The cruise industry is growing quicker than any other category in the leisure travel market, so it makes sense that as interest increases, the industry splinters to provide customers with more specialised options for their holiday. Most cruises, after all, don’t tend to be for those low on cash and customers are more often than not looking for an enticing, bespoke experience.

While many cruises are billed as family experiences, most vessels now include a child-free area away from screaming children or under 18s. Several cruise providers have gone a step further though, by listing their vessel as adult-only. The idea is hardly novel, but is becoming more widespread on mainstream liners like P&O Cruises and Virgin Voyages.

“Adult-only cruises are not a new concept,” says Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer, “however previously these types of sailings were limited primarily to the traditional and high-end luxury ships. Over recent years there has been an increasing consumer interest in kids-free cruising, which has prompted the cruise industry to rethink its approach to adult-only cruising.”

Adult-only cruises: is it really a new trend?

“Before more recent adult-only ship offerings from the likes of Saga, Viking and P&O – as well as soon-to-be-launched Virgin Voyages, there have always been a number of ships specifically created with adults in mind,” explains Cruise Critic UK managing editor Adam Coulter. “For example, Cunard Line’s QM2, whilst it does have a kid’s club, tends to nonetheless, offer a predominantly adult-focussed on-board entertainment programme. Many river cruise lines also have a minimum age to sail of 12 or 13, and there are a number of luxury lines that just do not offer child-friendly amenities at all.”

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“In the UK market, family cruises are an extremely popular offering.”

In the UK market, family cruises are an extremely popular offering. While there has of course always been demand for groups that wish to experience a trip without children or teens in the vicinity, traditionally these travellers have opted for land-based holidays. But according to Harmer, cruise lines are increasingly cottoning on to the demand for 18+ holidays.

“P&O Cruises recently announced that ‘following extensive research and guest feedback’ it will convert Aurora to adults-only next year, joining Oriana and Arcadia in restricting passengers to ages 18 years and over. Furthermore, Marella Cruises recently announced that its new ship, Marella Explorer 2 would join its fleet in 2019 as adults-only in addition to a number of adults-only cruises on its other ships.”

Adult-friendly liner layouts

While on the face of it, removing child-friendly areas doesn’t necessarily change up the layout of a vessel too much, by freeing up space from a lack of childcare and youth entertainment facilities, cruise liners have more space for adult-focused activities. “In general, adult-only ships have no kids’ club spaces or waterslides on deck and tend to have a few more restaurant, bar or lounge area choices instead,” says Coulter.

“The appeal of an adults-only cruise is much more than just not having kids running around the ship,” comments Harmer, “there is a luxury appeal that comes with adults-only ships. Cruise lines can get more adventurous with a ship’s design and on-board facilities when there is no need to reserve space for children’s amenities. For example, Virgin Voyages recently announced that the Scarlet Lady will have a tattoo studio on-board.”

“The appeal of an adults-only cruise is much more than just not having kids running around the ship.”

And just because liners aren’t catering for children, this doesn’t mean the entertainment available will be for middle-aged and older people only. Child-free packages aren’t just for the stereotyped over fifty cruiser. “Although adult-only ships from cruise lines such as Viking, Saga and P&O do tend to attract older travellers, cruise lines such as U by Uniworld with its millennial-focussed The A and The B river ships show that there is an increasing trend to attract a younger adult audience.”

It seems doubtful that child-free cruise packages will become the norm in the industry given the high popularity of family-friendly holidays, complete with entertainment suitable for adults and children alike, but what does seem likely is a continued emphasis on more specialised experiences that will allow customers to pay for the exact trip of their dreams, or as near as damn it.

“We believe there will be greater segmentation, in general, as cruise lines increasingly try to differentiate their cruise offerings and provide wider choice for all types of holidaymakers,” says Coulter. A comment echoed by Harmer, who says that “although kid-free cruises are no doubt increasing in popularity, family cruises will always remain in high demand. That being said, it will become the norm for cruise ships, whether they’re adult-only or not, to have kid free zones.”

Of course the other option for cruisers looking for an adult-only experience is to simply book a trip during term time – a time-honoured tradition for those looking for a childless vacation experience.