This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section.
If the Love Boat was the last cruise ship you saw, it’s definitely time to revisit this popular vacation mode.
Ever since Captain Stubing sailed off into the sunset in 1990, cruising has evolved to the point where there really is something for everyone.
Today’s cruises last anywhere from three days to three months or longer. You can float down the Mississippi or venture to Antarctica. Your ship might be the size of a floating city or a private yacht. Cruise themes range from foreign culture to Disney. Entertainment covers everything from casinos and climbing walls to espresso bars and cooking classes.
Why do so many people like cruises, particularly as they get older?
“They like the stress-free aspect of cruising,” says Carol Lekki, a longtime travel agent and owner of Carol’s Travel in Tinley Park. “There is always someone there taking care of you every step of the trip. You unpack once and still see several destinations. People also like to go to foreign ports and have guides who speak English, then return to the ship and enjoy the Western style food and service they are used to. There is medical assistance on board a cruise ship, as well.”
A cruise vacation means no hassles obtaining a restaurant reservation, renting a car, figuring out bus or train schedules, buying admission tickets, or toting luggage.
Dorothy and Norbert (last name withheld upon request), who split their time between Smith Village in Beverly and Largo, Florida, have taken full advantage of the cruising world throughout their marriage.They have taken more than 100 cruises since 1954, when they decided to take a jaunt to Havana, Cuba. Over the years they cruised with other couples, and made friends with people all over the world.
“We always have our bags packed, so we are prepared when our travel agent calls us if she finds a good deal,” Dorothy says.After traversing seven continents and 114 countries, Norbert says his favorite destination is the Panama Canal. He has been there three times, and he’s not done yet.“We are going to the Arctic Circle in June,” he says. “At 87 years old I can say I’ve been to the far south of the earth and now I’m going to the far north of the earth.”
Rolling on the river
River cruises, particularly on European waterways, are the fastest growing segment in cruising, largely due to retiring baby boomers’ desire to explore foreign countries. Viking is the leader in this segment with 49 percent of the market, and 55 ships in Europe alone.
“Our product is geared toward the mature traveler,” says Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing at Viking Cruises. That means: No wave pools, no zip lines, no kids under 12.“What we do provide is learning and engaging with a culture,” Marnell says. “Our guests are looking to learn and explore and gain an appreciation of the history and culture of a place. So we look to spend as much time in port as possible.”
Cruise pricing varies widely because there are so many options. For example, a 15-day Viking River Cruise from Budapest-Amsterdam starts at $3,762 per person. A three-night cruise around the Caribbean can be as low as a few hundred dollars per person. A months-long ocean cruise around the world ranges from the price of a car to the price of a house.
It’s important to note that cruise lines tout their trips as all-inclusive, but there may be hidden costs, such as tipping policies, a la carte activity charges, and add-on alcohol programs
.Ask the experts
When considering a cruise, Lekki recommends consulting an experienced travel agent to help you make the right choice.
“There are so many cruise lines out there, and they each have a different personality. We help clients sort through the overwhelming information they will find when they search on the Internet,” she says. “You want to get it right, match your air flight times perfectly, your transfers to and from the ship, and make sure the dining experience suits you.”
If you’re concerned about mobility and walking conditions during shore excursions, an agent can help you choose an appropriate ship and itinerary.
“For someone who has difficulty walking, a European river cruise might not be the best option for them because many destinations are not geared toward wheelchairs, walkers or canes. Travelers often must navigate cobblestone streets and stairways,” she says. “It’s all a matter of interviewing and finding out clients’ personal likes, budget, and destinations they are interested in,” Lekki says. “I think it’s on the bucket list of a lot of people if they haven’t cruised by the time they are seniors.”