Joanna Booth discovers why lines like Celebrity Cruises are drawing travellers in their 20s and 30s
Of all the stereotypes that have dogged the cruise industry, the myth that it suits only older travellers has been the most pervasive. For decades, cruise lines have tried to target younger guests. Families have been converted, attracted by slides, rides and kids’ clubs, but when it comes to adults, baby boomers have remained the majority market.
Now, with fresh ideas, tailored facilities and a post-pandemic thirst for travel, select cruise lines are seeing interest from millennials. Technologically savvy and comfortable with social media, they’re more globally minded than older generations, and often have a strong focus on self-care and a tendency to splurge on occasional luxuries. In other words, they’re the dream clients for high-end travel brands.
Celebrity Cruises ran a survey to challenge common misconceptions around cruise. To reveal these embedded prejudices, the line showed people a new ‘resort’ opening in 2024, with images of its wellness and fitness facilities, restaurants and bars, public spaces and accommodation, and respondents were overwhelmingly impressed. Separately, they were asked for their opinions on cruising and were generally less interested.
When the images were revealed to be of Celebrity Apex, Celebrity Cruises' newest ship, the line saw a shift in respondents feelings about taking a cruise. In the survey, millennials were initially the group most likely to regard cruises as for old people. But they also showed the highest level of attitude change after the big reveal; 76% were surprised the images were of a ship, and 68% viewed cruise more positively afterwards.
Cruising's New Look
With their sleek, unconventional looks and sophisticated nightlife (think live cabaret, a silent disco and a martini bar with a flare show), Celebrity’s Edge-class ships – Celebrity Edge, Apex, Ascent and Beyond – Celebrity Ascent are an excellent fit for travellers in their 20s and 30s.
The brand has worked with designers who have a track record in attracting luxury travellers, from architect Tom Wright, who brought the curved lines he employed on the Burj Al Arab to the ships’ asymmetric resort deck, to interiors maven Kelly Hoppen, whose staterooms have the kind of neutral-toned luxe look that millennials book at boutique hotels and aspire to have in their own homes.
Fitness and wellness are also key for this group. Celebrity started with a partnership with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, and now features fitness classes from young professionals’ favourite F45 Training. Adult-only line Virgin Voyages offers spin and barre classes, a boxing ring, cold-pressed juices and onboard Botox alongside more traditional spa services.
About 30% of Virgin Voyages’ passengers are between 25 and 40, attracted by the mix of high-energy activities, and rest and rejuvenation opportunities. Shane Lewis-Riley, vice-president of international sales, cites the “festival-like line-up of entertainment [and] Instagrammable photo moments” as part of the successful recipe – and the internet is certainly full of portraits taken in the glittering infinity room at the entrance to the Manor nightclub.
The onboard tattoo parlour, private karaoke rooms, themed parties and late-night clubs chime with millennials, as does the no-buffet approach, with a range of restaurants plus 24-hour delivery service ShipEats hitting the spot for a generation used to using apps for calling dishes to their doors.
Certain destinations seem to have a siren call for millennials. Virgin and Celebrity report strong bookings from this demographic for sailings to Ibiza and the Greek islands, as well as Caribbean itineraries – Edge-class ship Celebrity Ascent, launching in December, will sail there first. Exclusive beach experiences appeal too, either at Virgin Voyages’ Bimini Beach Club, or at CocoCay, the Royal Caribbean private island that Celebrity ships will be able to visit from next year.
Expedition cruising can also hit the spot with more-adventurous millennials. Intrepid Travel finds that, while its cruises do attract a slightly higher age profile than standard tours, clients in their 30s and 40s are increasingly making bookings. This is particularly true when it comes to bucket-list destinations best explored by cruise – think the Galápagos and Antarctica.
“Millennials like the small ship size; with just 50 passengers there’s a fun and social atmosphere,” says Intrepid Travel's Hazel McGuire. “Our adventure cruises offer a more immersive style of cruising – exploring local villages, trying the local food and swimming in hidden coves away from the crowds."