Traveling With AAA podcast

Episode 24: Cruising for the Under 40 Crowd

In this episode:

Andrea Zelinski and Nicole Edenedo from Travel Weekly discuss younger travelers’ growing interest in cruising and dispel myths that sometimes keep those under 40 from booking a cruise.

Mary Herendeen:

Sir Francis Drake is known for saying, “It's not that life ashore is distasteful to me, but life at sea is better.” Most cruise lovers would agree, and while some past misperceptions have been that those of an older generation are the ones hopping aboard cruise ships, recent travel trends and cruise lines show us that it's not.

Welcome to Traveling With AAA. I'm your host, Mary Herendeen. Today, we're cruising for the under-40 crowd and the forever-young cruise adventurers. We have 2 guests today; we are joined by Andrea Zelinski, a senior editor who covers cruising at the travel industry publication, Travel Weekly. Aside from those publications, she spent her career in political reporting for Texas Monthly and the Houston Chronicle. She's also appeared in, an online magazine for young women.

We are also joined by Nicole Edenedo, also a senior editor covering river cruises and tour operators at Travel Weekly. A former Californian turned East Coaster, Nicole has worked for television stations in Maryland, Delaware, and New York. Listeners may have caught her news stories when she was a TV anchor or appeared in digital media outlets.

Welcome, Nicole and Andrea!

Andrea and Nicole:

Thanks for having us.


I'm very excited. Now, I know both of you have the Travel Weekly article, “Cruising’s youth movement” from August 2022, in which you reveal that travel advisors are finding Gen Z and millennial travelers are really interested in cruising. Can you tell us more about it?


Andrea, do you want to kick us off?


Yeah, sure. Millennials generally have been left out of the cruising conversation, right? There's this conception that cruising attracts an older crowd, and to some extent, there's some truth to that. What you need to be a cruiser are time and money, and a lot of times, people in younger generations probably don't have both. Maybe they're lucky that they have one, but might not have the other, so they've been largely left out of this conversation.

What is interesting is that there is interest among millennials to cruise. It's really about connecting cruise lines to travelers who are working remotely and can do things from abroad, who are interested in new experiences and who are always interested in new content that they can post on their social media accounts. There's this need to connect with those travelers and give them a taste of the cruise life to see if that is something they're interested in.


Thanks for explaining, Andrea. Go ahead, Nicole.


To echo Andrea, there is that misconception that younger generations under a certain age— under 45, under 50, under 60­­—don't have the time and the money to be able to go on a 7-night river cruise or longer. But really the demographic and their ability to travel for greater lengths of time and at higher price points is changing. Not just because of influencers and the very nice package deals that they get with their sponsors and the partners who they work with, but because you have a very fast-growing demographic that, in many aspects, has better-paying jobs, more time, flexibility. And we're in a culture now where companies are listening to what millennials, to what younger generations want in terms of flexibility with work-life balance, more flexibility for vacation time, and working remotely, especially now since the pandemic.

So, there is definitely a market out there, and even I've been approached about the young professional travelers in my and Andrea's age range who are well-paid, college-educated professionals. They've been to the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. They've been to those areas, they have all this money and they actually don't know where to spend it. They want to travel more, experience more, and they don't know where to go or who to turn to in order to figure out what their next journey is in travel.

There's definitely an untapped market out there that the ocean expedition and river cruise industries need to pay more careful attention to if they want to jump on the gun before things really start firing off, and they have to scramble to catch up.


It's interesting you mentioned that. As you were speaking, it really did trigger that the workplace is changing, the workforce is changing, and the demands are different. Being cooped up, locked away for COVID, and then so many different social movements really have people looking for life happening outside of work and demanding a different set of benefits and a way to spend their time.

To your point, not only are workplaces offering more of that flexibility, but there's also work from home or work from wherever as long as you're dialed in and getting the work done. It makes sense that the travel industry wants to keep up with those changes we see happening in the workplace.

Now, what are cruise lines or cruise companies doing to attract that younger audience or to better market to them?


I'll jump in on that. So, one of them is marketing, right? It's trying to find this audience, where they are online, where they spend their time. For example, Carnival Cruise Line is going after new cruisers, which includes this demographic and Gen X as well. But the biggest way to reach out to this generation is through word of mouth. That’s where they are going to be able to get more buy-in. You know someone who's been on a cruise and who had a good time and can tell you about it.


And I would say the way that river cruise lines are trying to reach out to the younger demographics, millennials and Gen Z, is they're trying to pinpoint more of a focus on active river cruising. It’s an easier segue from an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean on a beach somewhere to an ocean cruise, which is like a floating all-inclusive resort.

But with river cruising, even though you're going through all these beautiful historic cities in Europe, or on the Nile, or the Mekong, or the Amazon in South America, it's still is hard for younger travelers to think outside of, “Isn't that all that stuff for older people?” Slower, just walking tours and all that stuff.

River cruise lines are definitely trying to hone in more on active itineraries that get you up and moving. You're on bikes, regular bikes or e-bikes, for longer periods of time traversing in the area or destination and seeing what it has to offer. You might be going on more extensive kayaking tours or things like that on the water. Just more active things like hiking, so I think that's what they're really trying to incorporate.

Also, I want to add that I know one particular brand, Emerald Cruises, is definitely making great strides to use the travel advisor resources that they have, such as with ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors). ASTA has a Young Professionals Society network, which I believe is travel advisors under the age of 40 who are tapped into those millennials and Gen Z networks and sell to those clients.

So, Emerald Cruises just hosted a YPS (Young Professional Society) fam trip to help them understand their brand, marketing strategies, and to take that back to their clients to better sell their cruises.


You mentioned that it's word of mouth, right? And having industry experts come do the fam cruise, really experience it, and take it back. How is word of mouth happening or how are they getting it back to those networks? Is it social media? Do we see Instagrammers or any social media influencers that are really doing this and taking off with it?


I think a lot of this is through social media and our networks, right? Whether you’re posting photos on Instagram or you're on TikTok. For example, I took my sister as a guest on a recent cruise on Virgin Voyages, and she does a lot of Snapchat so she was Snapchatting throughout the entire cruise, and before she had even gotten off the ship, she was telling her mom's group, “We need a book of cruise.” And she was telling her husband the same thing, and she had never cruised before. So, I think a lot of it is by showing pictures of what it is that you're doing, and it's relating it that way because we all spend plenty of time looking at our phones and seeing these worlds that the people we know are in. I think that has been the big word of mouth.


Yeah, so thinking about that, we're always on our phones, it's the word of mouth, wanting to stay connected. Do cruise lines have fast, good Wi-Fi? Are they keeping up with that demand, and ensuring that the younger generation—the social media savvy, social media connected generation—is able to get online?


Yeah, they are. A lot of cruise lines are upgrading their Wi-Fi. The hot, new thing is using SpaceX's Starlink, which uses a type of satellite that Elon Musk is putting up there above our heads, but a whole network of them, which makes connection a lot faster. These satellites are lower and they're closer to Earth's orbit, so the connection can come up and down a lot faster than with the satellites that we've been traditionally using that are way higher up.

I think Carnival has just announced that they're going to be switching over to SpaceX. Royal Caribbean has already done it. Several other lines are already going that way because they realize whether you want to work from a ship, or you want to be able to make sure you can check your emails, or you want to be putting videos on Instagram, which obviously helps them and their brand, they are upgrading the internet.

Sometimes Wi-Fi is expensive, sometimes lines have made it pretty inexpensive, then some may have it tiered where if you want be able to stream, you would go into a different tier, but if you just want to be able to check email and text message, that's included. That is a big part of the strategy of reaching out to a lot of generations, but particularly this one.


I know of at least one river cruise line that has switched over to Starlink, that's American Cruise Lines. Those satellite Starlink systems are on their entire 2023 fleet, and any ships that they're renovating right now that are out of 2023 service will have that installed in time for their 2024 sailing season. So, American Cruise Lines is doing that as well.


Wow, it sounds like pretty much all cruise lines are moving along in that direction, realizing that cruisegoers are going to need and want that connection whether they're traveling and working, or traveling for leisure and getting that time off.

Now, you mentioned cost, and this is interesting. I know we talked about that misconception, but there are still some folks out there that may think that it's too expensive or they'll get bored on a cruise ship. Nicole, can you tell us a little bit about the cost that's involved? Are cruise lines, river cruises, or others doing anything to help cut costs, or even help increase the way that people perceive the value they're getting?


Definitely, 2 companies stand out in my mind. Not because of any favoritism or anything like that, it's just because I've written a couple of recent stories in the last week or so about some new offers specifically targeting this. Riviera River Cruises, which is a youth-based river cruise line, has a pretty good solo traveler program where I don't believe that they add any single supplement for somebody looking to go on a river cruise with them. I believe it's a pretty good price point.

I've had a travel advisor sort of break it down for me. River cruises are a little bit more expensive than just going straight to a very nice, high-end, all-inclusive in Mexico or the Caribbean, but the difference is with the price point that you're paying for river cruise, you're actually able to cover some ground.




You're not just staying in one place. You're able to touch different countries and cities, and have those great Instagram moments, whether you're off the ship in the cities and the destinations themselves or you're onboard sailing through these scenic places like the Rhine Gorge with all these castles and everything flanking you on either side. So, the price points may be a tad higher than all-inclusives, but for what you get out of it, a lot of lines are definitely trying to make it a bang worth your buck. I know Riviera River Cruises is doing that. Tauck is doing that for sure.

They understand that coming out of the pandemic, coming out of the summer of Air-mageddon, where we had all of those air crises, cancellations, delays, and exorbitantly high prices for flights—as airlines are starting to bring their roots back online—people’s wallets are shrinking a little bit from those pandemic savings that they've had over the last couple of years. They know that value is going to come back to the forefront.

That's really going to be a staple for regular people who don't have crazy disposable incomes. That's going to be a really big pinpoint for them as they move forward and plan their travels. They want value, they want the best bang for the buck, and those are just a couple of river cruise lines that have really tried to put that at the forefront for their packages.


That solo traveler and that single supplement cost could be a real deterrent for somebody who's trying to make a trip, have a really great experience, but also make it cost-effective. It sounds like Riviera got it right. Well, thank you. And Andrea, anything else?


Among the ocean-going cruises, there's a lot of discounting. Right now, prices are recovering from what all these cruise lines had to go through in the pandemic with keeping prices down. They are starting to climb, but you still see a lot of “Buy one, have your second passenger half off,” or “Kids sail free,” or just heavily discounted prices in order to not just get the person who's booking on, but to make it more affordable to get that extra passenger or those kids, because millennials do have kids—some of us have kids.

They're looking for a vacation of, “What can I do so I can relax?” and also bring their kids on to have them play with the kids club or different activities, like paying for go karts or all these extras. Across the board, cruisers are spending more on these extras, on that specialty dining, or the excursions and other activities. And kids also don't eat that much, so they're not very expensive passengers, but they can be very profitable ones.


I know any time I take my kids, I have 2 who are 4 years old and 8 years old, and no matter where we go, no matter how cost-effective I try to make it, I end up spending more than I anticipated. It feels worth it because when I'm looking at the initial cost, I realize that I am going to spend more once I'm on board or once I'm there on things we see and experiences that we want to have that we hadn't anticipated. I think it's just important to plan for that as well.

With the cruise lines keeping the costs low, having tactics like that, they know that they're going to get the return on it and that travelers will feel like that was a good return on their investment to travel.

This seems like a good time to take a break. When we come back, we're going to talk a little bit about your personal experiences and whether you would recommend a cruise to a younger crowd.

Welcome back to Traveling With AAA. I'm your host, Mary Herendeen, and today we are cruising. We're cruising with the under-40 and forever-young-at-heart cruisers.

We're joined by Nicole Edenedo and Andrea Zelinski. Welcome back to both of you. Before we went to break, we were talking about the cost that's associated with cruising and what cruise lines are doing to attract that younger generation.

Could you tell us a little bit about your own experiences as younger cruisers yourselves? How do you enjoy cruising, and would you recommend an ocean or a river cruise to one of your peers?


I would definitely recommend at least trying a cruise, and definitely trying both if you can and if it matches your price point and you’ve got a little bit extra in your wallet. I've only ever been on 1 ocean cruise, and that was with Virgin Voyages. I particularly loved it, especially the no-kids part. I'm sorry!

It’s so much fun. You're just on a big, ol’ party ship with a bunch of like-minded people of all different ages over 18. So, it's pretty fun.

I would definitely recommend a river cruise to anybody in my age range—Gen Z, millennials—just because I think it is such an untapped area of travel for people our age. I think that once you get past any sort of misconceptions—that it's just for older generations, slower travel, and all that stuff—you realize what's at the heart of it: You are moving through the heart of Europe on these famous rivers where cities and whole countries were built out from. People surrounded their lives by the rivers! So, as you're going through these areas, you're pulling up straight into the city center at times and you're in the heart of certain places like Budapest, Vienna, so many different places. It's just such a great way to make an entrance into a new nation.

Being on board, it's a smaller experience than an ocean cruise. There are really only about 200 people on board total, that includes crew. It's usually up to about maybe 185-189 guests, so it's a very small, much more intimate experience. And there are even smaller vessels; if you go on the Nile, it's going to be smaller. If you go on the Mekong, it's going to be smaller ships because of the kind of rivers that they have to navigate and the kind of boats that they have to have for those waterways.

It's just such a great way to cover a lot of ground. It's an intimate experience and you can make friends, meet so many different people and get to actually know them as opposed to finding a smaller group on an ocean cruise—which is great, but you maybe won't have that intimacy that you can find on a river cruise, but I'm sure there are some benefits to that that Andrea can definitely talk about.


Well, Nicole, it sounds like that's not generational at all. It's really about preference and the experience that you want to have. Based on what you're describing, it sounds like a really beautiful, very personal and impactful experience that you could have making your entrance to a city. It sounds incredible. I guess it's more about the experience and not the generation. Andrea, what about for you? What do you think?


Would I recommend an ocean cruise to a millennial? Absolutely. I would also come with the caveat of, you need help or you need to do the research to figure out which is the right line for you. Ocean cruises are as big as a 7,000-passenger ship, with the Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas that'll be coming out late this year, all the way to a smaller expedition ship that only carries about 200 people.

The big thing is to just find the ship that's good for you. What is it that you're looking for? If you have kids and you want to keep them entertained, there's a variety of ships that are great for that. If you don't have kids, if you really want that kid-free experience where you feel like you're sailing with a bunch of adults, there are several cruise lines for that.

I have people in my friend group, and I tell them what I do, and they ask questions and I get these misconceptions, right? “Oh, I don't want to be stuck on a ship and may feel a little claustrophobic.” OK, there can be ways to deal with that. There are people who are just like, “I have this idea that it’s this big party, which is very crowded.” And it's like, yeah, but there are other ships that can give you that more intimate experience that Nicole was talking about. My favorite cruises have been ones where I traveled solo and I made friends and just met a lot of people. Especially on a relatively small ship, you run into those people all the time, you end up creating relationships with them and you dine with them and you just have drinks.

I think for a lot of millennials, we like the idea of experiences so I would recommend to any millennial that it’s worth trying and seeing what you think about it. We like trying all sorts of stuff, right? And taking pictures in big, beautiful places. Ocean cruises, like river, offer the opportunity to see a lot of places while only unpacking once. I've seen it as a good opportunity to be like, “OK, well if I haven't been to Europe, a cruise through different parts of Europe would be great. Then I can figure out where I want to go back and spend more time on a second vacation.”


That's interesting. I'm a habitual over packer, and I have a hard time with the idea that I might have to repack. Getting to see other places, getting out of the city and viewing everything, then having to come back. The alternative is packing up, bringing it with you, then unpacking and there's so much time that's lost.


You got to plan your outfits!


I know, I know! I have to do a better job. To your point, it’s a great way to see a lot of places and only unpacking once. I guess this really is about the experience you want to have.

What advice would you give for travelers, millennials or otherwise, looking to go on a cruise when they're thinking about the research or the things they should tell their travel advisor?


It’s such a great question, and definitely a personal one. What do you want out of your cruise experience? Do you want to be around a lot of different types of people? Do mind being sort of one among the crowd? Or do you want a more personalized experience, where people get to know you a little bit, get to know your preferences, your tastes, and things like that? Even if just for that short time you’re on board.

Do you want to be able to get off the ship at a destination, and go ride a bike or join an excursion? Even if you didn't want to join an excursion, do you want to be able to have the freedom to just step off the ship and go wander around for hours? Do you want that kind of freedom and the ability to be able to do that? I think those are some of the qualities where a travel advisor might suggest that a river cruise might be best for you, or an ocean cruise that has that does overnights in ports.

I think Virgin does that in Europe with their Mediterranean cruise and whatnot. So, it's what do you want to do? What do you want to get out of your cruise? Do you want to be left alone? Do you want to leisurely relax? Or do you want to go with the flow in some areas and just see what happens?


All important things to consider for what sounds like very different experiences you can get no matter what cruise you choose. Thank you for that. Any final words on that, Andrea? Any last piece of advice for those looking to go on a cruise?


I want to echo Nicole. If you want to go on a cruise, think about what it is that you want to accomplish. Are you going to relax and rest, and just looking for that beach vacation? There are plenty of cruise lines that offer that, where you're spending a day in the beach club and then you're at sea.

Maybe it's a short one, maybe you can only get away for 3, 4, or 5 days and that's a good way to test the cruise to see if you like the line for the first time without it being a full commitment of a week or longer, you know?

Do you really want to explore? And if you want to explore, as Nicole was saying, there are definitely lines that do overnights. I think Azamara does some of the most overnights in ports, and they and other lines are trying to stay longer. So, is that something that's important to you?

Also, is it important for you to have an all-inclusive experience? Some cruise lines are a little bit more all-inclusive than others in terms of, “I know I've bought a ticket, so I'm going to have all this covered,” versus “OK, maybe I don't drink, or maybe I don't drink very much, and it doesn't make sense to try to get a beverage package that boils down to a lot more money than I would spend piecemeal if I only drink maybe 1 or 2 drinks a day.”

So, just thinking about what kind of vacation or what kind of trip are you looking to have, and communicating that with your agent because your agent is going to be able to mentally play matchmaker with all those different things and find a line that works really good for you.


Yeah, that sounds great. And dump the misconceptions, right? Dispel the myths and get curious.

Nicole Edenedo and Andrea Zelinski, senior editors at Travel Weekly, thank you so much for being with us.


Thank you!


Thank you so much for having us, Mary. We really appreciate it.


It's been my pleasure. I hope to have you back. Thank you to our listeners for being with us.

If you're planning a trip, be sure to connect with a AAA travel advisor, check out or visit your local branch. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe. I'm Mary Herendeen, thank you for traveling with AAA.

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