Sailing Solo on the Ships of Holland America

| August 29, 2007

Holland America is premium cruise line known for its friendly policies toward single travelers. Just two of the unique ways in which they accommodate singles are lower single supplements and roommate matching, which we will discuss in more detail below. The line has a 130 year history with a fleet currently comprised of 13 ships, and soon to be 14, with the imminent introduction of the first ship in their new "Signature Class," the ms Eurodam.

Holland America has a great selection of longer, more exotic voyages, which tend to attract an older passenger mix often with many singles. From their relatively generous single supplements of approximately 150% for inside and outside staterooms, and their even better singles pricing on Grand and World Voyages, singles know they can get a pretty good deal when sailing a Holland America ship.

(Note: singles supplement pricing is based on one person inhabiting a cabin that would normally be sold under a "double occupancy" policy).

Singles-Friendly Activities Holland America welcomes single travelers with a variety of solo-friendly activities. The first and most important one, not to be missed by any single who wants to socialize, is the first singles get-together, which should appear in the daily activities roster within the first two days of the cruise.

This meeting gives all singles a chance to introduce themselves, so you recognize each other throughout the cruise. If you are bold enough to suggest getting together for certain activities, this might be a good time to do so. One new feature Holland America is about to introduce is the option for all passengers to select open-seating dining, rather than the pre-assigned tables of traditional dining. For singles, this is a boon, as you can all agree to meet at a certain time in the open seating dining room and share a table together.

Other singles activities they offer include singles mixers, team trivia contests, line dancing and exercise classes. On some voyages, additional special events may be planned for singles, such as group lunches, lemonade and ice cream socials, and a variety of other events designed to encourage singles to mix and mingle freely.

All guests, singles and couples alike, can count on Holland America to create an atmosphere of camaraderie, encouraging guests to socialize freely. On longer cruises, such as the World and Grand Voyages, a number of "gentleman hosts" are aboard to meet and mingle with female travelers, and to serve as dance and dinner companions. On my recent 18-day repositioning cruise on the Veendam, we had several of these "gentleman hosts" onboard who always congregated in the various lounges for pre and post-dinner dancing. They also made themselves available at the various dance classes held throughout the cruise, for those ladies wishing to participate, but lacking a partner.

Smaller Ships Holland America's ships tend to be smaller than the "mega-ships" of many other cruise lines, rarely carrying more than 2,000 passengers. Do smaller ships really have advantages for the single traveler? You bet they do since smaller ships lend themselves to the easy formation of friendships, something that is often difficult to accomplish on a ship carrying 3,500+ passengers. Even though larger ships may have more singles onboard, they will almost always be much younger, in the 20s and 30s.

On Holland America's smaller ships you see the same familiar faces of fellow singles more often, so it doesn't take long to get to know them. On the longer voyages, people will tend to congregate in certain places -- a favorite lounge for quiet reading in the afternoon, or perhaps at daily trivia contests, or maybe even in a certain section of the Lido for breakfast. The single traveler gets to know where the "action" is and can always meet up with a friendly face anytime they are in the mood for the good company of a fellow single traveler.

Holland America's Single Partner Program Like most modern cruise lines, Holland America does not have designated single staterooms on the ships in their fleet. But only Holland America has a policy to match solo cruisers, which they call their "Single Partner Program." This is a unique program to the cruise industry, which the Line offers on most of its scheduled sailings, with the exception of the ms Prinsendam (the only ship in their fleet to have a few designated single cabins).

The "Single Partner Program" works like this; for those willing to share a stateroom with another traveler of the same gender, the Line will charge each the regular per person, double occupancy rate for the stateroom. Be aware, however, that Holland America rarely matches travelers on any criteria other than gender, so you could wind up sharing a stateroom with someone of a vast age difference. Since most people do not smoke these staterooms are considered non-smoking unless both occupants agree otherwise. If the cruise line is unable to find a partner for someone in this program, or if there are extra cabins available, then each guest gets to have a stateroom all to themselves -- while still paying the per person rate. Few cruise lines offer this sort of a deal.

Smoking is a touchy subject when sharing cabins, however. One common complaint the room share program gets is that a person who roomed with a non-smoker violated the rule. Smoking in the room, even with the balcony door open, is not allowed. Another common complaint is that of having "overnight" guests. This is not allowed, and if your roommate invites one in, feel free to go to the front desk and ask to have the intruder removed. Hopefully, your roommate won't be unkind enough to lock you out because they are "entertaining" but if they do, once again, go to the front desk and ask them to open the door.

While many folks express a natural hesitation to share such close quarters with a perfect stranger, and despite the few instances described above, Holland America actually reports that the program is amazingly successful. In fact, I've been told that many of the Single Partner guests become fast friends by the end of their first voyage, and then go on to book future cruises as a pair.

Tread Carefully Before Sharing While the "Single Partner Program" is something to keep in mind, I have to say that I've always had more success finding my own cabin mates on those cruises where I want to share accommodations. CruiseMates is the perfect place to track down other singles looking for a cabin mate in the "seeking cruise companion" message board.

The benefits of using a service like this are great. You find each other on the cruise message board, and get acquainted through email first. If all goes well, telephone calls follow. Make sure you are each exceedingly clear on your expectations. We suggest making a checklist of questions that are important to each of you:

  1. If either of you smoke, what are the rules regarding smoking in the cabin?
  2. Are you a light or deep sleeper? Do you turn in early most nights or like to lay in bed reading until the wee hours of the morning?
  3. Will it bother you if the other person stumbles in at 3:00 a.m. needing to turn on a light so they can get ready for bed?
  4. Do you require extended time in the bathroom to prepare for an evening onboard ship? Or are you a shower and go sort of person?
  5. Are there any things in particular that bother you, such as a messy bathroom, clothes strewn around the floor?
  6. What about visitors in the cabin?

Being in agreement on these issues will increase the likelihood of a successful share arrangement. Being at odds could turn your dream cruise vacation into your worst nightmare.

I've shared cabins on Holland America twice now. On the first cruise I allowed a roommate to be selected for me, and the other time I sought out a person I had met on a previous cruise to sail with me. The experiences I had were as different as night and day.

On my first cruise I was attending a writer's conference, and I let them pair me with a fellow writer for the ten-day voyage. I was a 47-year-old woman who was paired with a 22-year-old from the Seattle area. While this young writer was nice enough, we really had very little in common.

Our first clash of wills regarded my smoking. I had been assured beforehand that smoking in the cabin would be no problem. Once onboard, things changed. "Not when I'm in the cabin" was how she understood it. Her choice in excursions (a vital component of this particular cruise) was totally different than mine. She preferred active pursuits like kayaking and hiking, I went in for tours and cultural offerings.

Because of the difference in our tastes, we shared very little time in port, and I wound up having to search out other writers for the excursions I wished to do. While we didn't fight the entire ten days, we did have our moments, and after that cruise I swore off single share programs for life, preferring to sail solo and pay the single supplement.

Then a couple of years later, I decided to try another single share, but this time I arranged it on my own. I had become acquainted with a woman on a previous Holland America cruise as we ran into each other in the smoking area off the Explorer's Lounge every night. We became quite friendly as the days wore on and even explored some of the ports together. We continued to keep in touch over the intervening years and decided to book a 13-day Panama Canal cruise together.

From the moment we met up at the pier in New York, we never stopped laughing. We made perfect traveling companions, each of us content to go our own way when we wanted and to only share the things we both enjoyed. Best of all, smoking in the cabin was never an issue because we both smoke. It just goes to show how smoking can be a very important issue. That 13-day cruise on the ms Amsterdam was one of the highlights of my life, personally convincing me that the single share arrangements you make yourself are the ones that work out best.

Reasonable Single Supplements -- Why Share? For those folks who just can't bring themselves to share tight quarters with a perfect stranger, never fear. With Holland America's generous single supplements there really is no need. If you're willing to make do with a standard inside or outside cabin, you can always find good deals. And, let's face it, there's nothing like having an entire cabin, including the bathroom, all to yourself.

Length of Voyage Determines the Passenger Mix I am a big fan of longer voyages, ones lasting 14 days or more. These longer voyages draw an older passenger mix, with plenty of singles and solos onboard and many of them widowed. This doesn't mean that they aren't spry, though! As the voyage progresses, these people often become the liveliest group on the ship. Friendships readily blossom, and it isn't unusual at all to find plenty of people to share activities with, both onboard as well as on shore tours.

I took a 30-day voyage in 2006 where a fellow solo traveler found out early in the cruise that her mom had passed away suddenly at home. Despite the advice of her family, she immediately made arrangements to disembark the ship in our first port of call, still two days out. As soon as our closely-knit group heard about it, she was surrounded with a network of friends offering compassion, understanding, and companionship in her time of need. She told us that she had planned and saved for this voyage for many years and that her family recommended she remain onboard. After all, there was little she could do at home. So we encouraged her to continue with her trip, using it as a memorial to her mom. One passenger got her involved in journaling, encouraging her to log her thoughts each day, both about the trip and about her mom -- in effect building the journal to serve as both a keepsake of her trip and a memorial to her mother.

The upside of this story is that she did decide to remain onboard and by the end of the trip had a chronicle of her voyage and a journal chock-full of memories of her best times with her mom. As an added bonus, she had a new network of close friends and traveling companions; ones I am sure she will continue traveling with in the years to come.

Solo Sailing Rules! A solo sailing can also be a time of quiet contemplation as well as personal enrichment. There is something uniquely special about having time all to yourself, without worrying about the needs of your traveling companions. A solo voyage allows one to reflect on life and where it is headed. And while it is nice to have a bevy of newfound friends to share good times with onboard, it's also nice to have the quiet refuge of your cabin when you just don't feel like being "up" anymore.

My solo cruises have been among the best of my life, and while it's certainly fun to sail with friends on occasion, when I feel the need for a "time out" from the pressures of a hectic daily life, I will choose to a solo cruise. Somehow, I always seem to come away from an ocean voyage with a much clearer head, not to mention a more vividly defined sense of direction for the next several years of my life. Solo cruises, especially the longer ones, always manage to work this sort of magic on me.

Of course, while this article focuses on Holland America, plenty of other ships also appeal to single cruisers, welcoming us with attractive supplements and onboard amenities. Today, with the "aging" of America, many of the cruise lines are recognizing that a fair percentage of their customers, for one reason or another, are single and want to travel. And, even if they are accompanying friends onboard, they may still need their own cabin.

We single travelers have a lot of viable choices out there in the cruise marketplace. We just have to figure out how to wade through them and make the best decisions to suit our unique needs.

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