We already know cruising is popular with couples and families, but what about solo travelers? Cruising is an easy way for solo vacationers to explore the world, meet new people and leave the driving to someone else. But planning a solo voyage can take a little more work than organizing a cruise with your family or significant other. From picking the right ship to avoiding a solo traveler surcharge, there are a lot of factors to think about before you dive in. Here are four tips for planning the best solo seagoing experience.
Pick your ship carefully
Traveling alone can seem like an expensive endeavor, especially if you're considering a cruise. The price of a stateroom can double thanks to the single supplement, or the fee most major cruise lines charge an individual traveler who reserves a double occupancy stateroom. If your vacation days and itinerary are flexible, search for cruise lines offering a low single supplement promotion. Depending on the time of year and if the ship is below full capacity, cruise lines may slash or even waive the tax, which can cost as much as 200 percent of the cabin fare. You can also cut costs by cruising in the off-season: early spring and fall, the first two weeks of December and the week immediately after the New Year.
As an alternative, some cruise lines now offer solo accommodations, a solid indicator that there is enough demand to warrant these specialized staterooms. Norwegian Cruise Line was a pioneer in offering Studio staterooms for solo passengers aboard Norwegian Epic. Albeit a petite room at no more than 100 square feet, the Studio is more affordable than paying double for the single supplement. You'll find Studio staterooms on a handful of the cruise line's other ships, including Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Pride of America. Plus, if you're staying in a Studio, you're granted exclusive access to the Studio Lounge, which offers complimentary coffee and snacks, TVs and a list of the day's onboard activities created just for solo travelers.
Royal Caribbean added a little more than two dozen single passenger staterooms to the Quantum of the Seas as well as the Anthem of the Seas and upcoming Ovation of the Seas. These solo staterooms (with no single supplement) are also small, at 119 square feet, but the balcony helps offset their itsy-bitsy size. Some newer ships also offer inside single passenger staterooms that offer a unique "virtual" balcony, or floor-to-ceiling HD screens that provide real-time ocean views. Carnival doesn't offer designated single passenger staterooms, but throughout the year, the cruise line sells greatly discounted single supplements or even waives the fee altogether.
Other major cruise lines may not offer studio cabins, but their onboard amenities do cater to single cruisers. Holland America Line offers one of the most comprehensive solo traveler programs, including a roommate-matching service, onboard activities created just for solo travelers and dance hosts on a handful of longer voyages.
Megaships from lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have solo get-togethers at the beginning of the cruise, then usually every night at happy hour or after dinner.
Research onboard dining options
When it comes to eating on board, you're faced with several options. Will you be eating in the main dining room, food court or specialty restaurant? Large or small table? Late or open seating?
Check with the maître d' as soon as you're on board to make sure you're at a large table for single guests. And if you can, avoid a table for four: If you're seated at an assigned table with three other travelers, the odds of having something in common with all three diners is slim.
Almost all of the larger ships have an open seating option. While this is also convenient, it's not always possible to be seated with other solo guests. Your cruise line's website should have the information you'll need to understand its open seating procedure.
When you eat is almost as important as where you eat. Main (or early) seating is usually around 6 p.m. and generally attracts older folks and the family crowd. Sociable solo passengers tend to opt for late seating, around 8:30 p.m. Late dining is convenient, especially if you like to spend time in port right up until the gangway is hauled in. With late seating, you don't have to scurry back to your room to shower, change and rush to the dining room at 6 p.m. This is especially important on a European cruise, where shore excursions can last as long as 8 to 10 hours.
And if you grow tired of making idle chatter with strangers night after night (a common occurrence if you choose open seating), opt for a trip to the food court or treat yourself to a meal in one of the specialty restaurants. Since you're paying extra for a meal in one of these specialty eateries, getting a solo table is easy.
Sign up for activities
Test your wits at trivia, sing your lungs out at karaoke or take part in silly pool deck competitions. Chances are, you'll never see any of these people again, so have a go at something you'd never try at home. Another way to engage with your fellow travelers? Onboard enrichment seminars. From acting classes to dance lessons, these activities often encourage social interaction among solo cruisers.
It's true that as a solo traveler, especially a female solo traveler, there is safety in numbers. While you generally don't have to worry about pickpockets on board, once you step ashore, you need to be aware of your surroundings.
In ports where English is not the primary language, a taxi ride can be a challenge. If you plan to take a cab back to the ship, have the port address and ship name written down to show to the driver. And just as you would do at home, don't open your stateroom door without looking through the peephole to see who's there first.
Solo cruising can become addictive. You can do what you want when you want, dine anywhere at any time and use all the closet space for yourself. Plus, you can explore destinations on your own terms.
See: Is a Cruise for You?
About the author: Sherry Laskin hasn't set foot on an airplane in more than 20 years and relies on ships, boats and trains to explore the world. Her cruise and travel site Cruise Maven covers everything you need to know for a cruise vacation; from planning and packing to dining and destinations across the globe. You can follow Sherry's cruise adventures on Twitter @CruiseMaven, Google+, Facebook and Instagram.