Some baby boomers planning cruise vacations are looking for big ships with whiz-bang attractions such as waterslides, lively pool decks and activities for all ages – especially if they’re traveling with their kids or grandkids. But a lot of the rest of us want to hang out with other adults, see bucket-list and UNESCO World Heritage-designated destinations, learn a thing or two about local cultures and otherwise have an adult vacation experience.
Choices range from affordable ships where you can make your vacation dollar stretch far to ultra-luxury ships that come with extreme pampering — and fares to match.
Here are the seven best cruise lines for seniors and baby boomers.
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Viking’s 930-passenger ships are created specifically for an adult crowd. No one under 18 is allowed on board, and all the programming is created with passengers aged 50-plus in mind. Viking chairman Torstein Hagen says that he set out to create “the thinking person’s cruise.” Lectures and other destination-specific programming are the main form of entertainment — along with a crowd-pleasing ABBA tribute show in the theater.
Viking ships are comfortable, homey oases — especially if your home is done up in sophisticated Scandinavian decor.
Itineraries to destinations around the world are focused on getting you to key attractions, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with a shore excursion each day included in the cruise fare. A “no nickel and diming” philosophy means that the fare pretty much includes everything except cocktails and spa treatments. Complimentary dining includes a specialty Italian restaurant and the Chef’s Table, with its rotating tasting menus themed around international cuisines.
Also recommended for the senior and baby boomer crowd are Viking’s river ships in Europe, Vietnam and Egypt (among other destinations) and the line’s expedition products in Antarctica and on the Great Lakes, which have similarities to the ocean ships, including the all-inclusive pricing.
Related: What’s included in your cruise fare?
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Windstar’s small sailing ships and motorized yachts range from 148 to 342 passengers, and while kids aged 8 and up are allowed on board, you are unlikely to see many on these upscale vessels. Most passengers are active baby boomers who come as couples, pairs of friends or solo travelers, looking for a destination-rich experience on ships where they won’t feel lost in a crowd.
The romance of sails, which operate in this case at the push of a computer button, and vast open deck space are the calling card on the sailing ships. All-suite accommodations are a bragging point on the 312-passenger motorized yachts. An outdoor deck party with a lavish buffet and late-night conga line is a highlight, as are meals on the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, the prestigious culinary organization.
Because of their small size, all the Windstar ships can visit quiet harbors and out-of-the-way places that big ships can’t in destinations that include Tahiti, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line
With four, nearly identical ships holding fewer than 700 passengers, Azamara has carved out a niche catering to well-traveled seniors looking to cruise in clubby surrounds. It’s a country club crowd that does not want to splurge on a fancier luxury product but still wants an upscale level of ambiance, service and amenities. While kids aren’t banned, the line makes clear on its website that it “discourages” passengers under age 18.
Azamara passengers appreciate the boutique, hotel-like decor, which includes faux fireplaces in the impressive libraries, now called The Drawing Room.
The line’s destination-focused itineraries in Europe and elsewhere spend more time in ports than average ships, staying overnight in key destinations, which is a plus for passengers who want to explore on their own. The line’s complimentary AzAmazing evenings program features a cultural performance ashore at an amazing destination such as in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey.
Related: 5 cruise lines to try if you just can’t stand being around kids on vacation
Holland America hits the sweet spot for many seniors with its midsize ships. Carrying 2,668 passengers or fewer, these vessels offer big-ship amenities but lack the more over-the-top waterslides and thrill attractions of larger mega-ship. On board, you’ll find mostly baby boomers and older seniors enjoying the line’s alternative dining options, casinos and choice of entertainment.
An older crowd does not mean a sedate group. Holland America does live music big time. Passengers dance the night away at venues such as BB King’s Blues Club (featuring, arguably, the best live bands at sea). Explorations Central (EXC) programming is designed to educate about the destinations you’ll be visiting, and a fun roster of other onboard pursuits includes a winemaking experience with Chateau Ste. Michelle.
The ships are particularly disability friendly, and a good number of staterooms offer roll-in showers and other assistive features. Ships are also equipped with a lift system for pools and tenders.
In addition to one-week cruises in Alaska (the line’s specialty) and the Caribbean, Holland America explores South America, the South Pacific and other destinations around the globe, including on months-long world cruises.
Related: The 4 classes of Holland America ships, explained
Traditional cruising on Cunard’s ocean liners includes dress-up galas held in real ballrooms with high ceilings and twinkling chandeliers. Gentlemen hosts are on hand if you need a dance partner. This traditional cruise line has a long legacy (it was founded in the 1800s) and is proud of its formal vibe, which includes nightly dress codes.
Those same ballrooms host daily afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches and scones and cream, served on fine china by white-gloved waiters. Other refined onboard activities may include watching shows in Queen Mary 2’s onboard planetarium, attending lectures by guest speakers, taking art classes and listening to classical concerts.
Not everyone stays in a fancy suite, but if you do you also dine in an exclusive, intimate restaurant, either the Queens Grill or Princess Grill.
QM2 is the only ship doing regular transatlantic service between Southampton, England, and New York. The 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth and 2,061-passenger Queen Victoria spend time in Europe and other destinations, and all three ships do world cruises that wander the globe.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Except for summer and holiday periods, you are unlikely to find kids on board Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which brags of operating the most luxurious ships afloat. It’s hard to argue that point, especially on the line’s latest ship, the $600 million, 732-passenger, all-suite Seven Seas Splendor that boasts a football field’s worth of marble, a brag-worthy original art collection and the most expensive suite at sea, which is priced at $11,000 per day, per couple.
While Seabourn and Silversea operate intimate ships with extraordinary service, accommodations and cuisine, Regent differs with its shore excursion-inclusive, one-stop-shopping fares and grand European hotel ambience — especially on the sister ships Splendor and Seven Seas Explorer.
The other Regent ships are well-maintained 480- to 684-passenger older vessels. On all, if you don’t feel like going to one of the restaurants, you can stay in your bathrobe and order a meal served course by course in your suite.
Regent sails to some 450 ports of call around the world, including world cruise itineraries.
Related: 5 best all-inclusive cruise lines
Wellness-focused baby boomers and seniors love Oceania Cruises’ 648- to 1,210-passenger ships for their spa and fitness center and healthy food options. Foodies are drawn by the all-around-inspired dining. PBS host and cookbook author Jacques Pepin has a French bistro on the line’s two larger ships, Marina and Riviera, and is one of the line’s culinary advisors. All the line’s ships have impressive steakhouses, and some have Red Ginger, an extraordinary modern take on Asian cuisine, as well as other eateries.
The ships have an appealing country club-like ambiance, which is upscale without being fancy. The older passengers are the sort who like to entertain themselves, though they may be distracted on Marina and Riviera by the standout attraction of a real cooking school where expert chefs give classes.
As a nod to solo travelers, the line has been in the process of adding solo cabins designed and priced for one.
Oceania is known for destination-focused itineraries in the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe, among other places. Most are 10 nights or longer; world cruises are up to 180 days.
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