Somewhere on the world's waterways, a terrific holiday awaits almost every sort of traveler on board an extravagant assortment of waterborne craft: luxury liners, fun ships, expedition vessels, freighters, yachts, river boats, coastal cruisers, even canal barges. Whatever your hobby or passion, it's happening on one cruise ship or another. Many lines offer "theme" events featuring anything from big-name personalities to best-selling authors, big-band sounds to country dancing, E-world workshops to scientific seminars, anything at all might be on the agenda.
Even if floating resorts and non-stop activities are not your style, you certainly have abundant alternatives for a cruising holiday. Excursion cruises accentuate ports of call over shipboard entertainment. The ambience is casual and the diversions unconventional, usually focused on ecologically appealing natural attractions.
If your sense of sophistication is satisfied neither by size nor trappings but by examining a new perspective while on vacation, you could sail safely away on an expedition ship to the remotest corners of the globe. Your companions in adventure are scientists and other experts who conduct on-board and in-the-field seminars.
That is all good news for singles.
On the down side is the added cost forced upon singles by a travel industry that perpetuates a double-occupancy standard by continually ordering up ships designed with staterooms built for two. Dozens of new ships hit the market in recent years – most designed with double-sized cabins, so singles have little chance of seeing the demise of the dreaded single supplement any time soon. That said, signs of a new trend have been gaining ground with some of the largest cruise lines incorporating single-sized cabins into their ship designs. [See Editor updates below]
With all those additional cabins to sell, cruise lines aggressively compete for market share – early bird discounts, last minute sales, two-for-one deals, free air, free hotel, bonus upgrades. Trouble is, most specials count singles out because filling up cabins two by two rather than one by one adds up to double the people spending double the dollars on lucrative extras such as shore excursions, souvenirs, drinks, and gambling – even tips, on which crew members heavily depend.
Even as more single cabins come avilable, rarely, if ever, do these cabins go on sale because the demand for them far exceeds their number.
Occasionally, a cruise line will waive the single supplement for specific dates, but seldom are these deals widely publicized. Frequently, only selected travel agents have the lowdown, and those that do are cautious in divulging details. That is because pricing is tightly guarded by the cruise line – "capacity controlled" they call it. At the same time, there are typically even better deals on offer for two people booking together. One in a cabin is better than none, but only after all other marketing schemes have failed to bring in two.
Decision: Are You an Independent or Group Traveler? A cruise, by definition, is a group holiday, so you'll be a part of the ship's group, whether you go by yourself (independently) or as part of a smaller "group" of designated cabins reserved by, say, a travel agent or singles travel club.
You have to weigh up the advantages of cost savings, convenience, and companionship of group travel compared to independent travel. Once upon a time, taking advantage of discounted group prices was the only way to cut costs. Nowadays, the Internet gives consumers direct access to all sorts of discount travel agencies and auction websites unheard of in the "olden" days. Furthermore, savvy solo cruisers report that most cruise lines are open to one-on-one bargaining rather than letting cabins go unsold. But, only those who have the time, interest and stomach for wheeling and dealing succeed ̵ you could wait around for a sale that never materializes. Besides luck and bargaining skills, you also need to do some detective work.
Let's face it, this bargain hunting can be more trouble than it's worth. Most people just want to get good value for their holiday buck, so joining a ready-made group is likely the best choice for overall convenience and cost-savings.
There are two main reasons why individuals prefer a singles-only group over a mix of couples and singles: First, in a group composed only of singles no one feels like the odd person out in a party of couples. Second, there is always the alluring possibility that a compatible friendship, romance, or possibly even a long-term relationship, may result from traveling with like-minded individuals.
Most travel agents and even singles travel clubs emphasize companionship and cost savings over "romance" because it is hard to control social factors that contribute to group dynamics such as age, professional and educational differences. To avoid disappointment, possibly embarrassment, be sure that your purpose for joining a singles group coincides with the purpose of the trip organizer.
Questions need to be asked:
If single supplement charges equal the difference between going on holiday or staying home, the only alternative is to share a cabin, either with a companion found through travel ads or by choosing a cruise line or group that pairs up singles. Rooming with a stranger is a gamble, but on the positive side, there is always a chance of meeting a true kindred spirit, and the possibility of making a lasting friendship. And, unlike traveling with friends or relations, two strangers have freshness on their side – there are no old issues, hangups, or personal grudges to color every situation.
On the other hand, some people snore. Some people smoke. Some people read in bed. Some people are restless sleepers. Some people are cheerful early risers. Some people talk a lot. Some people are nit-pickers. Some people are clinging vines.
After an honest assessment of your own idiosyncrasies and habits, you'll probably admit to a few personal imperfections yourself, then you can honestly decide whether or not you can be flexible enough to tolerate a roommate, or indeed whether you yourself are a tolerable roommate.
If the answer is "no" either way, you obviously have no other choice but to pay whatever price is necessary to have sole occupancy of a cabin.
Single travelers, whether independent or group-oriented, worry as much about feeling comfortable being one in a bunch of twos as they do about costs, so ship ambience is another important planning consideration.
Beware of a broken heart if you get serious over the attentions of an officer or crew member. Realize that all cruise lines forbid crew members to enter a passenger's cabin without an official reason. Passengers are not restricted from entering crew members' cabins, but discretion is warranted.
If you find a cruise companion of the opposite sex and decide to share a cabin, just as friends – or whatever – be sure and establish dos and don'ts beforehand. Otherwise, you could be into the holiday from hell.
Tipping, they say, is a personal matter, but, in fact, generous tipping on board ship is expected, in one form or another, to supplement crew wages. Some cruise lines try to maintain a "tipping not required" policy and others include gratuities in the cruise price. As the cruise industry expands and evolves over time, cruise lines adapt accordingly with new ways of handling what has always been a touchy situation for passengers. Recent years have brought a growing trend towards an automatic service charge added to passengers' shipboard accounts. This policy is gaining favor because it is the most equitable way of ensuring that all servers receive a fair share, including those in the background who may otherwise be overlooked.
Some lines maintain a fixed service charge, while others allow you to adjust the charge up or down as you like. Still other lines may adhere to the old policy of leaving tipping entirely to your discretion.
Never before have travelers had access to so much information and so many money-saving alternatives. As the opportunities increase so does the need for caution. This is especially so for single travelers because the double-occupancy standard prevailing in the travel industry often forces us to look beyond familiar, home-based companies to find affordable holiday solutions.
To minimize the risks and maximize the advantages, take precautions to safeguard your travel funds.
>> Updates 2015, 2014: In May 2014
Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth underwent a multi-million dollar uplift that added a total of 9 new single staterooms on Deck 2 midships. Eight of the single staterooms are a new grade of Ocean View accommodation, and the ninth is a standard Inside. In 2015, Queen Victoria underwent a similar upgrade.
And this news just in July 2015 – Cunard's flagship Queen Mary 2 will undergo refurbishment in the summer of 2016, including the addition of 15 single staterooms.
>> Updates 2015, 2013: Good news for singles came in April 2013 with Royal Caribbean International's announcement of its inovative plans for "Quantum cruising." Of certain interest to solo cruisers was the statement that Quantum ships will include studio-sized staterooms designated just for singles – even some with balconies. Quantum of the Seas, is scheduled to set sail in the fall of 2014 with sister ships, Anthem of the Seas to follow in spring 2015 and Ovation of the Seas in the autumn of 2016.
>>Updates 2015, 2013: In June 2013, Norwegian Breakaway, NCL's latest ship to feature cabins designed for solo travelers, settled into its first year sailing, and a sister ship, Norwegian Getaway, will embark in February 2014. Norwegian Escape launching in autumn 2015 will have 82 singles.
>> Update 2015: The newest addition to Royal Caribbean's "Oasis" class of ships is Harmony of the Seas, which will include 15 single occupancy studio staterooms. She is scheduled to sail in spring 2016 along with "Quantum Class" Ovation of the Seas.
>> Update 2014: In 2014 Crystal Cruises introduced Ambassador Hostesses, female counterparts to the already popular Ambassador Hosts program (professional dance partners for ladies without one).
>>Update 2012: In 2012, we noted a strong increase in waiving of single supplements on selected cruise departures across the spectrum of cruise types, but especially so with European river cruises.
>>Update 2010: NCL.com. In 2010, a hopeful sign that the singles market is gaining consideration came with the arrival of Norwegian Epic whose state-of-the-art design boasts a whole section devoted to single cruisers.
>> See Also: Current News for Singles
>> From WMJ: Very helpful. Thanks!
>> From Steve Roth: Very interesting and informative. A great site to visit for single folk looking for adventure.