Paradise Booked

How and why to plan now for your ideal winter cruise

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Fact checked by Catherine Gianaro

 

When you think about winter, do you dread it? Stress over ice and snow? Worry about cabin fever? 

What if you try relocating that cabin — to a ship? Winter cruises can be an ideal vacation for older adults, especially if you travel with a caregiver or want to take a multigenerational trip with family.

“The best part of traveling by ship is that you have the ability to cover lots of mileage and see many destinations without having to move from one hotel to the next,” says Eliza Carrera, director of program management at Road Scholar, where she oversees the company’s Adventures Afloat programs. “This is especially convenient for an older adult who may find it difficult or uncomfortable to be restricted in a car, bus, or plane.”

Winter cruisesCruises range in price, but more people than ever are ready to hit the open seas. The Cruise Lines International Association expects 35.7 million passengers to cruise in 2024, up 6% from the number of people who set sail in 2019.

James Cole, founder and managing director of cruise company Panache Cruises, says cruises may be particularly attractive for people with certain medical conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis, that prohibit sitting for long periods of time. Cruise ships, whether large or small, always have medical facilities with qualified medical teams.

“This provides peace of mind, as help will always be on hand swiftly if it is ever needed,” Cole says.

And older adults have a variety of options, with all types of ships and destinations. Road Scholar operates its winter programs between November and February; the routes travel worldwide, and ships range from barges and riverboats to expedition and ocean ships.

How to pick the cruise for you

When deciding on a cruise, first consider the size and type of the cruise and the destination. Arctic and Antarctic routes are typically expedition ships, while European itineraries tend to be river cruises on smaller ships, such as Viking’s fleet of longships that travel the Rhine and Danube, and in the U.S., the Mississippi River.

Next, think about how many people you want to be around and the attractions you’d enjoy. What landmarks do you want to check off your list? Do you want to go abroad or stay in the U.S.? Are you interested in days at sea on a massive ocean liner or daily port calls?

Costs are also an important factor, especially if you’re paying for a caregiver’s fare. The most cost-effective option is to share a room; almost every cruise line books rooms as double occupancy, and they will arrange the beds so you can sleep separately. If you want more privacy from your co-traveler, consider booking separate rooms, though that will double the cost and in some cases, trigger single-traveler supplements.

Cole says that Panache Cruises offers family staterooms or larger suites that provide two separate sleeping areas but without the expense of an extra room. Viking staterooms have a maximum occupancy of two guests.

 

“You have the ability to cover lots of mileage and see many destinations without having to move from one hotel to the next.”

 

If you’re traveling with any sort of physical assistance, such as a walker, cane, or wheelchair, check the accessibility of the ship and the stateroom. Inquire about elevators before you book and locate your stateroom in relation to restaurants, lounges, and other amenities. If you struggle to walk unaided, being at a distance from everything might be tricky, especially because some ships don’t allow wheelchairs or mobility scooters.

Keep in mind that ADA-accessible cabins tend to sell out far in advance, Carrera says. If you have complex medical needs, explore travel insurance with cruise repatriation coverage.

Once you decide on the ship and the cruise, check the included and optional excursions carefully.

Each excursion typically has notes about activity level, so use your best judgement, and be honest with yourself about your abilities and comfort level. You can also ask Guest Services for guidance.

Finally, remember that winter cruising comes with its own set of perks. It’s typically quiet season at many destinations, so your stops won’t be as crowded. And if you’re out around Christmas, especially in Europe, the streets will be teeming with holiday markets. Find the perfect moment to stroll through colorful lights with a steaming cup of glühwein (or hot chocolate!) in your hands.


Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2024 print issue