For Cruise Travel, Age Matters
— As a college student, I discovered I could fly across the country on my own, but
not rent a car. To my dismay, car rental agencies considered me a younger driver
because I wasn't 25. As
such, it was too "risky" to lease me a vehicle
to drive home from the airport, even at
Granted, that was decades ago and a lot of things have changed
over the years. However, while many of
our standards have become relaxed, one that has actually tightened
up is the minimum
age at which you can book a cruise.
Recently I received an email from a young woman who was searching
for an answer to a question "regarding boarding a Carnival cruise
ship when one is under the age of 21." She related, "I am 20 years
old and am going with two others who are 23 years old and one who is
24 years old... I have researched Carnival's policies regarding this
issue and have come to the conclusion that if you are under the age
of 21 you must be accompanied by a 25-year old, be a veteran or have
a marriage license. The cruise was booked for me and I was unaware
of this policy. I have purchased my plane ticket and have paid the
money for the cruise. My question to you is if there is any way I
would be able to get on the ship?"
The only response I could offer was to refer her to Carnival
official policy, which she'd already found. She'd even spoken to a
Carnival representative about her situation and learned that it
would be necessary to prove she met their requirements upon check-in.
The ultimate answer is that she would be denied boarding due to her
age and the age of her companions.
No Cruise For You
Carnival Cruise Lines' policy is published on their web site under
Frequently Asked Questions: How old do you have to be to travel
Guests are required to be 21 years old (on
embarkation day) to travel. Guests under the age of 21 must be
accompanied in the same stateroom by a parent or guardian 25 or
older. The exceptions Carnival will make to this policy are:
Married minor couple - The booking must be
documented that the couple is married. The couple must have
proof of marriage at embarkation or they will be denied boarding
without the benefit of a refund.
Domestic Partners/Same-Sex Union minor couple
- The booking must be documented that the couple are legal
Domestic Partners/Same-Sex Union. The couple must have legal
proof of partnership/union at embarkation or they will be denied
boarding without the benefit of a refund.
Guest ages will be verified at embarkation. Guests
not conforming to this policy will be denied boarding and assessed a
100% cancellation penalty. NO exceptions will be made at
The Group policy is slightly different because of stricter group
terms and conditions including mandatory chaperones, damage deposits
and other considerations.
While I don't know the specifics about how the reservation described
made, I wondered how it was allowed to be finalized with an
under-21 passenger in the same booking with companions who weren't
My initial reaction was that the cruise was reserved online. So I
tried making a booking for
passengers at Expedia.com's web site. My hypothetical passengers'
ages were 20 and 24 at the date of sailing. Only one step into the
booking, I got this warning:
Cruise line age restrictions:
- Carnival requires that passengers under 21 years old must be
accompanied by an adult who is at least 25 years old. Some
exceptions are made for married couples and families traveling in
multiple cabins. Please call a Cruise Specialist at 1-888-249-3978
if this applies to you.
So much for that attempt. Using the same information, I tried
booking with Travelocity.com. Initially, the site instructed me to select the number of passengers in these categories:
Adults (13-54); Children (2-12); Seniors (55+). I chose "2 Adults"
and the site
allowed me to select a date and stateroom before cautioning "Make sure
that at least one passenger in the stateroom is 21 years or older.
Passengers under the age of 21 must be accompanied by an adult 25
years of age or older in the same stateroom."
When I attempted to continue with my hypothetical passenger names and underage birthdates, I got the
notice: "We're sorry, but there must be at least one (1) passenger
on the cruise who meets the age requirements specified."
So, two popular Internet booking sites weren't going to
let me skirt Carnival Cruise Lines' age requirement. How about
Carnival.com, the line's own site? My booking try was stopped cold after entering
the two fictional
passengers' information with the message "You must be 21 years or older to book
online AND must be accompanied by someone 25 years or older in your
stateroom at time of sailing."
It's possible the 20-year old woman's friends fudged on the
birthdates when reserving the cruise, thinking that no one would
check. After all, she said someone else had made the booking for
her. Or, possibly her friends simply made a mistake—a
mistake that will cost the young woman her cruise vacation—by
assuming she was 21.
Amber Blecker, owner of the Denver-based travel agency
offers other possibilities on how this happened. "First," Amber
says, "it's possible they went through a travel agent who did not
put in exact ages when making the booking. Some booking systems
default to a generic age, such as 35, when no specific date of birth
is entered. If the agent wasn't being careful to check ages before
making the booking with Carnival, this could have been an oversight
on the agent's part. But Carnival is extremely thorough about asking
for dates of birth and/or ages for each passenger when making a
booking, either through their direct booking system (both public and
for agents) or on the phone. However, when using a third-party
platform, such as Sabre, generic ages could have been accidentally
Additionally, Amber points out that, "While you tested two
popular booking sites, there are many smaller agency sites online
which, unfortunately, aren't quite as diligent about disclosure of
requirements such as this. While younger consumers are typically
extremely internet savvy, and always looking for a deal to save
precious cash, it's important anyone under 21 work with someone well
versed in cruise line requirements, either in person or with good
phone contact, and be sure to ask the question about minimum age
So, did they simply book on the wrong cruise line, considering their
ages? Yes and no. For instance, if you look on Royal Caribbean
International's web site under Onboard Policies, you'll find the
Q: What is Royal Caribbean International's Age Policy?
A: No guest under the age of twenty-one (21) will be reserved in a
stateroom unless accompanied by an adult twenty-one (21) years of
age, or older. This age limit will be waived for minor children
sailing with their parents or guardians in adjacent staterooms or
under-aged married couples (proof of marriage is required). Royal
Caribbean International reserves the right to ask for proof of age.
The four young women could have booked a Royal Caribbean cruise
or a cruise on Celebrity, which has a similar policy. They wouldn't
have had any problem complying with Princess' policy that any
passenger under the age of 21 must be accompanied by an adult age 21
or older who "shall assume responsibility for their care during the
cruise." Norwegian Cruise Line takes it a tad further,
requiring that passengers under 21 be accompanied by a passenger age
21 or older who expressly agrees to be responsible for the under-21
passenger throughout the cruise.
"Surprisingly," Amber notes, "Disney is the only major line which
still has 18 years old as the minimum age to occupy a cabin with no
It's All About Spring Break
Spring Break trips are a long-standing tradition in colleges
across America. Even Cruise
Diva escaped a frigid university campus in the 60s and headed for
Daytona Beach during her youth. It's a rite of passage for most and
there was a time when spring breakers were looked upon as simply
fun-loving college kids out to have a good time. News
stories, and even a movie Where the Boys Are, have
chronicled the antics of students indulging in Spring Break
rituals for decades. Unfortunately, news of their escapades has
become increasingly outrageous in recent years. Girls Gone Wild,
While it's uncertain exactly when students discovered cruises as
an alternative to beach resorts, it didn't take long to wear out their
welcome. Some took the good times a bit too far and cruise
lines responded by rolling up the red carpet. Not unlike car rental
agencies, cruise lines simply won't take the risk of damage to their
ships, not to mention their reputations.
Before you consider booking a spring break cruise, there's more
to think about than how you'll look in a new bikini. Take the time
to investigate whether you and your companions meet the minimum age
requirements set out by the cruise lines.
Happily, (or not so much) there is an alternative...
your parents along.
Photo Courtesy of