Cruising with a Stranger

| Wednesday, 06 Sept. 2006

9-08-06

In years past, before cruising became mass-marketed, most cruise lines took the attitude that an empty cabin was lost revenue once the ship left port; and close to sailing date it would sell that space to a single cruiser at half the cost. But no more. Now solo travelers face the dreaded single supplement, which means one person occupying a two-person cabin alone is going to pay a premium over the standard "per person, double occupancy" price, ranging from 50 percent to 200 percent.

Not all solo cruisers can afford the extra expense, so many travel agencies offer free cabin-mate matching for their hosted singles cruises, thus offering cheaper rates by avoiding the supplement. However, most passengers are paired only by gender and smoking preferences (and in a few instances, by age). Few, if any, offer the opportunity for people to become acquainted in advance with the person they are going to be "living" with for a week or more. This has often resulted in miserable situations that could have been avoided had the two people been allowed to get to know each other and set some ground rules beforehand.

Cancellation concerns When we asked agencies why they wouldn't divulge to customers in advance the identity of the person they will be rooming with, they cited the possibility of a last-minute switch -- why bother when the people might not wind up together? This excuse did not seem feasible to cruisers who told of bad experiences with strangers; they thought the agencies worried that if two people scheduled to share a cabin got acquainted beforehand and decided they were not compatible, one or the other might cancel.

It would appear this fear is justified. As Julia S., of Pell City, Alabama, explained: "There is always a private chat site before the cruise, and people can give their cabin numbers and find out that way who they are rooming with. I found out a week before my cruise that the person I was supposed to share with had some habits I couldn't deal with. I asked to be switched, was told it was not possible, so I canceled. It was worth the penalty they charged, because I would rather have paid that than have my entire cruise ruined."

Sammye G. of Trussville, Alabama, told how, in a pre-cruise chat room, she met her intended cabin-mate. The woman told her she had signed up as a non-smoker because she had intended to quit but had not been able to -- and she would be lighting up in the cabin. Sammye also opted out of her cruise when the agency refused to switch her; she not only lost her deposit, but a hefty cancellation fee was deducted from her refund since it was close to sailing and she had paid in full. "I argued, but it did no good," she said, "and I was willing to lose the money rather than spend a week unable to breathe in my own cabin."

Vickie Snoap of SinglesCruise.com said, "We are very fortunate as we have not had many instances in our program where the roommates we matched together did not get along, but in this rare event, our onboard cruise director would try to work out a room exchange for the passengers."

A spokesperson for Vacationstogo.com said that agency will try to work out problems by having its cruise coordinator act as mediator. If the situation cannot be resolved, they endeavor to find another cabin for one of the dissatisfied passengers, which is rarely an option as most ships are sold out. If someone winds up with a cabin to themselves as a result of a dispute, they are charged the single supplement.

What to do In addition to Cruisemates' message board, "Seeking Cruise Companion," where you can post a listing telling other singles who you are, where you would like to cruise, and your prefernces for a roommate, there are a few other web sites where people can look for a cabin mate. You can try www.cabinmatch.com and www.Cstn.org, or a new site called www.solocruiser.com with an onilne compatibility form that lets you find potential matches and then contact them by email (privacy protected).

However, simply finding a cabinmate so you can avoid the single supplement does not necessarily mean you won't run into problems when you share a room with someone you have never met. There is always the unexpected.

What is the answer to this perplexing dilemma? First, before beginning the search for a roommate online, make a list of things that are important to you -- including and beyond personal issues like age, smoking preferences, snoring, drinking, etc. The number one item should be your personal safety; find out as much as possible, via e-mail, about the stranger you will be living with for the length of the cruise:

  1. To verify a future roommate's veracity, request to exchange copies of drivers' licenses and passports (but mark out anything that might be used for identity theft, such as social security numbers). <br><br>
  2. Ask for personal references. A place of work is especially good if the person is cimfortable with that, because you can also verify the person is employed.<br><br>
  3. Verify place of residence. Doublecheck the address a person claims as their residence by using the postal mail to exchange copies of your passports.<br><br>

     

Once you can establish that your potential roommate is not a pathological liar, make contact by phone to talk, at length, about each other's compatibility concerns. Discuss anything you think might present a problem unless it is understood beforehand, such as medical problems or physical handicaps/disabilities.

Is the person taking any kind of medications? Are either of you over-packers who might need more than your share of cabin space? Make sure you each see to it that any extra cabin charges, such as long distance phone calls, bottled water purchases, room service, etc., are posted to the right person's account. It is also a good idea to bring up the subject of what happens if a shipboard romance blossoms, and whether either of you would be willing to give up the cabin for a few hours for privacy.

Bathroom habits are especially important, especially for ladies. Because an unexpected delay or compromise of the only bathroom space for an extended period of time could lead to a lot of upset psyches for singl ladies trying to look their best. What time do you shower, how long does it take to do your hair?

Another important issue is what will happen if one of you cancels at the last minute. That leaves the other stuck with paying the single supplement, unless you have booked through a singles cruise agency. Their policy is usually to allow the remaining passenger to have the cabin to themselves at no additional cost if they cannot quickly find a replacement.

And never send or front money to your cabin mate for either the cruise deposit or final payment. This should be paid individually to the appropriate placeĀ—either the travel agency or the cruise line, and it is important that both roommates make the payment on the same day. This secures the booking at the right price. If one delays the price may become unaffordable.

All things considered, it would seem that a person is better off finding their own cabin mate, based on their criteria, rather than leaving it to a travel agent to pair them with a stranger. After all, sharing a cabin with someone you know nothing about versus getting acquainted beforehand, can mean the difference between a cruise to remember, or a nightmare you will never forget.

 

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