If you have not cruised on your own - but have thought about it, then hopefully this column will give you the intestinal courage to at least begin inquiring about one of the best ways to travel by yourself.
But before I continue, please allow me to toss out some myths and or stereotypes that you may have about people who venture out on cruise ships alone:
It's hard to feel alone on a cruise ship - unless of course you lock yourself in your cabin and order room service all day long. When you cross the magical "Gangplank of Love", people seem to undergo a lobotomy. Frowns turn into smiles, negative thoughts are translated to positive expressions, manners you learned as a child come back to you, and saying hello to other passengers is actually 'fun'! And this occurs to everyone who allows it to happen - it does not matter if you are single, tall, green, married, white, skinny or from New Jersey... it just happens.
I have traveled on four 'solo' cruises. I am 41 and single. I have many friends here in Boston and elsewhere, but sometimes my vacation schedule does not mesh with that of my friends.
Years past on a Carnival cruise, I asked two very sweet elderly ladies from Miami why they had chosen Carnival. (I was surprised to see so many senior citizens on this particular cruise) Her reply was precious - she said "Heck, we didn't want to go on a Dead Ship - we are single and fun people ourselves". So DO NOT think that this article was written for young solo travelers - it is for solo travelers of all ages and backgrounds.
Having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world is an intriguing proposal that does not occur very often in the average person's lifetime. Now I'm not saying as a married person you can't do that either, it's just that being on a cruise as a single person can be extremely exciting.
In fact, many happy couples take separate vacations. Another trend is that one spouse/mate does not want to take a cruise and the other does.
Since graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1979, I have easily logged over 1000 nights in hotels, and I can count all the friends I have made at these hotels on one finger. Yet on cruises, one cannot help meet people and make friends. You will dine with them, you will be in the pool with them, you will dance with them, you will clap for them when they shout BINGO, you will see shows with them, you will dine again with them, and you will belly-up-to-the-bar with them.
It seems to be quite common that your dining partners, whether they are single or not, will feel compelled to assist you in meeting people. Trust me, every night at dinner, the married folks will live vicariously through you and inquire about your progress.
For some reason, many people think that there are lots of 'singles' cruises. I hate to be the bearer of bad news - but that is false information. Rarely have certain groups chartered their own cruise ship, and I am not aware of any group of single people having the means or numbers to do this.
Ship Tip: 'Singles cruises' do not exist with any type of frequency
Ships leave every week from ports all over the world, and if I had to put a percentage to the number of solo adult passengers, it would be 1%. So, for a ship carrying 2000 passengers, you should expect about 20 of the ship's passengers to be traveling solo.
Ship Tip: Approximately 1% of all passengers cruise solo
Depending upon the cruise line, the ship, the time of year and the itinerary, a ship's passenger list is comprised of from 0 - 20% adult single people - with 5% the industry norm. You cannot just book any old cruise and expect there to be lots of solo travelers - you must do some homework. Last year I sailed on the Destiny with 3300+ passengers. Approximately 400 passengers were single adults, but the following week's cruise on the same ship had less than 100 adult single passengers.
Ship tip: Not all ships carry single/solo passengers on each voyage
So let us now assume that the 'idea' of a cruise by yourself sounds at least interesting enough for you to look into. How do you go about it? Who do you call? Which web-sites might assist you?
Traveling solo, since it makes up such a small percentage of the cruise market, receives little publicity today. (Personally, I believe that the cruise lines are missing out on what could be 5% of their annual revenue.) If you are serious about venturing out on your own, you will need to do some legwork.
Ship Tip: Prepare to do some homework if you plan to travel solo.
I have a number of friends that are travel agents and I will apologize to those of you who take offense to this statement, however, your local TA may not be your best bet if you want to travel solo.
Ship Tip: Local Travel Agents can be limited with options for solo passengers
There are several companies that do specialize in organizing cruises for solo travelers. They are out there, but you must remember that if you walk into a travel agent looking for one, the TA will want to book your cruise and not pass you and the commission over to someone else! However, some agencies will know about the single tour operators and assist you in your booking.
More than likely, your local TA will only be aware of the published policies Cruise Lines offer for solo travelers. The rates for a single cabin all to yourself range from 150 % - 200% of a double occupancy rate and most lines now offer this. Just check the back of any Cruise lines brochure for details.
Ship Tip: Traveling solo can be expen$ive
If you insist on your own cabin, have the dough to pay for it, and are not interested in being part of a group, than no problem, just go to your local agent. But, if you would rather at least check other possibilities, than there are options.
Some lines offer a share program. This can be a risky venture for you - but the rewards can also be very good. A 'Share' program, if available, will assign you to a cabin with another person of same gender and hopefully similar age. They also take your smoking preferences into consideration. I have met at least 50 people on various cruises who have tried this and been very satisfied with their roommate. Of course the fares are lower and much more affordable - so even if you don't get the best roommate - you should not have had to mortgage the house in order to take the cruise.
Ship Tip: Share programs offered by Cruise Lines are economical, but a bit risky
Twice I have booked on the Share fares and been very fortunate to be assigned my own cabin. This is not the norm, so do not get your hopes up, but it can happen. The Cruise Lines place a certain number of Share Cabins aside for each cruise (where available), and occasionally, you can even get on a ship at the last minute with one of these bookings. In fact, recently a Carnival ship had sold out, but a buddy of mine was able to secure a share program cabin.
If you are single, look in the Travel sections of Sunday's newspaper or, periodicals aimed at single people by agencies that specialize in travel for single people. These companies, if you can find them, will try to match you with someone of similar age - which in effect saves you significant cash!
Ship Tip: Travel agencies that are devoted to single people may match you with someone else - saving you money!
Another way to find these agencies is on the web. Do a search on Cruises and or Travel agencies and throw the word single in there as well. There are only a handful out there, so look hard.
Ship Tip: Do a search on the web to find travel agencies that specialize in travel for solo/single people
The agencies that specialize in travel for single people will also provide you with a group of people to meet besides your roommate - thus increasing your chances of meeting a friend or two. Don't get your expectations too high though; perhaps just consider this group as a home base. I traveled with 50 people on the Norway five years ago through a now defunct company called "Singleworld" (primarily because their rate of $479 PP c/o for 7 days was unbeatable). While I spent almost zero time with the group, I did have a good time and made a life-long buddy from Chicago who has subsequently cruised with other friends and myself four times.
Ship Tip: Manage your expectations of the people in your group.
If you cannot find one of these companies or, are not so concerned about going with a group of single people, than another option is tagging along with a group of people that an agency has put together. A local TA here in the Boston area has had a sign on their front window for months now asking people to join them on their Alaskan cruise in August. If you have the time, call all the agencies in your area and especially the agencies that are cruise only. Not only will you increase your chances by doing so, but also you might be fortunate enough to lock into a good group rate.
Ship Tip: Call every local agency and even some not so local to see if you can book with someone else's group.
Travel agencies will grab a number of discounted rooms from time to time for a specific sailing of a specific ship. The rates they secure can be quite good - and even if you do end up paying the 150 - 200% of the rate, it will save you money since it is based off of the discounted rate. In fact, yours truly last year did just that with my friends from the SeaLetter.
And just because you book your cruise with someone else's group does not mean you have to be with them. In fact, you can take a chance and request to be seated with other solo passengers.
Ship Tip: Booking with another group does not mean you have to spend time with them.
And once you are on board the ship, if you want to meet people, make yourself available. Get on the dance floor, talk to people, participate in events. Traveling solo on a cruise is becoming more and more commonplace, let alone affordable - but unless you look into this, you'll never know - will you?
Doug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.
Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.
Doug is always interested in your comments and suggestions and may be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.
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