Updated August 21, 2018
Baby boomers and older cruise travelers can't be easily pigeonholed. Seniors are a diverse group -- encompassing a huge age range (50s to 90s), ability level and interests -- and we bet most feel they're too young (or young at heart) to be labeled an "older" or "mature" cruiser. You're just as likely to find so-called seniors sipping afternoon tea or listening to an expert discuss archeology as you are to see them zipping down a giant waterslide or entertaining fellow travelers in the karaoke bar. When it's time to explore a port, they can be found on a tour bus exploring Paris or dog sledding in Alaska. They might be traveling solo, as a couple or with a multigenerational group.
That said, certain travel issues are especially relevant to this group, whether it's special deals for cruise travelers 50 and older or the importance of trip insurance and allowances for those with dietary or mobility restrictions. If you are new to cruising or if your travel needs are beginning to change as you reach retirement years, these cruise tips for the over-50 crowd can make your next vacation wrinkle-free.
Save Money with Senior Discounts and Solo Cabins
Seniors have access to certain discounts not available to younger cruisers through special senior fares or promotions. Ask your travel or booking agent whether any cruise lines are offering discounted senior rates. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers up to $100 off the price of a cruise or a 5 percent discount if you book at least nine months in advance. The deal is for members of AARP and is good for select cruises to Alaska, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe and Hawaii -- look for sailings with a red "A" icon. Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line also offer senior discounts on some cruises for travelers 55 and up.
Typically, cabins are designed for double occupancy, and an individual traveling alone pays almost as much as two people. But seniors who travel solo can save money by booking on a ship with single-occupancy rooms. For example, on P&O Cruises' Azura, 130-square-foot single cabins feature an oversized single bed and writing desk. Norwegian Cruise Line's studio staterooms are single rooms with access to an exclusive studio lounge where solo travelers can socialize while enjoying complimentary coffee, espresso and snacks. You can increasingly find single rooms on the newest cruise ships.
Always Buy Travel Insurance
A missed connection, lost luggage or a sudden illness can ruin a trip. Travel insurance can help mitigate costs when something does go wrong. It can reimburse you for trip cancellation, cover the cost of a medical evacuation in the event of an emergency or simply give you access to a help line if you get stranded and need to rebook flights or hotel rooms. While we recommend that everyone purchase comprehensive travel insurance for major trips, it's especially useful for seniors who are more likely to have medical issues come up pre- or post-cruise or perhaps don't feel as comfortable making new arrangements on the fly if something goes wrong.
Even if you have health insurance, don't assume you are protected abroad. Most plans do not provide coverage outside of the country, and many do not cover you on a foreign-flagged vessel. Medicare does not provide health coverage outside the United States.
The price tag for travel insurance is determined by a variety of factors, such as your age, duration of the trip and cost of the trip. Many medical and trip cancellation policies will cover you if you have a pre-existing condition. However, the insurance usually needs to be purchased within a specified time frame. Always buy travel insurance within a week of making the first payment toward a trip to get the maximum coverage. The smartest strategy is to discuss insurance needs with a qualified professional prior to booking a cruise.
Be Your Own Pharmacy
You can save money and avoid hassles by being prepared for potential illness or injury on a cruise vacation. For example, many cruise lines provide passengers with complimentary motion sickness medication, but additional types of seasickness remedies, such as wristbands and patches may not be available. Buy those items at home so you have quick access if you start feeling ill. Pack over-the-counter medication you often use, as well as first-aid items, like Band-Aids or an Ace bandage. Also, always bring prescription medications from home and pack extra in case the trip is extended. You don't want to rely on the ship's pharmacy stocking your particular pills or pay out of pocket for an onboard refill. If you are traveling with medications that need refrigeration, check with the cruise line well in advance of sailing (30 to 60 days) to see what arrangements can be made. Not all minifridges are cold enough to safely keep meds.
Major cruise lines have infirmaries, but the service is limited to minor non-emergencies and to stabilizing passengers with life-threatening conditions. Just like at home, there are fees to see the doctor, but unlike at home, the ship's doctor won't take your health insurance. Save yourself a trip to the infirmary by being prepared with necessary medications, and only visit when you definitely need to see a doctor.
Choose Shore Tours You Can Do
Cruise lines offer organized shore excursions at every port. These fee-based activities range from swimming with stingrays and whale watching to coach tours and cooking classes. If you want to leave the planning to someone else, join a shore excursion. Just make sure your physical abilities are up to the tour's requirements.
Typically, the cruise lines have a brochure or online information describing the various excursions at each destination, the duration of the activity and a symbol indicating the physical ability required for each excursion. For example, Royal Caribbean labels all its tours as mild, moderate or strenuous and denotes wheelchair-accessible tours. Tour descriptions alert potential tour-goers to extended periods of walking or standing, uneven walking terrain and even activities that might not be suitable for passengers with pre-existing medical conditions. Don't overestimate your abilities, or you'll end up paying for a tour that you might not fully enjoy.
In general, passengers who use wheelchairs or cannot walk up steps should discuss their needs with the cruise line's special needs department and/or the excursions department. Very few excursions are wheelchair accessible.
While it is tempting to overindulge on food and alcohol, both can play havoc with your health and enjoyment on a cruise. (Remember, you're not 21 anymore!) Balance the meals with invigorating walks or join one of the numerous exercise classes. Mix up special treats like steak and huge desserts with healthier items from the menu (often denoted with a special symbol). Know your limits when it comes to alcohol, and follow a boozy night with a more sedate day.
It's also easy to overdo it with too many activities, especially when long days of sightseeing are followed by late nights enjoying the ship's entertainment. Spend a few minutes reviewing the ship's daily newsletter -- usually provided each night -- to determine in advance which of the following day's activities sound most appealing. If you have stayed up later than usual dancing on deck, sleep in and order room service. Tired from multiple days of touring? Stay onboard the ship when it is in port and relax at the spa or poolside without the typical crowds.
Plan in Advance if You Have Special Needs
Cruise ships provide a variety of assistance, services and accommodations for passengers with special needs, but offerings vary from one cruise line to another and even from one ship to another in the same fleet. For example, MSC offers a dining menu for people who have diabetes, and Celebrity Cruises has pool lifts (a chair that carries a person into the water) on all of its ships. Passengers who have disabilities should consult with the cruise line before booking a trip to understand what options and rules apply to their situation. Just like with hotels, cruise ships offer a small number of accessible staterooms, so book early if you need one.
Some cruise lines require passengers who have a disability to travel with a companion. To avoid disappointment, would-be solo travelers should consult with the cruise line's special needs department prior to making a reservation.
If you have difficulties walking long distances but typically don't use a wheelchair, you still might consider renting a chair or scooter. The cruise ship carries a limited number of wheelchairs, which are reserved for passengers who have a medical emergency. You can rent mobility aids, as well as oxygen and respiratory aids, from a provider like Special Needs at Sea.
Another major concern, especially for passengers with mobility issues, is access at the ports. Many destinations must be reached by tender, a small boat that transports passengers from the cruise ship to the pier area; getting in and out of a tender requires some agility, and the boats are typically not wheelchair accessible. When booking, look for ports that don't rely on tendering and familiarize yourself with your cruise line's policies on accessible tendering. You don't want to end up stuck on the ship when your plan was to explore ashore.
Make New Friends
One of the great joys of cruising is the countless opportunities to meet new people -- whether you're traveling alone or not. The strangers you meet at breakfast might become cherished friends and future travel companions. Strike up a conversation over cocktails or while playing a game of trivia, or invite a friendly couple to join you for dinner. Get to know your fellow passengers before leaving home by visiting the Roll Call forums on Cruise Critic's message boards.
Another way to meet like-minded folks is to choose a themed cruise or one with a special event. Think of a hobby, celebrity or activity you enjoy, and there probably is a cruise that caters to that particular interest. For example, foodies might enjoy a cruise with a guest chef, cooking demonstrations and excursions to restaurants at the ports. While you are exchanging recipes with a new acquaintance, you might find yourself exchanging e-mail addresses and planning to meet again on your next cruise.