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Top five value cruise lines for seniors

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Couple onboard Holland America ship (Photo: Holland America)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on January 11, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: cruise, Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, Molly Feltner, Norwegian Cruise Lines, senior travel, Silversea Cruises.

When choosing the top cruise lines for seniors, our top consideration was not how cheap or expensive a line's fares could be, but how much you could get for your money. As mature travelers tend to value different things from families, college students, and young couples, we looked for lines that feature top-notch service, quality onboard activities and enrichment programs for adults, programs for older single travelers (particularly women), exciting itineraries to destinations like Alaska and Europe, and discount opportunities.

Our top choices span the price and inclusiveness spectrum, but all offer good value for what you pay. The list includes Holland America, Silversea, Cunard, Crystal, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

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Holland America

Although HAL has been promoting its children's programs lately, the line still caters heavily to older, traditional-minded cruisers with offerings such as afternoon tea, ballroom dancing, and a social host program on most cruises of 14 or more days. Holland America also distinguishes itself from other premium lines by offering more spacious staterooms and a wide selection of voyages. The line's 12 ships sail to all seven continents; stop at over 280 ports worldwide; and feature traditional itineraries in the Caribbean and Alaska, as well as more exotic sailings like Amazon River cruises and round-the-world voyages.

HAL offers frequent sales and discounts, including savings of up to $200 per cabin on Alaska cruise tours for AARP members. Visit the Holland America website or the SmarterTravel.com cruise section for details on seasonal sales, free upgrades offers, and other deals.

Silversea

Well-heeled travelers, or those looking for a worthwhile post-retirement splurge, should look into sailing with Silversea. This ultra-luxury line ranked as the "World's Best Small Ship Cruise Line" by Travel + Leisure boasts spacious well-appointed cabins, gourmet meals, and personalized service. And, Silversea's cruise rates include many expenses that are not usually included in rates offered by other lines, such as handling fees, gratuities, all alcoholic beverages, and (on many sailings) a shore excursion. Also, Silversea is one of only three lines to offer the Gentleman Hosts program, in which men over 45 can serve as dance hosts for older single women during social functions onboard.

While Silversea does have an exclusive feel, the line is not above discounting, offering significant savings to those who book or pay early. If you plan ahead, you may be able to save 50 percent or more by combining offers. Visit the Silversea website to learn more.

Crystal

Crystal does high-class cruising on a large scale, using big ships and big staffs to provide guests with more programming and facilities than the small-ship luxury lines. Onboard, guests can partake in afternoon tea; Odyssey Art at Sea classes; bridge lessons; and instruction in arts, business, technology, lifestyle, wellness, and wine and food through the fleet-wide Creative Learning Institute. Plus, Ambassador Hosts (dance hosts for solo women guests) are present aboard all sailings. These offerings and the line's high standards for quality and service have helped it to win the title of "World's Best Large Cruise Line" from Travel + Leisure nine years in a row.

AARP members can save up to $200 per stateroom on Crystal cruises of seven or more nights, and anyone can save on select cruises by booking early. Check Crystal's website or the SmarterTravel.com cruise section for the latest deals, including savings of up to 57 percent on Alaska sailings.

Cunard

Cunard's elegant trans-Atlantic and round-the-world sailings aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 and now the Queen Mary 2 have long appealed to retirees who can vacation for weeks or months at a time. As these types of sailings involve many days at sea, both ships provide ample onboard fitness, entertainment, and relaxation facilities, plus countless activities and enrichment programs. The QM2 in particular has vast offerings, including a planetarium, a bookstore, a college-at-sea program, and workshops with performers and directors from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Many cruises also feature the Gentleman Host program.

Although Cunard bills itself as a luxury line, its fares can be surprisingly affordable. Seven-day sailings on the QM2 can run as low as $999 per person. Visit Cunard's website or the SmarterTravel.com cruise section to find current promotions.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The only mainstream line to make our list, Norwegian wins points for its Freestyle Cruising, affordable fares, and frequent senior deals. Unique to NCL, Freestyle Cruising allows guests to dine whenever and wherever they want and wear what they want. If you prefer to be flexible and don't want to have to rush from a shore excursion or other activity to make a set mealtime, Freestyle Cruising may appeal to you. Soon to have a fleet of 12 ships once the Pride of America begins sailing in June, NCL has Bermuda, Caribbean, Mexico, South America, and Europe cruises, but specializes in "homeland cruising" with 13 U.S. and Canadian departure ports.

Every week, NCL comes out with new cruise specials, including many deals exclusively for seniors ages 55 and older. Sometimes you can find fares for $200 per person or less. Go to Norwegian's website to find the latest sale fares. Plus, check the SmarterTravel.com cruise section for other deals like cabin upgrades and repositioning specials.

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