Romance or Friendship at Sea

| June 14, 2007

A sailing demonstrates the benefits of traveling alone in a group.

In the late 1990s an enterprising young woman named Debbie Popick, who had earlier started an agency called The Discount Travel Club, realized there was a market for singles cruising. So she created from her garage in Marco Island, Florida, and today it's grown to become one of the most popular enterprises of its kind.

When I sailed on one of her first cruises out of New Orleans, there were no more than 20 party-seeking singles in our group. And party they did -- from a few unlucky passengers sleeping in deck chairs because their cabin mates had sleep-overs with the opposite sex, to a pair of panties waving on the flagpole after all-night revelry that rocked the ship more than the ocean.

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Group Photo   Making Friends

It was a wild time, indeed; but as the numbers of solo bookings grew, the emphasis on sex and booze was replaced by singles just wanting to enjoy a vacation with other singles. As cruise lines started offering incentives and lower prices for large groups, it encouraged families to travel together, but discouraged solo cruisers when they had to pay a hefty singles supplement to occupy a cabin by themselves. However, organized singles cruising solved that problem by offering cabin-mate matching.

Eventually, Ms. Popick had to move out of her garage to a large office, and hire more agents to assist with an increasing schedule of cruises as the demand from singles continued to grow.

Fast forward to 2004, when Carlson Wagonlit Travel made Ms. Popick an offer she could not refuse, taking over with a commitment to make it even bigger and better. Now it is common to see 100 or more singles on the company's cruise departures, ranging in age from the early 20s to early 70s. usually has a cruise scheduled every month of the year -- sometimes twice a month. And most of the passengers are repeaters -- like myself.

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Dancing on the Tables   Getting to Know Each Other
Memorial Day Singles Cruise

I recently sailed on Carnival's Triumph to see for myself the difference from then to now, and to determine whether Carlson Wagonlit had succeeded in improving the reality of what was once Debbie Popick's dream.

Truly, they have and continue to do so.

The fun with a trip begins about six weeks prior to sailing, when an online chat site opens up where singles can log in and get to know each other. Many friendships are thus formed in advance, as participants discuss what to wear when, and which shore excursions to book, increasing their excitement and enthusiasm as departure day draws near.

Miami was the departure port, and many of us arrived a day early, since arranged a special rate at a hotel within sight of the cruise ships. That night, to start the fun early, a group of some 50 singles met at the trendy restaurant "Ocean's Ten" in swinging South Beach, with a special half-price cocktail party and dinner.

The fun begins on board

After pre-arranged early boarding the next day, everyone was greeted by Shelby Bergeron,'s "Onboard Group Activities Specialist." A bundle of energy, Shelby had enthusiasm that was contagious; throughout the cruise, I was amazed at her dedication. "The best part of my job," she explained, "is having a part in creating an environment that leads to lifelong friendships and sometimes even love."

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Shelby   Dance Action

At the first party - an "orientation mixer" held after the lifeboat drill -- I was impressed by the immediate camaraderie in evidence among more than 100 singles. But with an average repeat customer rate of 60 percent, for many passengers the gathering was more like a reunion rather than a get-acquainted party. According to Shelby, some 30 percent on this cruise were repeaters.

Seating was assigned the first night in the Carnival Triumph's beautiful Paris dining room, but for the rest of the cruise, people could move about or pair off in couples, as I observed a few doing right away.

Shelby was quite efficient in keeping everyone informed about the busy schedule of events. She was available early each morning at a special Hospitality Desk, and each night at dinner she stopped at every table to make sure everyone knew where to meet for the evening's entertainment, and which activities were scheduled for the next day.

Onboard happenings

And what a variety of activities there were. I've been on a number of singles cruises, but I have never seen so much offered to create fun and friendship. My favorite was the "Speed Meeting," where each guy and gal sat opposite each other for five minutes, exchanging personal information to see if they might want to pursue any kind of relationship. It worked for some, as I saw couples leaving the party together to become even better acquainted.

Other planned and hosted activities included "Team Trivia," a private session with a piano bar singer, power walks, beginner two-step and swing classes, ice cream socials, "High Tea Time," cards and games, Hot Tub party, and SinglesCruise's traditional "Pub Crawl," featuring five different shooters in five bars. But the most popular by far were the gatherings for Karaoke, where it was not unusual to see people dancing on tables.

Another popular event was the "Cabin Crawl" wine tasting. Singles were urged (and allowed by Carnival) to bring onboard a few bottles of their favorite wines and host tastings in their cabins on a designated evening.

There were two formal nights and three special theme nights: "Black and White" for the group photo, "Mexican Fiesta" at poolside, and "Hawaiian Karaoke," with complimentary floral leis handed out at the swinging Club Rio.

Ports of call

Our itinerary included Grand Cayman; Cozumel; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Shelby and her assistant, Rina Stewart, arranged taxis for private shore excursions to beaches, local sightseeing, and shopping. And of course, in Cozumel there was a singles party at the infamous Carlos & Charlie's, as well as Fat Tuesday's. In Grand Cayman, the group gathered at Senior Frog's; and in Ocho Rios, it was party time at the popular Margaritaville.

On previous singles cruises, it seemed to me that as the week passed, fewer singles would show up for events unless free drinks were served. Not so on this cruise. Every event was well-attended, as the emphasis was on camaraderie and not merely romance. With the group also getting together for breakfast and lunch, there was no reason for anyone to be alone unless they wanted to be.


As for romance (after all, every ship is considered The Love Boat, right?), one young man told me he was already in love with the gal he had met that week, and on the last evening they had made a date to meet in her hometown the next month. Another couple said they planned to book their next singles cruise onboard to receive a special $50 discount -- and would be sharing a cabin.

According to Shelby, lasting relationships can-and do-happen. "We had two marriages from our last Halloween cruise, and this year we had our first baby!"

Shelby said that singles cruising has changed simply because more people are single. "Many are divorced, and many wait to get married for the first time until they are in their 30s and 40s. Definitely, it is more mature now. People want to have a good timeļæ½meet new friends and not just party. But what better time to meet a special person than on your vacation?"

The future of singles cruising

The bookings for increase each year, as do the listings on Cruisemates' Singles Cruise Calendar. More than 300 singles are already booked on Shelby's Halloween cruise this year, which is the most popular -- along with the Spring Break 20s-30's cruise.

According to a March 2006 Mintel report on Singles and Travel (Attitudes and Behavior), singles represent 41 percent of the U.S. population of approximately 121 million people. The study also indicated that a third of all singles travel alone. So it is no wonder there is such demand for organized solo cruising.

Debbie Popick certainly had a dream when she created, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel has carried it on to fruition and beyond -- and based on my experience on this cruise, will continue to do so.

2013 , CruiseMates. All rights reserved.

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