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Are you one of those travelers who wants to blow a gasket every time you see a crying kid on an airplane? It’s OK, we get it. But we do have some advice to offer should you be thinking of booking a cruise: Tread carefully.
Some of the biggest, best-known cruise brands in recent years have gone full-bore after the family market, to the extent that the sun-soaked top decks of their ships sometimes can feel more like a scene out of “Daddy Day Care” than a blissful vacation retreat.
If your idea of getting away from it all includes getting away from the kids — not just yours but everybody else’s — you’ll probably want to steer clear of such family-magnet ships as Royal Caribbean’s new Symphony of the Seas, which has enough pull-out sofas and pull-down bunks in cabins to accommodate more than 1,000 children (not to mention the Ultimate Family Suite). Ditto for the new floating resorts from the likes of MSC Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, which are luring in families by the busload with giant water slides, deck-top go-kart tracks, virtual reality game zones and other kid-friendly features.
And do we even need to mention family-focused Disney Cruise Line?
But don’t despair. Even as many lines double down on the family market, there’s a counter-trend taking place in the cruise industry. A growing number of lines are going all-in on the idea of adult-only cruises. Here, five brands that are catering specifically to a grown-up crowd.
The much-ballyhooed new line under development by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group will ban children under the age of 18 from its ships — part of an effort to create a hipper, more-sophisticated, millennial-friendly vibe that it thinks is sorely lacking in the cruise world.
“We have done a ton of research really trying to create a sophisticated experience,” Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said at a February press event moderated by The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly. “I’ve done some personal research. We found that when you put kids in the pool, they scream, and we don’t want that.”
Scheduled to debut in April 2020 but already open for bookings, Virgin Voyages’ first ship, the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, will cater to millennials with such offerings as a karaoke lounge with pink-and-purple karaoke rooms, the first tattoo parlor at sea and drag queen brunches. There also will be plenty of nontraditional entertainment including guest DJ performances, interactive dance parties, “micro-plays” and games of dodgeball that don’t start until after midnight.
What you won’t find on Scarlet Lady are waterslides, watery splash zones, teen lounges and all the other family-friendly features that are becoming so common on bigger ships.
Fares start at $750 per person for a four-night Caribbean cruise.
In banning children under the age of 18 from its ships, Virgin Voyages is taking a page from fast-growing Viking’s playbook. The line’s six-ship ocean cruise division has banned children under the age of 18 since it debuted in 2015, and its 72-ship river cruise division has had some sort of minimum age limit for more than two decades (initially it had a cut-off of 12; as of January, that jumped to 18, too).
Not that Virgin and Viking are anything alike. If Virgin is the line for millennials, Viking is the anti-millennial line. Its target market is squarely in the 55-plus bracket, and it zeroes in on that demographic with an upscale, destination-focused experience that is heavy on what the industry likes to call “enrichment” — onboard lectures and other learning opportunities, included tours focused on history and culture and entertainment that is more string quartet than dancers-in-string-bikinis or midnight dodgeball.
“What we’re looking to do is try not to be everything for everyone,” Viking’s executive vice president of marketing, Richard Marnell, told TPG. “We do not have a kids program. What we have is . . . [an] immersive experience that is best suited for people that are intellectually curious.”
Fares start at $1,999 for a seven-night Europe cruise.
Like Virgin Voyages, start-up river line U River Cruises (until recently called U by Uniworld) is going after the millennial market with what it’s billing as a hipper kind of cruising that isn’t for the kids. Created as an offshoot of longtime river cruise company Uniworld, the line operates two adults-only ships that boast sleek, matte black exteriors, mixologists and DJs on board, deck-top yoga and communal tables for dining. Accommodations include studio bedrooms, some of which hold up to three people.
A key concept of the line is to stay in destinations longer and later into the night, allowing passengers to enjoy the local nightlife.
Launched in 2018, U River Cruises initially had a ban on travelers both young and old. The brand only took bookings from passengers in the age range of 21 to 45, but it has loosened the age restriction and now is open to anyone who is at least 18.
Fares start at $1,539 for a seven-night Danube cruise.
This storied British line clearly sees the demand for adults-only cruise ships, but it isn’t giving up on the family market, either. The line splits the difference between the two segments with five of its seven vessels marketed as “family friendly” and open to passengers of all ages, while the other two are reserved exclusively for adults. That number jumped to three in April when the 1,874-passenger Aurora switched from family-friendly to grown-up-only cruising after an overhaul. But it’ll drop back to two in August when the line’s adult-only, 1,880-passenger Oriana leaves the fleet.
Given that more than 95% of the Southampton, England-based cruise line’s passengers are British, you’ll probably want to be either British yourself or a major Anglophile to consider booking. Sailing with P&O Cruises is a very British experience, something that becomes clear the moment you see its vessels (they feature hulls painted with massive Union Jacks). You’ll find quintessentially British offerings on board such as elaborate afternoon teas, quoits on the top deck and restaurant menus designed by chefs that are big in the UK, such as Marco Pierre White.
That said, if you’re a Princess Cruises fan, you might feel right at home on a P&O Cruises ship. Nestled under the same corporate umbrella, the two brands have been longtime sisters that have swapped ships back-and-forth. They currently operate several vessels that use the same basic platform. The current P&O Cruises flagship, Britannia, is of the same Royal Class design as the last three Princess ships.
For booking purposes, P&O Cruises considers anyone who will be 18 or older at the time of sailing an adult.
Fares start at £219 (about $285) for a two-night Europe cruise.
Like P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises is a British line that has honed in on the business of offering voyages just for adults. But in shunning younger travelers, it goes way beyond what P&O Cruises or any other line is doing. The minimum age at Saga Cruises isn’t 18 or even 21. It’s 50!
Fares start at $750 per person for a four-night Caribbean cruise.
That’s right, you won’t find a single millennial or even that many Generation Xers on board a Saga Cruises ship (at 53, even the oldest members of Generation X just barely make the cut-off). What you will find is a heck of a lot of Baby Boomers, many of them retired.
Saga Cruises operates just two ocean vessels, both of which sail exclusively out of the UK, plus several river ships. Like P&O Cruises, it’s a product that is probably best for British travelers or big-time Anglophiles.
Fares start at £749 (about $978) per person for a four-night ocean cruise.
Other Adult-Focused Lines
In addition to lines that ban passengers under the age of 18 outright, there are a number of cruise operators that allow young children but get relatively few of them. Examples include such upscale lines as Silversea and Seabourn. Small-ship specialist Windstar allows tweens and teenagers on its six ships, but doesn’t allow any children under the age of eight. Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which sells both ocean and river cruises, traditionally discourages customers from bringing passengers under the age of 12 on vessels except during Christmas holiday sailings.
Do you have a favorite cruise line for getting away from the kids? Share your experience and tips with fellow TPG readers by leaving a comment below.
Featured photo by Andre Ouellet / Unsplash.
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