It was not that long ago that cruising was dominated by senior citizens. A cruise was considered a "trip of a lifetime" and could only be enjoyed by those with the money and the time to travel. A cruise passenger "back in the day" also had to be able to go on vacation "disconnected" from their world. There were no telephones, no television and certainly no Internet or email on cruise ships. In fact, the Internet did not even exist.
Today, cruising is available to everyone, regardless of age or income. A 7-night cruise in 2010 is much less expensive than it was back in 1978 when I went on my first cruise. I remember paying $1,000 for an inside cabin with a bunk bed! The economies of scale with the huge cruise ships, combined with the availability of massive amounts of credit, have made cruising within the reach of virtually everyone.
Even though cruising has a much broader appeal than in the "old days", it remains a very popular vacation choice for senior citizens and retirees. Seniors continue to make up a large segment of the cruising population. For one thing, there are lots of "baby boomers" that are now at retirement age. They have money to spend and the free time to travel the world.
WHY IS CRUISING SO APPEALING TO SENIORS?
In many respects, the appeal of cruising over other forms of travel is universal. The convenience of only having to unpack once, knowing where you will be dining each evening, regardless of what country or port you visited that day, and the myriad of onboard activities and entertainment available are all enticing features. For seniors, however, the value of a cruise compared to other forms of travel is of special interest. Many seniors are on fixed incomes and there simply is no better value in travel today than a cruise.
Wayne Hagadone, President of Cruises for Seniors says, "Many of our clients are interested in the ship's enrichment activities, ranging from lecturers in culinary arts, computers, photography, to history, and archaeology." He continues, "In fact, some may not even get off the ship. For these folks, shipboard amenities such as a spa, fitness facilities, the casino, interesting enrichment courses and evening entertainment are the most important features they look for."
A RANGE OF ACTIVITIES IS IMPORTANT TO SENIORS
Cruise lines have dramatically expanded the scope and variety of shore excursions over the past several years. Unusual and interesting excursions are of particular interest to senior citizens.
As Mr. Hagadone previously mentioned, seniors have a particular interest in a ship's quality and quantity of enrichment programs. For example:
The Queen Mary 2 offers enrichment classes and even has its own planetarium
Holland America has partnered with Microsoft to offer a variety of computer workshop
Silversea Cruises, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas have excellent guest lecturers
Most cruise lines offer wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, galley tours, etc.
"Most seniors enjoy quality entertainment whether by multiple entertainers or a floor show," says Mr. Hagadone. "We routinely recommend Royal Caribbean and Princess ships to our clients since they do a consistently good job in this area, as does the luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises."
And, while not exactly considered an "activity", dining is an important part of any cruise. For some seniors, the quality and variety of a cruise line's restaurants is of supreme importance. Most ships now offer a variety of dining venues and are able to accommodate any dietary requirement that a senior my have.
WHAT SHOULD SENIORS CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A CRUISE?
Seniors may wish to consider limiting their choices to cruise lines that tend to cater primarily to seniors or older adults. The assistance of a good travel agent can be invaluable when making these kinds of choices. When you choose to cruise can also make a difference in the average passenger age. During Spring Break, you may find a lot of college-age "party animals" on the larger cruise ships. Cruising in the summer months will attract more families with children and also younger adults.
"Those with stamina or mobility problems should consider a cabin located near an elevator." says Hagadone. "You should also be aware of which ports require the use of the ship's tenders (smaller lifeboats used to take passengers ashore) as opposed to docking."
Cruise lines recognize the importance of seniors to their business and offer discounts accordingly. For many cruise lines, folks 55 and above can qualify for senior discounts when offered. Each cruise line has a different policy regarding discounts so you should consult with your travel agent before booking. In most cases, as long as one person occupying the stateroom is at or above the qualifying age, the discount will apply. However, senior discounts may not be offered until "close-in" to the sailing date, perhaps 4 to 7 months from sailing.
If you are traveling alone you should also be aware of the single supplement policy. Cruise lines base their fares upon two passengers per stateroom. If you are sailing by yourself, you may have to pay the extra charge. Single supplements will vary from 125% to as much as 200% of the per person cruise fare. If you are paying 200%, you might as well take a friend with you because you are basically paying for the second person anyway. Single supplements vary from one sailing to the next. If a cruise line is having trouble filling a ship on a certain date, they may waive the single supplement altogether. Again, a good travel agent can watch for these specials and alert you when they become available.
SMALL SHIPS ARE VERY POPULAR WITH SENIORS
I was on a small ship several years ago cruising the Alaska inland passage with about 60 passengers. I asked several passengers (they were all seniors) why they chose a small ship, especially because the large ships were considerably less expensive. I didn’t reveal that I was a travel agent. Their unanimous answer was that they liked the intimacy. When we arrived in port, there were the large ships with 2000 to 3000 persons waiting to get off their ship and we leisurely walked off our ship in less than five minutes. When our captain saw a pod of whales, he stopped the ship for two hours (big ships can’t do this) so that we could take pictures of the whales breeching. One well known small ship line uses two pictures about viewing a bear in their ads. The ad was contrasted 'our bear' with a very viewable image with 'their bear' with a very distant, faint image of a bear. Their slogan was up close and personal."
Cruises for Seniors
Small ship cruising is one of the fastest growing segments in the cruise industry. It also happens to be a segment that is of particular interest to senior citizens. More importantly perhaps, is the lack of interest that younger cruisers and families have in this type of cruise.
Small ships include:
Open-Water Small Ships
An open-water ship that may hold from 60 passengers up to a little over 200 passengers. There are cruising opportunities for this type of ship all over the world. Another type of small ship is an expedition ship which will involve more strenuous activities on the part of the passengers. Greenland, the Arctic, Antarctic, and Galapagos would be a few examples of expedition-type cruise destinations.
The second and fastest growing small ship category would be the river cruise. River cruises are available throughout Europe, Russia, England and Ireland along with the Nile River in Egypt. More exotic river cruise destinations also include Australia, New Guinea, Burma, India, China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And don't forget the good 'ole USA. There are river boats that sail here too! These ships visit small and large cities and villages where the country first developed. They also dock at night at or near the city center, giving the passengers more time to explore the village or city. Most river ships hold between 100 to 200 passengers. A less well-known type of small ship is the hotel barge, holding from 6 to 12 passengers and cruising on both rivers and canals in Western Europe, England and Ireland.
Finally, there is the sailing vessel, which is of less interest to the senior unless they have experience with sailboats, enjoy the romance of the sea and would enjoy, when allowed, helping hoist the sails. Sailing ships cruise the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and certain areas of the far East.
Small ships offer some interesting advantages over their larger counterparts. Because of their size, or lack thereof, they are able to make calls at smaller ports rarely, if ever, visited by large ships. As a result, these ports are less crowded and easier to experience at a leisurely pace. Have you every tried to have lunch in Grand Cayman when five ships are there?
Since they carry fewer guests, small ships are more intimate. As a result, guests are much more likely to form friendships with each other and with the ship's crew. The pace is usually much slower and relaxed on smaller ships and there is generally an informal atmosphere.
River cruises have a special appeal to cruise enthusiasts who may be ultra-sensitive to motion. These long, flat-bottom boats provide a near rock-solid and stable ride. And, European river cruises often dock near the center of town. This makes it very easy to step off the boat and walk into town to explore on your own if you wish.
HOW BIG SHIPS ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF SENIORS, OR DO THEY?
Surprisingly, even the largest cruise ships are relatively easy to get around. However, hallways can be very long and may pose a problem for those with a lack of stamina or mobility issues. Newer ships will offer staterooms with handicap facilities, but you need to let your travel agent know in advance that this is a requirement. Also, it is a good idea to book as early as possible so that you will have a better selection of a stateroom located close to an elevator or dining room.
"Carnival is the number one cruise vacation choice for seniors, carrying more than 1 million guests over age 55 annually," says Vance Gulliksen, Public Relations Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. "Carnival’s larger ships – which range in size from 70,000 to 130,000 tons – enable the line to offer on-board facilities and features that appeal to different age groups, including seniors. In short, Carnival's unique on-board ambiance, outstanding value and wide range of amenities makes a “Fun Ship” cruise an attractive vacation option for seniors."
One thing is for sure, you cannot beat the value of a cruise on a larger ship. With so much capacity available now, you can routinely find excellent bargains on the larger ships year-round.
WHICH CRUISE LINES ARE BEST AT CATERING TO THE NEEDS OF SENIORS?
You will find seniors on all major cruise lines. Holland America has always had a very solid reputation as a cruise line that understands the needs of older guests. Their older ships, such as Veendam and Volendam, carry a maximum of 1,300 guests, while their newer ships are much larger. They do offer better facilities for entertainment, a culinary arts center and the Microsoft Computer Workshops. Princess Cruises is another good choice even though their ships are much larger than Holland America. Celebrity Cruises tends to appeal to adults and prides itself on its food, spa and personal attention.
When it comes to the Premium/Luxury cruise lines, there are no bad choices. Silversea Cruises offers ships that carry from as few as 300 to as many as 550. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has the distinction of having two all-balcony/all-suite ships. Seabourn also offers a variety of "yachts" that carry from 200 to 450 guests in ultra-luxury. And, Silversea, Regent and Seabourn are nearly all-inclusive with no extra charge for cocktails, champagne, soft drinks or bottled water. For a larger Premium brand with great dining and entertainment, Crystal Cruises is a popular choice, with ships carrying up to 1,000 guests. And, somewhere between Premium and Luxury is the Queen Mary 2 which is a great choice for year-round Transatlantic voyages.
We recently sailed aboard the grand American Queen steamboat from Memphis to St. Louis. American Queen sails the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee rivers. The steamboat experience is unique to America and is one very well geared toward seniors. The boat has elevators and wide promenades making it easy to move about. They also offer their exclusive "Steamcoach" service in every town they visit. This hop-on/hop-off bus is complimentary and they even have a coach equipped for those with mobility issues.
Holland America and Silversea Cruises still provide gentlemen hosts for many sailings. Gentlemen hosts will often dance with single ladies traveling alone and may even provide companionship during dinner in the restaurant. However ladies, don't get too attached, there are strict rules regarding how much companionship a gentlemen host can provide to any one guest.
WHAT SHOULD SENIORS LOOK FOR IN A TRAVEL AGENT?
A working Knowledge of all cruise lines is a must, including river cruises and small ships. A good travel agent will ask you lots of questions and take the time to tailor some choices to your individual needs and desires. Often, a travel agent will suggest a cruise option with either lower cost or one that better suits your interests. Your agent should inquire about any health considerations or special needs. He or she should also want to know what you liked or disliked about your previous cruise(s). A good agent will monitor your cruise price periodically in case the rates drop prior to your sail date and they will seek out special senior rates. Upon the completion of your cruise, your agent should contact you for an evaluation of your experience.
WHAT SHOULD SENIORS BE CAUTIOUS OF WHEN BOOKING A CRUISE?
Wayne Hagadone, President of Cruises for Seniors, offers these tips:
Seniors should consider their health condition before they book their cruise and, if this is their first cruise, they shouldn’t jump immediately to a long cruise until they determine whether they like cruising. I suggest they pick a cruise that is likely to have a number of seniors on it.
Many ships have open-seating where you might be seated with different passengers each night. This may limit the possibility of making new friends. If this is a concern, choose a ship that has fixed seating times so there is no wait and you will have the same table members throughout the cruise. Request at least a table for 6 or 8.
Make sure the ship knows in advance if you have any special dietary requirements.
If you have any kind of medical concerns, check with your doctor before you book the cruise.
If you lack the stamina for long walks or have mobility problems, make sure your cabin location takes this into consideration. The same consideration applies when selecting shore excursions.
Make sure that your passport expires no less than 6 months after the end of your cruise, and if you’re going to any exotic locales such as Africa or certain Asian countries, be aware of any visa or immunization requirements.
Do you get seasick? If so, talk to your doctor about what you should take just in case. All of these cautions or concerns should be reviewed by your agent, preferably before you book.
And, we would add one more item to Mr. Hagadone's list:
Always purchase trip insurance! Make sure to get a policy that includes coverage for medical conditions and emergency evacuation services. We have always used TravelGuard and have been very pleased with the service, or you can check with your travel agent. Your health insurance plan may not cover the cost of medical treatment when you are outside the USA. And, cruise ship doctors DO CHARGE for their services. I required a shot on one ship and the bill was $750! Fortunately, my TravelGuard insurance policy reimbursed me the entire amount.
Regardless of whether you choose a small ship or one of the new mega ships, there are more choices and accommodations for seniors today than ever before.
We would like to extend a special "thank you" to Wayne Hagadone, President of Cruises for Seniors for contributing to this article.
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