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A GRAND ADVENTURE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Before packing her car and leaving town, 65-year-old Peggy Ciniero of Columbia asked her two traveling companions to write a grocery shopping list.

That's how she knew to buy "salsbury steak, bred, melk, appljoos and blone" (the luncheon meat others might spell bologna) if she wanted to keep everyone happy.

Fortunately, she also had the list's authors, her granddaughters Molly and Caitlin, ages 5 and 6, in the back seat to translate. Together, they tried something they'd never done before -- vacation together -- and came away thrilled with the results.

"It was fun," says Ciniero. "I'd definitely do it again."

"I liked playing in the water -- and the sand," says Molly when asked to list her favorite moments during last month's Ocean City getaway. "Let's go to the boardwalk again."

"My favorite was the roller coaster," adds Caitlin. "It was scary going upside down. I'm never going on it again. Only when I'm 16."

Ciniero and her granddaughters are helping redefine what it means to go on a family vacation this summer. A growing number of grandparents are teaming up with their grandchildren as traveling companions.

Travel agencies report a marked increase in grandparent / grandchild bookings in the past several years. Some group tour operators have begun offering packages geared especially to grandparents traveling with children -- as well as several generations traveling together.

A survey conducted for the Travel Industry Association of America reports that 19 percent of all family trips taken last year involved at least three generations, an increase from the 16 percent in 1997.

"Being a grandparent is no longer just about sitting there and watching the calendar pages turning," says Helen T. Koenig, president of Grandtravel in Chevy Chase, an agency that specializes in booking group tours for grandparents and grandchildren. "Children make the best companions you can imagine. It adds a lot of meaning to the experience."

Ciniero, a retired Social Security Administration worker, knew she was going to be spending some time with her granddaughters this summer. Both Ciniero's son and his wife work. Since they live nearby in Columbia, she normally helps look after the girls for a few weeks during summer break when they're not at camp.

She decided to take them on a vacation this year because she thought they were finally old enough to make the trip without their parents. "It was a way to spend quality time with them," she says.

They stayed in a friend's condominium for a week, spending most every day at the beach. They even made a day trip to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies. When Friday rolled around, the girls' parents drove down to join them.

"I'd do it again," says Ciniero, who more commonly sees her grandchildren as an occasional sitter and at family gatherings and holidays. "It was wonderful just to be with them and see them enjoy it."

Travel industry experts say the trend is only just beginning. As baby boomers turn into grandparents, they are gradually redefining that role, and their vacation philosophies are just part of the package.

Grandparents today are healthier and wealthier than ever before. And increasingly, they are being asked to help raise the next generation. Perhaps it was only logical that they'd be looking to hit the road with that generation, too.

"Boomers want to travel with grandkids and share the experience with them," says Kathryn Zullo, a grandmother of two and co-author of "The Nanas and the Papas: A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998). "We're more into the sharing experience."

Zullo, 51, and her husband, Allan, both of whom live near Asheville, N.C., often go waterfall hunting with their grandsons, ages 2 and 4, during the summer months. So far, the four of them have shared a dozen or so waterfalls, and the scenic hiking trips have become a tradition.

"I used to have this old-fashioned notion of a grandmother who has cinnamon rolls in the oven," she says. "But I don't bake. I don't knit. I'm not like my grandmother. We're into the hiking, canoeing experience thing."

At Sagamore, the former Vanderbilt camp in upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains, there is a waiting list for the popular Grandparent's and Grandchildren's Camp sessions in July and August. During their weeklong stay, the two generations take hikes, make crafts, swim and learn to canoe, says Beverly Bridger, director of the private, nonprofit organization that operates the historic property.

"It started in 1987 and it has just grown year by year," says Bridger. "You always see tears on Thursday nights [the last night campers are together]. We get some grandparents who come back with their grandchildren year after year."

That's also about the same time Koenig started marketing grandparent travel packages out of her office near Washington. A grandmother of six, she recognized a need -- a way to bridge the generations.

"Some of these grandparents only get Christmas cards and school pictures," she says. "They don't get a chance to know their grandchildren."

Many of the vacations are not exactly sedentary, either. The most popular grandparent / grandchild tour booked by Koenig is a safari in a Kenya wildlife preserve. Next most popular are trips to London and Paris.

At Fare Deals Ltd., a discount travel agency in Owings Mills, grandparents are often booking what industry officials call "soft adventure" travel -- tours that can be physically demanding (although not as adventurous as, say, mountain climbing or deep sea diving).

"We'll get grandparents signing up for tours of Costa Rica," says Marty Sitnick, Fare Deals' executive vice president. "That may not be mountain climbing, but it's a hike through a rain forest. It can be physically taxing. This is a generation that is much more vigorous."

Not every grandparent -- or grandchild -- is necessarily ready for a vacation together. Koenig's tours are divided by age. Children should be either 7-11 or 12-17 to be accepted into a grandparent and child tour group.

She doesn't book vacations with children under age 7--- mainly because they "aren't ready to go long distances or sit still long enough to listen to a lecture," she says.

When Marjorie and Harry Scott chose to take a two-week cruise along the Alaska coast last month with two grandchildren, they knew they could handle it. The youngest, Lauren, is a 15-year-old high school student living in Des Moines. Her brother, Buddy, is 22 and teaches nursery school in Portland, Ore.

"We didn't have to worry," says Mrs. Scott, 77, a resident of Broadmead, a retirement community in Hunt Valley. "They were able to take care of themselves."

But if their grandchildren had been much younger, the Scotts might not have been as enthusiastic about a cruise where lectures, wildlife observation and learning about the native culture were among the highlights. Not exactly a ride on Space Mountain.

"It was the right age for us," she says.

Deb Cornick, editor of an online newsletter, "Have Children Will Travel," says grandparent travel needs to be defined by the age of the grandchildren. When children are young, it's more about three-generation travel and family reunions. As they get older, family resorts become popular. By adolescence they are ready for more advanced fare like cruises and package tours.

"The industry was behind the times," says Cornick, who lives in Lake Oswego, Ore. "It wasn't so long ago that if you asked for family vacation options, you were given two - Disneyland and Disney World."

Still, there are grandparents like Peggy Ciniero; she has big plans for her granddaughters next year, too. Since they did so well in Ocean City, she'd like to take them to Oak Island in North Carolina, a 9-hour drive from her home.

"The girls just loved it," says Andrea Ciniero, their mother. "To me, they were the perfect age. They'll listen to her and they won't get into too much trouble. They got to eat their favorite things. They had quality time and got to do things they don't normally get to do."

"What's not to like?" she adds. "Everybody needs a grandma."

Tips on traveling with the grandchildren

Vacationing with grandchildren sounds great -- unless you're the one who gets get stuck a thousand miles from home with unhappy or unruly youngsters.

Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a specialist in child development and behavior, says there are a number of steps grandparents can take to improve their chances for a successful trip:

* Decide first, are you physically able to handle this? Someone with arthritis and a cane probably shouldn't be caring for an infant. Even the fit grandparent should understand children can be taxing. "If the child is taking a nap, for crying out loud, lie down, too."

* Keep a schedule. Summer vacations are a tempting time to set aside a child's schedule for sleeping and eating. Bad idea. "Give the child an extra half-hour to play on the swings, and he'll be crabby the next day."

* Discipline appropriately. Grandparents may have raised their children with a switch, but if that's not the way their grandchildren are being raised, don't do it. "Use discipline the children are familiar with. It's more likely to work -- and it won't strain your relationship with your own children."

* Do not spoil them. Hey, maybe it's just two weeks and you figure what's the harm. Plenty. It's a slippery slope, and children are bottomless pits. It's not even what they really want. "If you pay attention to them, play with them, have meaningful conversations -- that's what they want."

* Give yourself a break. Don't be ashamed to hire a baby sitter for an afternoon.

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