Cruising has become a popular and relatively economical way to travel. While the cruise industry caters to all ages, the average age for a cruiser is 55 years. If you haven’t had the opportunity to cruise, is it feasible to take your first cruise at 80 years of age? And not just feasible, but enjoyable?
This was our question as my husband and I invited his mother to join us and other family members on an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise with Holland America. She had just celebrated her 80th birthday, and we thought it would make a fitting celebration. She hesitated but ultimately agreed. However, I soon learned there are many things to consider when planning a cruise for an 80-year old woman.
Since you may also have a family member or friend considering a first cruise at 80, I’d like to share our experiences and my mother-in-law’s perspective. After our week-long cruise, I interviewed her, and this is what she had to say.
What were your concerns before the cruise?
Mom: “Was I too old to even be going? Because of health issues and mobility concerns, I worried about it. I both dreaded and looked forward to the cruise. And then there was the pandemic. Would I get sick and have to stay in my room the whole time? I know I can be a worry-wart, but I wanted to be positive about it. To be honest, I wouldn’t have signed up for myself. But since I would be going with family — and because I didn’t have to do the booking, I decided I would go.”
How were your concerns handled?
Mom: “Purchasing the cruise cancellation policy eased some of my concern. Also, getting the electric scooter for mobility was so much better than trying to take a walker or use a wheelchair. Finding shore excursions that wouldn’t be too hard on me physically helped a lot too.”
Note: A first cruise at 80 must seem daunting. Best to address specific concerns one at a time and help your first-time cruiser feel assured.
What was the most challenging thing about preparing for your cruise?
Mom: ” Arranging for dog care wasn’t too difficult because I have a friend who is willing. If I’d had to put her in a kennel, I would have been stressed and worried about her the whole cruise.”
“Knowing what to pack was challenging. Having the list you gave me really helped! I had to spread out the packing so I didn’t get overly tired.”
Mom also didn’t know if she would get seasick, so she brought patches and special wristbands. She didn’t end up needing the patches but felt the wristbands helped the day we felt some swells.
How was getting to the cruise terminal?
In our case, Mom was flying into Vancouver, BC, staying in a hotel overnight, then taking a cab to the cruise terminal (Canada Place).
Mom: “My flying days were fine. I liked the advantage of wheelchair assistance offered by the airline (Alaska Airlines). I was rushed straight through security and I could be relaxed. Fortunately, we didn’t have any delayed or cancelled flights.”
Knowing Mom had family flying with her made a big difference. Our hotel provided an airport shuttle and also arranged cab pick-up the next morning to the cruise terminal. On disembarkation day, we took cabs directly from the cruise terminal to the airport for afternoon flights home.
What was it like boarding the cruise ship?
Mom: “Boarding went well. If I’d been on my own, I would have been more nervous!”
Because we had requested wheelchair assistance for Mom ahead of time, cruise employees were prepared with a wheelchair and an escort. The escort met us after we got out of the cabs, kept us together as a group as we dropped off luggage, and then guided us through the boarding process. The escort pushed Mom in the wheelchair so we could all handle our own carry-on or personal items.
Any problems finding your cabin?
Mom: “Not at all! Diagrams all over the ship certainly made it easier to find our way. My scooter was waiting for me when I arrived.”
We enjoyed a welcome lunch in the Dining Room. By the time we were finished, our luggage was waiting in our rooms. Mom was able to unpack and make her way to the Lido deck for the sailaway party at 4:00 pm. With a scooter or wheelchair, you will wait for an elevator sometimes, but people are good about making room for you.
How did the HAL Navigator app work out for you?
Mom: “Well, I didn’t really need it, since my sister had it on her phone and we were usually together.”
We could communicate with Mom through her sister, who was sharing a cabin with her. Otherwise, we could have called Mom’s cabin phone if necessary or just visited her cabin in person as our cabins were nearby.
What were your favorite entertainment options?
Mom: “There was enough entertainment. The dance performances were my favorite! I also enjoyed the movies. They were very informative. The cruise director added extra pizazz!”
As a family, we gathered in the Crows Nest Lounge to play games or watch whales from the Promenade Deck. Sometimes we’d make a late run to the Lido for ice cream, too. Mom also enjoyed some spa services!
What kind of dining suited you best?
Mom: “The Main Dining Room was my favorite. It was quiet and relaxing, and I really liked the fancy food presentations. While the Lido had a lot of variety to choose from, it was noisy and crowded. My lunch at Pinnacles was rather ordinary, so there was no advantage over the dining room. And finally, room service was nice to have available when we needed it, but it was hard to keep everything warm by the time it got to us.”
As a family, we ate dinner every night together in the Main Dining Room. This was one of the highlights for all of us!
How were your shore excursions?
Mom: “I liked that I always had something to look forward to and that there was a great variety of options. My shore excursions were definitely worth leaving the ship for, and they accommodated me well. My favorite historic excursion was Skagway’s White Pass Yukon Railroad train ride, Learning about the train and the gold rush was very interesting. The most fun excursion was the Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan! I was disappointed that the tram ride in Juneau was cancelled. I was really hoping to enjoy that view from the top.”
Sometimes, we couldn’t get accurate information about whether or not Mom’s scooter could be accommodated beforehand. But we found that it did fit in the bus for the Mendenhall Glacier trip. It wasn’t needed for the train ride. Mom could have taken it on the Juneau tram if that had not been cancelled. Riding the scooter to the Lumberjack show in Ketchikan was easy.
What did you learn about cruising that you didn’t know before?
Mom: “Honestly I thought it would be boring just looking at water all day. But I enjoyed a cruise much more than I thought I would! That was a total surprise to me. It was like being in another very different world. I was totally amazed by the whole cruise. Hearing about a cruise and actually experiencing it are two entirely different things!”
Did you feel this cruise was a good value for your money?
Mom: “Yes, it was a good deal!”
I have to agree! When you consider what you might pay for transportation, fine dining, and quality entertainment for seven days straight, cruises bring it all together for a great package price.
What tips do you have for anyone going on a first cruise at 80?
Mom: “I would probably advise them to pay extra money to rent the scooter. It would have been miserable to do all that walking otherwise. Even a wheelchair would have been a lot of work for someone else and not comfortable for me. Oh! And bring a good pair of binoculars. My only regret was that I didn’t bring better ones.”
Important details for a first cruise at 80
BOOKING the cruise
- GOOD COMMUNICATIONS It was very important to have good communications with my mother-in-law and her sister. I kept them apprised of deposits and final payment deadlines, answered their questions, and double-checked all arrangements. I helped them check in and print out luggage tags and boarding passes.
- BOOKING DETAILS Be sure to tell the cruise line what the needs are. In our case, Mom needed a wheelchair for pre-boarding & disembarkation, and a cabin with handicap access. (This is a roomier cabin so the scooter can be parked inside. It also had a handicap access walk-in shower. It cost a bit more but was well worth it.)
- PASSPORT Mom needed a passport since we were cruising out of Vancouver, British Columbia. You can’t wait too long to apply for a passport, or you risk not receiving it in time. Do that right away!
- PACKING LIST I made a list after reading the reviews of several Alaskan Inside Passage cruisers. It was a simple list of the items most cruisers wished they had or did have and used enough to justify bringing. Click here for my packing lists: Packing List Page 1 and Packing List Page 2
- FLIGHTS Mom traveled with her daughter and son-in-law. They booked her flight and travelled with her. The best tip is to request wheelchair assistance from the airline. That way, Mom never needed to do much walking, which would have exhausted her. Planning to arrive a day ahead gave us time to make other arrangements if something went wrong. In our case, it also gave Mom more time to rest and be prepared for boarding the cruise ship.
Arriving at the Port City
- HOTEL We booked enough rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Vancouver Airport-Richmond for our family group. They provided a free airport shuttle and were reasonably priced. When we realized the hotel was close to a Costco, we bought a very affordable dinner for our family there and ate at the hotel.
- TRANSPORTATION TO CRUISE TERMINAL The hotel concierge was wonderful about arranging cabs for our group to take to the cruise terminal. This had to be arranged the night before and could not be done in advance, but it worked out great and was the most economical for our group. We used Richmond Taxi Company.
DURING THE CRUISE
- SCOOTER I rented an electric scooter for Mom from Scootaround . They placed the scooter in Mom’s cabin so it was waiting for her when she boarded. At the end of the cruise, we left the scooter in Mom’s cabin and Scootaround picked it up. Mom needed to be recharge the battery at night, but it came with instructions and it was simple to operate. Only once did we ever have a problem with the scooter (during a shore excursion). We called the phone number on the scooter, and they instructed us how to get it working again easily.
- SHORE EXCURSIONS As a family, we discussed all the shore excursion options and helped Mom choose the ones that appeared to be the most relaxing and enjoyable without being too difficult for her physically. We also aimed for excursions that started later in the day so she wouldn’t have to get up too early. A tram ride, train ride, a wildlife cruise, a bus ride to see a glacier, and a lumberjack show were all good options for her. Most of us accompanied her and we made some great memories together.
- GETTING AROUND THE SHIP It’s good to be aware of any additional issues for an older person. For example, not all of the public restrooms onboard were handicap accessible. On the day we were invited out on the bow of the ship to view Glacier Bay, there was a door threshold of about 10″ that prevented Mom from taking the scooter out. Nor could she have stepped over the threshold easily, so she went to the Lido deck instead.
So…should you take your first cruise at 80?
Well, I’m really glad Mom was willing to try it. We loved having her with us! She got to participate in a lot of fun things and see some beautiful sights she’d never seen before. Now, when we gather, we can talk about and re-visit our cruise memories — Mom will know exactly what we’re talking about because she got to experience it with us. That’s priceless!
A cruise offers many of the comforts you enjoy at home…and maybe even a few more. If you do take your first cruise at 80…or 20 or 40 or 60…chances are you’re going to love it. And like my mother-in-law said, “Hearing about a cruise and actually experiencing it are two entirely different things!”
We chose Holland America Line because of their expertise in Alaska and their popularity with age 55+ cruisers. Because I had previously sailed on Holland America’s Koningsdam, I was confident their style would be appreciated by Mom.
Note: I’d like to thank Holland America Line for supporting me in my efforts to create a wonderful cruise for my mother-in-law. While we paid for our own cruises and shore excursions, I was provided priority boarding, premium WiFi, specialty restaurant lunches, and a few delicious welcome treats.
If you’re interested in more tips for traveling with older relatives, please read “Making Travel Easier for the Elderly.”