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How Cruise Lines Compete for the Boomer Audience

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What makes a great cruise? Is it good food, celebrity-endorsed ballroom dancing, famous speakers? Cruise lines are trying everything under the sun to market to the boomer audience. It’s not just about updating the ship’s technology and offerings. It’s also about services and themes.  Our travel correspondents and resident baby boomers Barbara and Jim Twardowski take to the seas to find how cruise lines are targeting  boomers.

Passengers onboard Holland America Line’s Veendam filled the dance floor and the stage shaking hips and bobbing heads for the chance to win–you guessed it–another cruise. Jim and I were on the seven-day “Canada and New England Discovery” featuring Holland America Line’s newest theme–”Dancing With the Stars: At Sea.”

During our trip, professional dancers and the stars from the hit ABC television show gave complimentary group dance lessons, staged a poolside fashion show, conducted dance competitions, and performed an energetic and dazzling production featuring the celebs and the ship’s dance troupe.

The professional dancers on our cruise were Chelsie Hightower and Mark Ballas. The stars were Olympian Shawn Johnson and former ‘N Sync band member Joey Fatone. Throughout the cruise, there were more opportunities to see the celebrities–either on stage performing, at a Q&A with passengers, or signing autographs and posing for photographs.

Some of the passengers on board had specifically chosen our cruise because they are fans of the television show, while others were not aware of the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” program until their vacation was underway. One guest from California told me he considered the theme cruise to be a “bonus.”

Having the celebrities on our cruise did create a buzz with the passengers. “Dance classes are the highlight of our shipboard activities for many of our guests, and ‘Dancing with the Stars: At Sea’ has brought a new level of excitement to these events,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs for Holland America Line.

If we were judges, Holland America Line would receive a “10” for choreographing their partnership with “Dancing With the Stars: At Sea.” This theme cruise is a hit.

Oceania Cruises

Holland America Line isn’t the only cruise line with amenities that appeal to Boomers. Oceania’s Bon Appetit Culinary Center in conjunction with the Culinary Discovery Tours is the company’s most popular program with the 50+ crowd.

Cooking classes are offered in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on the Marina and Riviera where 24 fully equipped work stations, with induction cook tops and convection ovens, allows the participants to gain hands-on experience. Master chefs teach the classes. Every recipe is different containing the ingredients that the class found at local markets during their special shore excursions called–Culinary Discovery Tours.

In Amsterdam, guests will stop at a smoke shop fish boutique, chocolatier, olive oil and vinegar specialist, and cheese monger followed by lunch on a beautiful mansion along the canal. Those who visit Copenhagen will be immersed in the new Nordic culinary movement with a visit to an 80-stall food hall, view interactive demonstrations at a Scandinavia cooking school and indulge in a private luncheon at the place credited with the reinvention of Nordic cuisine.

Foodies are eating up the new culinary program. After the cruise, many guests recreate the dishes at home sharing photos of their creations with their chef.


Guests aboard Cunard cruises are sophisticated, world travelers. For forty years, the cruise line has been educating and enlightening participants with its impressive speakers series–Insights. Accomplished individuals such as Buzz Aldrin, Rona Barrett and Archbishop Desmond Tutu delve into the day’s relevant topics. This intellectually stimulating program is offered across the entire fleet–flagship Queen Mary 2, Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

MSC Cruises

The cruise line with a Mediterranean flare, MSC rolled out a new restaurant concept earlier this year. “After rave reviews and a successful launch onboard Preziosa, we once again decided to partner with Eataly on MSC Divina, the ship that will start sailing year-round from PortMiami,” said Richard Sasso, CEO and President, MSC Cruises USA.

Eataly is a Turin-based epicurean Italian emporium founded by Oscar Farinetti and opened in the US in 2010, in partnership with celebrity chefs Linda and Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali.

Beginning in October, the Divina will feature an upscale Ristorante Italia and regional steakhouse, Manzo, fashioned after Manhattan’s well-known Eataly. An onboard boutique Eataly marketplace gives guests the opportunity to buy authentic Italian and artisan products, including olive oils, dried pastas, and sweets.

“We know that many of our cruisers in this demographic (Boomers) enjoy fine cuisine, good wines, on board fitness such as yoga, spinning and Pilates as well as varied spa offerings,” said Sasso.

Guests aboard the Divina can burn off the calories with an intense workout paired with a low impact exercise when MSC introduces Aqua Cycling in October. This new fitness option is sure to make a splash with the health-conscious Boomers.

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Text By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN for Barbara and Jim Twardowski are freelance writers based in Louisiana. Together, they contribute to publications such as AAA Home & Away, Global Traveler, and

Dancing with the Stars photos credit Jim Twardowski