Age is all about attitude and 'mature' cruisers today are just as likely to be hiking and kayaking as they are snoozing under a blanket on a steamer chair or playing cards. But older cruise passengers may nonetheless have different needs from millennials or young families. They may look for something more cultural, for example. They may prefer smaller, friendlier ships. Many welcome an adults-only environment, unless they're travelling as part of a multigenerational group. Good service is important and for some, a nod to tradition, like dressing for dinner, or the availability of ballroom dancing. Competitive prices for singles are important, as many mature cruisers travel solo, and as an extension of that, so are activities and social events for single travellers.
Mature cruisers have a lot to say about ship design, too. Not too big, not too confusing. Cabins that are properly lit (lighting was one of the biggest adjustments Saga Cruises recently made during the design of its new ship, Spirit of Discovery, following a series of customer focus groups). Sensible signage around the ship, lifts that don't take ages to arrive and menus printed in a typeface that's legible.
Itinerary also plays its part for the older cruiser. They may have been there, and done that, so destinations need to be new and exciting, or offer something more experiential ashore beyond the standard tours. Excursions need to be adjusted to a slower pace of walking for those with mobility issues. Also, ease of getting to the ship is important, whether it's joining a river cruise via Eurostar or the convenience of embarking in a U.K. port.
With all this in mind, here are our top picks for mature cruisers.
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The issue: For many, relaxing on board and watching incredible scenery drift by is a favourite aspect of cruising -- all the more so for passengers who aren't as mobile as they once were. The idea of a scenic cruise is that you can still get a lot out of the voyage even if you are unable to get off the ship much, which is why the Norwegian coast, the wild shorelines of Alaska and river cruises are so popular with older travellers.
Best scenic cruises to Norway
For travellers who prefer not to fly, Fred. Olsen provides a comfortable and convenient way of exploring Norway's fjord-indented west coast, summer and winter, sailing from U.K. ports including Southampton, Dover, Liverpool, Rosyth and Newcastle. The line's ships are mid-sized and friendly; Fred. Olsen's target market is mature cruisers and activities and entertainment onboard reflect this.
Saga Cruises offers regular departures to the fjords from the U.K., including a couple in winter to search for the northern lights. Over-50s specialist Saga is far from fuddy-duddy; excursions in Norway range from hiking to kayaking, husky-driving and skiing.
Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) also cruises the fjords, sailing from ports including Tilbury, Bristol, Newcastle and Dundee. CMV provides a lower-cost alternative to lines like Fred. Olsen and Saga -- and also sails to Norway in the winter, chasing the northern lights.
For a more immersive Norwegian experience, the ships of Hurtigruten that ply the coast year-round between Bergen and Kirkenes are a great way to explore, smaller ports, meet the locals who use the ships as ferries and enjoy top-notch Norwegian cuisine.
Best scenic cruises to Alaska
Breathtaking views are a constant feature in Alaska as the ship glides past dense forest, creaking glaciers and rock-strewn beaches. Whales and dolphins are almost always visible from the deck. And while there are some pretty challenging adventures on offer ashore, Alaska is highly geared to cruise tourism. Disembarking in popular ports like Juneau and Ketchikan is easy, with no tender required, and for those who want to extend their holiday, lines such as Holland America and Princess Cruises offer special cruise-tours that bolt on stays in wilderness lodges and scenic train journeys to a cruise.
Best scenic river cruises
Pretty well all river cruises are suited to a mature audience and all come with an ever-changing view, but those offered by Avalon, Saga Cruises and Titan Travel have the edge in that they provide a chauffeured home pick-up service, so you don't even have to get yourself to the airport. Riviera Travel attracts mainly British people of a certain age to its swish, four-star-plus boats on the Rhine and Danube. Another one to watch is Fred. Olsen Cruises, which this summer launches river voyages on the Rhine, Danube, Moselle and Rhine on its new ship, Brabant.
Which river, though? Some European rivers more suitable than others if you're less mobile. The Rhine is a good place to start, especially the section through the gorge, lined with castles and vineyards. The Rhone is a scenic option, too; it's only a very short walk from the dock to the centre of gorgeous spots like Avignon, Tournon and Viviers. The views from the deck on the Seine are stunning, as the ship passes through the bucolic Normandy countryside.
The issue: Age should be no barrier to exploration and mature travellers are often focused on checking off their bucket lists. They want to explore, but they want to be looked after. They also have time and disposable income.
Silversea's four expedition ships come with great attention to detail and personal service, with all-inclusive drinks, fine dining and a butler for every cabin as well as creative itineraries anywhere from the Galapagos to Antarctica. Noble Caledonia owns three small, 118-passenger ships that offer a convivial, house party atmosphere combined with exotic itineraries exploring as far afield as Papua New Guinea, Patagonia, Tasmania and Melanesia. These cruises have the trappings of an expedition, including remote ports, experienced expedition leaders and Zodiacs for going ashore, but tend to attract mainly British customers, most of them over 60.
Exotic cruises on bigger ships
Fred. Olsen offers an imaginative range of fly-cruise holidays in winter, visiting anywhere from Australia to India or the Caribbean. Plenty of lines offer three-month world voyages, too. Cunard's annual world cruises are lavish affairs, rich with tradition and ideally suited to mature cruisers who enjoy a formal dress code, ballroom dancing and an impressive enrichment programme set against a backdrop of far-flung ports.
P&O Cruises also has world cruises aimed at a British audience, with familiar touches, not least an understanding of what constitutes a good curry or a proper cup of tea. There are British officers and entertainment onboard, British gins and beers in the bars, and food geared to British tastes.
Exotic river cruises
Exploring some of the world's more exotic rivers takes stamina; the tropical heat can be draining and in countries like India or Myanmar, the infrastructure can be basic. The lower Mekong is a good river to start with; it's well developed for tourism and the sights come thick and fast between Siem Reap and Saigon. Scenic is particularly strong on the Mekong; on the 68-passenger Scenic Spirit, there's a real sense of being looked after, with everything included, a choice of tours and some alluring deals that include business class flight upgrades. APT offers a similar level of luxury and, like Scenic, is Australian-owned, so you'll find a mix of Aussies and Brits onboard.
In China, Viking River Cruises is a solid choice, with seamless, multi-centre tours of Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and the Yangtze gorges; again, every detail is thought of on these highly structured itineraries.
History and Nostalgia
The issue: Pretty well all cruises include an historical element in their excursions but some are more focused than others on specific historical events and locations.
A river cruise along the Seine is a comfortable way to explore the landing beaches of Normandy. British cruisers should check the excursions on offer before booking; some of the American-owned lines may only offer tours to the American sectors of the beaches, while others offer the British sectors, or both. AmaWaterways, for example, offers a choice on its Normandy cruises of the American or the British and Canadian sectors, while Riviera Travel's tour visits Gold Beach, in the British sector, and Arromanches, for the D-Day Museum.
Plenty of cruise ships visits the Falklands in the southern hemisphere's summer -- and you don't necessarily have to be on a hard-core expedition to Antarctica to stop there. Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises all offer shorter cruises from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso or vice versa, with a full day in Port Stanley.
Other historical routes:
Voyages to Antiquity is the obvious choice for mature cruisers in search of an intensive sightseeing programme and daily lectures on board. Itineraries range from India to Ancient Greece. A river voyage along the Irrawaddy will pass scenery that’s changed little since the days of Kipling's "Road to Mandalay", while a Mekong voyage is a sobering insight into both the Vietnam War and Cambodia's terrible genocide, as well as a more uplifting visit to the exquisite temple complexes at Angkor. Pandaw offers cruises on both rivers, using small, colonial-style ships.
The issue: Mature cruisers are probably less motivated by waterslides and laser tag but may well be keen to further new interests they have developed in retirement, whether it's bridge, photography, bird watching, or art appreciation.
Best lines for enrichment:
Cruise line enrichment ranges from the high-brow -- Noble Caledonia and Voyages to Antiquity, for example, both offer culturally themed cruises covering anything from opera to Ancient Greece -- to the specialists, like Botanica World Discoveries, which offers botanical and garden-themed cruises on small ships. There are celebrations of more popular culture, too, like the speaker programme on Cunard. On a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2 you may be entertained by luminaries ranging from Sir Michael Parkinson to former royal correspondent Jennie Bond or politician Martin Bell.
Luxury line Seabourn has an excellent guest speaker programme, called Seabourn Conversations, themed around food, the arts, politics, science, culture and UNESCO, with which the line has a partnership. Crystal Cruises, too, is a great option for furthering the mind, with anything from bridge instruction to classes in film-making, painting, wine appreciation and photography on offer. P&O Cruises, meanwhile, is one of the best choices for ballroom dance fans, thanks to its association with Strictly Come Dancing.
The issue: Often, circumstances mean that older people are travelling alone. A cruise can be the perfect opportunity to make new friends and enjoy like-minded company, provided you can dodge the dreaded single supplements, which may double the price. This means shopping around, or picking a ship with a decent amount of single cabins.
Best ships for solos:
Saga, which caters to the over-50s, is one of the most solo-friendly lines, offering everything from dedicated solo cabins (with balcony on the new ship, Spirit of Discovery) to singles' gatherings, social hosts and hostesses and a chance to buddy up with other solo travellers on excursions. Cunard, Fred. Olsen and Voyages to Antiquity also have a decent amount of solo accommodation, although it gets snapped up fast. For dance fans, Crystal Cruises, Fred. Olsen and Cunard all have gentleman dance hosts, so single ladies will always have a partner in the evenings. For a friendly, house party atmosphere, Noble Caledonia is superb; all excursions are included in the fare, so you're on tour all the time with other people, and meals are open-seating, with single travellers embraced into the fold. It's expensive, though.
There are often deals to be had for singles on river cruise ships. Riviera Travel has introduced two singles' river cruises for 2018 which, the company says, are more about companionship and shared interests than the old cliche of solos looking for love. Avalon Waterways, Tauck, AmaWaterways and tour operators like Just You all have good deals for singles but you need to keep an eye out for offers.
The issue: Cruising in extended family groups is in vogue now, with cruise lines going out of their way to attract multigenerational parties paid for by deep-pocketed grandparents. Pick the right ship and everybody wins: enrichment and entertainment for grandparents, top notch (and free) clubs for children and some downtime for parents. Many cruisers say the most successful multigenerational cruises are those that allow everybody a mixture of activities as a family and time for themselves -- so think carefully about how many cabins you will need and what style of ship will work.
Best luxury ships for multigenerational cruising
Crystal Cruises is one of the best options, as its two big ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity both have children's clubs and activities as well as enrichment activities for adults that are second to none. Likewise, Silversea's new Silver Muse is the line's first nod to multigenerational groups, with children's activities in school holidays and several sets of interconnecting cabins.
Best mainstream ships for multigenerational cruising:
P&O Cruises sails mainly from Southampton and is one of the best lines for families; the kids' clubs cater for all ages and there's plenty for adults to do, from cookery classes to ballroom dancing. Likewise Celebrity Cruises, especially the elegant Solstice Class ships, which as well as excellent kids' clubs have a large lawn on the top deck, the perfect place to read or play a game of boules.
NCL's poshest suites, in a ship-within-a-ship section called The Haven, can be a great compromise between a more serene space with its own restaurant, bar and concierge (indeed, a haven) and the big, lively ship' outside' with theatre, nightclubs and sports going on for the younger generations; ideal if you are cruising with teenagers. MSC has a similar concept, the Yacht Club, and offers some very competitive deals for children under 18 who share with parents or grandparents.
Marella Cruises (formerly Thomson) is another possibility for a bargain break in the Canaries, the Med or the Caribbean; the company offers flights from several UK airports and its ships are bright, friendly and informal, with decent kids' clubs and everything geared to British tastes. The newer ships, like Marella Explorer, coming summer 2018, are better equipped for families; this one has bigger kids' clubs, more restaurants and a Champneys spa.
The issue: It's a fact that not everybody wants to be surrounded by other people's noisy children all day, especially if their own have long flown the nest. The most obvious way to avoid packs of school-age kids is to travel outside the school holidays, but if you want to steer clear of infants of all ages pick a cruise line that is firmly aimed at adults.
Best adults-only lines
Viking Ocean Cruises is strictly adults-only and has a fleet of beautiful, mid-sized ships with soothing decor that sail to places of cultural interest. Excursions are included in the price, too. Azamara and Oceania are also adult-orientated lines, although children are allowed on board -- but they need to be able to behave in a grown-up environment. P&O Cruises has designated three of its ships adults-only -- Arcadia, Oriana and, from 2019, Aurora. Saga, which has a very chic new ship coming in 2019, is for the over-50s only, although a travelling companion can be 40. Noble Caledonia doesn't take children, while cultural specialist Voyages to Antiquity actively discourages under-16s -- and they'd be bored anyway.
The Issue: Limited mobility does not need to be a barrier to travelling; in fact, the right cruise can be an exciting holiday for a person in a wheelchair or with other disabilities. You do need to pick the right ship, though, depending on your needs. A 5,000-passenger vessel, for example, can involve some very long walks to get from A to B.
Best U.K. cruise lines for accessibility:
Lines with newer ships tend to have the best facilities for users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters. P&O Cruises has a very detailed section on its website covering all aspects of accessibility. Saga's new Spirit of Discovery, launching 2019, will have wheelchair-adapted cabins across most grades, all with a balcony, and across its fleet, Saga is very sensitive to the needs of cruisers with disabilities. Fred. Olsen Cruises carries plenty of passengers who have limited mobility but because its ships are older, has a smaller choice of accessible cabins.