14 October 2019

Cruise planning tips for older people

old couple on a cruise holiday

As we head towards the end of the year and the colder weather, people tend to start thinking about where they might like to go on their summer holidays. Cruises are an ever-popular option, particularly among those of us more advanced in age. With so many incredible destinations able to be visited, all from the comfort of an incredible ship with numerous amenities and luxuries, it’s not hard to see why so many choose to book a cruise. If this is something you are considering, our article on cruise planning tips for older people should be just the ticket. Travelling involves plenty of planning after all, especially for those of us who might rely on stairlifts at home to get around. So, read on for some helpful advice on planning your dream cruise holiday.

Before we dive into our tips, Kerry Spencer, editor of Cruise Critic, spoke to us about what makes cruises such a great option for older people: “There are many good reasons why a cruise makes the perfect holiday for older travellers. Cruising has two main advantages over resorts. First, cruise ships move, which means you can visit a number of exciting destinations without having to worry about exhausting transportation logistics or packing your bags several times. The second benefit is that modern-day cruise ships are packed to the gills with innovative onboard activities – beyond the flashy features like zip wires and skydiving simulators, cruises also incorporate activities like wine tastings, dance classes, educational programming and trivia games – so you will never be bored.

“A number of cruise lines have also introduced special onboard features that enhance the experience for travellers with disabilities. Whether it’s accessible cabins that open automatically, lifts in all the right places, fully accessible toilets and public areas, or just dedicated customer service, many cruise lines really do know how to provide the best comfort for those with most types of physical limitations.”

Plan for any special requirements

cruise ship

Image credit: Cruise Critic

Cruise ships are well used to catering for travellers of all ages and needs but the level of assistance on hand does vary from one cruise line to another. If you have special requirements, in terms of mobility, disabilities, or dietary requirements like diabetes, make sure to do your research and then consult the cruise line before booking. This way, you can get a good understanding of the options available and if a particular cruise line is right for you. Emrys, the founder of informational cruise blog Cruise Hive, recommends doing this as his top piece of planning advice: “Planning a cruise can be a tricky task, especially with so many different departure ports and itineraries. One of the most important tips is to always get in touch with a travel agent first as they can tell you which cruise line to go for depending on your requirements and desired region.”

Kerry from Cruise Critic advises: “Some cruise lines require passengers who have a disability to travel with a companion – so if you plan to cruise solo and have specific physical limitations, make sure you consult with the cruise line's special needs department prior to making any reservation.

“If you have difficulties walking long distances but typically don't use a wheelchair, you still might consider renting a chair or scooter, and do your research on the best cabin location – because you’re able to book your exact cabin, be sure to select one at a prime location for any mobility issues -  perhaps close to a bank of elevators, for example.  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.”

Choose the right ship

Kerry from Cruise Critic also emphasises the importance of choosing the right ship: “Picking the right ship and itinerary is essential for cruisers of any age - but there are a few particular considerations that senior travellers should take into account – especially if they have limited mobility. First, you need to decide whether you want a smaller or mid-sized ship experience – which might not offer the usual bells and whistles of larger vessels or mega-ships - but are more likely to exude a relaxed, comfortable ambience that's often appreciated by more mature travellers. Smaller vessels are also easier to get around – so you can really explore out-of-the-way places that might tick off a few must-see destinations on your bucket list. The larger ships tend to offer a range of exciting activities for all age groups - so a three-generation family can easily enjoy time together.”

Choose shore excursions you can manage

retired couple travelling

One of the most exciting prospects of any cruise holiday is the shore excursions. When looking at the itinerary of a cruise and the wonderful destinations the ship visits, it’s important to choose excursions that are suitable for you. If there are opportunities for really active days out but you know that you aren’t as mobile as you once were, perhaps consider opting for something a little more leisurely. There are normally plenty of options available so don’t make the mistake of biting off more than you can chew.

To help you in making the right choice, Kerry from Cruise Critic says to utilise the cruise line’s brochure or online information as these describe “the various excursions at each destination, the duration of the activity and a symbol indicating the physical ability required for each excursion. 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.”

Consider a shorter cruise

You might be planning your first-ever cruise and if this is the case, it would be smart to consider something on the shorter side. If you book a mammoth multi-week cruise, you might learn when you are out on the water that this mode of travelling isn’t right for you. If you are uncomfortable, it’s not like you can have the ship turn around and take you home. So, first-timers might want to consider testing the waters a little and booking a mini cruise break. If it goes well and you know that travelling this way is something you enjoy, then you can always book something a little longer next time!

In this same vein, Emrys from Cruise Hive suggests that choosing a destination closer to home is a good idea for older first-time cruisers: “Travelling a far distance is never easy so the best would be to choose a vacation at sea closer to home. You wouldn’t want somewhere too hot or way too cold even though Alaska is a good choice for older cruisers. Try the Mediterranean during the winter months as temperatures can be easy going and you can suck up all that historic culture. There are plenty of sailings from the UK too or just a short flight away to Rome or Barcelona for cruise departures.”

Kerry from Cruise Critic says that older travellers will “be pleasantly surprised by the variety of ships and destination itineraries available sailing directly from the UK. Here is an article detailing the Top 10 No-Fly UK Cruise Ships.”

Work with a cruise travel agent

mature looking man looking out to sea

Image credit: Cruise Critic

Booking a holiday can involve a lot of organising, so why not make things easier by working with a cruise travel agent? This is the top advice from cruise expert Gary Bembridge of the travel blog Tips for Travellers: “Work with a cruise travel agent to make sure they find you the best cruise line, itinerary and cabin that suits your tastes, likes, preferences and budget. Cruising differs across the many cruise lines available, and by talking to an agent and telling them what you expect from a vacation is key to finding a cruise and line that you will enjoy.

“They will discuss things like your views and preferences on everything from the degree of traditional and more formal cruising you like, and the dress codes that entails, to the type and age of other passengers you will find onboard, all the way through to the range and diversity of dining, entertainment and activities available. They will also be able to guide you towards cabins that work within your budget and requirements, for example, do you want a shower only bathroom.”

Book early

Booking well in advance is another good idea when planning a cruise. Many ships have accessible rooms, for example, but these are limited so to secure yourself one, you will need to book early. The same goes if you are travelling with a companion or family. If you would like to make sure your rooms are adjoining or close by, don’t risk disappointment and inconvenience by leaving it to the last minute. If you will be depending on your family on your trip, it will be much easier having their cabin right next to yours.

Take advantage of cabin discounts

A cruise holiday is a wonderful thing, but you don’t want to break the bank to do so. To make sure you are getting the best deals on your holiday, try to take advantage of cabin discounts that might be available. There are often certain discounts available to older travellers – you can ask your travel agent about these – but for those travelling solo can also save money by booking single occupancy rooms. Most cabins are designed for two people so if you booked one of these just for you, you will end up paying as much as two individuals. Do your research and see what savings you might be able to pick up.

Consult your doctor beforehand

doctor with older patient

Just because you aren’t as healthy as you were in your twenties, that doesn’t mean you can’t go cruising around the world. However, before setting off, you should certainly make sure to consult your doctor to make sure you are in good enough health to travel. The last thing you want is to have a medical situation occur when you are supposed to be enjoying your holiday. By seeing your doctor, you can reduce these odds while also getting any injections you might need for visiting new destinations.

Kerry from Cruise Critic also advises that older travellers “pack over-the-counter medication you often use, as well as first-aid items. Also, always bring prescription medications from home - plus extra in case the trip is extended and make sure they’re packed in your carry-on luggage, so you have them available as soon as you step foot onboard. If you are travelling 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, since not all mini-fridges are cold enough to safely keep meds.”

Buy travel insurance

Buying travel insurance is always important, regardless of age. But for those more advanced in years, it is truly vital to make sure that you are fully covered if the worst should happen. This is also one of the top tips of Kerry from Cruise Critic: “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.”

Tips for planning a cruise in older age

  • Plan for any special requirements
  • Choose the right ship
  • Choose shore excursions you can manage
  • Consider a shorter cruise
  • Work with a cruise travel agent
  • Book early
  • Take advantage of cabin discounts
  • Consult your doctor beforehand
  • Buy travel insurance

We hope the above advice and tips prove helpful when planning your upcoming cruise. Planning a cruise holiday is an exciting time so make the most of it and prepare in the right way! By being organised and thinking about the details mentioned above, you can truly relax and look forward to your departure date.

For further tips pertinent to stairlift users, read more helpful articles on our news and advice page.