I recently cruised on Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas to check out its appeal for solo cruisers. I found it to be a beautiful ship with endless activities, a variety of dining options, and a friendly staff -- but it seemed more geared to families, particularly families with teenagers.
On the first night, a "Singles Mingle" was held in one of the lounges at 11:30 p.m., but it was poorly attended. I find this is often the case when so many people are tired from traveling and tend to crash early. But there are other ways to "mingle," and find out who's alone…and maybe lonely.
Once the boarding photos are posted in the gallery, look for those with only one person in them. However, this can be tricky. I once spotted a Brad Pitt look-alike, who could not have appeared more alone had he been wearing a tee shirt emblazoned, "I'm single. Let's mingle." So later, when I saw him having a before-dinner drink at one of the bars, I hopped on the next stool, gave him my most dazzling "Hi, I'm single, too," smile, only to be blistered by the glare of his wife (Jennifer Anniston-not) who showed up seconds later. Why she wasn't in the photo with him, I'll never know, but the photo gallery is still a good way to spot lone travelers as long as you proceed with caution.
The second night, a clever "Search for Singles" party was held at midnight in the Dragon's Lair, which also serves as the ship's Disco. With its cozy little caves encircling the dance floor, it is the perfect spot for maybe starting a shipboard romance if the right person is "found" during the search. The Dragon's Lair is definitely the place for solo cruisers to hang out in the wee hours. It is for adults only, so there were no crowds of teenagers hogging the dance floor; they have their own designated area for partying which is likewise off-limits to adults.
On sea days, I noted singles gathering at the Pool Bar on Deck 11 and the Sky Bar on Deck 12. (Lots of singles also hung out here each time we sailed from a port). I met a few I knew from the posh Champagne Bar the night before. As I always advise on the Cruisemates singles message board, get out of your cabin and move about the ship. Singles have a way of gravitating towards each other, especially those determined to enjoy themselves.
The Vintages Wine Bar is also a fun place for solo travelers. It's situated in the dazzling 500-foot, 14-stories-high Royal Promenade, where special "happenings" are scheduled each night (like the "Shaken, Not Stirred" Martini Bond Hour with 007 trivia games and prizes). Ordinarily on RCI ships, I favor the Viking Crown Lounges with their dazzling views, but that venue was too crowded on the Mariner to meet people and make small talk. With all the families onboard, it looked like a huge reunion without the picnic baskets.
I did spot a few singles at non-bar places, as well: deck parties, after-dinner shows, and sports activities, including the nine-hole Mariner Dunes miniature golf course.
As for the ShipShape Center, the only way to find out who's alone and who isn't, is to become a regular there—or maybe ask the instructors if they can point anyone out. But since sweating isn't my favorite thing to do on a cruise I never hook up with anybody there.
Don't limit yourself to meeting singles onboard. The shore excursion staff is usually cooperative in divulging who has booked a tour alone, especially if it means they can sell another tour to another single.
Remember that Mariner of the Seas is one of RCI's Voyager Class ships, and it is big: 138,000 tons and 14 passenger decks. With all berths filled, it can accommodate 3,838 passengers. The week I sailed, I was told there were nearly 3,600 onboard. Add that to 1,181 crew members, and things get crowded. So if you aren't a really outgoing person, determined to have a great cruise even if you wind up not connecting with anyone, then this ship is not for you. Otherwise, you will—as I e cruise.