Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or veteran seafarer trying a new cruise line, you might wonder what kind of shipmates to expect. This is especially true if you’re on a ship with assigned dining and might be sharing a table with strangers.
Before we begin, a caveat: These are rough approximations and you'll likely find cruisers on these lines who don't fit the descriptions I've sketched out below. So keep in mind these are just my overall impressions based on personal observations during nearly 400 cruises over many years. As they say, your mileage may vary.
With that in mind, here's a rough snapshot of the kinds of fellow passengers you'll likely encounter on each cruise line. Please add your own observations or experiences in the comments below!
The Fun Ships of Carnival Cruise Line, the world's largest cruise line, no longer attract only younger passengers who are on board mostly to party and go on active shore excursions. You’ll still find lots of energetic revelry around the swimming pools and in the bars, but families and middle-age passengers are now in the mix. These ships are where you’ll find middle America; what you won’t find are dedicated foodies.
With its fleet of upscale ships, Celebrity Cruises attracts a mixed bag of millennials, middle-age people and seniors who tend to be great fans of the fun and food Celebrity provides. Passengers are likely to be better-traveled and more global in outlook than most mass-market lines aimed primarily at North Americans.
Costa Cruises bills itself as being “Italian,’’ but most crew members and passengers hail from other parts of the world. Still, Costa sailings offer a genuine flavor of Italy because of its cuisine, Italian captains and ambience. Many passengers are 55 and older, veteran cruisers who generally join in the activities with gusto. A regular Toga Party garners lots of attendance with passengers donning Roman-style garb.
Cunard Line’s trio famous Queens appeal to older, more seasoned, more sedate passengers, although the summer Atlantic crossings between New York and Southampton, U.K., also attract younger Sloane Rangers and other sophisticates who are anything but stuffy. You likely will encounter a high percentage of passengers from the British Commonwealth, who will carry on the tradition of dressing up for dinner. You will also encounter one of the last bastions of the British class system at sea, with portions of the ship off-limits to the hoi polloi.
Most of your shipmates on the two medium-size ships of Crystal Cruises, the globe-trotting luxury cruise line, will be 45 years old and above, well-traveled and well off, and who are attracted to the line’s reputation for outstanding food and service. You’ll find many repeat passengers who know the ropes and wouldn’t think of switching allegiances to another cruise line. This loyal clientele eagerly attends the lectures, seminars, computer classes and shows that Crystal works hard to provide. Although passengers tend to be upscale, there isn’t a whiff of pretention in the bunch.
Disney Cruise Line
What can I say? The passengers on Disney Cruise Line — mostly couples with young children — climb on board for a chance to sail with Mickey and Minnie. Staunch fans of everything Disney, they buy out the gift shop during the first days at sea, don logo T-shirts, mouse ears and go gung ho on the theme. For the most part Disney fans are not sophisticated travelers. Most are from Middle America but there is a sprinkling of foreigners. And you'll find childless adult couples, too, making a beeline for the adults-only retreats on board.
Most of the passengers on the Holland America cruises I have been on have been older, reserved, dedicated to the line and happy to bypass a floating amusement park in favor of onboard activities (quizzes, culinary demos) and shore excursions. They know what they want and they know that they like the consistent product that Holland America gives them. In recent years HAL has upped its culinary game and now attracts more than a few foodies, and its launch of Koningsdam last year in part aimed to attract a younger clientele.
MSC Cruises is mostly untested waters for me, but this casual-style Swiss-based line attracts mostly Europeans along with Americans, though Yanks predominate on Miami-based MSC Divina. (MSC Seaside joins her in December.) Demographics include couples, families (children under 18 sharing a cabin with two adults cruise for free) and single passengers. Average age is 50 and older.
It’s been a while since I've sailed on one of Norwegian’s mass market ships, and the line’ s come along way since then, most recently with the 2015 launch of the 4,248-passenger Norwegian Escape. The cruise line continues to attract a lot of first-time younger cruisers, couples and friends sharing staterooms. You won’t find foodies flocking to the fleet, but you will find plenty of party animals and very active travelers.
Passengers on Oceania’s ships love the food and the far-flung itineraries the cruise line offers. Many have cruised dozens of times with Oceania and wouldn’t sail on any other line, which prides itself on affordable luxury aboard its six smallish to mid-size ships. Your fellow passengers will be middle-age or above, well off and confident in his or her choice.
Boutique cruise line Paul Gauguin has only two ships, and its namesake flagship has the market cornered on French Polynesia. Paul Gauguin attracts water babies and artsy adventurous passengers who appreciate nature and the beauty of this part of the world. They are usually sophisticated, well-dressed and younger than average, and they love fine food, beach activities and culture. While most passengers are from the U.S. (many from California), you will find some French, German and Italian guests on board. Many who sail on PG spend a few days before or after the cruise in a port such as Bora Bora or Papeete, Tahiti.
You’ll find every type of passenger on Princess Cruises — from wide-eyed first-time cruisers to those who already know the maître d’ and have sailed with the company dozens of times. The line’s big ships offer endless activities and options and a popular shore excursion program. Expect more fellow guests over 50 than under 30, lots of Californians (the line is headquartered outside Los Angeles) and a relaxing, laid-back vibe that attract passengers looking for a tolerant attitude toward dress and decorum.
Regent Seven Seas
As with sister company Oceania, foodies and gourmets flock to the many restaurants on each of Regent Seven Seas’ upmarket cruise ships. RSS’s similarly loyal, well-dressed, well-educated and well-heeled clientele comes from all over the world; if there’s a type, it is well to do. They enjoy the line’s luxury, far-flung itineraries around the world and all-inclusive pricing.
Royal Caribbean, the world's second most popular cruise line, attracts a wide swath of cruisers. It’s a small step up from Carnival and a bit more mass market in tastes and family-focused than those who choose sister cruise line Princess. During the summer you'll see lots of families, especially on Caribbean voyages. The rest of year you’ll find a mixed bag of mostly middle-class folks. Passengers sail on these ships more for the ports, entertainment and onboard activities than the food (which is often good but not usually exceptional).
Passengers on the smaller, stylish ships of Seabourn tend to be chic, sophisticated and international in their outlook. Country club is the prevailing style of the upscale leisure class that dotes on Seabourn’s easy luxury, excellent food, relaxed ambience and inclusive pricing. They tend to be repeat customers who have been there, done that and have the funds to do more of it. Meet them in the bar and you’ll find most are as friendly as they are accomplished.
On Silversea, your shipmates will be similar to those you will find sailing on the other premium small-ship lines that offer inclusive pricing — well-dressed, discerning and, because the line is owned by an Italian family, more of them may be European. They gravitate to Silversea for the food, varied itineraries and Silversea's refined cachet. The Bar, the convivial center of the ships, is where passengers meet before dinner.
Windstar Cruises and its fleet of small mastered sailing ships attract young to middle-age upscale adventurers who go for the wide variety (and convenient) selection of water sports available, from diving to snorkeling to boating via the aft water sports marina. Although guests like being in the water, they also love the lure of the wind-propelled sail (on three of the six vessels) and the fine food served on board.
Tips for making friends
Passengers tend to mingle more on luxury ships, where drinks at the bar are free. This isn’t so much because of the no-extra-cost drinks but because it reduces that awkward pause when you’re with people you just met and the check arrives.
Also like-minded passengers tend to gravitate toward each other. Say you take a snorkeling adventure or biking tour. You’ll notice back on board that the people who were along will be more friendly toward you. The same goes for cultural tours, etc.
Don’t barge in on passengers when they are sitting down to dinner, especially couples, unless invited. That’s OK at the bars but not the dining venues.