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Planning a Retirement Cruise? Top Ten Tips From an Experienced Cruiser

Category: Adventurous retirement

April 30, 2012 — Wow.  There is just so much to learn about taking a cruise that it is hard to know where to start. Here is the first of a series of articles about cruising that we hope will help you sort through the many first-questions you need to address.  We start here with general tips, Part 2 covers more specific types of cruises.  These articles are by Patricia Kennedy who has taken and thoroughly enjoyed many cruises all over the world. If you want to share your cruising experience, contact us via the Contact Us link, or post a Comment to this article.

One of the first things many folks do when they retire is plan a great vacation. Now that you have time to travel, cruising offers you world-wide options.

Finding a cruise that you will enjoy shouldn’t be difficult, since the cruise industry operates on a simple, but inspired, strategy of offering something for everyone. The harder initial decision is deciding upon the specific itinerary, the type of cruise, and size of the ship that floats your boat – so to speak.

An ocean voyage across the Atlantic? A cruise that circumnavigates New Zealand? A riverboat down the Mississippi? As long as there is navigable-water, there is a cruise to enjoy. There’s even a new trend in cruising according to a recent New York Times travel piece — music cruising — where a floating rock festival is grafted onto a passenger ship.

Yours truly and her faithful traveling companion have enjoyed many cruises over the years from a trip down the Nile and another up the Yangtze, around New Zealand, and several Caribbean vacations — all of which were fantastic experiences. This article is not a complete cruise-how-to, but I’d like to share my best advice on how to select a cruise that’s right for you.

Nice France

Entering the harbor of Nice, France

1. Start With An Overview

  • You might want to start with one of the many printed travel books that cover cruising, but this should be viewed as a starting point only because information changes so frequently. Try to find a book that was published no earlier than 2011 for the most reliable information. Your favorite independent bookstore or Amazon are always good resources.
  • For an Internet resources check out Cruise Lines International Association’s website. CLIA, the world’s largest cruise association which is dedicated to the promotion and growth of the cruise industry, is composed of 26 of the major cruise lines serving North America.
  •  There are also many cruise ship blogs that you might want to peruse for the latest information and hottest trends in cruising. Blogs are also a great for tips on how to make the most of your trip. Two blogs to try are Cruise Blog and another sponsored by Cruise Critic.

2. Determine Your Budget
You can do a budget cruise, or you can embark on a sky’s-the-limit option. It’s up to you to decide just how much to spend. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to find just the right cruise. If you’re looking for a bargain, though, some experts suggest the following two tips:

  • Book very early – more than nine months in advance
  • Book late – just a few weeks before sailing

3. Include Expense Money For Excursions and Side Trips
Almost every cruise offers many land excursions. These can be really fun and interesting, but be sure to inquire as to the cost as they usually come at an extra cost. My traveling companion and I find that these extra jaunts so worth the money.


Looking down on the Windstar from Santorini, Greece

4. Decide Where You Want to Go
OK, that sounds elementary, but you have literally the world to choose from. Your budget, available time and the season will all influence your decision. Start with a Google search — using cruising for retirees as your search term– and you will find more information than you can possibly absorb. But after several hours with this information, you should be able to narrow down your dream trip to several geographic options. Explore this link to an page that has well organized information  on the many geographic options to choose from with lots of great detail.

5. Explore Your Options: Ship Size
Next think about the type of ship that would best suit you. Do you want to enjoy the myriad activities that a 5,000 passenger ship offers? Or does a 100 passenger ship that offers a special itinerary such as visiting the antiquities along the Nile seem a better choice for you?

Cruise Ship ready for next stop

  • CruiseAdvice:  This site provides comprehensive, professionally-written and well organized cruise ship information, including, which are the best (and worst) cabins on board the ship, cruise ship activities, dozens of ship pictures and video tours of cruise ships and more.
  • How to Choose the Perfect Cruise Line For You is the next article in this series and will be published soon.  It will discuss detailed information about cruises tailored to specific interests with suggestions for cruise lines that specialize in just those interests.

6. Explore Your Options: On-board Activities
Should you choose a ship with special services for older folks? Or one where lectures are part of the daily program? Our Danube River cruise included on-shore musical performances. We were prepared for each concert by a renowned Yale University professor of music who enhanced our enjoyment enormously. Many universities offer such education-enriched cruises such as the Harvard or Yale’s Alumni Associations.

Exploring Caribbean Islands via smaller cruise ship

7. Challenge Yourself
Sometimes side trips require accessing a mode of transport that might feel a bit of a challenge to you such as climbing into a rubber Zodiac boat to visit a remote island, or riding a donkey up to the top of a scenic view in Santorini. Be sure to ask the tour director about the level of difficulty before the trip, but if your health and mobility allow, go for it. We’ve found that the cruise ships’ staff are very helpful, and know just how to assist when needed.

8. Find Out Who Else Will Be On Board
You’ll be traveling with a group – and often in tight quarters. You probably won’t want to be on a cruise ship that caters to spring-break students. And perhaps you’d rather not share a vacation with young children (unless you specifically want to cruise with your grandchildren!). If you’re like me, you do not enjoy late-night partying in the corridors at 2 am, nor temper tantrums in the dining room.

Here are some tips to consider if you want to be on a ship that limits the number of children:

  • Do research to find out which cruise lines have mostly adult-only facilities on board.
  • Scroll through online forums such as Cruise Critic for real-life feedback, including comments on the ships that cater to adults primarily.
  • Choose a cruise date during the school year, especially at the beginning of the school year when parents are more reluctant to take children out of school.
  • Choose a longer itinerary. Families tend to choose shorter trips.
  • And, of course, avoid Disney cruises if you’d prefer to be child-free.
  • Crystal, Holland America, and Princess are known for catering to more mature adults.

9. Don’t Think of This as Your One and Only Cruise
Don’t feel as if you need to pick the perfect cruise the first time. Chances are you’ll find that you love cruising and will enjoy finding another option for your next trip.

10. Talk to a Travel Agent Who Specializes in Cruises
Finally, get some expert advice! There are travel agents who specialize in cruises, and then there are travel agents who specialize in cruises for retirees. Again, Google is a great resource here. Review the various sites that come up when you key in Travel agents who specialize in cruises for seniors. Here are a few suggestions:

Part 2:  Part 2 covers information about cruises tailored to specific interests.

Do you have some great tips for our readers about how to enjoy a great cruise? We’d like to hear those in the space below.

[jbox jbox_css=”border:6px solid #7c7c7c;padding-left:2em;” vgradient=”#dfdfdf|#ffffff” title=”About the Author” radius=”10″ radius=”5″ shadow=”15″]
Patricia Kennedy, a branding and marketing consultant, is transitioning to a more relaxed way of living. She lives in Boston but escapes in the winter to Key West, Florida and to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the summer. Pat’s website is [/jbox]

Posted by Admin on April 30th, 2012


  1. One additional tip of many: If you have any special dietary concerns, be assured they can be accommodated. I have a friend who is a vegan, and I have an adult child with Celiac disease; no matter the circumstances, cruise lines are excellent addressing all dietary needs – just let them know ahead of time and they will work with you.

    Jan Cullinane, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (John Wiley, October 16, 2012)

    The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale)

    by Jan Cullinane — May 1, 2012

  2. The author recommends Crystal, Holland America, and Princess as catering to more mature adults. Crystal is extremely expensive. The average age on Holland America runs about 80. Haven’t cruised with Princess.

    Before I did my first cruise, I did extensive research about cruiselines. It appeared that Celebrity Cruises provided the sort of atmosphere I was looking for. Off I went and discovered I loved cruising! You pack and unpack only once. Your hotel moves, not you. I did go and try Holland America once, but wasn’t impressed. I’m very happy with Celebrity. Not many kids, but I tend to take longer cruises now. Currently have over a month on board in Europe scheduled for next year!

    A word about tours. I highly recommend that you join Cruise Critic and connect with the people who will be on your cruise via the roll call for that cruise. You can arrange for private, independent shore excursions with your fellow cruisers. Which would you prefer–being on a bus with 60 other people or in a nimble van with 10 or fewer people? Walking right in to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg with your small group (because your private guide has prearranged admission) or standing in line with the other 60 people from your bus?

    Cruising is a wonderful way to see the world! I highly recommend it. Be sure to find a good travel agent.

    Editor’s note: Thanks Linda for these very helpful comments! You highlighted the thing i love most about cruising – it’s so easy when your hotel moves along with you!

    by Linda Jessen — May 1, 2012

  3. Does size matter? Some people want a more intimate experience; others want the bells and whistles that larger ships provide. With larger ships, you sometimes need to take a tender to get into a smaller port. But, if you’re susceptible to motion sickness (like I am), you’ll feel less movement on a larger ship. I’ve been on Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity and have enjoyed all of them.

    Jan Cullinane

    by Jan Cullinane — May 2, 2012

  4. I went on my first cruise last year on a Princess ship and loved it! There were a lot of older people as well. In fact, there was a single cruise going on of baby boomers (we met 2 women who were part of that package). I would recommend Princess to anyone.

    by Staceyjill — May 2, 2012

  5. Any advise for the single cruiser? I can’t seem to find a fellow traveler on the same schedule or with the same destination in mind. It has put a real crimp in my cruising!

    by LuluM — May 2, 2012

  6. LuluM,

    VacationstoGo ( has a helpful site for single cruisers and runs a “match” program if you want a roommate.

    Jan Cullinane, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (John Wiley & Sons, October 16, 2012; available for pre-order on Amazon; B&N)

    The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale)

    by Jan Cullinane — May 3, 2012

  7. One thing you need to know is where the crew is from and how they are trained. Needless to say, I am a nurse and I have learned much from my patients here in Washington, DC. One never gets on a ship with a crew that you cannot rely on and you may not realize until a disaster hits. I have been told my naval officers, to stick with crews trained in the USA, England Germany,and Canada. The Costa Con Cordia is only one example of a crew that abandoned theid posts on the ship as it was sinking.

    by Jennifer — May 3, 2012

  8. Jennifer, were you there? From what I’ve read, the crew of the Costa Concordia did not abandon their posts. The captain caused the problem and did not timely give the order to abandon ship. And he’s the one who abandoned his post. That was documented by the coast guard.

    I think you will be hard pressed to find crews trained in the USA. No major cruise lines operate US flagged ships.

    by Linda Jessen — May 4, 2012

  9. From what I read the crew was panicking and ineffective. Did you not see the line of people linked to each other trying to get off the hull of the half submerged ship? The crew was telling them to go back to their cabins! Yes some of the crew–not all I am sure–did abandon ship–not just the Captain.

    I also know someone personally who was on a beautiful cruise near Indonesia and her ship went down in the middle of the night–it was struck by another ship which was carring oil.She said it was a warm weather Titanic situation. The crew, however, did NOT know how to deploy the lifeboats and also were abandoning ship. She had ten minutes to get to her cabin and get a life vest–she decided to get into a life boat that was still on the ship thinking it would at least rise to the surface. The ship was in warm water and if not for an oil leak, the few people that survived would have been shark bait. The last thing she remembers was going down under the water and then resurfacing—she had inhaled a bit of the oil on the surface of the water and has permanent lung damage. This one occurred in 1992 and still highlights that you must know that the crew is well trained and would know what to do without panicking in an emergency. Many of the crew on foreign ships cannot speak the languages of some of the passengers. I would NOT get on just any ship–unless I was sure of the training.

    I have been on ships with Europeans and Americans who were crew members. I had no doubt they were well trained and could communicate with mos of the passengers. Of course, I did not have to see them put to the test.

    by Jennifer — May 5, 2012

  10. Well, I am confident of the crew’s training on the ships I sail on. I see them training all the time. They practice lowering the lifeboats while the ship is in port. Unlike Costa, there is a mandatory evacuation drill before the ship sails. All passengers must attend. And I know that the crew speaks my language because I converse with them. Even before the Costa Concordia sank, I would never have considered sailing on a Costa ship. Or some unknown brand. You don’t mention the name of the beautiful cruise your friend was on.

    In my view, cruising is safer than driving in America provided you do your due diligence about the cruiseline you’re sailing with.

    by Linda Jessen — May 6, 2012

  11. […] many choices, how should one go about deciding a cruise that suits your particular interests?  Our first article on cruising provided general tips.  Now, we will focus on the myriad of specialty or “theme” cruises that […]

    by » How to Choose A Specialty Cruise? Tips From an Experienced Cruiser Topretirements — June 1, 2012

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