- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

Screaming toddlers, wailing babies and stressed-out parents chasing after their unruly offspring isn't anyone's idea of a dream vacation.

So Celebrity Cruises started offering special sailings with one restriction: No one under the age of 21 is allowed.

Adult vacations without the distraction of children are a growing trend in the travel industry as businesses look for ways to reach more customers and add to the bottom line.

"We're serving an untapped market and trying to differentiate ourselves," said Tom Plummer, market research manager for Celebrity.

The cruise line's Web site boasts that its Celebrity Escape cruises are "for parents who need a vacation from parenting and for guests who like to cruise without children on board."

Celebrity started offering the special packages on four cruises this year, but already has extended it for four more in 2003.

"It's another option out there," says Nancy Zebrick, a travel expert and consultant for Onetravel.com, an online travel agency. "Because the travel industry was hit so hard with the lack of revenue after 9/11 and the economy, they are looking for any niche to create revenue."

Sandals Resorts caught on to the niche even earlier when the all-inclusive chain of couples-only resorts opened its first adult-only destination in 2000.

"There is a market for it, and it's growing," said John D. Lynch, executive vice president of sales worldwide for Sandals Resorts. The chain is more well-known for its all-inclusive, couples-only resorts, which started in 1981, but it expanded the all-inclusive concept to adult-only resorts, as well as to family resorts.

Both of Sandals' adult-only resorts are in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The first, Beaches Grande Sport, does not allow children under the age of 16. Royal Plantation Golf Resort & Spa by Beaches, which opened in February 2001, does not allow anyone under 18.

"We saw the opportunity to develop adult-only resorts," said Mr. Lynch, who expects the company will open more adult-only resorts. "You have a market of females and males that want to travel alone."

It makes sense that travel destinations would market to this niche, Ms. Zebrick said. The generation ranging in age from late 20s to early 40s has the disposable income to spend on trips for themselves, she added.

"There is definitely a trend because there are more people choosing not to have kids, or they are having children at a much later age," she said.

Childless travel and vacations to places that aren't child-friendly are growing, as popularity soars for spa vacations and trips in which adults learn a skill or sport, Ms. Zebrick said. Those trips usually end up being child-free, even if there aren't restrictions.

Celebrity's first adult-only cruise set sail Sept. 23, but just about half the passengers knew the ship would have no children aboard, Mr. Plummer said. However, the child-free cruise was a success, based on a survey of 800 guests.

Eight out of 10 people surveyed said the trip was better than cruises with children aboard. More than 90 percent said they would recommend it to friends and family.

Traveling to child-free destinations could be a much-needed break for parents.

"I don't think it's problematic for couples to spend time away from their children," said Peg Carmack Short, a writer and speaker who focuses on family, marriage and women in the Chicago area. "Couples need some time to nurture themselves and their relationships. But family vacations are extremely important, too."

Families have hundreds of vacation options, from Ocean City, which prides itself as a drive-to family hot spot, to the master of all children's destinations, Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Even Las Vegas has marketed itself to families. Despite its heavily adult-themed entertainment and 21-or-older rule on gambling, children are still present at the resorts.

And there's a place for children on Celebrity just not on its adult-only cruises.

Mr. Plummer says the company, which has a target market of 35- to 54-year-olds, isn't discouraging children from its cruise line because they are allowed on other ships.

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