Cruise lines are reaching out to solo travelers like never before, with offerings like studio staterooms designed for one person, policies that lower or waive single supplement fees, and onboard meet-and-greets that facilitate new friendships. Here, the guide to solo cruising that our readers have been asking for:
Reducing the Costs
The biggest financial obstacle to solo cruising is the single supplement fee, since cruise lines traditionally base their projected revenue on two guests per double cabin. So cruise lines will typically charge those who want an entire cabin to themselves a supplemental fee that's almost (if not as much as) 100 percent of your rate.
Happily, this is changing. Cruise lines often lower the supplement during special promotions or waive it altogether on select cruises. The river ship lines are most prone to do this, but ocean-going lines will, too. Carnival Cruise Lines, for instance, waived all single supplements on upward of 60 cruises between April and June of this year.
But consumers have to know about the promotion in order to take advantage of it. Here's an instance where working with a travel agent can come into handy -- a cruise agent specifically spends a big part of their day watching for these deals. You can also sign up for newsletters on the websites of cruise lines you'd like to travel with, so that when a singles promotion comes along, you'll be among the first to know about it.
In a different approach to helping travelers save without bleeding money themselves, more and more cruise lines are building their new ships with studio accommodations designed specifically with solo travelers in mind. Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to do it, with the Norwegian Epic that debuted in 2010. Its studios were wildly popular, and the line added the same stateroom design to its newest ships, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. Other lines are following suit: Royal Caribbean International included single cabins on its new Quantum of the Seas and added them to three older ships -- Radiance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, and Brilliance of the Seas.
Navigating the Social Scene
Despite initiatives that help vacationers avoid extra costs, many still shy away from going it alone on cruises for fear of being lonely or feeling like a third wheel among the countless couples and families onboard. But the good news is that there are lots of ways to meet people onboard. Virtually every cruise -- be it river or ocean -- will stage a single cruisers' reception on the first or second night of the sailing in one of the ship's lounges. There may be other sponsored events for singles onboard; check the printed daily program in your stateroom or ask the concierge for details.
A few more tips for socializing: At dinner, move around the dining room, rather than eating at the same table with the same set of fellow cruisers each night. Most cruise ships have a dozen or more lounges; check them out after dinner and you just might find other solo travelers looking for conversation. Finally, participate in interactive onboard activities, like trivia nights, where you'll be very likely to make new friends.
Seeking More Structure
There are several companies that specialize in selling cruises to solo travelers and creating their own group experiences onboard. Singlescruise.com is one example, with the goal of getting about 100 solo guests on any particular ship. It then actually sends a host to organize events and parties for those who booked through the company, such as cocktail parties, dinners, and theme nights. Also part of its offerings are a free roommate matching service, onboard hospitality desk, and, for an additional fee, special excursions for solo travelers.
As expected, pricing for these services can be higher than the cruise line's own fare. If you opt to be matched with a roommate, you'll certainly save from fares that include a huge supplement fee. But if you opt for a room by yourself, you'll end up paying more than the cruise line fare -- anywhere from an additional $100 to $500. In this latter case, the value depends on how much stock you put into the exclusive events and amenities you'd be getting.