Grand Voyage demographic

There is nothing like the excitement and romance of a cruise. If it’s a long cruise, like a Grand Voyage (50-plus days) or a World Cruise (105 days), so much the better. But think twice. I wish I had known about the following before we spent $30K.

We took the Grand Voyage “Orient Explorer 2005” on the ms Amsterdam, Holland America’s 1,300-passenger flagship, Oct. 6-Dec. 7. Over 62 days we sailed from Seattle to Russia, Japan, Korea, China (including Hong Kong), Singapore, Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii and then San Diego.

The ship was beautiful. Our veranda stateroom was fine. The ports were stimulating. The seas were mostly kind. The weather was nearly perfect. The food was very good. Entertainment was varied. Service was only fair, but that’s another story.

So what’s the problem?

Nothing, really, except that we were on the wrong cruise. We are in our mid-60s and in pretty good health. We usually take ground tours or 2-week cruises. This very long cruise was an experiment.

Before we left home, we projected that the only people who could go anywhere for two months were retired. We had no idea how long they would have been retired. The average age of the passengers on this cruise was around 75. One 80-ish guy joked that the average age was deceased!

Sailing the South Seas, we celebrated the 102nd birthday (!) of one very inspiring lady whose agility was the envy of many. She was the exception. At least a third of the passengers should arguably have been home in assisted living. Another third had one eye on a nursing home and the other on what they would term “our final cruise.” We were in the last third: cruisers who went along to enjoy the ports and could meet all the challenges of shore excursions and strange places.

Call us naïve, but the physical and, in a few cases, mental conditions of our fellow cruisers were surprising. And most of them had been on several world cruises and were signing up as quickly as possible for the 2006 and 2007 world cruises on Holland America.

Countless passengers — and more than a few members of the crew — referred to the ship as “a floating nursing home.” With all the wheelchairs, walkers, canes and motorized wheelchairs in the passageways and debarking at ports, one could easily draw that conclusion. The guests’ conditions seemed to affect the ship’s staff, too, because many crew members were low key, almost glum. The depressing scene they faced each day wasn’t too uplifting.
Traveling with really old people is different. Most are quite set in their ways. Many were pushy and rude. Some got belligerent. One guy said, “I’ve lived long enough to do whatever I want!”

Traveling on a Grand Voyage is different too. After such a long time at sea, passengers adopt the ship and the ship’s other passengers as “family.” Most guests had repeatedly taken long cruises, usually on the same ship. They knew each other. They were comfortable. And they could get very possessive: “That’s my bridge table.” “That’s where I always sit.”

We might be the same way. . . someday.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with having these people go on cruises. Some people, no matter what age, can only travel this way. People can spend their money and time any way they choose.

We do object to cruise lines and the travel media describing the “romance” and “exhilaration” of long cruises with the same language used for a simpler 2-week voyage. That’s just not the way it is. We found that long voyages appeal to a significant number of guests who are trading a nursing home bed for a cruise ship alternative.

Now you know. And you can make a better cruising decision than we did. To be with a more compatible group, next time we’ll take a 2-week cruise.

Fayetteville, AR

    ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Holland America Line and received the following reply.

We are sorry that Mr. Brown felt that the guests on his Grand World Voyage were older than he expected. In 2005, the average age of a guest on Holland America Line’s Grand World Voyage was 70. Ten percent of those guests were younger than 45 as well.

Holland America Line cannot predict exactly who will book a cruise, but all cruises are typically marketed to an audience comprising people from age 45 and up who are well traveled and looking for a premium cruise experience.

Cruising is a safe and enjoyable way for all types of guests to travel, and Holland America Line does attract all ages. Certainly, on longer cruises such as the one Mr. Brown was joining, the average age will increase, since retired folks will have more time to travel. But we do get younger and more active guests, as noted above.

To be clear to your readers, Holland America Line does not offer assisted living services aboard any of its ships. Guests must be fit to travel, and those who require some assistance must have a capable traveling companion.

It’s unfortunate that Mr. Brown’s expectation was not met on his voyage. However, we offer many destinations and lengths of cruises and would be happy to welcome Mr. Brown back in the future should he choose to sail again.
ERIK ELVEJORD, Director, Public Relations, Holland America Line, 300 Elliott Avenue West, Seattle, WA 98119