It could be the salty tang of off-shore breezes or simply the thrill of sailing across oceans that adds piquancy to friendships and romances forged at sea. Yet cruises have moved on since the days when devotees were infamously described as “newlywed, overfed and nearly dead”.
Ships can now be a proverbial melting pot of nationalities, ages and personalities and while traditionalists may still fly the flag for classic cruising, there’s a new generation rising up the ranks.
Increasingly, you’ll find families and millennials packing the decks on some sailings – but with an ever-widening array of cruise styles, it’s good to know who your shipmates are likely to be.
“Cruising is a great leveller,” explained cruise expert Scott Anderson. “It’s easy to strike up conversation at the bar and you never know who your fellow cruisers are.
“Once I met the family who owns Singha beer in Thailand and, on another occasion, had a fascinating chat with someone who’d booked to go into space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.”
Certain cruise lines appeal to a particular demographic, as do specific ships, so whether you want to join enthusiasts to delve into the intricacies of Greek mythology on a cultural voyage, or rock the boat – quite literally – on a banging party cruise, here’s our guide to who you can expect to meet on-board.
Dial up the vibe and roll back the years
With tattoo parlours, drag queen brunches and in-room sex kits, newcomer Virgin Voyages is no shrinking violet – and neither are its guests, who slot into a younger, trend-setting cohort led mainly by American and British revellers.
It’s a similar story on US brand Carnival Cruise Line, where the party theme prevails, particularly on short-break sailings from Florida to Nassau where there can be something of a pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap mentality. Revelries tend to peak on “spring break” cruises in March/April when US university students flock to Florida, many of them taking to the seas on the likes of larger Carnival ships and those of Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) with their full-on buzzing vibe.
Mini cruises from the UK, on the likes of P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, to Amsterdam and other Channel ports, also have more of a sociable feel, bolstered by groups of friends, stag and hen parties. These are known for more “vertical drinking” as guests crowd around bars, with talk that the ships’ best furniture is sometimes swapped for cheaper alternatives on these voyages.
Best of British and olde world
Traditionalists and more mature cruisers tend to be drawn to the cosy camaraderie of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, Saga Cruises and Ambassador Cruise Line, where there’s a familiar feel of home, from roast beef and sticky toffee pudding on menus to bingo bouts, pints of Newkie Brown, plus kettles in cabins, essential for that refreshing morning cuppa.
Attracting a mix of couples and families is Marella Cruises, which comes with a fun and friendly resort-style atmosphere, not dissimilar to the line’s parent company Tui’s mass-market package holidays. There’s an emphasis on efficient and friendly service, good value for money, decent food and tip-top entertainment delivered with a suitably British flourish.
Sailing from UK ports is another big plus for older passengers who may be more reluctant to battle with airport queues, so outside of school holidays expect to find a larger contingent of older customers on other lines that sail from home shores, notably P&O, Princess Cruises, Celebrity and MSC, which also sport familiar touches to appeal to their UK customers.
With afternoon teas served by white-gloved waiters and black-tie gala dinners, Cunard Line builds on its rich heritage with added formality, attracting a more refined crowd of Brits. However, its transatlantic sailings on ocean liner Queen Mary 2 tempt a high number of Americans keen to make this iconic crossing.
It’s also the only sailing where guests are joined by a sprinkling of four-legged friends, who are accommodated in the ship’s kennels. There’s an accompanying exercise deck, complete with a British lamp post and New York City fire hydrant to give the pooches a taste of home.
In the family way – or not
When school’s out, cruises are in, as hundreds of youngsters climb aboard ships packed to the funnels with attractions for all ages. Virtually all the main cruise names cater for children, and the bigger the ship (more like floating resorts in some cases), the higher the thrill quotient.
Top of the family stakes is Disney Cruise Line with Mickey Mouse and his crew in command, while NCL, Royal Caribbean and MSC follow close behind with their mix of aqua parks and water slides, ice-skating rinks, climbing walls and racing tracks. Carnival Cruise Line, with its all-American vibe, is another, with racing roller coasters.
If you’re looking for a more rarefied ambience away from the excited shrieks of youngsters, avoid family-orientated ships during the school holidays. Alternatively, opt for lines such as Virgin, Viking or Saga where children are not permitted, or P&O Cruises’ adult-only ships. It’s also worth considering smaller, premium brands including Oceania Cruises, Silversea or Seabourn where any children will be older, and few and far between.
The heritage of some cruise companies brings a foreign flair – and though US giants dominate the cruising world, it’s not all American apple pie and glitz. While continental lines invariably have international sailings catering for English-speaking guests, their roots shine through, so expect to meet German guests on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, French sea-goers on Gallic line Ponant and Aussies on Scenic.
However, cruise departure ports also play their part in the cultural mix of ships. If you’re sailing from Barcelona, there could be a sizeable contingent of Spanish guests in large family groups who like to dine late (and I mean late – around 9pm or 10pm), whereas Americans are often first into the restaurants at around 5.30pm. Sailing from Vancouver? Then you’ll be mingling with a fair number of Canadians. But on large ships, it’s not unusual to have 20-30 nationalities among the passenger mix.
You’re not alone
More cruise ships now have single cabins for solo travellers and there are targeted special offers too, though there’s always a danger on large ships that you can feel like a spare part, as the sheer number of passengers means there’s little chance of bumping into like-minded people.
Fred Olsen, Saga and Cunard are single-traveller favourites with dedicated social events, cruise hosts and, in some cases, even gentleman host dancers who will twirl ladies around the dance floor. The more intimate feel of these smaller ships makes it easier to strike up conversation, whether at general knowledge quizzes, in the bar or while pondering over communal jigsaw puzzles. NCL has its own dedicated solo Studios area with single cabins clustered together with access to their own bar and lounge. There’s even a whiteboard where people post what they’re doing and where they’re meeting.
Explorers not cruisers
If you’re keen to explore the world’s most remote corners – in the company of passengers who don’t regard themselves as cruisers and wouldn’t dream of setting foot on a mass market ship – then join an expeditionary voyage. Adventure lines such as Quark Expeditions, G Adventures and Aurora Expeditions primarily attract well travelled, well read and erudite guests, who are usually also fit and active – which they need to be to keep up with the hikes, snorkelling expeditions, and rib-boat trips.
It’s a similar scenario on the new generation of luxury expedition ships with upscale lines including Scenic, Ponant and Silversea, where the premise is similar, but in more luxurious surroundings, with butlers, haute cuisine restaurants and spa pamperings – so expect these guests to have deeper pockets.
Cultural devotees are of a similar ilk, with many having a particular interest in the destination (think Norway for Hurtigruten and Havila Voyages; Greece for Celestyal Cruises; Scotland for Hebridean Island Cruises) or a particular topic with wine and food-themed cruises, historical sailings or musical jaunts.
Small is beautiful
As a select and, in some cases, more premium product, smaller ships and mega-yachts attract a clientele to match, who tend to be more sophisticated and less bothered about glitzy attractions. Aboard the so-called “six star” lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Seabourn, you’ll find a moneyed 50s-plus crowd of entrepreneurs, industry leaders and rich retirees, while tall ship lines such as Star Clippers, Sea Cloud and Windstar, and the mega yachts of SeaDream Yacht Club and Emerald Cruises, are a magnet for those wanting a more authentic and intimate style of cruising.
The perfect cruise to suit your age
Silent Generation (75yrs+)
Specialising in the over-50s market, Saga Cruises concentrates on making its cruises as worry-free and smooth sailing as possible, with prices that include all food and drink, sightseeing excursions, gratuities and a door-to-door chauffeur service. With sailings from UK ports, there are no airports and flights to worry about and shipboard prices are in sterling too. Rates also include travel insurance with Covid cover.
How to do it: Dramatic landscapes of tumbling waterfalls, soaring granite cliffs and snow-covered mountains promise spectacular views on this “Fjordland Trio” sailing to the Norwegian fjords. Saga (0800 096 0078; saga.co.uk) offers a seven-night round-trip voyage from £1,942 per person (including drinks, Wi-Fi and gratuities), including stops at Stavanger, Flam and Bergen. Departs from Dover on August 21, 2023.
Baby Boomers (60-75yrs)
Viking’s cruise ships are sleek, reassuringly upscale with a refined cultural ambience and are full of Scandi-chic features reflecting its Nordic heritage. Carrying 930 guests, they are large enough to have a decent range of facilities while still retaining a feeling of intimacy. The line’s ocean voyages incorporate many features of its popular river product, including an emphasis on insightful and cultural activities both on-board and ashore, with each port stop including a complimentary excursion.
How to do it: Viking Cruises (0800 298 97 00; vikingcruises.co.uk) offers a 13-day voyage from Bangkok to Bali from £4,290 per person, including flights, six tours, drinks with meals, Wi-Fi and gratuities. The cruise visits Thailand’s former capital Ayutthaya, meets an indigenous Malayan tribe at a cultural village near Kuala Lumpur, and explores the cultural heritage of Surabaya in Indonesia. Departs November 10 and 29.
Generation X (40-60yrs)
Chic and stylish best sum up Celebrity Cruises, which prides itself on the sophisticated vibe of its fleet. However, the line’s new Edge-class ships take this to another level with input from designers, including the likes of Kelly Hoppen, resulting in elegant cool spaces and cutting-edge features, notably the Magic Carpet platform cantilevered off the side of the ship, which serves as a restaurant and bar. Suitably swanky is the Retreat VIP area for suite guests which is full of classy touches with its pool, lounge and restaurant.
How to do it: Celebrity Cruises (0344 493 2043; celebritycruises.com) offers a nine-night voyage from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (for Rome) from £1,699 per person (or £3,629 per person for a suite in the Retreat), on the line’s newest ship Celebrity Beyond, including stops at Marseilles, Villefranche and Naples. Departs September 24.
Virgin Voyages has thrown established conventions overboard with its “rebellious luxe” take on cruising, designed to appeal to millennial party types looking for their first foray at sea – or cruisers of any age simply hankering for a change of scene in every sense. There’s a mix of wacky entertainment aboard its adult-only “Ladyships” – guests are referred to as sailors – where novel tattoo studios and a lack of buffet restaurants add to the offbeat flavour. Matching this is VV’s private Bimini beach club in the Bahamas, where lazy days chilling in hammocks gather pace for a lively evening vibe of sunset beach parties with guest DJs.
How to do it: Virgin Voyages (02030034919; virginvoyages.com) offers a five-night Miami round-trip sailing to Mexico’s Costa Maya and VV’s Beach Club at Bimini in the Bahamas from £883 per person, including gratuities, soft drinks and Wi-Fi. Flights extra. Departs December 4.
Generation Z (today’s youth)
Norwegian Cruise Line’s flexible “freestyle” cruising allows guests to do whatever they want (within reason!), when they want – offering youngsters and families with small children the ultimate freedom. Add that to the wide range of kids’ clubs, water slides, open-air laser tag and go-kart racing track, plus an expansive line-up of bars, restaurants, shows and cabaret, and you have a recipe for success for everyone.
How to do it: Hit the pink sand beaches of Bermuda with Norwegian Cruise Line (0333 2412319; ncl.com) on this seven-day round-trip voyage from New York, with prices from £1,037 per person (cruise only). The itinerary includes three days at the island, allowing plenty of time to explore, while guests can also discover America’s naval and revolutionary history at Norfolk, Virginia, and those wanting to hit New York’s shops can add on a few days. Departing April 30, 2023
For full details of Covid requirements, consult relevant cruise line websites. Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information