Saturday, January 22, 2011

Best Cruises for Seniors

What exactly is it that seniors want in a cruise?

We want a comfortable experience. We love to visit serveral ports without the hassles of having to pack and unpack at different hotels in different cities. And we want to be pampered a little bit more -- with good food and service, great entertainment and activities, and a good value for our vacation dollars.

Many of us look for stimulating enrichment programs as food for our minds and menus with healthy selections for our bodies. Despite popular notions, there are actually a slew of us seniors out there who aren't crotchety busy bodies; instead we like to be active, and we'd prefer to learn about the culture of the Asian port at which we are about to dock or take those salsa lessons before we actually land in Argentina.

Perhaps more so than the majority of travelers, some of us have accessibility issues. In this regard, ships built in the last half dozen years generally follow Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommendations for passengers with mobility problems. Some lines go the extra mile when it comes to accessibility; two examples are Holland America's wheelchair accessible tender transfer system and Royal Caribbean's hydraulic pool chairs that enable passengers with mobility issues to use the swimming pool.

Whether it's because we have more time to travel and do so more often or because we have a fixed income to work, with, many of us may have budget-related issues. If you would like to make the most of your available travel budget, always compare prices between economy-priced lines like Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines, and shop around for specials on such lines as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Holland America.

The following are a couple other things you may consider:

  • Reduce your onboard costs as much as possible. In order to avoid laundry charges, pack plenty of clothes. Bring your own camera and film, as opposed to buying photos onboard or a disposable camera from the ship shops. Do your homework on the ports of call and tour independently -- it could be cheaper than buying shore excursions for you and your companion.

  • Before booking, ask yourself what you are most looking forward to on your next cruise. Do you want to delve into an enrichment program? Are you looking forward to some spa relaxation? Or are you looking to enjoy some spectacular dining? Whatever it is, a cruise that will suit your tastes and aspirations is out there.

  • Contact the cruise line to make sure that it offers any special services that you require. Fo instance, if you have accessibility issues, find out what exactly you will be able to participate in, espeically if your ship doesn't actually dock at a certain port of call if you are on a smaller ship.

  • Many cruise lines now offer healthy dining options, but if you are on a special diet, notify the cruise line or travel agent when you book your voyage. Generally, if notified three weeks or more in advance of your sailing, most cruise lines will be able to accommodate your special diet. When it comes to hearty-healthy dining, many cruise lines, including Crystal, Holland America, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Carnival, offer low-fat selections on their menus (and lines like Crystal and Carnival feature low-carb selections, in case you are following Atkins and similar diets).

  • Participate in as many activities and enrichment programs as you wish, but don't be shy about droppi something if it turns out is is not to your liking. On a recent cruise, a friend of mine stayed frustrated throughout her language course, but she continued through several lessons before she finally dropped the course -- she could have saved herself some time and just dropped it after the first class.

  • If you are on a medication, bring an ample supply of it as the ship's doctor may not have it -- bring enough not only to last for the entire voyage, but for a week more, in case of travel delays. I was at the airport in Fairbanks on September 11, 2001, and we were not able to get a flight back home for six days. Two seniors in our grou had to find a pharmacy and incur transportation costs to the drugstore and long-distance call charges to get refills for their prescriptions.

But with all these things to think about and all the cruise lines out there, what exactly is a good cruise line for us seniors?

Crystal Cruises: Best enrichment program
Celebrity Cruises: Best premium line offering excellent value for your vacation dollar (tied with HAL)
Holland America Line: Best premium line offering excellent value for your vacation dollar (tied with Celebrity)
Royal Caribbean International: Best ships for active seniors (tied with Princess)
Princess Cruises: Best ship for active seniors (tied with Royal Caribbean)
Cunard Line: Best cruise line for ocean crossings
Carnival Cruise Lines: Best for seniors on a budget
Disney Cruise Line: Best line for three-generational reunions at sea
Silversea Cruises: Best ultra-deluxe small ship cruise line for seniors

Reprinted from Cruise Critic: Cruise Reviews & News (last updated 02/11/2008)