The 5 best cruise lines for solo travelers
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Thinking of taking a cruise as a solo traveler? Here’s the bad news: With many lines, you could end up paying twice as much as someone traveling with a companion.
Most cruise ship cabins are designed for two, and the cruise rates you see advertised for these cabins are per person, based on double occupancy. That means the rates only are available to customers who will be sharing the cabin with a second paying passenger.
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If you want to occupy one of these cabins alone, you’ll pay a premium that, in cruise world lingo, is known as the “single supplement.” And often, that premium is 100%. In other words, even if you don’t have a second person in your cabin, you’ll be paying an extra fare as if you did.
Still, all is not lost if you’re a singleton wanting to experience life at sea. Spurred by increasing demand, a growing number of lines are adding cabins designed specifically for solo travelers (with pricing that, by definition, is based on single occupancy). Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line, which has been at the forefront of the trend, now has hundreds of such cabins spread across half a dozen vessels.
These solo cabins often are priced at a higher rate on a per-person basis than similar cabins designed for two, but below the rate that a solo traveler would pay to occupy a double-occupancy cabin, once the single supplement is added in.
Solo travelers will find that some lines routinely offer lower single supplement charges than others. Some lines also regularly reduce or waive single supplements during promotions. Luxury line Silversea Cruises, for instance, occasionally runs promotions that waive its single supplement entirely.
Of course, it’s not just a low price that makes for a good solo cruise. Just as important for many people traveling alone is the opportunity to meet other like-minded solo travelers. Some cruise lines cater heavily to this sort of traveler with meet-and-greet receptions for passengers traveling alone and organized group dining for solo cruisers. Some lines also assign staffers to serve as dance companions for those without partners.
There are even certain vessels and itineraries that, for a variety of reasons, might feel more welcoming to solo travelers. As someone who often cruises alone when writing about ships, I’ve found that certain cruise destinations known for romantic getaways — French Polynesia, for instance — can be tough for someone traveling alone. You’ll encounter a large number of couples content on keeping to themselves.
I’ve also discovered that smaller ships often are better for mixing and mingling than bigger ships. On small ships, you’ll see the same people again and again — on tours, in lounges, around the pool, etc. — in a way that increases the odds you’ll strike up a conversation and soon be fast friends. On big ships with thousands of passengers, you might go days without seeing the same person twice.
The lines that operate small ships also are more prone to offering discounts for solo travelers, which results in a higher percentage of individual cruisers onboard.
Not that you should worry too much about making friends at sea. Cruisers, in general, are social people. In fact, many passengers cruise specifically to meet others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting alone in a corner of a cruise ship lounge, minding my own business, when another passenger (or two, or five) stopped by and struck up a conversation.
Here are five lines that are going the extra mile for solo travelers.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Credit Norwegian for kicking off the trend of more solo cabins on cruise ships. In 2010, the big-ship line debuted an entire zone of small “studio” cabins for one — 128 in all — on its then-new, 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic. It was such a hit that other lines began to follow.
Just 100 square feet but superbly designed to maximize storage space, the solo rooms on Norwegian Epic are clustered around an exclusive Studio Lounge with a bar and television area where solo travelers can mingle at daily hosted happy hour gatherings.
Norwegian since has added similar solo cabin areas with exclusive lounges to five more new ships, including Norwegian Encore. The vessel has an 82-cabin solo complex spread over three decks. Similarly sized Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss also have 82-cabin solo complexes, while smaller Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway have solo areas with 59 cabins.
Norwegian also offers four solo cabins on its Hawaii-based Pride of America.
Having sailed in one of Norwegian’s cabins for one, I can confidently declare them among the coolest solo digs at sea. I particularly love the futuristic, “Jetsons”-like design and the multicolored mood lighting. One big caveat: They’re all inside cabins without an ocean view, although most have a window that looks out onto a corridor. On Norwegian Bliss, the solo cabins have a virtual porthole that offers a live view of the outside world via an LED screen.
A bigger caveat, perhaps, is that these solo cabins have become so popular they often sell out far in advance, and at prices that aren’t much better than booking a cabin for two.
Royal Caribbean has been taking a page from Norwegian’s playbook in recent years by adding solo cabins to both new and older ship classes. The line’s Quantum-class vessels, which began debuting in 2014, offer up to 28 of these dedicated studio cabins, which measure from 101 to 119 square feet.
Unlike Norwegian’s solo digs, some of these cabins are ocean-view rooms with balconies. Others have a virtual balcony that, at first glance, looks like a veranda but is really just a digital screen projecting a real-time view of the outside. (It sounds corny, but it works.)
Other Royal Caribbean ships with solo cabins include some of the line’s giant Oasis-class vessels, including the world’s two biggest ships, Symphony of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas. Several of Royal Caribbean’s older Voyager-class and Radiance-class vessels also have solo cabins. But some of these ships have just two or three.
Unlike Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, Silversea hasn’t created a specific cabin category for solo travelers, but the luxury line is known for catering to them with single supplements of just 10% to 25% on some sailings. Occasionally, during short-term promotions, the line even will waive the single supplement entirely.
Silversea also hosts welcome receptions for solo travelers at the start of every voyage to kick off the mingling process.
Operating relatively small, intimate vessels that carry just a few hundred passengers, Silversea is known for drawing a very social crowd that likes to mix and mingle, particularly at dinnertime — a boon for people like me who don’t like to eat alone. Head to the main lounge just before dinner on a Silversea ship, and there’s a good chance you’ll be pulled into a conversation with a group of complete strangers who will extend a dinner invitation. This has happened to me so many times on Silversea ships, I almost count on it.
On Silversea’s expedition sailings, you’ll also be able to share meals with ship naturalists and expedition guides who join passengers in public dining venues. From my experience, they always are amenable to a friendly dining companion and some good conversation.
Of course, there’s always the rebellious startup line Virgin Voyages, backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which draws fun-loving folks (but not just millennials). It’s shaping up to be a leader in the solo cruise market, judging from my experience when I sailed on its first ship, Scarlet Lady.
The vessel boasts 46 cabins specifically designed for lone travelers. That’s a big number for a ship with just 1,330 cabins overall. We haven’t yet sailed in one of their solo rooms, but based on what we saw when we toured Scarlet Lady, they might just become the coolest digs-for-one around.
Scarlet Lady’s solo accommodations include 40 windowless, 105-square-foot Solo Insider rooms that are sleek and stylish with full-size beds, large flat-screen televisions, curvy vanities and high-design bathrooms. Six similar-looking Solo Sea View cabins measure about 130 square feet and offer windows.
Note that the solo cabins with windows are at the very front of the ship, facing forward. While that’s a spectacular location for sightseeing, seasoned cruisers know that cabins at the very front of vessels can be a bit bumpy in rough seas. I love a little movement when I cruise (how else do you know you’re at sea?), but if you don’t, consider yourself warned.
Tauck and other river lines
Solo travelers looking for an upscale river cruise often can find a deal from Tauck, a high-end tour company that has a European cruise division. It markets more than half a dozen river vessels.
Tauck often eliminates its single supplement completely on its least-expensive category of cabins (Category 1) and reduces single supplements for other cabin categories.
Other river lines that sometimes waive or significantly lower single supplement charges include Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways.
Avalon waives its single supplement charge for a handful of cabins on every cruise departure in addition to occasionally offering larger solo traveler promotions. AmaWaterways currently has a promotion that drops the single supplement for cabins on hundreds of Europe and Asia sailings to just 25%. AmaWaterways also has four ships in Europe that each have two dedicated solo cabins that carry no single supplement. They are the France-based AmaDolce, AmaLyra and AmaCello, and the AmaDante, which sails on the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
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Featured photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.
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