Escorted tours and cruises might have a reputation for being the holidays you take when you’ve got one foot in the grave, but we talked to travellers who are all about getting onboard and letting someone else take the strain.
There will always be the older ravers who cannot quite let go of the holidays of their youth. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being the oldest person in the club at Ibiza or testing new hips with a spot of alpine mountain biking, escorted tours and cruises do not have to mean you have given up on fun.
Organised holidays might have a fusty reputation, fuelled by local paper advertisements for genteel trips that sound about as much fun as root canal work, but escorted tour evangelists will tell you there is plenty to love on the buses.
At the age of 56, Mike and Bammy Bothe fancied a trip to Ireland when they stumbled upon an online ad for an escorted coach tour.
“The cost and destinations were favourable and one of main reasons we booked it was because we didn’t have to hire a car and meals and hotels were included,” says Mike.
Mike and Bammy’s highlights of the trip were Trinity College, Blarney Castle, the Giant’s Causeway, and the “awesome” people of Ireland.
“There were just so many things to see – I was a bit worried about going to Northern Ireland, but we stayed at a very nice hotel in Derry and I saw one of the bigwigs of the government,” he recalls. “The other good part was the people on the trip – they were roughly the same age as us, the people from Australia were great fun, and I made a point of sitting with different couples on the bus and at dinner, so I could talk to everyone.”
So was everyone about a hundred years old?
“Absolutely not!” was Mike’s response when asked if the trip had any “God’s waiting room” vibes: “Everyone was into having fun and doing what we could.”
Robyn and Geoff Wright, veterans of bus tours to Ireland, the Western Front for historical interest, and France for the 2007 rugby world cup, agree with Mike and Bammy’s rationale for bussing around Ireland.
“We’d been told about Ireland’s narrow roads and we weren’t keen to drive on them,” says Geoff.
Instead, they took a trip with CIE Tours, where they were joined by 30 people of different ages and were able to make friends that they are still in touch with today.
“There were two sets of American honeymooners,” Robyn says. “One couple were very friendly and the groom looked like Robbie Williams, although they didn’t know who he was, while the other couple didn’t really talk to anyone and spent the whole trip looking at each other!”.
Geoff says that there was an opportunity every night to “have a tincture at the bar” and he is keen to see more of Ireland on another escorted tour, with the Connemara ponies being one of his highlights.
Robyn says the rugby world cup trip in particular was a great way to get to know people because everyone had sport as a common interest, which made starting conversations really easy: “The social aspect was really good – all that French wine – I took my first Panadol in years…”.
As well as their adventures on buses around Europe, Robyn and Geoff took a 15-day Danube river cruise that started in Prague, ended in Budapest and took in Germany and Austria in between.
"We were asked if we minded going on a Jewish cultural tour cruise and I said, 'Is the Pope a Catholic?'," says Geoff, adding that as a history teacher, he was able to visit a lot of the places that he had taught about but never seen before, such as synagogues and ghettos.
They were able to find a balance between the serious historic and cultural sights and socialising with their fellow travellers. Every day, they had a choice of places to visit onshore, or there was always the option of chilling out on the boat.
“It was a good way to get some more knowledge of places I’d never been to, you’d always get surprises and a bit of enlightenment,” muses Geoff.
Let’s talk cruising…
Debbie Steedman, who has been on three cruises around the Middle East and one to Norway, Iceland and Scotland, says that cruising offers ease and value for money: “You can’t visit all the places on a cruise itinerary, unless you do it on a cruise. The best things about a cruise are the all-inclusive deals, the choice of dining options, the freedom to do what you please, and the choice of destinations in one trip.”
While Robyn and Geoff would prefer to book another river cruise instead of taking to the high seas on a large ship, this is another sector traditionally aimed at older customers that is trying to broaden its appeal and modernise.
Brands such as Virgin and Celebrity X are aggressively targeting the 18-30 market, but other companies, such as newcomer Ambassador, are seeking to find that sweet spot between having it large at sea with a bunch of rowdy youngsters and ships that resemble care homes.
At the May 2023 launch of Ambassador’s second ship, Ambition, the focus was on “premium value” as guests enjoyed great food, comfortable-not-claustrophobic cabins, and lively entertainment before it set off on its maiden voyage from Newcastle.
The decor was fresh and modern, you had the option of being as sedentary or as much of a party animal as you like, and the itineraries range from the old favourites, such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, as well as wildlife-focused voyages to fascinating fjords and the Northern Lights on journeys that take in Iceland, Norway and the Arctic.
Multigenerational travel is on the rise, with the 2022 Family Travel Association survey finding that 47% of respondents say they are planning a multigenerational trip in the next 12 months. This could be a case of sea cruises to the rescue, with plenty of different activities and entertainment options on board, plenty of quiet corners to escape to when it all gets a bit much, and plenty of places to come together as a family.
“Cruising is definitely not just an old person’s holiday,” says Debbie. “There are kids clubs and teen clubs – we travelled with our 15-year-old daughter and she loved it – it’s a misconception that they are full of older travellers.”
Of escorted tours and cruising, Robyn says, “As we get older, these sorts of holidays are a more relaxing way to travel – it’s great to have everything done for you, all your meals provided, you don’t have to think, you can just have a good time.”