We’ve been challenged this week. Not in any physical sense, you understand, just questioned in a fairly polite manner. It goes something like this – if Virgin Voyages are all about cruising for adults only, what other cruise lines offer specific features and amenities just for couples?
And it is a good question. Not all cruise lines are created equal, of course, and not all primarily target adults as their core market. Kids’ clubs have become a key component for many lines, and peak holiday periods can often be packed with families.
It is a cliché to say that ALL ships cater for adults, but, just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it isn’t true. If you’re serving alcohol, you’re appealing to a grown-up audience. But, these days, there is more to it than that. Much more. And the lure for couples is very much alive and well.
There are, indeed, several cruise lines that do not take children at all, while there are others with designated adults-only areas onboard. And then there are those, mainly of an expedition-style, that doesn’t specify either way but are clearly geared for an older audience.
With that in mind, we thought we’d highlight the lines – and ships – that are best suited in our opinion to couples who prefer the child-free holiday environment, and who seek out the more adult elements of luxury spas, enrichment lectures, learning experiences and, of course, a jolly good bar or two. Here is our recommended list:
SeaDream Yacht Club
With just two ships and catering to only 112 passengers each, SeaDream has long been the gold standard for deluxe, boutique, grown-up cruising. Established in 2001, they DO accept children on board, but there are no facilities or programmes for kids, and the atmosphere is almost one of unbridled adult indulgence, from the signature Balinese Dream Bed loungers on deck to the open-bar policy and small-but-busy casino. The truly gastronomic level of cuisine is also designed entirely for the grown-up palate, and the ambience is pretty much aimed exclusively at couples – especially honeymooners – hence it is distinctly romantic.
Nine-ship boutique line UnCruise also don’t specify ‘Children not allowed,’ and will happily accommodate those eight and older on most voyages, but once again this is an environment that is not specially designed for under 18s. Its primary appeal is to active couples looking to explore the great outdoors in river and coastal cruises that highlight the local flora, fauna, history and culture. Wildlife-watching, kayaking, paddle-boarding and good, old-fashioned onboard camaraderie are all the order of the day, and the overall style is pretty laid-back.
Completely a triumvirate of ‘They do, but’ cruise lines, Windstar Cruises are happy to accept children of eight years and older, but there aren’t many staterooms that will accommodate a family of four and there are no organised activities or kids clubs. In essence, this ensures most Windstar voyages feature few, if any, children, and that in turn, with the line’s couples-focused style, makes for a genuinely romantic time at sea.
P&O Cruises – Arcadia and Aurora
Ever since the arrival of the splendid Oriana in 1995, P&O Cruises has been a line that has catered extremely well for children. But it wasn’t a surprise when they rededicated the ship to adults-only in 2011 as it became clear that attracting hordes of kids at times didn’t sit well with their older, more traditional passengers. With the grand old dame sold off last year, Arcadia and, more recently, Aurora have picked up the no-children brief, so all passengers onboard can enjoy features like the Oasis Spa, casual dining, adult-orientated entertainment programme and sophisticated array of bars without any junior intrusions.
Another relative ‘old-stager’ of the UK travel scene, Saga have significantly raised their game in the past two years, bringing their over-50s style firmly into the modern world with two highly attractive new-builds, 2019’s Spirit of Discovery and this year’s Spirit of Adventure. These two, 58,000-ton, 999-passenger newcomers have given Saga a real cutting-edge appeal to their rather staid image, making this a genuine couples experience of more sprightly proportions; child-free but definitely not a retirement home.
OK, this is a slight cheat, as it is a whole sub-genre of cruising rather than a particular line, but the entire ethos and configuration of river-cruise vessels is distinctly geared to an adult audience (and mainly couples, as few river-boats have singles staterooms). Yes, many lines will take under-18s if requested, but there are no staterooms for children (you’d need to have two rooms for a family of four, for example) and daily activities are geared to walking tours, lectures, cultural programmes and similar grown-up sensibilities. The daily routine tends to be relatively slow-paced and thoughtful, hence of limited appeal to most kids, but ideal for active, older couples.
Having started life as a river-cruise operation, Viking branched out into ocean cruising in 2014 but have kept their no-children-allowed policy firmly in place at sea. They also call it ‘the thinking person’s cruise,” as much of their onboard focus is on making every voyage an immersive, destination-led experience, which is very much the watchword for many people looking for a holiday without kids.
The Ultra-Luxe Lines
While it is true that the likes of Crystal, Regent, Silversea and Seabourn have all added an element of children’s programming in recent years, it remains the case that these only usually feature a smattering of families during the Christmas-New Year period and during the height of summer. At other times – and especially on cruises of 10 days or more – you are likely to find few, if any, children on board. That means these are all bona fide grown-up environments for much of the year and truly serene ones at that.
Failing all that, if you still want to cruise with one of the mainstream lines but avoid the worst of the family hordes, there are several tactics you can adopt for a less frenzied time. First, look for the longest cruise of a particular line, ideally of more than 14 days, which is the typical family holiday. Sectors of world cruises and voyages with a higher ratio of sea days are well worth seeking out in this instance and will wean out all but the most indulgent family groups.
Alternatively (or even, in addition), look for cruises during school term times, and avoid any half-term breaks (SkyPark actually have a handy online page dedicated to UK school holidays on this SkyPark Secure link). Be aware American schools often have different schedules, while their summer holiday is a LONG one, from late May to late August.
Finally, if you are limited to a mainstream line at a peak time, be aware some of them – notably Princess, Carnival, MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and even Disney Cruise Line – do have adults-only areas on board, and these usually make for a welcome sanctuary. Princess Cruises even call their no-kids-allowed zone The Sanctuary, and it genuinely is a wonderful refuge from the hustle-bustle elsewhere.
Have you cruised on an ‘adults-only’ ship? What did you think and would you do it again? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.