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Best Cruises for Seniors

3. Best Ships for Onboard Activities

norwegian epic solo studio cabinSolo Cruising
The Issue: Whether by choice or our personal circumstances, we may find ourselves traveling solo. Since the world of cruising is almost entirely geared toward couples, going it alone can be costly, logistically difficult and, in a world full of pairs, lonely.

Best Mainstream Cruises for Seniors Traveling Solo: Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic

Why: The biggest hurdle for solo travelers of any age is the dreaded "single supplement," and the upcharge can be as high as 100 percent of the regular fare. Since many seniors are living on fixed incomes, avoiding the extra charge is a big plus. Norwegian has come up with a fabulous idea on Norwegian Epic, installing 128 studio cabins, each accommodating just one passenger and requiring no additional supplemental charge for passage.

Cabins can cost as little as $50 more and as much as several hundred dollars more than the double-occupancy rate for regular inside cabins, so book early and compare carefully for the best rates. With each of these studio cabins measuring a mere 100 square feet, this is not a happy choice for claustrophobes, but they do come with access to their own private lounge, where solo travelers can socialize over coffee or happy hour cocktails. Though NCL asserts that the studios attract a wide age range, the teeny cabins with their hip decor and colored lights are probably a better choice for seniors at the younger end of the age spectrum. The ship itself has loads of great amenities, including more than 20 dining options, a bowling alley and entertainment from the Blue Man Group, Second City and Cirque Dreams.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Best Premium Cruises for Seniors Traveling Solo: Holland America (fleetwide)

Why: Holland America has a long-standing history of catering to both seniors and solo passengers. Many activities -- such as culinary demonstrations, wine tastings and enrichment programs -- don't require partners. Team events like trivia or "Name That Tune" give solo passengers an opportunity to be part of a group. We have also found the piano bars on Holland America ships to be particularly engaging for senior passengers, offering a show tunes- and standards-heavy repertoire. It's not unusual to find show lounge performers hanging out between or after show times and joining the passengers in sing-alongs. The camaraderie makes these venues great for those who are traveling alone and seeking an entertaining, convivial and companionable lounge for after-dinner drinks.

Holland America's Single Partners Program, a single-share plan, guarantees space at the double-occupancy rate whether or not a same-sex roommate can be located. Lastly, on voyages of more than 30 nights, Holland America provides gentleman dance hosts for single ladies.

Best River Cruises for Seniors Traveling Solo: Uniworld (fleetwide)

Why: Uniworld gets our nod for the high number of annual sailings with single supplement-waived cabins. There were 19 such sailings on Uniworld's 2012 roster -- more than 1.5 per month on average, so everyone with even the slightest flexibility in travel dates should be able to fine a single stateroom sans supplement.

We chose Uniworld's entire fleet for recommendation because sailings with waived supplements are found across the fleet, but we give the edge to S.S. Antoinette, the line's newest ship. S.S. Antoinette has unique cabin designs, including suites with glassed-in alcoves that can be changed to full balconies with the push of a button! They're the perfect accommodations for viewing scenery in passing.

Multigenerational Cruising
The Issue: Multigenerational cruising is becoming more popular all the time, and many seniors find that cruising is a logistically simple way to organize a trip that includes kids and grandkids in their vacation plans. But the greater the range of ages and tastes, the greater the challenge to keep everyone happy. We think the following choices succeed admirably.

Best Mainstream Cruises for Multigenerational Travel: Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas

Why: For sheer variety of experiences to keep kids of all ages (including octogenarians) and activity levels entertained, Royal Caribbean gets the nod. From rock-climbing walls to ice-skating rinks and onboard zip lines (Oasis and Allure), these ships are unique. The Royal Promenade has the same cachet for kids as does a suburban mall, with the added fillip of nightly parades and celebrations.

We singled out these four RCI ships because of The DreamWorks Experience, a combination of live characters from DreamWorks animated movies -- who lead parades in the Royal Promenade -- and loads of kiddie-enrichment opportunities. Plus, Royal Caribbean pioneered the concept of "family staterooms," multiroom suites that can accommodate up to eight passengers with two separate bedrooms, each with its own bath.

Royal Caribbean is no slouch when it comes to activities for its adult passengers. The ships offer the usual pastiche of team trivia and other games of logic or cleverness, as well as computer, photography and dance classes. A variety of entertainment offerings, from Broadway musicals and water acrobatics shows to comedy and jazz, will please most any taste, and some of cruising's largest casinos add thrill and drama with slot machines and table games that include blackjack, roulette, craps and poker.

Top Discount Cruise Deals

Best Premium Cruise for Multigenerational Travel: Disney Cruise Line (fleetwide)

Why: We get the connection between Disney and youngsters, but for seniors? The one thing you can say with certainty about the gurus in the Disney boardroom is they aren't dopey; that's why these ships have adults-only areas, including lounges, pools, coffee shops and restaurants. Families can enjoy formal dinners together in three themed restaurants; we'll enjoy the varied menus, while the kids are entertained with animated decor and character visits. Another nice touch for seniors is the Disney-built cruise port in Castaway Cay, the line's private island, which offers a deepwater pier that eliminates the need for tendering.

4. Best Ships for Accessibility Issues

royal caribbean accessible stateroomThe Issue: Let's face it: we're not as spry as we once were. Sure, we may still play tennis, but it's highly unlikely we'll jump over the net at the end of the set. Our mobility issues run the gamut from a minor reduction in how far we can comfortably walk or climb to serious disabilities. We may also have other health issues, ranging from dietary restrictions to regular treatment for chronic conditions.

Most ships comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but some cruise lines go the extra mile. Here are our picks for seniors with health or mobility concerns.

Best Mainstream Cruises for Seniors with Health or Mobility Issues: Royal Caribbean's Radiance, Voyager, Freedom and Oasis classes

Why: We are impressed by Royal Caribbean's hydraulic pool chairs, which enable passengers with mobility issues to use the swimming pool. We also awarded points to Voyager, Freedom and Oasis classes for the Royal Promenade, effectively a wide, horizontal atrium, which we think is more wheelchair-friendly than a traditional, vertically stacked central atrium. The ships also have accessible cabins in a range of categories.

As for medical care, like all the major cruise lines, Royal Caribbean subscribes to the guidelines of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). In addition, these ships -- as well as all other Royal Caribbean ships and those of sister lines Azamara and Celebrity -- have an affiliation with Cleveland Clinic of Weston, Florida, for online consultation. Most cruise lines have the ability to consult ship-to-shore in real time, but an ongoing relationship with a land-based medical facility reduces logistical delays and functions smoothly with familiar, practiced protocols.

Additionally, all of these ships have functional helipads, important when a seriously ill passenger needs evacuation. A helicopter landing is preferred to lowering a rescue basket from a hovering chopper because it's quicker, safer (you can get a severe shock from the static electrical charge that builds up in the dangling cable) and easier (it's tricky keeping a basket stable as it's raised to the hovering helicopter).

Disabled Travel Tips

Best Premium Cruises for Seniors with Health or Mobility Issues: Holland America's Vista-class ships

Why: We applaud Holland America's wheelchair-accessible tender transfer system, which allows wheelchair-bound passengers to be lifted in and out of tenders without having to exit their chairs. This unique system was enough to win us over on the mobility front, since not being able to leave the ship in tender ports is the height of frustrating, imprisoning confinement. Holland America also has a working relationship with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for telemedical connections and live radiology feeds and consults.

Also, these ships have a plentiful complement of accessible cabins in all types (inside, outside, balcony), and Holland America has partnered with Special Needs at Sea to provide oxygen, wheelchairs and other mobility devices dispensed from kiosks at Holland America homeports. Other senior-pleasing aspects of these ships include the choice of "As You Wish" dining (open seating) or traditional set seatings, outstanding performances of classic Broadway show tunes and one of the largest collections of classic art of any ship afloat.

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    --written by Steve Faber

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