Pat Hagan takes an organized singles cruise for review
My two favorite things to do are (1) cruising and traveling in Alaska, and (2) organized singles cruises. Recently I got the chance to do both at once, and enjoyed myself to the fullest with Ann Rotman's (www.cruisingforlove.com) group of singles on NCL's Norwegian Star.
This was one of the best-organized singles cruises I've ever experienced, thanks to Ann's boundless energy and dedication to her passengers, both before and throughout the seven-day voyage. From providing free tee shirts and bottles of wine to staying up nights to prepare the next day's schedule and deliver it to everyone's cabin, Ann was determined to give her group a cruise to remember.
Friendships were forged, along with plans for future cruises -- and, of course, a few romances began to blossom. Several couples were happily making plans to get together "back home" when relationships turned serious as the week passed; I even observed one couple checking out diamond rings in the ship's Galleria shops.
We sailed from Seattle, and I flew in the day before, as did about 25 others in our group. Ann had everyone meet at my hotel--the beautiful Fairmont Olympic in the heart of Seattle—for drinks that evening, then led the way to the famed Space Needle. We enjoyed dinner at the top of this impressive landmark as the restaurant slowly revolved to offer breathtaking views of the city.
Ann's carefully planned welcome-aboard cocktail party was such a hit for the entire group that cruise staff had to remind us it was time for dinner. And despite NCL's freestyle cruising – i.e., anyone dines anywhere at any time -- Ann always made sure our group was seated together at an appointed hour at one place or another.
There was never a reason anyone had to be alone unless they wanted to be. Ann had events planned throughout the cruise—games, parties, and attending onboard activities as a group. Our clique was also well-balanced between male and female, with an age range from late 30s to mid-50s.
Special singles events were also hosted on several evenings during the week by the Star's cruise staff.
Shore excursions purchased through the cruise lines have become increasingly expensive, but Ann Rotman helped our group avoid some of these costs. In each port, she had made arrangements for some kind of economical tour that we could enjoy. For instance, in Juneau the price charged by the ship for the "City and Mendenhall Glacier" tour was $45. Ann took our group ashore to the bus stop, where we paid only $5 per person for the trip. She even directed us to public libraries where we could check our e-mails for free, thus avoiding the pricey rates in the ship's Internet café.
In Skagway, while Ann led many in our group sightseeing, I could not resist paying $175 for the chance to go horseback riding in the Yukon wilderness, and taking a canoe trip amidst the tranquility of a loon-swept lake. After our two-hour bus ride, there was still plenty of time for shopping before we sailed, but I was disappointed to see how these lovely historical port cities are becoming more like the tee shirt islands of the Caribbean, with made-in-China souvenirs.
Never will I forget our day in Glacier Bay. For hours, the ship slowly turned so we could witness the full scope and splendor of glacial blue ice. Bundled up against the cold, we solo cruisers stood together on deck, sipping hot chocolate as we waited in hopes of seeing the ice "calve," when chunks break off and hit the water with a sound like thunder. We were also thrilled to see a few bears creeping along the shore in search of the seals who darted in and out of the frigid waters.
In our last port—Victoria, B.C.—Ann had made arrangements for our group to visit the lovely Butchart Gardens and fireworks show. Victoria, with its deep roots in the traditions of the British Empire, is known for the popular ritual of high tea at numerous tea rooms in the city. The most legendary tea is served at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, where many of us enjoyed dainty sandwiches and scones with clotted cream.
Alaskan cruises and land excursions will always be my favorite things to do, but a word of advice—do not go solo. Go with an organized singles group. The ship was crowded with families, as it has become increasingly popular to gather whole clans, from grandparents to newborns, and book blocks of cabins for a family reunion cruise. I do not think someone traveling alone would have much fun, as there is no bonding outside these tight-knit families. Neither did I see many couples, married or otherwise, traveling by themselves. Hotel Director Frank Hasenwinkel also said he would not recommend the Norwegian Star for solo cruisers who are not part of an organized group.
Another suggestion: If you can afford it, book an outside cabin for any Alaskan cruise, but make sure it has windows. My cabin had only a porthole, which was good for letting in light but certainly not for enjoying the view. Many passengers with outside cabins told me they did not go out of their cabins the day we were in Glacier Bay, instead opting for room service so they could continually enjoy the sights. On deck, the weather was chilly and rainy, and we were miserable after a while. We tried to find a good observation spot in some of the public rooms, but those had already been taken over by occupants of inside cabins.
There was much that I liked about NCL's 2,240-passenger Norwegian Star. The ship was always clean, the crew friendly and the entertainment outstanding. The only thing I found lacking was the quality of food in all venues except for the Italian restaurant La Trattoria, which we enjoyed immensely, and the specialty restaurant Cagney's, which served delicious steaks but with a $20 per person cover charge.
I still love Alaska, and now I love singles cruises even more, so kudos to Ann Rotman and her "Cruising for Love" adventures. She does a fabulous job from beginning to end, and I did not hear one word of complaint from anyone in our group about anything, which I really found unusual.
This singles cruise was the midnight sun!