Single travellers have been cruising around the world for decades, but the relative youth of the cruise industry in Australia and New Zealand means that solos have not been a target market. However, as the number of solo travellers continues to surge, so does the number of solo cruisers, which has led to a rise in solo offerings.
A lack of suitable product and hefty single supplements of up to 200 percent for a single cabin have so far been deterrents for many, says Les Farrar, managing director of Cruise Holidays Australia. But the situation is definitely improving for Australians and New Zealanders considering a solo cruise. 'Thankfully cruise lines are slowly recognising the need to better cater for singles', Farrar says, highlighting a range of developments, such as roommate-matching services and studio cabins designed specifically for singles.
'In many cases, solo travellers are more mature, aged people who love to travel, and cruising is seen as a great option, as it offers a secure form of travel as well as the ability to easily make new friends or acquaintances onboard', he says. 'In fact, many singles return from a cruise having made new friends for life and end up arranging future cruises together.'
If you're considering cruising on your own, here are some tips to enhance your holiday experience.
Pick your ship carefully.
The hardware of many cruise ships has been adapted to cater for the growing solo traveller market with the addition of single cabins. Cunard has recently added nine single staterooms to Queen Elizabeth in response to growing demand, while P&O offers single staterooms across a number of ships in its UK-based fleet. Single balcony cabins have been introduced for the first time aboard the adults-only Arcadia, too.
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While other cruise lines might not have dedicated single cabins, some allocate a number of cabins for those travelling alone each season. For example, Lindblad Expeditions has 32 cabins reserved for solos on National Geographic Orion. Cabins are available midyear on the Kimberley and Spice Islands voyages.
Other ship areas attractive to solo travellers include adults-only zones, which are frequented by couples and singles travelling without kids. On Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend, the Serenity sun deck offers cruisers a space to congregate for kid-free conversation and relaxation time. P&O Cruises offers the Oasis area (another adults-only sun deck) and Sit Down Comedy Club.
Meet like-minded travellers.
Solo travellers don't have to spend their holidays alone. Cruises offer a variety of opportunities for meeting like-minded people. Specially designed group tours, such as those offered by travel agency Cruise Express, bring together cruisers with similar interests. These cruise holidays typically include a host, who looks after all the trip details, offers assistance to all group members throughout the cruise and organises group events ranging from dinners to cocktail receptions and day touring.
Small-ship cruising provides an intimate and social atmosphere. As each member of the crew gets to know each passenger by name, it doesn't take long for fellow passengers to follow suit. With fewer onboard venues and smaller group shore excursions, it's easy to run into the same people throughout the voyage and become acquainted.
Cruises that are heavily expedition based, such as Lindblad's sailings aboard Orion, also offer the opportunity to become part of a group by taking part in the many onshore activities available. Passengers can explore the destinations on offer by Zodiac, kayak and foot, as well as learn how to take great photos.
But solos who choose a mega-ship won't necessarily get lost in the crowd. Larger cruise ships offer an exhaustive range of activities and experiences, both onboard and in port, and a great way to meet other travellers is to get involved. Particularly useful for meeting new people are craft classes, skill-based workshops, dance lessons and language courses.
Meanwhile, some cruise lines offer specific social activities for those travelling alone. Cunard's 'social hostesses' offer a welcome reception on embarkation day, coffee and cookies every sea day morning, and specially organised meeting points and excursions on port days.
P&O ships also feature coffee mornings for passengers travelling by themselves, which are advertised in the ship's daily newspaper.
Holland America Line prides itself on a range of activities that can be 'delightfully solitary' or a means to meet others. These include culinary programs, hands-on workshops and wine tastings. Each HAL ship also hosts a gathering for solo travellers early in their cruise; singles are invited to meet and mingle at a cocktail mixer.
Pick a cruise that offers solo services.
Beyond social events, some cruise lines provide services aimed at taking care of cruisers travelling alone. For those who like to trip the light fantastic, Crystal Cruises, Cunard and Holland America employ gentleman hosts, aged 55 and older, who serve as dancing companions to partnerless ladies. Crystal has also launched a similar female host service.
Roommate-matching services can also be a boon for those contemplating a solo voyage but not interested in being hit with a whopping price tag. HAL's Single Partner Program is one such offering, matching passengers of the same sex with others who want to share a cabin. Furthermore, the cruise line guarantees those who sign up that they'll pay just the double occupancy price, even if no partner can be found.
Princess Cruises has a similar Match Program that offers to find roommates for those travelling solo when they confirm their reservations at least 70 days before departure.
Find a bargain.
Tracking down one of a growing number of single supplement offers is also a good way to plan a trip with a budget in mind.
Holland America's single passengers who prefer not to share a stateroom can find deals to book a double stateroom for 150 percent of the double occupancy fare, depending on the cruise and stateroom category. This offer applies to select staterooms on all ships in the fleet.
French luxury cruise line Ponant is also actively pursuing the solo market with its offer of no single supplements on a range of 40 small ship cruises. However, the cruise line warns that solo travellers must get in early.
Meanwhile, on select Silversea sailings, solos pay only 10 percent above the double occupancy Silver Privilege Fare. 'At Silversea, it's our priority to ensure that our intimate, luxurious ships are available to singles as well as couples; therefore we are offering single supplements across a wide range of voyages', says Karen Christensen, general manager and director of sales and marketing for Silversea Australasia.