Richard Turen
Richard Turen

If you are going to open a coffee shop and serve the general public, it's best not to discriminate against guests over the age of 60. Your coffee might get cold waiting for customers.

If you operate a bookstore, the books might sit on the shelves a long time if your front door displays a sign declaring that no one under the age of 18 is allowed inside.

But we are seeing a trend toward myriad age limitations at sea as lines try to differentiate themselves from the larger, family-friendly, "everyone welcome" cruise lines.

This chic age discrimination now goes beyond the assertion that "We really don't have proper facilities for kids so you will have to entertain them yourselves." That isn't discrimination.

But what about clearly delineated age limitations? Should travel products -- be they hotels, airlines or cruise ships -- be able to set age limits to control their market? Is it OK to rather arbitrarily keep young people off a product simply because the marketing folks have determined that a line's clientele craves peace and quiet?

Some of us might choose Delta over United or American if they could guarantee we will not encounter children on our flight. But wouldn't we call that discrimination?

Viking Cruises, already a major player and about to get bigger, has announced that guests aboard its ships must be 18 or older. Viking's position on this is that its 50-and-older clientele appreciate a child-free environment. I happen to support that view as well as Viking's right to set the age limits of its guests.

Viking is successful, I believe, in part as a result of its willingness to offer educational lectures, live classical music and tea service in an adults-only environment. It is, all in all, a less frenetic cruising experience and one clearly defined as adult. Viking wants to operate a cruise line whose customers are all over the age of 50.

Can we seriously argue that groups of young kids cavorting about the ship must be a part of every cruise option? And that's the point, isn't it? There are lots of kid-friendly options.

Suggesting that children would not be comfortable onboard and pointing out the lack of dedicated child facilities is one thing. Barring anyone with children under the age of 18 is quite something else.

But let's not single out Viking. This is a bit of a trend. England-based P&O Cruises, a Carnival Corp. line, does not allow families on three of its adults-only vessels.

U River Cruises started out with age barriers for both young and old, with a cut-off age of 45. I fully understood that; who would ever want to travel with 46-year-olds barely able to take care of themselves? But the line (then known as U by Uniworld) relented, lifting the ban for older folks, though its no-minors policy remains in place.

Most cruise lines, including Azamara, Celebrity, Crystal and Oceania, do not accept guests younger than 6 months. But Virgin Voyages, set to launch the first of three 2,700-passenger ships in 2020, will not be accepting any guests under the age of 18

So what we are seeing is that several major cruise lines have taken the position that anyone under the age of 18 will not be allowed to sail on their ships, even if their parents consent to the fact that there are no child facilities onboard. No one under the age of 18.

Is this age discrimination? Or does a private company selling cruises on the high seas have the absolute right, legally and ethically, to determine which age group it wishes to exclude?

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