I am constantly asked what, exactly, is an organized singles cruise; and are they better than just going on your own as a solo cruiser?
Simply put, an organized singles cruise is just that; organized. The travel agency sponsoring it assigns coordinators who pre-plan the cruise, supervise pre-cruise web sites, arrange and host onboard activities (like dance lessons from cruise staff and show members, interactive and fun games, speed dating, cocktail parties, and shore excursions). Coordinators also help with any problems or concerns a member of the group might experience.
It has also become popular lately for coordinators to arrange pre-cruise get-togethers in the port city the night before sailing. The parties and events in New Orleans, South Beach (Miami), Tampa, and Orlando (sailing from nearby Port Canaveral) are always well-attended. Friendships are made before the ship ever sails, and a few romances may begin to blossom. Since I am a firm believer in arriving the day before a cruise to avoid possible travel delays, I can't think of a better way to spend the evening than to get a head start becoming acquainted with some of the people I'll be socializing with for the length of the cruise.
I'm also often asked if I know what the men/women ratio is going to be, which is impossible for me even to guess. I always suggest contacting the sponsoring agency and asking for that information. But you must remember that even if there is a 50/50 gender ratio, or even if you are greatly outnumbered by the opposite sex, there is always a chance you won't find anyone you are attracted to. So I always advise single cruisers to go with the expectation of making new friends, getting a great tan, and having a fabulous time. Then if you do find yourself on the love boat, it's just an added bonus to an amazing vacation.
Based on my experience with singles cruises, I find that those under the age of 30 tend to fall in love with someone different each night. Members of the 30s-50s crowd, who usually make up the majority of a singles cruise, take their time and move slowly, while the older crowd surprisingly seems to have more energy than the younger ones and makes every moment count.
Barry Helfanbein, coordinator for www.SinglesCruise.com says that in three years he has seen "four marriages, one engagement, a proposal in front of the group and plenty of one-night stands."
But a lot of singles do not go with the expectation and/or hope of falling in love; they only want the company and camaraderie of other singles. For them, the organized singles cruise is ideal. On the other hand, I have had cruisers tell me their experience was not enjoyable. They felt there was too much "regimentation" ; they felt obligated to attend parties and play what some considered silly games, and resented having to eat in the same dining room, at the same time, with the same people, every day. Some drifted away from the group, saying they felt out of place.
But, overall, a majority of those who choose organized singles cruises readily sing their praises and cannot wait to go again.
There has been an increasing problem for some of the sponsoring agencies caused by "party crashers." People can sometimes book cheaper fares on their own, thinking they can still become a part of the singles group once they're on board. As a result, plastic bracelets or other means of identification are usually issued upon registration and checked at the entrance to cocktail parties and other scheduled group events. I've seen some passengers become irate and even unruly when turned away, because they had erroneously been told by their ticketing agent that they could join the group.
Becoming increasingly popular are the Windjammer Singles cruises. No coordinators are sent on these, because Windjammer has its own crew on board for fun and games. Liz Vollan, www.aim-higher.com says, with a laugh, that the only problem is "they become addictive, because the number of repeat passengers booking is huge." The age ratio is 35-40.
Donna Ignasz, www.Binnacletravel.com, also schedules many Windjammer cruises, most of which sell out quite early in the year. The fun to be had, she says, is limitless, as passengers actually help sail the ship.
Remember that the attractive rates you might see for singles cruises are based on double occupancy in a cabin. When people ask my opinion about rooming with a stranger, I always tell them it's a crap shoot. Sometimes it works; but in my experience, it hasn't, and I would rather pay more than chance enduring what could be a miserable situation.
Responding to the complaints of more "mature" cruisers who don't go in for what they call the "Boozin' cruises," several travel agents are attempting to answer their needs by sponsoring more "sedate" singles cruises. Ann Rotman, of www.Cruisingforlove.com, sends enough coordinators along to offer personalized attention to each of her passengers, hosts genial cocktail parties, and provides complimentary shore excursions. "I try to ensure that everyone gets their money's worth," she declared, "and on each cruise, I've seen people become very dear friends."
As for cruising by myself, I have done that -- many times. And regardless of whether I met other singles onboard, I have always had a good time. With an open mind and a flare for adventure, if the weather is good and everything on the ship is working, it's really hard to have a bad cruise. For me, it has and always will be the ideal vacation.
So, which is best--an organized singles cruise or going it alone? Frankly, I don't really care as long as I'm cruisin'.