Remember the Alan Alda movie "The Four Seasons," in which couples who were longtime friends vacationed together on a regular basis? That 1981 movie continues to inspire, as seniors planning their big vacation of the year are now choosing to travel with their best couple friends.
Yes, vacationing with the kids and grandkids is still on their to-do list. But with the overall health benefits from keeping close friendships, many seniors now plan an annual getaway with their best friends, or celebrate a milestone anniversary or birthday at a five-star tropical resort, sipping pina coladas with their friends. And some seniors "carpe diem" each year with a trip just for their circle of couple friends.
According to the Travel Industry Association of America, trips taken by mature travelers aged 55-plus accounted for almost half of domestic trips taken, and senior citizens accounted for nearly one-third of domestic travel. With some disposable income and free time after retirement, travel is a high priority for many seniors, and they'd like to see destinations that have long been on their wish list.
If you're interested in inviting your closest couple friends on a vacation with you, keep these important tips in mind:
--Plan for privacy. If you're not used to sharing a hotel room with anyone other than your partner, now is not the time to experiment with "you take that double bed, and we'll take the other." Your friends, too, will have their own comfort levels with sharing a room, even a two-bedroom suite, and especially with sharing a bathroom. Separate rooms might be the way to go.
--Decide on a trip style. Do you want to go to a tropical island, or is a cruise more your style? Cruises come in different shapes and sizes, from expedition cruises with adventure on the agenda to theme cruises, international cruises and luxury yacht cruises with a private staff and your own staterooms.
--Decide on your independence level. A guided tour keeps you on a strict schedule, and if you don't book a custom tour, you could spend your week with other travelers with whom you do not mesh. A nonstructured tour lets you relax when you want and tour as you wish.
--Decide on the right weather. You may feel achy in the cold, which could eliminate wintry vacation destinations, or you may hate humidity.
--Decide on a budget that works for all couples. Discussing money with friends is never comfortable, especially if one couple in your group is more monied than others. But if everyone searches for some budget-friendly options, you can agree as a group on an acceptable spending amount. Consider all-inclusive resorts that may not seem budget-best at first, but if you're not paying for every meal, snack and drink, this option could work for everyone.
--Start with a short trip. If you haven't traveled with another couple before, you don't know whether it's something you'll enjoy. Better to enjoy three quick days together than to be stuck on a two-week tour with friends whose traveling style doesn't mesh with yours. If you love it, you can always plan a longer trip next time.
--Think about accessibility for all members of your group. If a resort is hilly, your less mobile friends may struggle getting around on foot and may not like having to be shuttled while everyone else strolls in the tropical moonlight.
--Agree on time spent together versus time spent apart. Making a plan to "spend most of the trip together, but some time doing our own thing" gets everyone's expectations in line.
Some of the most popular adventures and activities enjoyed by seniors while on vacation include:
--Cruises. It may be a four-hour sunset ferry ride around the island, or it may be an all-day sail aboard a private yacht with a short excursion for a gourmet lunch. MaryAnne DeMatteo Diamante, sales director for Jumby Bay Resort on an island off Antigua, says, "A yacht outing provides VIP service with your own staff, which can be a very special surprise for a group member having a milestone birthday or a couple having a special anniversary."
--Snorkeling. Being in the water may be comfortable for those with knee or back issues, and snorkeling in a great location provides activity and great scenery.
--Fine dining. Many resorts have spectacular chefs in residence, and a delectable meal followed by a shared dessert and fine wine or bubbly creates an unforgettable evening -- especially if the meal comes with a great view.
--Shopping. Duty-free shopping opens up opportunities to indulge. For many senior couples, the athletes may play golf or tennis on award-winning courses or courts, while the non-athletic may take the afternoon to visit the shops.
--Nature tours. Check with the concierge about the ease of guided hikes or bike tours, or explore your resort grounds on your own to photograph flowers, trees, ocean jetties and other sights.
--Private dinners on the beach. Again, this may be a surprise, but many resorts will set up a private candlelit table and serve dinner to you as the sun sets.
Before booking any vacation, always check with your doctor about any advice you should follow in the region of your vacation (such as taking extra cautions against mosquitoes), and be sure you have enough medication to allow for any delays in your return home. With your safety as a focus, you can enjoy your couples getaway.