Can the Single Find Happiness on a Ship Full of Couples?

| August 15, 2007

Our society is geared toward couples. That's just a fact of life. This is even more true in the travel industry where just about every commodity except airline seats is sold based on the famous "per person, double occupancy" scheme. Cruise ship cabins, in particular, are built to accommodate a minimum of two people. Rare is the ship offering single occupancy cabins. So, a person traveling alone is often faced with the dreaded single supplement; in other words, having to pay a premium over the standard per person fare for the privilege of occupying a cabin alone. This supplement could range from a full second fare on downward.

But far more worrisome to the single traveler is the thought of being alone on a ship full of happy couples and families. Can the single truly find happiness on today's cruise ships while traveling alone?

The resounding answer is YES. But there are some tips that will help increase your odds of a great cruise vacation, even when going it alone. Not all cruises, nor cruise lines, are great for singles, so it is best to first determine what it is you want from your cruise vacation.

Ask the Right Questions

First off, ask yourself what you are looking for while on vacation. Are you interested in a swinging time with lots of fun people? Or, do you prefer peace and quiet, a chance to relax and unwind from the pressures of daily living? Are you looking to meet someone of the opposite sex, perhaps for a week of onboard fun, even if you never see him after disembarkation? Or do you prefer forging lasting friendships with people who share your love of travel? The answers to these questions will determine just what type of cruise voyage is right for you.

Party Hardy!

I've cruised solo lots of times, but if there is one thing I knew going into my first cruise, it was that I am not a "party hardy" type individual. I never was. So, I figured I had to stay away from singles-only type cruise vacations. I'm also in my early 50's and not in the market for a "quickie" seafaring romance at this point in my life, so I also knew I would be better off focusing on voyages that would attract more mature singles looking for good conversation, along with some interesting ports and relaxing days at sea.

But if you're into the party scene, dancing and just kicking back with a bunch of like-minded carefree people, then try a shorter cruise, maybe something of seven days or less. Just about every cruise line offers voyages of shorter lengths, and some travel agencies will even host groups of single travelers on these cruises. and are two such agencies that come to mind. A simple Google search will yield many more. These travel agencies will usually provide an onboard host for their group, and will offer a variety of exclusive activities during the voyage designed to help their group of cruisers to get acquainted. Some will even help with pairing same sex customers who are interested in shared cabin accommodations. Such sharing nicely avoids having to pay any single supplement at all.

Long and Leisurely

If you're not into the "singles thing," but still don't want to be alone for the entire cruise, consider a longer voyage, something in excess of 12 to 15 days. Some Hawaiian or European destinations immediately come to mind. These extended trips are a natural magnet for drawing lots of single cruisers. With more days at sea, coupled with more options for touring, the singles onboard are almost magically drawn together, and long-term friendships often develop. Cruise lines also tend to do more for singles on the longer voyages, since there are simply more of us. They will often host a singles get-together in the first couple of days, allowing singles the opportunity to get acquainted so that they can quickly pair up to share onboard activities together, as well as shore excursions. If there are a significant number of singles on a sailing, the cruise line will generally do even more, including providing a stable of "gentleman hosts" to serve as dance and conversational partners for the many women traveling alone on these sailings.

I traveled solo on a 30-day Hawaii/South Pacific cruise on Holland America's ms Amsterdam a couple of years back. We had over 100 single and solo travelers onboard. The cruise director assigned a member of his staff specifically to organize special events for us throughout the cruise. On just about every sea day, and there were loads of them, we had at least one event ... a luncheon, lemonade party, cocktail hour and several group dinners. For evenings, four "gentleman hosts" could be found in the various lounges, offering their services to ladies lacking a dance partner.

Try a "Theme" Cruise

Okay, maybe you can't do a 30-day voyage. You're still a "working stiff." You really don't want a "swinging singles" cruise. So, what's left out there? Plenty.

A great way to meet a lot of like-minded singles is to book a theme cruise. These cruises are sponsored by a variety of organizations and the common thread tying them together is a shared interest. Everything about the sailing is built around that interest, and taking one of these cruises not only provides an opportunity to meet new people, but also allows you to more deeply delve into a passion or hobby. Theme cruises have been built around such pursuits as writing, scrapbooking, genealogy, and even popular television shows. Cruise lines too will sometimes designate certain sailings as "special interest" voyages, with the spotlight being on music, antiques, food, photography and even religious themes.

I got my introduction to cruising through a theme cruise. I booked a sailing on Holland America's ms Rotterdam as part of a writer's retreat sponsored by the Maui Writer's Foundation. I had always wanted to take a cruise, but lacked a partner to share it with. I was nervous about being on a boat by myself, fearful that I would have no one to talk to. This writer's retreat seemed to offer the perfect opportunity to try sailing alone, without having to actually be alone. Our group had sea days packed with seminars, classes, lectures and a host of other activities. We all dined together and enjoyed cocktail parties together. The Foundation hosted optional tours while in port that were often lower priced that Holland America's offerings and allowed group members to share transport and the services of private guides. The Foundation even set up a message board in the months preceding the cruise so that members could meet each other ahead of time and even set up cabin sharing arrangements.

That cruise was without a doubt one of the best I've ever taken. There was no time to be lonely. Every day was filled with fun and the camaraderie associated with sharing a passionate interest with others of like mind. I also learned a bit about my craft that week, so was able to more easily justify the extra expense often associated with a theme voyage.

Join a Cruise Message Board "Roll Call"

To maximize your chances of having a great cruise, no matter what its length or itinerary, join a cruise message board far in advance. CruiseMates is one such forum. Look in the Roll Call section for a "thread" pertaining to the cruise you are booked on or are contemplating. These roll call boards are very popular with cruisers, and it's the place they go to meet others on the same cruise. People often start a roll call for their cruise even if it is still a year or more into the future. They meet others on the same cruise and often can arrange to share shore excursions and private guides, receive advice concerning hotels for a pre or post-cruise stay, and even make cabin sharing arrangements. When I am planning a cruise, I always check the roll call boards even before booking anything specific. I want to find a roll call that looks active and contains a lot of interesting people. I also look for other single travelers that may be posting to the roll call, so that I can get an idea if there will be lots of single travelers I can meet once onboard. Being an active participant on a roll call thread can maximize a single traveler's chance of having a great cruise with a group of friends made long before the boat ever leaves the dock.

Not All Cruise Lines Treat Singles Equally

It's a fact of life that some cruise lines are more "single friendly" than others and will offer attractive rates for singles traveling alone. They will also take pains to welcome singles with special "mixers" and other get acquainted activities once they are onboard. Others cruise lines, however, will do little to encourage single travelers. They generally fill their ships with couples and families and have little motivation to woo the single traveler. Single supplements will be high, sometimes as high as a second fare, and no special arrangements will be made for the singles once onboard.

Generally, I find that the larger "mega ships" accommodating 3000+ passengers can be difficult places for the single traveler. Those vessels cater to family cruisers because of their size and limitless amenities. As a result, just about every sailing is packed with kids and their close-knit families. The single will have a hard time fitting in and will easily get lost in the crowd on those vessels. If you really want to sail one of the larger-sized ships in, say, the Carnival or Royal Caribbean fleet, you'd probably be better off booking as part of a hosted singles group. This will maximize your chances of meeting other singles and having a great time onboard.

On the other hand, the luxury cruise lines tend to be very singles friendly. The ships are smaller and the staff to passenger ratio is much lower. Staff members have more time to cater to the needs of single travelers, often introducing them to others and even ensuring they are matched with compatible partners for meals and other shipboard social events. Since the ships usually hold no more than 300 or so passengers, the single traveler has very little trouble meeting others and really getting to know them over the course of the voyage. Best of all, single supplements tend to be very low to non-existent on the luxury cruise lines and this fact alone makes those ships a virtual magnet for single cruisers who can afford the higher cost of a luxury cruise.

Many other cruise lines will take a middle-of-the-road attitude with singles. They will offer some amenities, including single share programs and reduced single supplements. They will also host singles "meet and mingle" events in an effort to help solo cruisers get acquainted. Depending upon the sailing, some will even have special singles-only events throughout the cruise, including singles mixers, cocktail parties, lunches and special group shore excursions.

Post Your Questions and We'll Get the Answers

In a series of future articles, we'll take a look at some of the major cruise lines and what they offer to the single traveler. We'll examine a cruise line in the mass market, premium and luxury travel markets. We'll also explore the offerings of one of the large cruise agencies offering hosted singles cruises and see what participation in such a cruise is like.

If there are any specific questions you would like addressed in these features, just post them to our Singles Forum and we'll get them answered.

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