Cruise holidays have a reputation for being a family-friendly, value-for-money vacation option for young families and this market is where the cruise industry derives a lot of its revenue each year. However, for many cruisers, especially older couples, a cruise ship filled with noisy children is a nightmare scenario.
But, there are ways for everyone to get along and stay out of each other’s way aboard the same ship, while you can also choose to sail at times of year when there are likely to be fewer kids on-board, or aboard a cruise line that actively markets itself to a family-free crowd.
According to Cruise Lines International Association, almost a third of cruisers bring their children along with them, meaning that more than 1.6-million passengers under the age of 18 will take to the seas this year.
Most of the major mass market cruise lines from Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line to Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Costa Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, MSC and even Cunard, actively try to win over these young family cruisers in some way with special packages and deals for children, as well as children’s areas on-board, on-site baby sitting, children’s entertainers and more.
Most of these cruise lines also offer ‘adult’s only’ areas, though, which are often free of charge and provide a respite from the over-exuberance of youth.
Even Disney Cruise Line, perhaps the most family-friendly cruise line of all, dedicated significant real estate on-board to meeting the needs of its adult passengers, but has historically struggled to shake its perception as a cruise line only for kids.
Seeking to fill this gap in the market, cruise lines such as P&O have ‘adults only’ ships in its fleet (Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana), while Saga Cruises, another British brand, will only sell tickets to passengers older than 50.
So to start with, pick the right cruise line
The cruise industry’s three dominant cruise lines (Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line) occupy the positions they do because they’ve corner the ‘something for everyone’ market and operate gargantuan ships with diverse activities for kids as well as quite retreats for adults.
Aboard the cruise ships of these cruise lines there are photo ops with Disney characters, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and more to attract families, but also spas, relaxation pools, romantic dining venues and more for the cruising couple.
Luxury cruise lines are an option for high-end travellers that want to avoid children because the leading luxury lines (Seabourn, Regent, Silversea and SeaDream) tend to offer little to nothing in the way of children’s entertainment.
For this reason, as well as their prohibitive cost barrier, these ships tend to be kid-free throughout the year. Those cruise passengers who cant afford a luxury line, however, can also opt for one of the major cruise lines that don’t actively court child passengers to the same extent as others, such as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line or Cunard.
While these cruise lines will have some families on-board, they don’t offer the same range as family-oriented activities and amenities and therefore as not nearly as popular with child passengers as the big three (Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian).
Spend time in the right spots on-board ship
Adults looking for a child-free cruise can still find peace aboard the most family-friendly cruise lines, because they all have areas where kids either aren’t allowed, or don’t tend to hang out.
Carnival offers the Serenity area on some of its ships that is available only to people 21 and up and has a bar and whirlpools; Royal Caribbean offers the Solarium pool area on 20 of its ships that’s available only for guests 16 or older; Norwegian offers a few adult-only areas on its ships including the Spice H20 area, for those 18 and older.
However, it is worth noting that these adult-oriented areas are often placed close to the childrens’ areas so that parents looking for respite still have easy access to their children, so check the cruise ships’ layout before you book (all the major cruise lines post these online).
While for some this wont be a problem, for others, the fact that you can still hear screaming kids from your supposedly quiet and relaxing pool area, could be off-putting. It should also be noted that not all these cruise lines are good at ensuring that children stay out of their adults-only areas.
Even cruise ships without these premium areas will have other spaces in which children tend not to spend time, such as the library, spa, cabins with private balconies and the adult-oriented novelty restaurants and bars aboard ship.
Some cruise lines also offer a class of cabins that have their own dining room and public spaces, such as Haven cabins aboard Norwegian Cruise Line that have their own lounge and pool area, or The Yacht Club suites aboard MSC Cruises.
Celebrity Cruises recently got in on this growing sector of the cruise industry as well, announcing that a new class of suites aboard some ships would have their own dining room. While these premium spaces aren’t necessarily child-free, they’re much quieter and have far fewer children in them than the rest of the ship.
Cruise at the right time of year
It is obvious enough, but is essential to those cruise passengers who want to avoid children on their cruise: don’t cruise in the high seasons such as summer break, winter holidays, Christmas and Easter.
This is difficult for South African cruise passengers looking to take a cruise with MSC departing and ending in Durban or Cape Town, because the South African cruise season is during the most popular time of year (from November to April typically), but cruises in early February and March will tend to be more adult-oriented.
Middle East cruises, on the other hand, typically cater more to adults because the Middle East’s winter season from November to May is traditionally more popular with adults, but the same rule applies.
Take a longer-length or repositioning cruise
Apart from Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and now Royal Caribbean, all of whom will have ships home porting in Dubai during the 2015 cruise season offering 7-night turnaround cruises in the Gulf, all other cruise ships visiting the region will be either undertaking a repositioning cruise or part of a world cruise.
These longer voyages tend to be less popular with families because children have to go to school, so they’re a great option for those who don’t like to cruise with kids.
Short cruises are always more popular with families for this reason. Re-positioning cruises are voyages with the sole purpose of moving the ship from one homeport to another to take advantage of a new high season.
For example, while Cunard Line is the only cruise line with a regular trans-Atlantic service, many mass market cruise lines offer an ocean crossing when they move their ships from the Caribbean at the end of winter, to the Mediterranean for the summer season.
These cruises also tend to offer great deals because they take place in the low/shoulder season.
Pick the right dining time/place
You don’t have to buy into the whole ‘premium’ cruise experience to avoid children, even on the mass market cruise lines, if you choose to dine at the later sitting in the main dining room.
Usually taking place at around 8pm or 9pm, this later slot tends to be too late for most families. If you don’t want to wait and would rather pay to eat at a one of the specialty restaurants, choose one that doesn’t cater to kids.
Location is key when it comes to your cabin
Check the deck plan of the ship before selecting your cabin. Some cabins are located much closer to areas where a lot of kids will likely be (the baby-sitting area, arcade, main pool area), while others are near adults-only or other quiet areas.
Some cruise lines also have “spa” rooms that are near the spa and tend to be relatively quiet, while others have clusters of studio rooms (meant for single cruisers) that may be quieter because they aren’t near families.