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For Cruise Travel, Age Matters

by Linda Coffman

March 2009 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 age 21.

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 Cruise Lines' 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 alone?

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 embarkation.

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 above was made, I wondered how it was allowed to be finalized with an under-21 passenger in the same booking with companions who weren't age 25.

My initial reaction was that the cruise was reserved online. So I tried making a booking for two hypothetical passengers at'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 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, 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."

Ouch! 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 mistakea mistake that will cost the young woman her cruise vacationby 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 used."

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 restrictions."

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 following question-and-answer:

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 additional restrictions."

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, anyone?

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... take your parents along.

Photo Courtesy of Princess Cruises

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