Planning Your Cruise

Lifestyle and Special-Interest Cruises

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Weddings Solo Travelers Families Travelers with Disabilities LGBT Travelers Theme Cruises

Photo credit: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Who takes cruises these days? You can be sure that most passengers arrive with more in mind than just getting some R&R. Couples in search of the ultimate romantic day at sea might opt to get married on a cruise trip. Perhaps it's people with disabilities, who are drawn to the ease of travel by ship, or solo travelers who find the atmosphere conducive to making friends. But if you have these or any other special interests or lifestyle needs, you'll want to consider some specifics to ensure that your cruise is a fully satisfying experience.

Weddings

Tying the knot on a cruise ship can offer the best of both worlds: a wedding and honeymoon wrapped into a package that takes the worry out of planning. Nearly every cruise line can assist with a ceremony on the ship prior to sailing or while docked in a port of call. Wedding options vary from a simple private ceremony in an intimate ship's chapel to elaborate nuptials and a reception attended by family and friends, who might even sail with the happy couple after sharing their special day. Brides and grooms merely decide what type of wedding they want—aboard ship or ashore—and what amenities fit their budgets. The cruise line and wedding coordinator take care of the rest.

Need to Know

  • Most cruise ships have an onboard wedding coordinator.
  • Make wedding arrangements in advance of your cruise.
  • If booking blocks of cabins, group travel rules apply.

Cruise Wedding Planners

The Wedding Experience This company is billed as the world's largest provider of destination and cruise weddings, and is the exclusive wedding service provider for Celebrity Cruises, Windstar Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. 866/223–9672 or 305/421–0000 ; www.theweddingexperience.com

Solo Travelers

While cruise ships largely cater to a coupled-up clientele, it doesn't take long to find other solo travelers and singles on almost any cruise. Shipboard hours are filled with lectures, shows, and activities where you can easily locate like-minded passengers who are also sailing solo. On port days, shore excursions are a great way to bond while sharing adventures with newfound friends.

There's a major drawback to solo travel, however: cruising single in a cabin priced for two can be expensive.

Need to Know

  • Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International have special single cabins on some ships.
  • Fares on cruises are usually based on double occupancy, so singles must generally pay a supplement of 25% to 100% of the basic cruise fare.
  • Look for sales that waive the single supplement, especially on inside cabins and longer itineraries.

Resources for Single Travelers

Cruise Mates This online cruise magazine and community offers feature articles dedicated to solo cruise travel and a singles message board. www.cruisemates.com/articles/single

Singles at SeaThe official operator of singles cruises for the "Love Boats" of Princess, as well as Crystal Cruises and Costa Cruises, also offers singles cruises on Holland America, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and more. 800/362–5918; www.singlesatsea.com

SinglesCruise.com The company hosts singles group cruises and will match solo cruise passengers with a roommate of the same sex. 800/393–5000 or 201/210–7918 ; www.singlescruise.com

Singles Travel International Offers roommate matching services and annual singles cruises, including a New Year's Eve sailing. 877/765–6874 ;www.singlestravelintl.com

Families

Cruising can be a rewarding family travel experience, with offerings that boast multigenerational appeal. Many parents report that their children have such a great time with counselor-hosted kids' centers and onboard activities that they barely see them after boarding. Just realize that you may not have the same freedom if traveling with younger kids. Most kids’ clubs will not change diapers (exceptions are Carnival and Disney), and many ships will not let non-toilet-trained kids into pools (though some have separate, specially filtered wading pools). Secure in the knowledge that the children are happy and well cared for in the youth center, parents can enjoy some coveted adult time, too. While programs exist for teens, these are usually less structured. A lot of cruise lines also offer special areas for teens.

Need to Know

  • Babies must generally be six months old to sail.
  • Most cruise lines will not let toddlers in diapers into pools.
  • Programs for kids are generally complimentary.
  • There is an extra charge for babysitting and some special after-hours programs.
  • Some cruise lines offer special off-ship excursions for older kids and teens.
  • Most lines offer programs for teens 13 to 17.

Resources for Families

Cruises for Families This company specializes in planning family cruises, and claims the best rates on family sailings courtesy of its exclusive relationship with family-friendly cruise lines. 800/818–6257 or 630/789-4400;www.cruisesforfamilies.com

FamilyCruise.com A division of VactionsToGo.com, this company has booked more than a million families on cruises; plus, it touts up to 75%-off savings on family sailings. 800/338-4962; www.familycruise.com

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Travelers with Disabilities

The overall conveniences and relative safety associated with a cruise vacation have always appealed to passengers with disabilities. In the wake of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you can expect ample measures to make cruising easier for passengers with many kinds of disabilities. However, older ships that were built before the ADA may lack some of these enhancements. Auxiliary aids, such as flashers for the hearing impaired and buzzers for visually impaired passengers, are often available on request. All ship elevators have raised Braille signage, and even some passageway handrails feature directions in Braille at regular intervals.

When evaluating a cruise, passengers with mobility issues (ranging from use of a cane or walker to complete dependence on a wheelchair) should pay particular attention not only to the facilities on board their chosen vessel, but also to the conditions they are likely to find in ports of call and on shore excursions. Outside of the United States and in historical areas, some accommodations may not be possible.

If you need special equipment, such as portable oxygen or a wheelchair, make sure to make your own provisions. Ships don't typically carry these items. While some ships will carry wheelchairs for injured passengers, they can't usually be taken off ship. More than the usual amount of planning is necessary for smooth sailing.

Need to Know

  • Cruise lines allow service animals, but ports may not.
  • Service animals may not be allowed in all areas of ships.
  • All cruise lines have some wheelchair-accessible staterooms.
  • A few public areas may not be wheelchair-accessible.
  • Steep gangways and tenders can prevent passengers in wheelchairs from going ashore in some ports.
  • Passengers who need oxygen must make their own arrangements.

Resources for Passengers with Disabilities

Advanced Aeromedical, Inc. Rents oxygen equipment to cruise ship passengers. 800/346–3556 ; www.aeromedic.com

Scootaround Rents scooters and powered and regular wheelchairs to cruise ship passengers. The company delivers them to your cruise ship in most North American ports of embarkation. 888/441–7575 or 204/982–0657 ; www.scootaround.com

The Seeing Eye, Inc. 973/539–4425 ; www.seeingeye.org

Special Needs Group/Special Needs at Sea A major provider of wheelchair, scooter, oxygen, and other special-needs equipment rentals, and works with all of the major cruise lines. 800/513–4515 ; www.specialneedsatsea.com

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LGBT Travelers

Several companies now charter entire ships several times a year for LGBT-themed cruises, featuring such extras as special entertainment, activities, and parties. Other companies simply book blocks of cabins for LGBT groups and operate as any other affinity group aboard a cruise ship. But LGBT travelers still travel on regular cruise itineraries, and most ships have LGBT meet-and-greets even if they aren't LGBT charters.

Need to Know

  • Look in the ship's daily programs for "Friends of Dorothy" mixers.
  • LGBT affinity groups often book blocks of cabins rather than the entire ship.
  • LGBT full-ship charters usually require payment of full brochure rates.

Resources for LGBT Travelers

Atlantis Events Markets primarily to gay men with all-gay cruises and also owns RSVP Vacations. 800/628–5268 or 310/859–8800 ; www.atlantisevents.com

Olivia Cruises & ResortsSpecializes in all-lesbian trips, with fully chartered ships. 800/631–6277 ; www.olivia.com

R Family VacationsSpecializes in family trips for LGBT families but organizes many kinds of trips besides cruises. 917/522–0985 ; www.rfamilyvacations.com

RSVP VacationsSpecializes in both gay and lesbian sailings with full-ship charters 800/328–7787 or 310/432–2300 ; www.rsvpvacations.com

Theme Cruises

There's something special about joining a bunch of like-minded folks who are in the same boat as you—figuratively and literally. Theme cruises are either fully or partially chartered sailings that cater to niche interests, whether that might be a rock-and-roll band, a famous author or athlete, yoga, craft beer, gastronomy, or even nudist travel.

Need to Know

  • Theme cruises are a rapidly growing trend and often sell out quickly.
  • Full-ship charters are not as common as affinity groups.
  • Affinity groups may charge a separate fee in addition to the cost of the cruise to participate.

Resources for Theme Cruises

Bare Necessities Tour & TravelBilled as the only company to offer nudist cruises on fully chartered ships. 800/743–0405 or 512/499–0405 ; www.cruisenude.com

Entertainment Cruise ProductionsSpecializes in full-ship charters focused on jazz and popular music. 888/852–9987 ; www.ecpcruises.com

Sixthman Runs full-ship charters for music festivals at sea, highlighting major acts. 877/749–8462 ; www.sixthman.net

Whet Travel Inc. Specializes in large affinity groups interested in music and dance. 877/438–9438 ; www.whettravel.com

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