HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Five kids waved picket signs as they barged into the banquet hall at Travel Weekly’s Global Trade Marketplace event last Friday to protest Virgin Voyages’ adults-only policy. “Kids against Virgin Voyages” read their T-shirts. One sign read, “We want to cruise, too!”
In mock protest, they booed John Diorio, Virgin Voyages’ vice president of North American sales, as he stood on stage inside The Diplomat Beach Resort here and begged to be let on board.
“All right, all right. I hear you,” Diorio relented, and he turned to the 300 or so travel advisors and vendors in the audience. “Should we let them on?”
The “no” from the audience was as clear as a ship’s horn.
While Virgin’s clever brand marketing sets the line apart from other cruise lines, so does its strict no-children onboard policy.
It is one of the few lines that explicitly bans anyone under 18 from sailing.
What do other cruise lines do for kids?
Viking also enforces an 18-year-old age threshold. Saga Cruises goes a step further and bans 20- and 30-somethings by requiring guests to be at least 50 years old to sail, though they can bring a guest in their 40s.
But many cruise lines depend on family travel and are building intense attractions to keep kids entertained, like the three-level go-kart racetrack on the Norwegian Prima or the no-adults-allowed teen space on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. Twisting water slides, ropes courses, video-game rooms and character visits from Disney to Dr. Seuss are just some of the activities meant to appeal to kids and kids-at-heart.
Other lines cater to families with children but don’t make them the focus. Take Cunard for example: Most of its marketing focuses on a grown-up version of elegance, but it has zones for kids and teens. Margaritaville at Sea — which makes me think of nothing but margaritas — has a kids club.
And some lines strike a balance by allowing older children to sail but not creating kid-specific programming. Quark Expeditions and Windstar, for example, require kids to be at least 8 years old to sail but expects that they will be entertained by other parts of the cruise experience, such as watching for wildlife and excursions.
The appeal of the childless cruise
But given Virgin’s marketing savvy, and perhaps more demand than you’d think for completely childless voyages, the line’s positioning may be attractive. Even to parents.
Several travel advisors at GTM told me that although it’s rare that their clients request completely child-free ships, many do prefer to sail on lines where children are either not present or are just well behaved and not a distraction.
Morgan Graybill, the owner of Morningstar Luxury Travel based in Greenville, S.C., said clients rarely ask to sail on a line that guarantees no children will be there. But when she questions them about it, they say it’s “absolutely” important to have an adult-only experience.
“My clients just assume for these higher-priced cruise lines, they will not be kid-focused,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any kids.”
Henry Dennis, leisure travel advisor at Frosch based in Charlotte, N.C.,
said he is seeing more adults look for adults-only cruises. Many of
them are couples with adult kids, he said. “They feel they have ‘paid
their dues’ and now it’s time to refocus on themselves,” he said. “We
are also seeing parents with young kids looking for some time alone
without the kids, to reconnect with each other.”