Cruising: The Ideal Getaway for Solo Travelers
by Erica Silverstein, Cruise Critic
In many ways, cruising is an ideal getaway for solo travelers. Many cruise lines welcome singles with receptions to meet other solo passengers, usually held early on in the cruise. Some even have "gentlemen" dance hosts onboard so that women traveling alone do not feel like wallflowers when the band strikes up. These dance hosts can be found on Crystal, Cunard, Fred. Olsen, and Voyages of Discovery (November to April only). On longer voyages of Holland America (30+ days) and Silversea (10+ days), similar services are also offered. Seabourn makes sure all single travelers are hosted at dinner by the ship's officers, staff, or entertainers. And, with themed cruises on the rise, solo travelers can choose to book onto group sailings targeting singles.
If you're contemplating cruising on your own, what do you need to know before booking a voyage? Here are the four key factors you should consider.
Choosing a Ship and Cabin
The industry's trend toward bigger and bigger shipsthink 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas makes it a bit harder to meet others who may be traveling alone (a bit like the difference between living in a small village and Manhattan). It can be more difficult to find these fellow solo passengers on ships with thousands of guests, and you're not guaranteed to run into friendly folks you meet on a shore excursion or at the casino later on in the cruise.
Small ships, on the other hand, tend to be quite social, and you'll see the same faces again and again. Open-seating dinners, smaller excursion numbers, and an emphasis on interactive activities (like game play and trivia) are conducive to meeting people and making friends. However, these ships tend to carry an older clientele and a higher price tag, so they might not be what young, single travelers are looking for.
Beyond the size of the ship, another consideration for solo travelers is cabin type. Newer ships tend to feature uniform, pre-fabricated cabins for two, so there are fewer single cabins to be found. Illustrating this trend, neither Cunard's 2004-launched Queen Mary 2 nor the new-for-2010 Queen Elizabeth offer cabins for one, even though the line's now-retired QE2 was built in the late 1960's with 122 single cabins.
The good news is that 2010 may be a banner year for solo cruisers. P&O Cruises' Azura debuted in April 2010 with 18 dedicated single cabins, a first for the U.K.-based line. But, the real story is Norwegian Epic2010's massive NCL new-build. The ship features 128 cabins designated for solo travelers. The so-called "studio cabins" are 100-square-foot accommodations with full-size beds and separate areas for the bathrooms, sinks, and showers. Studio passengers also get an exclusive, shared social space called the Studios Lounge, featuring a bar, two large TV screens, and a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions. All 128 of the studio cabins are priced for single occupancy.
The Solo Supplement
The biggest hurdle for solo cruisers is the dreaded single supplement. Because most lines don't offer cabins for one, or because the few that exist sell out quickly, they will typically charge an extra fee to a solo traveler who wants to reserve a double-occupancy cabin sans roommate. This surcharge can range anywhere from 10 percent of the cruise fare to 100 percent (which, in essence, means you are paying double or the same price as two people sharing a cabin).
This singles "tax" can make cruising on your own an expensive proposition. Here are a few tips for making a solo sailing more affordable:
* Shop around for the lowest supplement. Several cruise lines add 50 percent or less to the per-person rate for singles occupying a double-occupancy cabin for certain cruises and cabin categories. Swan Hellenic's supplement starts as low as 20 percent of the double-occupancy fare (that is, if you can't snag one of its single cabins). Silversea single supplements can be as low as 25 percent on a regular basis. Crystal adds only 25 percent for categories C through E, 35 percent for categories A and B, and 50 percent for category AA. Regent Seven Seas offers 50 percent supplements on select cruises booked in advance. (Regular supplements are 75 to 100 percent.) Seabourn offers solos discounted "guarantee" fares, meaning the line selects your specific cabin location about 30 days prior to departure, rather than your choosing your cabin number. With this scheme, single travelers pay just a 50 percent supplement on the price of the lowest-category window suites (category A) or verandah suites (category B2 or V1), and the line assigns them cabins in that category or a higher one, depending on space available. Finally, Hurtigruten charges a mere 10 percent supplement on suites year-round; solo passengers booking regular cabins pay no supplement between mid-September and mid-April.
Since upscale lines tend to offer price breaks to solo cruisers more often than the mainstream lines, you may find that cruising on a luxury ship with a minimal supplement is a better value than sailing on a mass-market ship with a heavy supplement.
* Keep tabs on the latest solo "sales."Many cruise lines offer price breaks on occasion, depending on the season and on how many cabins are booked on individual ships. Some deals we've seen recently include no single supplement on spring South Pacific cruises onboard Paul Gauguin or seven-night Greece cruises on the luxury yachts of Variety Cruises. Uniworld removed single supplements for travelers who booked 2010 Europe river cruises on the early side, and Oceania offered a reduced supplement for guests who booked well in advance. These offerings can change from week to week, so keep checking back, or sign up for cruise line e-mail alerts to find out about the newest promotions.
Here's a tip: If you can be very flexible about your travel plans, some cruise lines may extend last minute solo discounts on close-in sailings. They're not always well-publicized, so be sure to ask your travel agent if there are any sales currently. Also check our sister site Cruise Critic's solo cruisers and singles cruises forums for news of the latest solo deals.
* Consider sharing a cabin. Sharing a cabin with a stranger may not appeal to everyone, but it does mean savings. Fewer lines are offering roommate matching services than in the past, but Fred. Olsen and Holland America still try to match up solo travelers. You ask to be paired with a roommate when you book, and if the line can match you with another solo passenger of your sex, you will pay no extra supplement. However, if no match is available, the supplement still applies.
Here's a tip: If you are interested in finding a roommate and the cruise company cannot help, you might have luck with matching services, such as travelchums.com, which pairs travel-minded single people for a fee. Members of these services post their travel plans and information about themselves, and it is up to each member to contact those who sound like compatible companions. Alternately, look for travel-related message boardssome of these allow people to post that they're looking for someone to travel with them.
Singles-only travel companies will usually try to match up cabinmates when they schedule cruises. They book groups on regular cruises on major cruise lines, insuring that you will have single company onboard and usually offer a group leader and special activities for your own group in addition to the ship's activities.
Once You've Booked a Cabin
There's an art to traveling singlyand happily. Unless you're cruising solo to get away from people, here are some suggestions for mixing and mingling.
* Get involved. The best way to meet people onboard is to take part in activities, so choose a cruise ship offering things you like to do (beyond the de rigueur singles' social), such as intriguing programs, classes or workshops. In that arena, two standouts are Cunard's QM2which has teamed up with Britain's Oxford University, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and Royal Astronomical Society to offer a wide array of courses, workshops, and speaker seriesand Crystal Cruises, which has an outstanding overall series, featuring language, music and art programs, as well as compelling guest lecturers.
* Make friends with the cruise director. If you tell the cruise director you want to meet other singles onboard, he may be able to help with introductions.
* Try the piano bar. Sociable sing-alongs are a good way to make friends. A veteran cruiser also suggests visiting the bars and lounges onboard the first night at sea. That's when other singles are most likely to be roaming to see who is onboard, she says, and if no one is around, they may not return.
* Choose compatible dinner partners. If you opt for traditional onboard dining (with an assigned dining time and table), you will be seeing your dinner companions every night, so it is important that you enjoy them. Do not be shy about asking a maitre d' for a new table if the passengers at your original seating aren't compatible. Often, requests to be seated with other solo cruisers will be honored if possible. Also, most families choose early dining, so opt for a later seating to find more like-minded dinnermates. If you've chosen a flexible dining plan, request to be seated at a table with other diners, if possible, rather than eat alone.
* Take the ship's shore excursions. This is my favorite tried-and-true way to meet others; the wackier the excursion, the more likely there will be a bonding opportunity.
* Connect with your shipmates pre-cruise. Our sister site Cruise Critic's Roll Call threads allow travelers on the same sailing to get acquainted and plan excursions, happy hours, and dinners togetherbefore they even embark on the ship. You'll come onboard feeling like you already know people on the ship. Plus, you can sign up for Meet & Mingle parties on Azamara, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Crystal to meet other Cruise Critic members onboard your ship.
* Hand out calling cards. This is a great tip for a solo trip on a mega-ship, where it can be easy to lose a potential friend in the crowd. You may meet someone you'd like to see again, but never run into them by chance. If you make up cards with your name and cabin number and hand them out to new acquaintances, they will know how to reach you to arrange to get together again.
* Choose a theme cruise. In addition to dedicated singles cruises, theme cruisesfocusing on topics like music, dance, politics, wellness and sports, or film starsare a great choice for solo travelers. These large group or chartered sailings feature a wide range of mixers, activities and lectures for participants and often have support staff onboard to facilitate events. The exclusive onboard activities are a great way to meet people, and you have an easy conversation starter since you know that everyone shares at least one common interest. Have a look at www.themecruisefinder.com as a great source of all kinds of theme cruises.
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