Genealogy Cruises versus Convention Centers

Several genealogy cruises take place every year. Cruising genealogists get to enjoy genealogy talks about doing research in different countries, software demonstrations, “how to” presentations describing effective genealogy techniques, good food, gorgeous scenery, and adventurous shore excursions. What could be better?

Occasionally we hear claims that interest in genealogy is declining. These claims are based on the fact that attendance at some genealogy conferences is less than that of a few years ago. Yet everywhere else we look, we see proof of the opposite. The RootsTech conference attracted more than 22,000 people this year. While it is held in the “genealogy Mecca” of Salt Lake City, that’s not bad for a mid-winter event! Who Do You Think You Are? Live! used to be held in England every year and often attracted close to 15,000 attendees. The accompanying Who Do You Think You Are? television series about genealogy, now in its tenth season, remains popular in several countries around the world. Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. continues to attract millions of viewers and is now in its fifth season on U.S. television.

Thousands of genealogy web sites also attest to the current level of interest. The number of genealogy programs available for mobile computing devices is increasing faster than ever before, and the latest growth is in cloud-based genealogy programs. Several of the software producers are reporting record sales. Finally, genealogy “theme cruises” attract more and more people every year.

I’d say that genealogy is alive and more popular than ever!

Several genealogy cruises are held each year, and hundreds of genealogists, spouses, children, and friends apparently enjoy them. Most of the genealogy cruises operate on a somewhat similar concept: take a vacation to one or more exotic spots, hold seminars on genealogy topics during the days at sea, and spend the days in port sightseeing. The number and variety of presentations vary from one cruise to another, but I would describe all of them as “floating genealogy conferences.”

Indeed, genealogy cruises have much in common with the larger genealogy conferences held in convention centers in various American cities. Attendees can attend genealogy seminars with each lasting from one to perhaps two hours. Attendees may also choose from “one-on-one” consultations with the genealogy experts on board, special breakfasts, luncheons, and sometimes genealogy dinners while on board. These sessions are normally held in meeting rooms and are not available to the other passengers on the ship.

Of course, one major advantage of a genealogy cruise versus a normal conference is the venue: instead of sitting on hard chairs and staring at the inside of a conference center’s meeting rooms all day, cruisers get to see exotic ports of call and sit in luxurious meeting rooms. The seat cushions are definitely better on cruise ships!

In the time between presentations, which would you rather see: the downtown section of some American city or the downtown section of Oranjestad, Aruba, or perhaps Bergen, Norway? Genealogy cruisers will have their choice of these and other locations on future cruises.

Did you ever invite a family member who is not a genealogist to accompany you to a convention center in Des Moines or Grand Rapids? How about inviting the grandchildren on such a trip? I bet you already know the lack of enthusiasm you would receive. However, think about inviting them on a seven-day cruise to exotic ports of call. When at sea, you can attend the genealogy presentations while other family members enjoy the ship’s activities: golf, rock wall climbing, children’s events, shows, casino, spa, theater, movies, and much more. While in port, you and your family can tour all the attractions together.

Needless to say, spouses and other family members who are not interested in genealogy generally prefer a cruise ship to a genealogy conference held downtown in some city.

The price of a genealogy cruise is competitive with that of most conferences. Cruises typically cost $125 to $200 US a day per person plus the price of airfare to get to and from the departure port. Most land-based conferences cost that much or more when you add up the charges for admission, restaurant meals, and hotel rooms. In contrast, cruises typically last seven days, occasionally fourteen days or more. Most land-based conferences last one to four days.

Another major difference is the food. If you have attended a genealogy conference and have also been on a cruise ship, you know what I am talking about. The “rubber chicken” luncheons served in convention center banquet halls may be luxury when compared to the dried-out hamburgers and greasy French fries under the heat lamps at the convention center’s snack bar. However, both are in stark contrast to the luxury meals served on cruise ships. Most ships serve several gourmet meals per day while offering a huge buffet for more casual meals, and the snack bars even remain open 24 hours a day on some cruise ships.

I well remember one dinner on a cruise ship a few years ago. While cruising off the west coast of Mexico, diners were offered Maine lobster as one of the meal choices. This Maine native can tell you that it was delicious, even though we were probably 4,000 miles from Maine. Yes, it was authentic Northern Atlantic lobster. After serving the main course, the maitre d’ returned and asked if anyone wanted seconds. I accepted, as did several others at the table. About twenty minutes later, the maitre d’ returned again and asked if anyone was interested in a third helping! (I resisted.) When was the last time you had a similar experience at a convention center banquet hall?

Then there are the pastries. Cruise ship pastry chefs must be some of the best in the world.

The genealogy lecture topics on cruise ships vary widely. A comparison of the presentations on any one cruise typically will show presentations somewhat similar to those found at a state, regional, or national genealogy conference. Topics will include both beginning and advanced research techniques, genealogy software, resources on the World Wide Web, DNA, and much more. Similar to land-based conferences, attendees often have at least two presentations to choose from at any given time.

When compared to traditional genealogy conferences, you will note one other thing is missing entirely on cruise ships: the exhibitors’ hall. If this is important to you, perhaps a cruise is not your cup of tea. Then again, you could always visit the exhibitors at one of the land-based conferences and turn your focus to the unique benefits of your chosen cruise for its duration.

Don’t forget that all of these cruises include shore tours. These produce excellent sightseeing expeditions. For instance, I have tasted native foods in many island countries, picnicked on a tropical beach, wandered through an ancient fort, rode a train through the area of a historic gold rush, and flown an airplane over mountains in a foreign land. (Yes, I have a pilot’s license.) You can find your own adventures as well.

A genealogy cruise might be one of the most memorable experiences you ever had.


As you say, people claim interest in Genealogy is declining because attendance at the traditional genealogy “exhibition” is declining. I suggest that the reason why attendance at these events is declining is because they no longer serve a useful purpose. Gone are the days when people needed to attend these events to buy microfiche and booklets of census transcriptions these can now be viewed on line. Gone are the days when people needed to attend these events to discuss membership with secretary of the local Family History Society, or discuss a genealogy program with the manufacturer, these things can be better done on line. What is needed now are conferences (whether at sea or on land) where people can delve in depth into aspects of their research and come away having learnt of new techniques, new resources or new skills.
Here in the UK we recently had a conference ” Secret Lives” held over three days that explored a number of different less obvious avenues of research. “Occupational Hazards: the working lives of our ancestors”, “Children in care of the Workhouse” and “Secrets of Transportation” are the titles of just three of the 34 talks. The fully residential event was over subscribed and was very successful.
A properly designed and well designed conference will be successful wherever it is held, land or sea.
On a personal front, I don’t want to go to a Family History Show where there are some “free talks”, I want to go to a seminar, or conference where there is a free exhibition.

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Interest in genealogy is not declining but there are a lot of us on fixed incomes, that cannot afford these trips or some of the expensive Seminars.
I for one have had to limit what I can spend so I have chosen the most important ones (to me) which is Ancestry, NEHGS and MSOG. There is a lot of information out there by contacting Historian’s and Historical Societies either by e-mail or by telephone. By sharing with these historians actual records that they may not have helps everyone and builds lasting friendships. Also, a lot of them are in need of donations to keep their Societies going and they appreciate any amount one can send.


You cite all the advantages of a cruise but I didn’t see any comment about internet access and its cost. I know that cruise lines usually charge for this service. Is it in the fee for the cruise conference?


The Aruba Ocean cruise sounds wonderful. How do we get information on this?


A cruise sure is more appealing than a hard chair, four walls and rubber chicken!


Where do I find the genealogy cruises.


True. But is more always better? For those who are striving to build ACCURATE family trees and family histories, MORE “genealogists” causes problems. Yes, there are more places where needed information might be found. But now one has to wade through thousands of trees put online by folks who care little about accuracy. (One source has my ancestor born after he died, and after his daughter’s birth … which has been duplicated by dozens of other sources. Something easily checked and corrected, if one cared.) Now those seeking accuracy must waste hour upon hour reviewing much larger (inaccurate) haystacks looking for the needle.
And all cruise ships have slow Internet because they aren’t tied to a land line. And the connections are extremely slow. Many are costly.


    I am on a farm and dont have a land line. My Internet is steaming fast up to a satellite. I think there is another explanation as to slow ship internet. Maybe the same as charging so much for a cup of coffee….


In the picture with two men and a dog, it appears that the dog may have been participating in an event in which he was timed. One man is holding a gun (a starter’s pistol?) and the other seems to be holding a stopwatch.


I have been on these cruises and they are fabulous!. You do not need the internet until you get home presenters like Dick keep you enthralled and your head spins with the information. I flew from Australia to Seattle to take part in the last one and it was the best vacation ever! I am on limited means too but putting away a little bit each week was well worth it. Only camping out is cheaper than cruising. The difference is huge, no cooking, no washing dishes, no making beds, luxury, genealogy and scenic sights! What more could you ask for.


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