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Once viewed as the domain of older travelers, many cruise lines have long since sailed away from their old-fashioned image of being staid, structured, formal affairs where only the gray-haired and well-to-do need apply. Many of today's cruises are less regimented and more active and fun, where nightlife and adventure readily converge -- and at palatable pricing, to boot. Cruising is for young adults, too; you just have to know where to look.
For 20- and 30-somethings hoping to book a cruise vacation with like-minded (and -aged) passengers, there are a few key search parameters to consider. For one, shorter cruises of seven nights or less fare better in attracting young couples and singles short on vacation time and budget. The longer the sailing, the "longer in the tooth" you can expect onboard passengers to be.
Look, too, for theme sailings, where a one-off niche itinerary might considerably skew the onboard demographic toward a younger cruiser. Such is the case for river cruise line AmaWaterways, for instance, which noted that under-40s make a strong showing on some of its wine-themed itineraries, like the Taste of Bordeaux Wine Cruises or Romantic Danube Wine Cruises; the voyages incorporate winery tours, tastings, wine pairing dinners and more along European waterways.
Same goes for concert cruises, where operators like Sixthman charter ships for at-sea concerts and music festivals, with headliners like Kid Rock, KISS and John Mayer onboard. Or, electronic music fans can hook up with the "world's largest floating dance music festival" via Groove Cruise (with sailings chartered on Carnival and Norwegian ships), featuring dozens of musicians, multiple stages and beach and pool parties to ensure young adult cruisers a pumping dance party practically all-sailing long.
Adventure-driven sailings, meanwhile, beckon fit and active travelers to expedition cruise lines, which are popular (though pricy) for young travelers looking for nonstop action -- hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and more -- in off-the-beaten-path wilderness regions like the Amazon or Galapagos. (See our pick, Lindblad Expeditions, in the list below.)
Another smart bet is to look for itineraries that are heavy on lively ports of call in destinations well suited to your age bracket, especially for ones that incorporate overnight stays, so that you can hit up the local nightlife. And, by all means, once you pull into port, do freely venture out on your own. There's no rule that says you have to be herded around on a group shore excursion.
Here are our top six picks for the all-around best cruises for 20- and 30-something young adults, listed by special interest:
Best for Active Types
Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships -- Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas -- are particularly well suited to younger adults who demand a little more out of their vacation time than a simple poolside beach read. Test out your surfing skills on the FlowRider surf simulator, scale the 43-foot-high rock climbing wall, have a whirl skating on the indoor ice rink, sign up to get PADI certified for scuba diving, or zip along the zipline -- all onboard the ship. Plus, once you've burned off some steam, there's ample opportunity come nighttime for bar-hopping, catching Broadway shows (like "Grease," "Mamma Mia!" or "Cats") and busting out your dance moves in the late-night clubs.
Harmony of the Seas sails Mediterranean itineraries from Barcelona through fall 2016 before repositioning to Fort Lauderdale permanently for a series of Caribbean itineraries. Oasis of the Seas sails from easy-to-reach Fort Lauderdale (note it's relocating to Port Canaveral in November 2016), offering year-round weeklong Eastern or Western Caribbean itineraries primed for active in-port adventures, from Jet Skiing in Labadee, Haiti, to horseback riding in Jamaica. Allure of the Seas is likewise based in Fort Lauderdale for year-round Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages. Anthem of the Seas sails to the Caribbean year-round from Bayonne, NJ.
- See more great cruises for active travelers.
Best Party Cruises
Attracting one of the youngest demographics industrywide, Carnival's two dozen-plus "Fun Ships" come jam-packed with party-hearty diversions, including bountiful bars and lounges like the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, helmed by master mixologists (available on select ships). The line pulls out all the stops for its lively open-air poolside deck parties, with live music paired with umbrella drinks. The line's latest ship, Carnival Vista, also features its first-ever brewery, serving a trio of brewed-onboard craft beers.
Plus, Carnival touts some of the best nightclubs at sea, thanks in large part to the line's relationship with DJ Irie (official DJ for the Miami Heat and a regular on the Vegas and South Beach club circuits), who is on hand to train all of Carnival's onboard DJs via Spin'iversity, the line's DJ academy at sea.
Sign up for a "Carnival LIVE Concert Series" cruise, featuring onboard, in-port performances; past acts have included Jennifer Hudson, Lady Antebellum, Daughtry, and Jewel. Carnival LIVE has also branched out into comedy, scheduling popular acts like Jim Gaffigan and Jeff Foxworthy. Also popular are shorter three- to four-night sailings (with less time and financial commitment involved) to the Bahamas, Baja California, Key West and Cozumel.
Once in port, sign up for an array of adventurous excursions like ziplining, helicopter "flightseeing," kayaking, ATV riding and even bobsledding in Jamaica or helmet diving in the Caribbean (where you wear an underwater breathing apparatus that lets you walk along the ocean floor).
- Find the craziest cruise ship parties.
Best for Adventure-Seekers
Lindblad Expeditions' sailings are get-your-hands-dirty affairs, meaning that you can leave the formalwear at home and dive (sometimes quite literally) into the adventure-filled ports that the line sails to, including destinations in the Galapagos, Alaska and Baja, California. The expedition-style ships come equipped with a flotilla of Zodiacs and kayaks to easily get you onto remote terrain or out for open-water snorkeling and boating; look for paddleboarding, too, come 2017. (Plus, everyone is issued a wetsuit and snorkeling gear for personal use during the course of their trip.) In sync with Lindblad Expeditions' partnership with National Geographic, you can expect to hobnob onboard with an enthusiastic staff of naturalists, oceanographers, photographers and more.
Lindblad Expeditions' sailings are priced at a premium, due to their expert staffing and complicated logistics, but their bucket list-minded clientele does skew younger on Galapagos sailings (especially during summer and holiday periods), Alaska (in July and August) and Baja sailings (particularly during the Christmas/New Year's break). Active included-in-the-rates excursions are primed for in-shape 20- and 30-somethings and include snorkeling with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos and kayaking the coastlines of the UNESCO-protected isles of Baja's Sea of Cortez. In 2017, look out for Lindblad's most active itinerary yet, "Wild Alaska Escape," which features ramped-up activities like a three-hour bicycling trip around a glacial lake, half-day mountain hikes and point-to-point kayak trips in remote regions that use the ship as a floating base camp.
- Read up on the best cruise for nature lovers.
Best for Single Travelers
For young solo travelers cruising alone, or with friends with whom they'd rather not share sleeping quarters, forking over the dreaded "single supplement" fee (often applied to a single cruiser taking up a double-occupancy cabin) can put a damper on a vacation before it even begins. Happily, that's not the case with Norwegian, which pretty much pioneered solo-friendly cabins back in 2010 with the launch of its supplement-free "studio" cabins aboard Norwegian Epic. The hip single rooms have since been introduced on Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway.
The sleek, 100-square-foot, designed-for-one cabins come with flat-screen TVs and modern mood lighting, along with access to a lounge that's exclusively reserved for studio-level passengers. All four ships are additionally decked out with dozens of dining, drinking, activity and entertainment venues that are made for mingling.
Norwegian Escape, Epic and Getaway's Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages from Miami and Port Canaveral, and Norwegian Breakaway's year-round Caribbean and Bermuda itineraries from New York are particularly well-suited to young solo travelers, thanks to snappy weeklong itineraries and embarkation/disembarkation ports in happening cities. Plus, passengers can sign up for memorable excursions, primed for meeting like-minded (and similarly aged) travelers, like riding an underwater scooter, cruising along on a beachfront Jeep safari, swimming with sea lions and more. (Note: Norwegian Getaway repositions to Europe in the summer of 2017, before returning to Florida again for the Caribbean winter sailing season.)
- Read more about our top picks for solo travelers.
Best for Honeymooners
For young newlyweds in search of a honeymoon that wows, look no further than Paul Gauguin's splurge-worthy French Polynesia sailings. The line's 332-passenger Paul Gauguin touts a retractable water sports marina, inviting active types to set out windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding or even scuba diving. (PADI diving certification can also be obtained onboard.) Plus, most alcoholic drinks are included in the rates, as is a complimentary honeymoon package, which incorporates a special Polynesian blessing ceremony and in-room Champagne.
The line's only ship sails to French Polynesia, Fiji and the South Pacific, but it's Paul Gauguin's seven-night "Tahiti & the Society Islands" itinerary that attracts the most 20- and 30-somethings onboard. It offers overnight stays in several idyllic ports, including Bora Bora, Moorea and Papeete, Tahiti, so young couples can easily partake in island nightlife. Plus, expect plenty of time for lounging on private beaches with full-service bar setups and diversions like water sports and snorkeling, along with more active shore excursion options like swimming with sharks or ATV riding.
- These cruises are are favorites for honeymoons.
Best for Young Families
Of course Disney Cruise Line is well known for catering to kiddies, but parents are by no means left out thanks to ample onboard babysitting services and supervised kids clubs, as well as adult-exclusive entertainment (game shows, dance parties, comedy acts), restaurants and nightlife districts bursting with nightclubs and bars (like "The District" aboard Disney Dream or "Europa" on Disney Fantasy). Plus, ships tout an adults-only pool area and sun deck, equipped with a poolside bar, cafe and Jacuzzis. Meanwhile, onboard spas are welcome havens for adult-friendly pampering. Kids will appreciate recent Dream enhancements like the addition of the Star Wars-themed Millennium Falcon play area in its kids' club and the Disney Infinity gameplay zone; Disney Wonder rolls out a Marvel Super Hero Academy and a new It's a Small World Nursery in fall 2016.
Disney's fleet of four ships sails to Europe, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Alaska. Sign up for active excursions like a beachfront camelback ride in Los Cabos, Mexico; surf lessons in San Juan, Puerto Rico; a volcanic hike in Santorini, Greece; and more. Or, simply stretch out on the adults-only beach, Serenity Bay, on Castaway Cay, the cruise line's private Bahamian island.
- Find more amazing family cruises.