On our last cruise we were delighted to meet a number of first-time cruisers in their seventies and eighties.
When they heard we were travel photojournalists, they were more than willing to offer opinions and comments that helped form the foundation for this article, which we dedicate to them.
The perfect first cruise
We had not planned to write about senior cruising when we signed up for a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean on Holland America’s ms Oosterdam.
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However, a little coaxing from some enthusiastic golden-agers (like this amicable septuagenarian couple from Florida), had us agreeing that an article that provided insight for prospective elder cruisers was a pretty good idea.
It turned out that the group thought this was the ideal first cruise for seniors, and here are the reasons why:
Celebrated cruise line
Holland America Line (HAL) has long had the reputation of providing quality cruises at affordable prices.
‘Consistency’ and ‘dependability’ are important words in grandma and grandpa’s travel book, and HAL is uncompromising in its commitment to reliable service on all its 14 ships.
As a rule of thumb, the larger the ship, the longer it takes to board and disembark, but the smoother the ocean ride.
The Oosterdam, with less than 1,000 staterooms, is small enough for expedited disembarkation at ports of call, but large enough to allow her to ride rough seas comfortably – and that helps to greatly diminish the odds of becoming seasick.
Important Note: Should you ever become ill for any reason, there is a doctor on board every Holland America cruise ship, and gratefully, he/she is much closer than you will normally find medical assistance at a hotel or resort on land.
Looks count, and the décor of the Oosterdam is tasteful without being trendy. The color schemes are soothing and sophisticated.
On our cruise most passengers were 55+. Consequently, the on-board activities were geared to that audience.
Pool side hairy chest contests and madcap revelry are not de rigueur on Holland America.
Such activities are happily traded for quieter pools, interesting and educational talks on a myriad of subjects including ports of call, shopping, live entertainment, bingo, yoga, social imbibing, ritual noshing, and just plain relaxing.
There are also card games, movies, dance lessons, computer classes, art and wine auctions, culinary demonstrations, and exercise classes.
Pictured above is an active senior exercising at the pool.
Senior activities on a cruise ship are often centered around the practiced art of eating.
On the Oosterdam, the food is excellent, and the restaurants do not feel crowded, nor do the pools, casino, bars, wellness center, or any of the public spaces. We had 1,906 passengers on our voyage, and it never felt crowded.
On our third evening at sea, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Oosterdam. Super food, and a great place for a special celebration, or a quiet romantic interlude.
Great port facilities
Our cruise departed from the port of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. Any port in Florida is a good choice for a first cruise – the ports are easy to access by air from anywhere USA.
All airlines cater to the Florida tourist trade, so there are often good ticket deals to be had if you are diligent.
Once on the ground, all Florida ports are easily accessible by ground transportation from the airports.
Florida cruise terminals are often staffed with retired seniors living in Florida. They understand the special needs of vacationing seniors and can be very helpful to first-time cruisers.
The embarkation and debarkation processes at Florida’s cruise terminals are relatively fast – and it’s nice to know that after “check-in” there is a wonderful buffet luncheon awaiting every passenger that boards the ship.
It’s hard not to like a Western Caribbean itinerary. Ours included Key West, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. All great places for tours, or just meandering about on your own.
We always interview the Captains on our cruises. Above, Captain Michiel Willems opines that a friendly crew demeanor, and excellent customer service, are the top hospitality hallmarks of the Holland America Line.
Everywhere aboard the Oosterdam, the genial crew was eager to uphold the HAL tradition.
If you go
If you decide to look into Holland America, start with its website *here*. HAL can handle your entire travel plan, including air, or you can make your own travel arrangements. It’s up to you.
Should you think you are just too old to enjoy cruising, read our story about our nonagenarian friend “Julia.” She and her husband are passengers on the Holland America world cruise every year!
We encourage every senior that still wants to experience new adventures – take a cruise.
Happy travels.. and smooth sailing!
To learn more about HAL, and see additional pictures of the interiors of its ships, check out these other stories we have written about Holland America cruises.
A final note: If you are worried about the rigors of going ashore at the various ports of call, there are many passengers that never leave the ship. We often stay aboard when we visit ports we have seen several times. It’s an excellent time to catch up on reading and emails, watch a movie, take a nap, and get ready for the next round of serial feasting!
“Get out there, but be prepared.”
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The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.
© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Judy Bayliff