By Patricia Doherty
February 08, 2020
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Cruises offer advantages for travelers of all ages, but for seniors, the conveniences may be especially important. Of course, for everyone, there are the benefits of being able to visit many destinations without packing and unpacking, arranging flights, transfers, checking in and out of hotels, finding restaurants, and booking tickets for sights. For seniors with limited mobility, those cruise features just might mean the difference between taking a wonderful trip or staying home.

We should point out here that generalizing about individuals of any age, especially seniors, just doesn’t work. Physically, many are as active and capable as 25 year-olds, while others may have limitations that prevent long walks or managing heavy luggage. Some are curious and want to see every detail on an itinerary; others are content to relax and watch the scenery go by. Many are entertained by learning new things or hearing from expert lecturers, while others enjoy music, dance, or theater. Limited budgets are not unusual among seniors with fixed incomes, while others can afford to choose more luxurious options.

There are cruises that meet every need. In fact, most large ships have so much to offer that couples or groups of friends cruising together can choose the activities they enjoy most and then join for dinner or cocktails at the end of the day. Solo travelers have opportunities to meet others during meals, excursions, or onboard activities. Many cruise companies and ships pay particular attention to amenities that make travel easier and more appealing for seniors, especially those with special needs.

That said, these are the 10 best cruises for seniors, according to our research.

River Cruising

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Increasing in popularity with new ships added each year, river cruising is ideal for seniors.

Ports are usually close to cities, sailing is smooth, ships are small (with usually no more than 200 passengers), and most shore excursions offer several levels of walking intensity. For those who prefer to stay onboard, comfortable lounges, outdoor seating, and stateroom balconies provide the perfect view.

European rivers are among the most traveled, especially the Rhine and Danube, with lovely towns to see and visit. Others are the Douro, Seine, and Rhone as well as the Mekong in Vietnam, the Nile in Egypt, and the Volga in Russia. Cruises range from a week to as long as three weeks when several rivers are combined. Specialty river cruises might focus on food, wine, or Christmas markets. These are the top river cruise lines for seniors.

Dagmar Schwelle

River Cruise Lines

Viking River Cruises are adults-only, and on several rivers, their “Longships” offer larger suites and outdoor dining. Musical performances, lectures, cooking demonstrations, and destination insights provide plenty to do onboard.

AmaWaterways focuses on European cruises, and their new AmaMagna, sailing the Danube, offers twice the width of traditional river cruise ships, allowing for more lounge space and additional dining options. A range of shore excursions ensures something for everyone’s interests and abilities at each port.

Avalon Waterways offers river cruises as short as 4-5 days for those who want to “test the waters” before a longer commitment. Also, their Panorama Suites with floor to ceiling windows make your cabin one of the most comfortable places to watch the view as you sail by.

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Crystal River Cruises sails the rivers of Europe in luxury with 24-hour butler service and all-day in-room dining. All-inclusive pricing means no worries about gratuities onboard or ashore, and airport transfers, wine, and spirits are included.

American Cruise Lines sails the rivers of the United States — including the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Hudson, the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and waterways in Alaska, Florida, and the South. There’s plenty to see, and no overseas flights are required to explore the U.S.A.

Ocean Cruises

Courtesy of Holland America Line

Ships are usually larger and trips are longer, although it depends on the destination. Megaships have capacities of around 2,000 to 6,000 passengers; mid-size ships carry about 1,000-2500; small ships can hold around 1200 or less. Naturally, more dining options, entertainment, pools, and public areas are available on larger vessels. For seniors who are more comfortable remaining on the ship, there are many opportunities to keep busy, and the ship is a destination in itself. Travelers with limited mobility may choose shore visits carefully or decide to enjoy the view from afar as they take advantage of the ship’s amenities and social scene.

Many oceangoing ships have accessible cabins and elevators, wheelchair-width doorways, and even special equipment to aid in boarding a smaller boat for shore excursions. Several have medical care and physicians aboard—a benefit for all passengers, not just seniors—for emergencies or illness. Most cruise companies request that they be advised of their passengers’ special needs at least 45 days before departure to ensure that proper accommodations are arranged.

Oceangoing Cruise Lines

Holland America Line cruises the world from Alaska to South America, Antarctica, Canada, New England, the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. The line offers staterooms with mobility assistive features such as space for wheelchairs and scooters, roll-in showers, grab bars, and lift systems to make tenders (smaller ships that go ashore in some ports) wheelchair accessible. Provisions are made on most ships for deaf or hearing-impaired passengers.

Courtesy of Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Cruise Line cruises the world from Australia and New Zealand, Asia, India, Africa, Antarctica, Alaska, and the Caribbean, to the Arctic, Northern Europe, and more. Staterooms specially designed for guests who require mobility assistance are available. Service animals are permitted (but not pets or therapy companions) as long as proper paperwork and vaccinations are current. Provisions are available for passengers who have limited eyesight or hearing, including large print or Braille menus and visual emergency alarms.

Azamara’s mid-sized ships sail to North America, South America, the Caribbean, Northern, Western, and Mediterranean Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. Azamara takes an extra step even before the cruise by offering assistance getting on and off the ship for boarding and shore excursions. With advance notice, Azamara will even make arrangements for transportation from the airport to the pier.

Silversea’s small luxury ships range in size from 50 to 304 suites for travelers who prefer more intimate surroundings and atmosphere. In addition, smaller ships can generally anchor closer to port cities, so disembarking is more convenient, and views are more interesting for those who stay on the ship. With butler service, gourmet meals, beverages including premium spirits, gratuities, and activities all covered in the price, Silversea’s cruises are not likely to attract children, which may be a plus for some seniors (as much as they might love their grandkids!).

Princess Cruises, considered by many to be one of the best cruise lines for seniors, offers many options—various departure cities, one-way or round-trip cruises, and Cruisetours that include extended land excursions. Without even leaving the ship, passengers can meet sled dog puppies and handlers, hear from mountain climbers, fishermen, and loggers, and learn from experts about Alaskan wildlife. Most important, they can enjoy spectacular views from the comfort of the ship and marvel at sights unique to the 49th State.