The Best First Cruise for Seniors

On our last cruise we were delighted to meet a number of first-time cruisers in their 70s and 80s.

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.

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.

Comfortable 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.

Shipboard activities

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.

Desirable itinerary

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.

Accommodating Crew

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 Christmas Cruise Aboard the Amsterdam

Vacationing Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Exploring the Amenities Aboard a Holland America Ship

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!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

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

Three Great Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise Out of the Port of San Francisco

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Flying along the bay side of San Francisco

Reason #1 – San Francisco is an outstanding port city with great cruise itineraries

Imagine spending a vacation touring the fabulous attractions of San Francisco and then boarding a luxury cruise ship bound for another remarkable destination like Hawaii, Mexico, or Alaska.

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The Golden Gate Bridge

If you have sufficient time and money to both explore the many sites of San Francisco, and then sail off on a cruise that begins with drop-dead gorgeous views of the City by the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge – that’s a combo vacation that is hard to beat.

How the bayside of San Francisco became a tourist Mecca

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Soon after the infamous 1989 earthquake, the City made a very wise decision to remove the always hideous and then dangerous freeway that separated the iconic Ferry Building from the rest of San Francisco. Before that time, except for the stretch between Fisherman’s Wharf west to the old Presidio military installation, the bay front was not a place favored by tourists.

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Pier 39

The freeway teardown was the continuation of the amazing renaissance of the San Francisco waterfront that began in 1978 when the ever-popular Fisherman’s Wharf was joined by a new and exciting Pier 39 to its east. West of the piers, in 1994, tourism benefited from the conversion of the beautiful Presidio into public use land.

It just kept getting better

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The Ferry Building

Next, in 2003 the historic Ferry Building was brought back to its original glory and reintroduced as the centerpiece of San Francisco’s waterfront. Taken together, the city did a brilliant job of revitalizing the San Francisco Bay scene. This area, once run-down, is now safe and alive with entertainment, walkers, joggers – and tourists from all over the world.

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Alcatraz Island

Embarcadero Avenue, which runs all along the new waterfront offers visitors and residents outstanding views of the Oakland Bay Bridge*, Treasure IslandAngel Island, and Alcatraz. Go further west along the water and enjoy Ghirardelli Square and the Presidio National Park.

The new Bay Lights

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Oakland Bay Bridge

*Very recently, the world’s largest L.E.D. light sculpture began illuminating the 1.8-mile western span of the Bay Bridge with 25,000 surging lights. Created by artist Leo Villareal, the new nighttime light extravaganza has added to the joy of tourism and living in San Francisco – another blessing for a city with so many blessings.

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Fun on the Marina Green

Beyond Ghirardelli Square, there is the Marina Green with its vistas of the famous St. Francis Yacht Club, and Golden Gate Bridge. Try your hand at kite flying in sight of the historic Palace of Fine Arts, and Coit Tower.

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AT&T Park – Home of the San Francisco Giants

The icing on the cake of the entire waterfront refreshment was the construction of the spectacular AT&T Ballpark – home of the SF Giants – right on the bay where boaters anxiously wait to fish out home run balls beyond the park’s right field wall in McCovey Cove.

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McCovey Cove at AT&T Park

These are only a few of the bayside attractions – the vacation paradise of San Francisco offers so much more!

Reason #2 – The New Cruise Terminal in San Francisco

The America’s Cup Challenge finals will take place on San Francisco Bay in September 2013. The headquarters for the America’s Cup is in a new and modern two-story glass and metal structure on Pier 27.

The America’s Cup will remain a tenant until October 2013, after which the building and area will be restyled to become San Francisco’s new Cruise Terminal – and what a terminal it will be. There will be ample room to accommodate today’s jumbo ocean liners and to handle over 2,500 passengers arriving and departing the terminal.

Cruise lines and destinations

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View of Golden Gate from Pier 35

At the time of this writing, familiar cruise lines such as Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, and Oceania all book cruises sailing from San Francisco.

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Alaskan Glacier

Typical destinations are Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Panama Canal, but cruises also depart for Asia, the South Pacific – and the world.

Reason #3 – Super selection of pre and post cruise attractions and lodging

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Golden Gate Park

Many vacationers prefer to arrive at the cruise port a day or more before their ship sails, and some like to exercise their land legs after a cruise and before flying home.

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Crooked Lombard Street

There is no better city for either occasion than San Francisco – the assortment of tourist activities and excellent hotels and restaurants is legendary.

About our cruise

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The Grand Princess

We took a 15-day round-trip cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruises. For our part, we did a pre-cruise stay at the fabulous Embarcadero Hyatt Regency Hotel* at the foot of Market Street and directly across from the Ferry Building. This Hyatt is an iconic venue that is very close to the cruise terminal. More about that wonderful Princess cruise and the SF Embarcadero Hyatt Regency experience in upcoming articles.

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Atrium of the San Francisco Hyatt Regency Hotel

*Starting in May and through the end of July 2013, Alcatraz Cruises, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco have partnered to present the traveling show “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock.” This is a museum quality display about the history and stories of Alcatraz Island. The exhibit will appear in the Embarcadero Hyatt’s famous grand atrium lobby. If you are in San Francisco this summer, be sure to check out this terrific exhibit.

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Inn at the Presidio Hotel

Further, we also stayed at the newly converted officer’s quarters that is now the upscale Inn at the Presidio. This is a must-do if you enjoy luxury accommodations mixed with volumes of fascinating military history. You can read the story and see our pictures of the Inn at the Presidio *here*.

A little tight for now

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Close up of Golden Gate from Princess Cruise ship

Until the spring of 2014, the location of the San Francisco cruise ship terminal is at Pier 35. It is small and in need of a facelift.

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Disembarking at Pier 35

Because Pier 35 is located on the busy Embarcadero, and lacks sufficient handling capability for large ships, it is more difficult to arrive and depart that terminal. However, the San Francisco cruise terminal administrators do an admirable job of working around a tight situation.

As mentioned above, the good news is that the new facility at Pier 27 will be available for passengers in the spring of 2014, and Pier 35 will become a backup terminal. We look forward to that improvement.

Summary

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So much to do in the City by the Bay

A holiday in San Francisco followed by a round trip cruise out of the port of San Francisco to another great vacation destination like Hawaii or Alaska – is the stuff getaway dreams are made of, and we highly recommend it.

If you go

Click on the title for information about Princess Cruises , the San Francisco Embarcadero Hyatt Regency, and for the Inn at the Presidio.

See our Examiner photo gallery for this story *here*.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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