Cruise travel often conjures up images of couples enjoying a holiday together on the high seas but what of those who don’t have or don’t want to travel with a significant other?
It certainly seems there is no “loner” stigma attached to solo cruising. According to a recent poll by cruise news and review Web site Cruise Critic® (http://www.cruisecritic.co.uk) only 35 percent of cruisers said that they preferred to travel with company; meanwhile, 16 percent said they loved going solo, and 49 percent said they would try it if the price was right.
Indeed, cruise travel for the unaccompanied is on the up, and lines that offer single cabins say that these are among the first to sell out. However, Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown—who often sails solo—warns of the financial penalties facing the single sailor. “Single cabin supplements can be staggering, with charges ranging anywhere between 125 percent of the cruise fare to 200 percent which, in essence, means paying the same price as a couple travelling together. The fact is that single cabins are few and far between. Demand is far greater than supply and so the cruise lines can charge a premium price.”
The situation has been exacerbated by the modular design of new ships, which tends to be based on prefabricated cabins for two, so there are fewer single cabins to be found. However, this year we have seen some lines bucking this trend. P&O’s Azura launched with 18 dedicated single cabins and NCL’s Norwegian Epic features a whopping studio 128 cabins designated for solo travellers. All 128 of the studio cabins are priced for single occupancy with no supplement and the occupants also get an exclusive, shared social space called the Studios Lounge.
Single cabin availability varies widely between ships and cruise lines. All Fred.Olsen ships offer solo cabins but Costa Cruises, Holland America and Swan Hellenic only have a few single cabins on some of their ships. Saga Holidays is one of few companies offering single cabins in a variety of categories; Saga Ruby offers 92 single cabins and Saga Pearl II has 60 cabins which is almost 25 percent of the entire ships’ entire accommodation. Another exception is Voyages of Discovery; while their ship MV Discovery has only two actual single cabins, 169 double cabins are also designated as singles and sold at a single rate.
A money-saving alternative is to share a cabin and, although this may not appeal to everyone, it can mean significant savings. Some lines, including Holland America and Fred. Olsen, have programmes that connect singles travellers who might be interested in sharing a cabin. Online travel sites can also help, such as the companion matching site Travelchums.com. Singles-only travel companies, such as www.solosholidays.co.uk will match up cabin mates when they schedule cruises.
Price aside, going on a cruise need not be a daunting challenge for the solo traveller. To help “break the ice,” many cruise lines hold receptions for passengers travelling on their own and some even offer “gentlemen” dance partners.
Said Spencer Brown, “There’s an art to travelling singly and happily and a cruise ship is the ideal catalyst - it is just so easy mix and mingle. Through Web sites such as ours, you can register on the Roll Call for a forthcoming cruise and get to know passengers before you sail.
“Once onboard, the best way to meet people is to take part in activities, so choose a ship offering things you like to do. Similarly, go on the ship’s shore excursions - the wackier the excursion, the more likely there will be a bonding opportunity.
“When it comes to dining, unaccompanied travellers should be selective when choosing dining partners. Ships with assigned dining, such as Celebrity, Crystal and Royal Caribbean, offer a built-in social component but don’t be afraid to ask for a new table if you are not happy and ask to be seated with other solo cruisers if that’s what you want. Also, remember a later seating means less families.
“If you ask, the cruise director should be happy to make introductions on your behalf and, if you are up to it, visit the ship’s bars and lounges on the first night at sea as that’s when other singles are most likely to be roaming to see who’s on ship.”
Spencer Brown concludes, “Pick the right ship and the right cruise and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be onboard, on your own and having a ball.”