What are the best adults-only cruises — the ones that not only ban kids but cater to grown-up tastes and interests?
You may be asking because you just spent time on a megaship where the kids took over the pools and hot tubs (not to mention the elevators), much to your chagrin. Or, you might be looking for a vacation with more lectures and less limbo, or perhaps a cruise that skews more R-rated than G.
The list of cruises for adults only is, alas, very short. Only a handful of cruise lines ban children from their ships and promise cruises for grown-ups — perhaps the most notable being cruise newcomer Virgin Voyages and fast-growing Viking.
The trend in recent years in cruising is, in fact, more family-focused, with more kids appearing on ships of all types. Indeed, some of the biggest, best-known cruise brands have gone full-bore after the family market, to the extent that the sun-soaked top decks of their ships sometimes can feel more like a scene out of “Daddy Day Care” than a blissful vacation retreat.
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Don’t despair, though. Even as many lines double down on the family market, there’s a small group of cruise operators that remain all-in on the idea of adult-only cruises.
Here are our picks for the best adults-only cruise lines, with a grown-up vibe to boot.
Related: A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
The much-ballyhooed new line from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has banned children under the age of 18 from its ships. It’s part of an effort to create a hipper, more-sophisticated, adult-focused vibe that company leaders think sorely lacks in the cruise world.
“We have done a ton of research really trying to create a sophisticated experience,” Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said in the days before the line’s debut. “I’ve done some personal research. We found that when you put kids in the pool, they scream, and we don’t want that.”
Related: I’ve been on more than 150 cruise ships. Here’s what I thought of Scarlet Lady
Sailing out of Miami since late 2021, Virgin Voyages’ first adults-only cruise ship, the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, caters to grown-ups looking for a decidedly adult sort of fun with such offerings as interactive dance parties and a sex-themed cabaret show. It also offers a karaoke lounge with pink-and-purple karaoke rooms, a tattoo parlor (read about how one of our staffers was among the first to get inked on board) and drag queen brunches.
What you won’t find on Scarlet Lady — and a more recently unveiled sister vessel, Valiant Lady — are waterslides, watery splash zones, teen lounges and all the other family-friendly features that are becoming so common on bigger ships.
Two more adults-only Virgin Voyages ships are expected to launch in 2023 and 2024.
In choosing to create an adults-only cruise experience, Virgin Voyages took a page from fast-growing Viking’s playbook. Viking’s eight-ship ocean cruise division has banned children under the age of 18 since it debuted in 2015. Also, its 80-ship river cruise division has had some sort of minimum age limit for more than two decades. (Initially, the cut-off was age 12; as of 2019, that jumped to 18, too.)
Not that Virgin and Viking are anything alike. Virgin is designed as a line that will appeal to millennials and older travelers who want to party like they are millennials. Viking is the anti-millennial line.
Its target market is squarely in the 55-plus bracket. It zeroes in on that demographic with an upscale, destination-focused experience that is heavy on what the industry likes to call “enrichment” — onboard lectures and other learning opportunities. It also emphasizes included tours focused on history and culture, as well as entertainment offerings that veer more toward string quartets than dancers in string bikinis.
“What we’re looking to do is try not to be everything for everyone,” Viking’s executive vice president of marketing, Richard Marnell, told TPG. “We do not have a kids’ program. What we have is . . . [an] immersive experience that is best suited for people that are intellectually curious.”
This storied British line clearly sees the demand for adults-only cruise ships, but it isn’t giving up on the family market, either. The line splits the difference between the two segments. Five of its seven vessels are marketed as “family-friendly” and open to passengers of all ages. The other two (Arcadia and Aurora) are reserved exclusively for adults.
Given that more than 95% of the Southampton, England-based cruise line’s passengers are British, you’ll probably want to be either British yourself or a major Anglophile to consider booking. Sailing with P&O Cruises is a very British experience, something that becomes clear the moment you see its vessels. They feature hulls painted with massive Union Jacks.
In addition, you’ll find quintessentially British offerings on board P&O Cruises ships such as elaborate afternoon teas, quoits on the top deck and restaurant menus designed by chefs who are big in the U.K., such as Marco Pierre White.
That said, if you’re a Princess Cruises fan, you might feel right at home on a P&O Cruises ship. Nestled under the same corporate umbrella, the two brands are longtime sisters that have swapped ships back and forth (though Holland America fans might be interested to know that Arcadia actually shares a ship design with that line’s Vista class).
For booking purposes, P&O Cruises considers anyone who will be 18 or older at the time of sailing an adult.
Like P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises is a British line that has honed in on the business of offering voyages just for adults. In shunning younger travelers, it goes way beyond what P&O Cruises or any other line is doing. The minimum age at Saga Cruises isn’t 18 or even 21 — it’s 50.
That’s right — you won’t find a single millennial or even that many Generation Xers on board a Saga Cruises ship (at 57, even the oldest members of Generation X only make the cut-off by a few years). What you will find is a heck of a lot of Baby Boomers, many of them retired.
Saga Cruises operates just two ocean vessels, both of which sail exclusively out of the U.K., plus several river ships. Like P&O Cruises, it’s a product that is probably best for British travelers or big-time Anglophiles.
Other adult-focused cruises
In addition to lines that ban passengers under the age of 18 outright, a number of cruise operators allow young children but get relatively few of them.
Examples include such upscale lines as Silversea Cruises and Seabourn. Small-ship specialist Windstar Cruises allows tweens and teenagers on its six ships, but it doesn’t allow any children under the age of 8.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which sells both ocean and river cruises, traditionally discourages customers from bringing passengers under the age of 12 on vessels except during Christmas holiday sailings.
Also, the longer the cruise, the fewer children you will find. Book a two-plus-week sailing to a more exotic location, like Asia or South America, during the school year on a line like Holland America or Princess, and you’ll share the ship predominantly with adults.
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