Guide to Picking a Senior-Friendly Cruise Ship

A sardonic take on cruise ships says that they’re for the newlywed, overfed, or nearly dead, but there is certainly some truth in jest.

Passenger ships have always been popular with the senior crowd, and for the same reasons any of us would choose to cruise: cost-effectiveness, reliable food and drink, getting pampered, having our itinerary all worked out for us, and seeing all the sights at your doorstep while only unpacking once.

Maybe this is your maiden voyage, though, and you aren’t sure how to find the company and, more specifically, the ship that meets your checklist of needs. It’s important to note that different ships offer different amenities, services, and facilities, which varies especially with a ship’s size.

Megaships typically attract families with their affordable cabin prices and dynamic amenities, like water parks, rock climbing walls, and Broadway-style entertainment. But that doesn’t mean these cruises neglect the needs of their 65-plus passengers, especially those on big family vacations: because some of the ships in this category are so large, they’re able to offer designated adults-only areas on board. Megaships are offered by lines like Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, Disney, and, our top pick for senior-friendliness, Royal Caribbean International.

Midsize ships, which typically carry 1,000 to 2,500 passengers, focus more on intimacy and world-class amenities as opposed to excess. For example, you’ll find one or two pools instead of seven and a library instead of an ice-skating rink. Midsize ships are offered by lines like Crystal Cruises, and our two top picks for senior-friendliness, Holland America Line and Oceania Cruises.

Small ships generally carry fewer than 1,000 passengers and stand out for their fine dining venues and personalized service, thanks to a low passenger-to-crew ratio. Because of their small size, they aren’t geographically limited and, therefore, can berth at a more diverse range of ports. Small ships are offered by fleets like Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and our two top picks for senior-friendliness, the elegant Azamara Club Cruises and the ultra-luxurious Silversea Cruises.

We’ll assess our top picks further along the dimensions of itinerary choice, enrichment opportunities, party size and interests, and accessibility and health concerns.

Itinerary Choice

For many seniors, itinerary choice is important because they’ve already seen the world over in their time. It would behoove this type of traveler to seek out a more exotic destination on a line like Lindblad Expeditions or UnCruise Adventures.

Alaska and the North Cape of Scandinavia tend to be the most popular itineraries for seniors, along with river cruises: they offer that more scenic balcony view and great inland excursions. On the other side of the spectrum, sailing the Caribbean generally means time spent on islands with not much else than sun and sand—maybe you don’t want a stagnant game of Bingo, but you may not want a conga line either.

Top 3 Arctic Cruises:

Alaska: Princess Cruises (Fleetwide)

Alaska: Holland America (Fleetwide)

Norwegian Coast: Hurtigruten (Coastal Voyage)

Top 3 River Cruises:

Europe, General Interest: AmaWaterways (AmaPrima and AmaCerto)

Europe, For World War II Vets: Uniworld River Cruises (River Baroness)

Asia, For Vietnam Vets: Viking Cruises (Viking Mekong)

Enrichment Opportunities

There’s much more to cruising than poolside naps and a drink with an umbrella. Overall, seniors have access to more onboard activities than ever before, from wine tastings to tango lessons to photography and photo editing workshops.

Scientists actually insist that enriching and challenging the brain is necessary to keep the mind healthy and active. Let’s face it, nothing makes you feel younger than continuing to learn new skills.

Top 3 Cruise Lines for Onboard Enrichment:

Princess Cruises (Grand Class)

Celebrity Cruises (Solstice Class)

Crystal Cruises (Fleetwide)

Party Size and Interests

Seniors straddle the spectrum here: they are more likely to travel solo, but also more likely to travel in multigenerational family groups.

Top 3 Cruises for Multigenerational Travel:

Royal Caribbean (Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Freedom of the Seas)

Disney Cruise Line (Fleetwide)

Carnival Cruises (Fleetwide)

Traveling solo can get very expensive, especially when facing with the dreaded “single supplement” charge. It’s a fee paid by a solo traveler to compensate a hotel or cruise ship for losses incurred because only one person is using a room or cabin, and can range from 10 to 100 percent of the standard accommodation rate. We prize the following selection for circumventing the change with services like specialized studio cabins and roommate matches through single-share plans.

Top 3 Cruises for Seniors Traveling Solo:

Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, and Norwegian Getaway)

Holland America (Fleetwide)

Uniworld (Fleetwide)

Mobility and Health Concerns

Top-notch medical care and accessible ships are likely to be high on any senior traveler’s list. Most ships comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but the following selection goes the extra mile:

Royal Caribbean (Radiance, Freedom and Oasis classes)

Holland America (Vista-class ships: MS Zuiderdam, MS Oosterdam, MS Westerdam, MS Noordam and MS Eurodam)

Bon Voyage!

Before you set sail, whether you’re booking through a travel agent or on your own, be sure to inquire about senior discounts. Lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Windstar Cruises offer discounts for passengers 55 and older on select sailings. If you’re an AARP member, you can save up to 5 percent on all Norwegian voyages as long as you book your cruise nine months in advance. You can find a comprehensive list of other cruise discounts and onboard extras on the AARP website.

Also note that cruise vacations can have complicated itineraries and sometimes just one misstep can derail the entire trip. We recommend opting for travel insurance, and not the kind provided by your cruise line, which can be limited in its coverage. Though coverage can vary widely, most travel insurance policies will help you get reimbursed for canceled trips or even assist you in re-booking your flights or lodging.

You shouldn’t assume your regular health insurance covers you while traveling. Most plans (including Medicare) do not provide coverage outside of the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travelers consider purchasing travel health insurance and medical evacuation insurance in addition to travel insurance. These options are particularly important for seniors as they can provide coverage for an unforeseen illness or injury. If you have a pre-existing condition that you worry may disrupt your trip, make sure to get a pre-existing conditions waiver when purchasing your travel insurance.


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