The Singles Message Board is a popular site on Cruisemates, and more and more often lately, readers have made postings seeking to create "un-organized" singles cruises. Singles meet online and make plans to sail as a group, but without the services offered on a traditional organized cruise, like the ones listed on the Cruisemates Singles Cruise Calendar. On those cruises, the agencies that organize the singles group will provide a coordinator to host free cocktail parties, games to help people get acquainted, and other events throughout the sailing.
How It Works Last year, there was one instance when more than 200 singles got together on the message board and agreed on a ship and a sailing date -- and then made their own arrangements.
They chatted back and forth for months, talked by phone, exchanged photographs, planned a party in the departure port the night before sailing, and scheduled their own onboard activities and shore excursions. Some used a travel agent that one person recommended in a private e-mail. Others had their own agents, but the majority booked directly with the cruise line. While they happily posted messages about how much money they saved, the majority did not realize they could have saved much more, and received valuable perks from the cruise line, had they only been more informed.
What You Should Know More and more families are cruising these days-grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts and uncles--celebrating wedding anniversaries, graduations, or just vacationing together. It is not uncommon to see several tables pushed together in the dining room to accommodate large numbers of relatives. And more baby strollers are seen parked outside cabins where dozens of family members have blocked space together. The reason for the increase in family cruisers is that most cruise lines offer money-saving group travel deals. And the discounts are not limited to families.
Royal Caribbean and Carnival will give one free booking in a double-occupancy cabin for every eight cabins purchased, but the second person in the cabin pays; otherwise, a single supplement will be charged to the person receiving the freebie if he or she wants the space all to themselves.
The discount continues the more cabins sold. So while a group of 16 (with two per cabin) will earn a free cruise for only one person, a group of 32 booking 16 cabins will get the entire 16th cabin free for two passengers. Port charges, taxes, or any processing fees are not included. And it does not matter which category is booked. Inside, outside, verandas, etc., all count towards the total cabins required to earn the free passage (third or fourth persons in a cabin do not count towards the total -- only the total number of cabins).
Luxury Line Benefits Some luxury lines offer even better deals. For instance, singles-friendly and very upscale Crystal Cruise Lines gives one free bed for every twelve persons paid, in addition to a 5 percent override for groups to create value-added amenities. According to Shawn Magnuson, Crystal's public relations coordinator, singles average 10 to 15 percent of passengers on each cruise, an unusually large number. Crystal also runs specials from time to time with reduced single supplements, provides on-board parties exclusively for singles, and always makes sure there are gentlemen to dance with the ladies in the line's "Ambassador Host Program."
Sometimes a message board poster will start things rolling by saying that they found a great deal from their own travel agent; in other instances, after sailing dates and ships are agreed on, someone in the group will contact the cruise line directly to check pricing and make reservations. One individual eventually winds up as the contact person who puts things together, and they are usually the one to earn the free fare. But if several people have put in time and effort, there are other ways to use the money when receiving a dollar-value credit. It can be split among all the group, lowering everyone's fare; or applied as onboard credit.
Agent Vs. Direct Booking It is important to decide whether to go through a travel agent or to book directly with the cruise line. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. A travel agent can take care of all the logistics -- everything from collecting deposits and final payments to air line reservations, if needed -- while the cruise line might offer a lower fare.
One travel agent we spoke to explained that agents can find "GAP" points --Group Amenity Points - sometimes offered by the cruise line on a particular sailing date. These can be used for amenities such as onboard credit, wine, or chocolates in the cabins. But a Carnival representative said that when a group books through the line directly, Carnival will mention if any "GAP" points are available for the date requested -- as well as any other discounts. Still, it is always a good idea when dealing directly with the cruise line to ask whether there are any extra benefits available for the group.
Why Do It? One might wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of organizing a cruise on the Singles Message Board when the Cruisemates Singles Cruise Calendar is filled with a huge variety of organized cruises. The answer lies in the growing number of people going on the listed cruises. For instance, some of the Halloween cruises might number 300-400 singles, a group size that some people find overwhelming, and anything but cozy and romantic.
Also, vacation times and itineraries offered on the calendar do not work for everyone. And there are no organized Christmas cruises, which agencies tend to feel is "family time" and not a period when single people would want to be on a cruise, traveling alone. But, not surprisingly, there is a growing number who have no family or, for whatever reason, cannot be with them -- and who do not want to spend the holiday alone. A cruise is the ideal answer to what could be the loneliest time of the year, made even better by the company of other singles.
Putting together an "un-organized" singles cruise is easier than you might think, and, based on some of the enthusiastic postings on the Singles Message Board, it appears people are having a lot of fun doing it.