Norwegian Epic: Singles Cruising has Arrived

| Tuesday, 22 Jun. 2010

Serendipity or just plain luck? Whatever you call it, NCL has created the best cruise ship ever for solo cruisers.

When I first sailed alone -- on a small cruise ship in 1995 -- my experience was so depressing that I would never recommend it to anyone else. I met no other singles on my cruise, because I had no way to know who was solo; and as a single man, I found that most couples regarded me as threatening or just boring. Whenever I tried to speak to a woman, she mentioned her husband immediately (like a warning), and every man I talked to generally dismissed me.

Of course, there are travel agencies that specialize in cruises just for singles; they find roommates for you to save on the single supplement, and they organize get-togethers and group meal times. That is the only kind of cruise I ever recommended to solos -- until now.

Because now singles can sail on the new Norwegian Epic, which has a "singles cruise" built into every sailing -- a revolutionary concept in the industry.

How does it work? Epic has a "ship within a ship" for singles -- a section of 128 tiny (100 square feet) Studio Staterooms nicely hidden behind a series of solid doors, and connected by a corridor that leads to a shared common space called the Studio Lounge. These small rooms are quite comfortable for one person, and that is how they are sold: one price for one person in the room, with no "singles supplement" surcharge.

The concept may sound simple, but Epic's Studio Staterooms are revolutionary in execution. Most cruise ship staterooms are built for couples, with bedding for two people, and sold as "double occupancy only." (This means both people pay the same amount to stay in the same room -- unlike a hotel room, where the price is the same whether there is one person or more.)

On most cruise ships, a single who wants to stay in a cabin alone must also pay an extra amount -- perhaps even full fare -- for the second person who is not there. This is known as the singles supplement charge. Typically, a singles supplement charge is expressed like this:

  • Cruise stateroom price $799 per person double occupancy.
  • Singles supplement: 200%

This means a single staying in a regular room must pay 200% of the $799 per person price cited above, or $1,598. Many singles find this unfair, since they won't be consuming all the food and entertainment for two people included in that price. But the cruise line could sell that other berth for full price, so why give it away? Further, that second person would probably buy shore tours, casino chips, drinks, etc. -- revenue the cruise line won't be getting when it puts a single in a cabin. Some cruise lines run specials with lower singles supplements, like 150% or 175%, but rarely do you see a ship with no single supplement – before the Epic, that is.

(By the way, I found out that "single cruisers" prefer the term "solo cruisers" -- and I will say it is more accurate, since I was a solo cruiser on my 7-day cruise, but I am married.)

My Solo Cruiser Norwegian Epic Adventure

Epic is the first and only ship with an entire subsection purpose-built for solo cruisers – these 128 staterooms share a common corridor with sexy blue LED lighting. The rooms are very cozy with queen-size beds, a shower, toilet and sink, a nice flat-panel TV and colored (red, blue and violet) lights that you can set in low tones or allow to cycle for a private light show.

All the rooms have large, round picture windows looking out on the corridor, which leads to the Studio Lounge where all singles can go at any time to get coffee, snacks or cocktails and talk, play games or watch TV. We soon started calling the studio lounge the "Living Room."

The beauty of this arrangement is that you always know who is traveling solo, because they all come to the lounge. On my cruise, a wonderful NCL hostess was on daily duty to help us socialize. The lounge's two TVs were really not used at all (they should schedule movies in there sometimes), but there was an excellent espresso coffee maker, sweet rolls or cookies depending on the time of day plus salads, sandwiches and desserts all day - all free.

click on pictures below for larger images:

   
Hostess leads solos in "adult scrabble"   The solo message board   Loading the fridge with free food daily

On the third day, we asked for a blackboard so we could leave messages for one another, and we had one the next day. Solos left messages for everyone like "meeting here for dinner in 'Tastes' at 7:00 – everyone is invited." And sure enough, I found a number of solos (a dozen) in the dining room that night. That just doesn't happen on an average cruise ship unless you paid extra for an organized singles cruise with a solo host onboard.

This was the first full seven-day cruise of Norwegian Epic, and parts of the ship were unfinished. The lounge TVs were uninstalled, and we had no hostess for the first three days. But I saw the concept come together, getting better every day. In fact, NCL was reading my published comments daily and seemingly taking many of my suggestions. By the end of the cruise the the living room had a Cinderella transformation.

click on pictures below for larger images:

 
Living Room onthe first day   Living room on the sixth day meeting for dinner
 
The long connecting corridor for 128 studio staterooms   Installing the televisions on Day 2

I have never seen a cruise line go to such lengths to make sure solo cruisers meet one another and have a good time and I predict this will change solo cruising forever. But ironically, NCL didn't initially plan things to work this way. They originally charged the standard double occupancy, full fare for these staterooms. But they didn't sell well, so six month before the inaugural they changed the policy and made them all "solo staterooms." Good decision!

I am now convinced NCL has changed solo cruising forever. I predict that every mainstream cruise ship will soon have a solo lounge and host, and singles will start to book a lot more cruises. In fact, if a cruise line like Carnival -- which already carries a fair number of singles -- would drop the singles supplement to 150% and add a "hosted living room" for them, I am sure it would attract a rash of high-spending, fun-loving singles on every cruise.

More Details on Norwegian Epic Solo Cruising

Here are a few tips for people planning to try Epic's solo cruising experience:

The studio staterooms are a bit short on shelf space, but you'll find plenty of closet space and hangers. There are some shelves and big baskets under the bed, so the storage space is more ample than it first appears.

Wireless Internet access is available inside the staterooms. I took my vanity table and set it up between the shower and toilet to make a desk. You'll find U.S. 110-volt outlets within the shelves to the right of the sink. (That is where the sink light switch is located, as well – you will never find it on your own.) The overall lights are generally dim, so experiment with the controls to see what they do.

There is an ice bucket the room steward will fill regularly, and you can get room service like any other room, including door cards for breakfast. There are no coffee makers, and you must ask your room steward for a hairdryer right away - before they have all been handed out.

click on pictures below for larger images:

   
Bed with padded walls and window   Closets, shelves, TV and sink area   Shower left, private toilet rt. Locked door can connect with next cabin.
   
Mood lighting control panel   Close up of shower - not much modesty here   Utilizing closet space - only 12" deep

The Studio Lounge is not limited to keyed or private access as originally advertised, but this is not a problem. I actually think it is a good idea, since you can ask outside solos or other people to meet you there.

As far as show and dinner reservations go – I suggest you go to the CruiseMates singles area and meet in our Norwegian Epic Solo Cruisers message boards. This way you can meet online and decide on which dates you may want to share reservations.

Your Fellow Solo Cruisers

Epic provides the Living Room and the hostess, but it is up to you to meet people and exchange cabin phone numbers. We had a blackboard to leave messages, but the hostess did not arrange or host any group dinners or other singles activities. Be proactive -- leave messages for everyone to meet in "Tastes" – one of the free dining rooms -- since it usually has ample room for large parties.

On my cruise, the singles ranged from their 30s to early 70s. This was a transatlantic sailing, and the concept was new, so I believe the average age skewed older (50 to 60). I suspect that as Norwegian Epic's solo cruising concept catches on, the average age will start to fall, although there will always be solos of all (legal) age groups onboard.

Most of my fellow cruisers were fun, articulate and good natured. They were no curmudgeons in the entire group and in fact most were very witty and personable - solos who can afford to cruise usually have something on the ball. Everyone was very open to conversation, and the organized get-togethers seemed to come off as planned.

The ratio of women to men was more than two to one. At one dinner, I counted eight women and two men. Naturally, as more men discover this ship, that will also start to change but there will always be more solo women cruising than men.

Epic is a great ship for solos outside of the studio staterooms and lounge area as well. Don't think you will be spending all of your time in your internal compound. By dinnertime, you should be out with the other solos having dinner and then going to shows and nightclubs together. Bliss is an excellent disco, and Spice H20 is another adults-only spot on the top open air deck that should be very popular with your solo crowd.

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