While passé cruise stereotypes no longer apply, choosing the appropriate line and ship for you is still paramount.
|There are many cruise lines and ships to select from.|
A friend of mine recently told me, "My wife and I took a cruise for our honeymoon and we were the youngest people on the boat." They were in their mid-twenties on a cruise ship where the average age was 50, the Holland America Westerdam back in 1993. In those days there was a rather cynical expression that said "cruises are for the newly wed or nearly dead."
Back then cruise ships were smaller. Strangers dined together at assigned tables and there was only one show after dinner. More cruisers were elderly, solely because younger people had never been exposed to passenger ships – unless you count the fantasy television series "The Love Boat."
In order to grow, the cruise lines had to reach the family market. They did it by building larger ships with more activities, dining options and variety in the entertainment. Successfully, over 13 million cruises were taken in 2010. Today the average cruiser is 42 years old – more or less depending on which cruise ship you choose – and that is the key - you still have to pick the right ship.
Let's look at the individual demographics for the popular cruise lines.
Starting with the youngest age groups; kids are concerned with making new friends and prefer a ship with plenty of other kids and lots of fun activities. Except for Disneyphile adults, Disney Cruise Line appeals mostly to children and the parents who want to please them. Still, Disney offers plenty of adult-only activities on its ships, primarily because they have no choice – otherwise the huge number of kids onboard would overwhelm everything.
Like most mainstream cruise lines, Disney offers extensive children's programs where kids are segregated into smaller age groups; usually six to 36 months (infants & toddlers), ages three through eleven (children), twelve through fourteen ('tweens') and 15 to 17 (teens). Disney ships carry the largest percentage of youngsters onboard, but Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), Carnival and Royal Caribbean also carry many kids on most cruises, and also offer extensive children's programs onboard.
While Disney offers "character experiences" with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Cinderella, Ariel and other characters walking the ships and interacting with the guests, NCL has characters from the Nickelodeon television network and Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks Animation characters such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Carnival does not have any kid's character affiliations but it is "The Fun Ship" cruise line. Carnival's kid's programs are as just as much fun as other cruise lines with extensive water parks, video games and organized activities.
Cruises for Young Adults - Singles
In truth, cruising is not the singles experience portrayed on "The Love Boat." Cruises have actually always catered to couples and families first, and they never were ideal places to meet new people although it certainly does happen.
Singles surrounded by other people interacting with their loved ones can end up feeling lonelier on a cruise than at home, therefore for singles I recommend organized singles cruises by companies who match roommates and organize special events onboard. Another option for singles is NCL's newest flagship, Norwegian Epic; the first and only ship with a dedicated area just for single adults. The cabins, called "Studio Staterooms," share a common corridor leading to a private "Living Room" where singles can meet and join activities coordinated by the staff. There is no "singles supplement" charge for these Studio Staterooms.
Young Adults - Couples
The mainstream cruise lines above will appeal most to young adults in families or couples. The entertainment is positioned for Boomer, Gen-X and even Y cruisers. Royal Caribbean has the most sports activities like rock climbing, NCL has the biggest variety of nighttime entertainment while Carnival (the "Fun Ships") is for people who like to get involved with the staff and play goofy games with other passengers.
The Premium Cruise Demographic
If you do not have kids then the "premium" cruise lines; Princess, Celebrity and Holland America, should appeal to you. These lines have far fewer children onboard so they are rarely a distraction. For the few that are onboard the ships have children's programs as described above – but they are less crowded which can change the "fun factor."
The general rule is "the longer the cruise the older the cruiser." Retired people have more time for longer cruises. Cost also counts; taking a family of four on a seven day cruise can be as expensive as a 14-day cruise for two.
Seven-day Caribbean or 10-day European cruises on the premium cruise lines are for fun and lively adult couples. The entertainment will be more sophisticated than the mainstream lines; more concert pianists and standard dance music.
More vivacious retirees flock to Oceania, Azamara and Windstar cruises. These lines offer port intensive itineraries as well as creature comforts and gourmet food.
Somewhat larger and catering to the ocean liner set of world travelers are Cunard Line, Crystal Cruises (actually a luxury cruise line but with larger ships) and the new Marina and forthcoming Riviera of Oceania Cruises.
In addition to longer cruises, the most elderly seniors gravitate to the luxury cruise lines; Seabourn, Silversea and Regent. Seabourn, in particular, has an older clientele that is often more concerned with the food served onboard than the cuisine of the local ports of call. These small luxury ships strive to create a "yacht club" atmosphere. Much like a small town versus a big city, fellow cruisers are often very congenial on these upper crust small luxury ships, but that doesn't make them any more tolerant of children or late night revelers.