Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - The Rise of the Solo Cruiser
The number of solo cruisers has been steadily increasing over the last decade. While cruising has traditionally been seen as a couples or family activity, more and more travelers are opting to set sail by themselves. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), solo travelers accounted for 12% of cruisers in 2020, up from 10% in 2015.
There are several reasons behind this rise. For many singles, cruising offers an affordable and effortless way to travel and meet new people without having to navigate foreign places alone. Cruises provide built-in entertainment, dining, and organized group activities that make it easy for solo travelers to mingle. The close quarters onboard mean it's nearly impossible not to meet fellow passengers.
Solo cruising also appeals to widows and divorcees looking to get away and embrace new adventures. As CLIA notes, these travelers often feel more comfortable sailing solo among other passengers versus traveling alone on land. Cruises can provide a safe and welcoming environment.
Additionally, an increasing number of cruises now cater to the solo traveler. No longer seen as an oddity, cruise lines actively court this demographic. Norwegian Cruise Line made a splash when it launched dedicated solo studios with no single supplements on its newest ships. Companies like Holland America and Cunard also have cabins set aside for solos.
Special solo hosting programs offer parties where singles can meet each other, as well as dedicated dining tables and excursions. For solo cruisers, it's an effortless way to make dinner plans or form groups for shore activities. You'll never feel alone when there's an organized mix-and-mingle each evening.
With cruise prices based on double occupancy, cruising solo used to mean paying almost double. But with specially priced studio rooms and the elimination of single supplements, it's now very affordable. Cruise loyalty programs also offer great incentives for repeat solo cruisers.
What else is in this post?
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - The Rise of the Solo Cruiser
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Singles Seeking Shipmates
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - No More Single Supplements
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Dedicated Solo Cabins
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Hosted Group Activities
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Singles Mingle Events
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Solo Dining Options
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Excursions for One
- Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Solo Cruiser Loyalty Programs
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Singles Seeking Shipmates
For many solo cruisers, one of the biggest draws is the opportunity to meet new people and make friends onboard. While cruising alone offers independence, it can also get lonely if you don't connect with fellow passengers. That's why singles often go on cruises specifically seeking shipmates to buddy up with.
Joan, a 65-year-old widow, said she loves cruising solo because "it forces me out of my comfort zone to be social." She purposely chooses cruises with robust solo hosting programs. "I don't want to sit alone reading a book all day when I could be having fun with new friends."
Mark, a recent college grad, opted for a party cruise to meet other singles. "It made sense to go where everyone is looking to socialize and make friends." He networked on Facebook groups beforehand to find other singles to room with. "That way I knew I'd have built-in friends on day one."
For Barbara, a 50-something divorcée, cruise ship friendships help combat loneliness. "It's comforting to have dinner with the same group each evening, then attend the singles social. We've exchanged numbers and plan to book future cruises together." She recommends singles choose smaller ships. "You see familiar faces and can easily make friends."
Particularly on longer sailings, compatible shipmates make all the difference. Brian, who cruises solo often, suggests singles mingle early on. "Attend every group activity and excursion. Introduce yourself to everyone." He says the beginning of the cruise is prime time for forming bonds. "People settle into their cliques so you need to be proactive."
To meet potential companions, singles should tap into cruise line messaging boards beforehand. Crystal offers a dedicated singles section on its forum. You can connect with other solos and make plans before even stepping foot onboard.
Many cruise lines also host Facebook groups for singles to get acquainted. Here you can coordinate everything from sharing a dinner table to rooming together. Lisa, a solo cruiser, said, "I met my best friend on our cruise line's Facebook group. We ended up booking back-to-back cruises!"
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - No More Single Supplements
One of the biggest deterrents for solo cruisers used to be paying the dreaded single supplement, often 50% or 100% above the base fare. Thankfully those days are gone, as cruise lines eliminate single supplements to attract more customers.
Sandra, who frequently cruises solo, said the single supplement made costs prohibitive. "I was paying almost double, which limited the trips I could take." She applauds cruise lines for abolishing the fees. "Now I can afford to cruise much more often."
Joan also faced steep single supplements in the past. "I had to carefully budget to cover the extra costs." She loves that supplements are disappearing. "It opens up cruising to more singles who can finally afford it."
Many cruise lines realized the single supplement hindered solo bookings. Norwegian Cruise Line took the bold move of launching exclusive studio cabins in 2010 priced with no supplement. The studios were an instant hit. Norwegian has expanded the concept across its fleet, with over 80 studios on its newest ship.
Royal Caribbean quickly followed with solo cabins on select ships a few years later. While limited in number, these rooms carry no supplement. Solo cruisers pay the same price as half of a couple booking.
Most major cruise lines now offer dedicated solo cabins on at least some ships. Celebrity Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, P&O Cruises, and Saga Cruises have all added accommodations tailored specifically for singles.
Beyond dedicated studios, many cruise lines eliminate supplements on unsold standard cabins as departure nears. Holland America, Oceania, and Viking Cruises roll out last-minute solo deals. Savvy solo cruisers can score great rates with minimal planning.
To attract more solo bookings across the fleet, most mass market and premium cruise brands have slashed single supplements year-round. Companies like Carnival, Princess Cruises, and MSC Cruises have cut fees on select sailings. Solo cruisers can choose from a variety of affordable options.
Luxury lines have been slower to embrace the trend. Companies like Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas still charge full single supplements. But even here change is coming. Regent Seven Seas announced it will reduce supplements to 175% in 2023. As luxury players vie for market share, expect more competitive solo fares.
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Dedicated Solo Cabins
For solo cruisers, having a room to yourself without paying a supplement used to be a luxury. But with growing demand, cruise lines are adding more dedicated solo cabins to select ships. These cozy, thoughtfully designed studios cater to the singular traveler.
Joan loves her solo studio on Cunard ships. “Having my own intimate space is important. The studio has everything I need like a comfortable sofa bed, TV, and shower.” She also enjoys priority access to specialty dining and lounges for solos. “It’s a small community where I quickly met friends.”
Jeffreys opts for Norwegian’s studio complex, The Studios. “It’s an entire section just for solos, with around 80 cabins. There’s a private lounge to socialize.” He describes the rooms as perfect for one. “They maximized the space beautifully with a full-size bed, enough storage and even a window.”
While basic, solo studios contain all the necessities. Don’t expect a balcony or tub. But what you trade in size is made up in location. "I’m just steps from everything,” says Sandra. Her centrally located studio on Celebrity Apex is across from the elevator. “I can pop up to activities or restaurants in seconds.”
Studios also represent a smart design solution. “Rooms made for one person let ships accommodate more passengers overall,” explains John, a cruise aficionado. He notes that studios are rarely sold out. “That makes ships more profitable.”
Dedicated studios offer other perks too. Friends Joan and Barbara share a two-room studio on Cunard complete with an adjoining door. “We each have our own space that can be separate or connected.” Solos also get exclusive access to single-only lounges for complimentary continental breakfasts and pre-dinner drinks.
The only downside is limited availability. “Studios are usually the first cabins to sell out because solo cruisers jump on them,” says Sandra. Supply is still scarce industry-wide. On most ships, studios number in the single digits.
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Hosted Group Activities
For solo cruisers looking to be social, hosted group activities are a godsend. These mixers and events sponsored by the cruise line make it easy to meet fellow singles in a fun, low-pressure environment. You'll never have to worry about sitting alone when there's a full calendar of happenings pulling people together each day.
Janet, who frequently cruises solo, says the daily hosted activities are key. "I can just show up and be swept into the fun. There's no awkwardness because the cruise line has already done the heavy lifting to break the ice." She loves joining in trivia, wine tastings, dance classes - whatever is on the schedule.
Jeffrey, a solo cruiser for over a decade, says he purposely chooses cruises with robust programming for singles. "My goal is to be busy sun-up to sun-down in activities with other passengers. A cruise with lots of hosted events makes that possible." He doesn't have to worry about planning his day or feeling excluded.
Of course, the offerings will vary by cruise line and ship. Mass market big ship brands tend to have the most extensive schedules catering to singles. For example, ships like Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class have entire lounges and event spaces just for singles. The Social180 club hosts speed friending, dance workshops, game nights and more.
Julie, a solo Royal Caribbean regular, loves the constant events for meeting people. "Every night it's a meetup for cocktails or a silly game competition to break the ice." She also enjoys the low-pressure environment. "You can be as involved or invisible as you want. No one is forced to participate."
Beyond dedicated singles programming, many group activities are welcoming for solos. Trivia games, dance classes, mixology demos, talent shows - these are perfect for flying solo. Linda met her cruise BFF during Napkin Folding 101. "We bonded over our terrible origami skills. Three cruises later and we're inseparable!"
For a more curated experience, some luxury lines offer extensive solo hosting programs. Crystal Cruises has its Compass Program with parties, cocktail hours and gentleman hosts to dance with single women. Women hosts are also available for single men. Azamara goes all out with its "Nights and Friends" program of special activities, gaming events and happy hours for solos seeking connections.
No matter your personality, hosted activities make it easy to dip a toe into the social scene at your own pace. Brian advises shy cruisers start small. "Ease into a group trivia session or softball on the sports court. You'll meet people naturally without the pressure to mingle."
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Singles Mingle Events
For solo cruisers, dedicated mixers provide a relaxed, fun atmosphere for meeting potential friends or travel partners. These Singles Mingle events let you enjoy an evening out without worrying about showing up alone.
Marie, who frequently cruises solo, says she purposely chooses ships with nightly meetups. "It's reassuring knowing I can just pop into the cocktail party or game night. Everyone is friendly and open to mingling." She prefers theme parties like 70s disco night. "Donning costumes and letting loose on the dance floor is an instant ice breaker."
Jeffrey loves trivia contests and Newlywed/Not-Yet-Wed games. "They're great for sparking conversation all around your table." He suggests singles sit with different groups each evening. "It adds variety and exposes you to more passengers." Jeffrey made several close friends during a Motown karaoke night. "Our terrible singing voices bonded us for life!"
On her lengthy Panama Canal crossing, Janet was thankful for the constant activity revving up at night. "After big days of port adventures, it was energizing to hit the piano bar singalong or 007 Blackjack tournament." She also appreciated the food and drinks that took the pressure off dinner. "Thanks to hor d'oeuvres, I could be social without worrying about who to dine with."
To cater to different interests, activities are wide-ranging. A dance party might be followed by Bingo or a dessert-making demo. Linda met her sister-wife partner for the newlywed game at an ice cream social. "We were just two women eating sundaes, but we totally clicked!"
Sandra loves the spontaneity of seeing where each evening leads. "One night I beelined for the Friends of Bill W meeting to connect with people living a sober lifestyle. Another evening I hit Majority Rules Game Night and laughed so hard my stomach hurt."
Getting past the initial awkwardness of walking in alone is a hurdle many solos face. Brian suggests arriving early when it's less crowded. "Chat up others also flying solo or the hosts. People let their guard down and open up quickly in this environment." He also recommends sticking around to mingle afterward. "Some of my best conversations happened over that last drink when everyone was feeling comfortable."
While basic mixers are available on most ships, those catering to singles are still limited. A few top picks are Norwegian's exclusive Studio Lounge for solos, Royal Caribbean's Social180 club, and the Napa Valley Wine Club tasting and conversation hour on Princess ships. Mainstream lines tend to have the most variety.
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Solo Dining Options
For solo cruisers, mealtimes present a conundrum. Sitting alone can feel isolating, but joining other groups takes courage. Thankfully, cruise lines now provide more solo dining options to make things easier.
Jeffreys opts for the dedicated solo traveler tables available on several cruise lines. "I like that it's just other solos looking to meet people over dinner." He's forged friendships across the table while enjoying four course meals. "The food is way better than room service alone watching TV."
Open seating is another popular choice. Sandra prefers the flexibility of grabbing any empty seat. "I never have to worry about finding companions for the early show or late dinner." She mingles at big shared tables, though couples often dominate. "As a party of one, I get squeezed in wherever there's room."
For a private yet inclusive feel, Janet books selected specialty restaurants that offer solo seating. "I'll reserve a small two top to myself and never feel self-conscious." While pricier, it saves her from searching for dinner partners. "It's worth the indulgence to avoid eating alone but not feel isolated."
Room service is an easy go-to, though solitary. Marie finds late night meals in her cabin soothing after lively evenings out. "I can recharge in my pajamas and reflect on the fun interactions." But too many plates on her coffee table get depressing. "I have to balance alone time with social dinners."
Some ships now offer solo Reservations-for-One. Select Princess ships let you book premium dining packages tailored for one. "With reserved seating just for me, I don't have to worry about looking desperate waving others down," says Joan. She enjoys personalized menus and pampering.
Seatmates arranges dinner companions on several cruise lines. Submit your preferences and the concierge seats you with compatible singles. Sandra tried it for her specialty dinner. "I was nervous but ended up laughing nonstop with two ladies who are now lifelong friends."
Making reservations for late dining often guarantees singles seating. "At 8:30 everyone has settled into their cliques so they pull solos together," Marie explains. She joined a table of five other larks and found them surprisingly gregarious. "We closed down the dining room!"
The choices can be overwhelming but also freeing. Jeffrey decides day-by-day how he wants to dine. "Some nights I privately savor a steak in my cabin watching TV. Other evenings I go dance with my group in the buffet." Having options eliminates FOMO.
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Excursions for One
Solo cruisers often fret about booking shore excursions, envisioning friend groups laughing together on rum tastings and families exploring ancient ruins. The idea of venturing out alone can seem intimidating. But modern cruises offer more solo-friendly tour options than ever. You just have to know where to look.
Janet was hesitant about solo excursions until discovering cruise-organized tours for one. “I booked a glass-bottom kayak trip in Cozumel. It turned out to be just me and a guide paddling through crystal waters.” With no one else to accommodate, the tour tailored perfectly to her interests.
Small group shore trips are now more common. Sandra joined a party of eight for an electric bike tour of Old San Juan. “It was large enough to feel social but intimate enough to chat with everyone.” The couples took Sandra under their wing, making her feel part of their gang.
For Jeffrey, shore days are precious opportunities to absorb local culture. He chooses tours capped at 12 passengers. “You still meet new people but can better interact with the guide and sights.” A visit to Grand Turk’s mangroves was made more memorable by their tiny tour skimming through shaded channels.
Joan recommends focusing on active adventures like snorkeling, biking or kayaking. “Activities where you’re moving alongside others foster natural conversations.” During an energetic Dance + Beach Party combo in Cozumel, Joan befriended fellow solo cruisers through their mutual two left feet.
When faced with large tour groups, engage buddies beforehand. Brian strategically mingled on decks before booking a catamaran trip. “That way I already knew people to partner up with. What could’ve been awkward was super fun.” If you don’t connect ahead, scope out potential excursion friends on boarding day.
Another option is cruise line hosted tours. Major brands like Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises and Holland America lead complimentary excursions for solos. Focusing on sightseeing and attractions, these provide built-in companions. “I tried a hosted city highlights tour in St. Thomas and immediately met others like me,” says Marie. “Safety in numbers!”
Pre-arranged private tours also guarantee one-on-one time with guides. Though pricier, you dictate the activities while getting insider perspective. Sandra has an excellent solo tour of the Panama Canal. “My private guide customized everything to my interests. We had amazing conversations and I never felt isolated.”
If you crave complete freedom, wander independently but strategically. Avoid destinations with safety concerns. Scope out central meeting spots conducive to mingling like grab-and-go eateries. Janet made a point of frequenting a happening rooftop bar each time her ship docked in Cozumel. “It provided opportunities to make friends, take in sights and transition between exploring.”
When Cruise Critic member CruisingCarol513 faced an unexpected solo jaunt ashore, reviews from fellow solos proved helpful. “Fellow posters suggested a restaurant with communal tables perfect for striking up conversations.” Message boards connect you with seasoned solo cruisers’ insights for each port.
Smooth Sailing: How Cruise Lines Are Catering to Solo Travelers - Solo Cruiser Loyalty Programs
Solo cruisers know that loyalty pays. While all frequent cruiser programs offer perks, some provide particular value to voyageurs riding solo. From priority bookings to sweet solo supplements, these clubs make repeat cruising more rewarding.
Jeffrey always cruises with his favorite line thanks to generous loyalty perks. “I reached top-tier status faster thanks to earning bonus points as a solo traveler.” Now he enjoys prime suite upgrades, early booking access and special solo events. “I’m pampered from the moment I step onboard and recognized for my loyalty.”
Janet is similarly devoted to her preferred company. “I get double points per sailing as a registered solo cruiser. In just two years I qualified for VIP status!” She indulges in free cocktails, WiFi and laundry along with fuss-free airfare. Janet also raves about the exclusive singles cocktail party. “We regulars get pampered with champagne and nibbles while mingling—it’s lovely!”
To lure devoted solo cruisers, several lines now offer double points and milestones bonuses. Sandra accelerates tiers with her operator’s 100% solo bonus. “I rack up points fast, which means more elite perks.” She also appreciates the specialty single fares for frequent floaters. “They really roll out the red carpet for us repeat customers!”
Of course, policies vary widely across cruise companies. Many still award standard perks and similar point levels to all guests regardless of party size. Do your homework to uncover which providers go above and beyond for loyal solo sailors.
Luxury specialty lines like Crystal Cruises lure repeat solos with value add-ons. Brian enjoys “salary-saving perks” like inclusive drinks, gratuities, and free self-service laundry. “The extras add up, especially as a frequent solo cruiser.” He also lauds Crystal’s reduced single supplements for devout guests.
River cruise operators hustle for loyalty with single savings. Solo traveler Jill gets 50% off supplements as a regular Viking River Cruises client. “It absolutely makes me remain brand loyal—I save a fortune!” She also enjoys late availability of single staterooms otherwise sold out. “Returning customers get access to cabins off limits to newbies.”
While sailing solo with mainstream mass-market lines rarely allows early booking access, upper tier status can unlock deals. As an elite member on Carnival Cruise Line, Marie books a guaranteed solo stateroom before they hit the web. “Perks like premier upgrades and offers not marketed to the public make me feel valued.” She stresses, however, that it takes years to climb the tiers.
No matter your cruise line, always leverage loyalty membership from the start. Even entry-level perks add up. From priority terminals to swag bags to coupon books, basic benefits make repeat cruising rewarding. Plus early investment means faster access to elite levels and the shiny status solo perks.
When choosing a rewards program, weigh benefits versus flexibility—and consider how often you’ll realistically sail annually. Jill is tied to Viking for the perks but misses trying new lines. Sandra’s program encourages experimentation with generous bonuses on any cruise. “I can still cash in whether sailing solo or with others.” Remember: Loyalty goes both ways.