, night luau and cruises can be booked through Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort; Kualoa Ranch: Phone (+1) 808 237 7321. See kualoa.com; Ziplining: Zipline Through Paradise can be booked through KapohoKine Adventures Phone (+1) 808 237 7321. See kapohokine.com; Evening Manta Snorkel Adventure: Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides. Phone (+1) 808 322 2788. See fair-wind.com

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