Once upon a time, not so very long ago, many cruise ships could have been mistaken for floating retirement homes; their wrinkled temporary residents eager to tick the remaining items off their bucket lists before their bodies seized up for good.
What a difference a few years makes.
New Zealand ocean cruise passenger numbers have risen an average 14.7 per cent a year for the past decade, hitting a record 98,000 in 2017, new figures from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) show. Of those 98,000, 40 per cent were under 50, with the average Kiwi cruiser aged 52. The average age of an ocean cruise ship passenger globally last year was 47. While that mightn’t translate as young to some, cruising is undoubtedly an all-ages holiday option these days, with a huge – and ever-expanding – array of ships and itineraries on offer.
Here are a few options for different age groups – whether you choose a cruise based on your chronological or mental age is up to you.
Kids just wanna have fun so the number and nature of age-appropriate entertainment options are king here. The biggest ships tend to offer the widest variety and have kids clubs’ that cater for babies through to teens. Activities on offer could include cooking, make-up, art and science classes, puppet shows, circus workshops, discos, talent shows and dodgeball games. Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival, extend kids’ activities well into the evening, so the parent- (or kid-) free fun doesn’t have to end after dinner. Royal Caribbean, for one, has a “late night party zone” for children and teens, as well as a teen-only lounge, arcades room, movie theatre and night club.
If you’re a kid who prefers to do your own thing, no worries. Most of the big ships have cool features – such as waterslides, rock climbing walls, flying foxes and bungy tramps – that you can access whenever you like. The world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, which made its debut this year, features a laser tag arena, 10-storey racing slide, rock climbing, ice skating and a polished production of family-friendly Broadway hit Hairspray. Not to be outdone, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss, another new ship, offers electric go-kart racing, a transparent waterslide that swooshes you along the side of the ship and Jersey Boys. Other great cruise lines for kids include P&O, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises.
The cruise sector has being doing its utmost to endear itself to millennials in recent years with smaller boats, more adventurous trips and excursions that enable you to immerse yourself in the local culture of the ports of call. Some, such as It’s the Ship (a three-night party cruise from Singapore to Phuket and back), are essentially floating dance music festivals. But there are plenty of options for young adults keen to see the world from the comfort of a floating boutique hotel.
U by Uniworld, aimed at solo travellers and couples in their 20s though 40s, is about as close as you can get to hipsterville at sea. Silent discos, mixology sessions, top-deck yoga sessions and small plate dining experiences are among the activities available aboard its European river cruises. Off the ship, explore the likes of France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands on one of the provided bikes or join the included excursions. These range from low-key activities such as street art tours and visits to castles and vineyards to higher adrenaline options.
If you can’t get much time off work, a Pacific Jewel cruise could be a good option. Based in Auckland, the liner offers short to medium-length cruises to Pacific Island and Australian destinations, including Fiji, Tonga, Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Barrier Reef, Kangaroo Island and Tasmania. The three- and four-night comedy cruises are good for a laugh and there are multiple food and wine-themed itineraries.
30s and 40s
If you’re travelling with kids you may be best to opt for one of the big, family-friendly boats (if it all gets too much, seek refuge in one of the kid-free zones). Take advantage of the kids’ clubs and babysitting services and indulge in your choice of the adult’s only entertainment options (I’m thinking pool and spa time here rather than anything x-rated but, hey, you’re free to spend the time in the confines of your state room however you choose). Incidentally, there are cruises specifically aimed at naturists and swingers if that’s what floats your boat, as well as trips for singles eager to mingle.
While it’s often said that cruise passengers put on about half a kilo of weight per day, the sector has jumped onto the wellness bandwagon so there’s no reason you shouldn’t disembark feeling fitter rather than fatter. Azamara, Curnard, Crystal, Oceania and Princess cruises are among those offering healthy menus that detail fat, carb and calorie content. Celebrity Cruise ships go a step further with restaurants reserved for passengers in AquaClass spa cabins, serving only “clean” cuisines. If you’re on a raw or vegan diet, SeaDream Yacht Club and Oceania are great options.
Many liners have well-equipped gyms complete with personal trainers, “detoxifying” spa treatments and wellness-related excursions. If you need something more extreme to whip your behind into shape, you could join a cruise with a health and wellness theme. Holland America, which has a partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine, offers health and style-related programmes on more than 300 cruises in Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico.
If you’re already in pretty good shape, now might be the time to embark on an adventurous expedition in oceans or rivers less travelled. Pioneering liners of both the budget and ultra luxurious varieties have added many previously difficult to access destinations to their itineraries over the past 30 years. Think Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
50s and 60s
In the cruise sector’s “traditional” age group, you’re likely to feel at home on almost any ship (although unless you’re a die-hard groover, perhaps steer clear of the floating dance parties). With any luck your savings account will be in better shape these days so why not treat yourself to a trip further afield? Cruises in the North American Pacific region (which includes Hawaii, the US west coast and Mexico), the Mediterranean, Asia and Alaska are particularly popular with fifty somethings, the CLIA research found.
If you’ve become something of a cruise addict and have already done the tropics and Europe, why not give a cold-water cruise a go? These trips tend to attract more “serious” travellers as they’re centred around sightseeing and wildlife spotting – no one’s likely to feel tempted to sit around boozing by the pool. There are more itineraries than ever in destinations such as the polar regions, Iceland and Greenland. Adventure Canada, Chimu Adventures and One Ocean Expeditions have trips to the Canadian Archipelago, which is said to offer a wilderness experience similar to Antarctica’s 30 years ago. Visit remote Inuit communities and keep an eye out for walrus, whales, seals and polar bears as you cruise past glaciers and craggy fjords.
If you’ve made it to retirement, congratulations! After a lifetime of hard yakka, now’s the time to treat yourself to a properly indulgent, bucket-list break. Cruises in the Baltics, Northern Europe, Panama and South America are popular with Kiwis in their 60s, according to the CLIA research, as are transatlantic, world and expedition cruises. For something a bit different, head to Kamchatka in the Russian Far East. With 20 different climate zones, the volcanic peninsular is home to brown bears, reindeer and artic foxes, while whales sea otters (and maybe you) cruise its waters.
For senior citizens, cruising is an ideal option. Even with limited mobility, there’s nothing to stop you venturing to even ultra-remote ports. With a ship full of staff to take care of you, you might just consider selling up and moving in for good.
Most ships feature wheelchair-accessible cabins and suites and some, such as Royal Caribbean, have mobility scooters for hire. It may be best to steer clear of ships where you are required to take a tender boat ashore if you have mobility issues, however, as they can be tricky to get in and out of (although staff will be more than happy to assist). …
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