The situation is grim for solo cruisers in Australia whose most affordable option is to share a cabin with a stranger. Only luxury lines and river cruise lines offer no single supplement deals. The problem is that most local ships are targeted at couples, families and groups, and cabins are priced accordingly. If you want a room to yourself, expect to pay around twice the published cruise fare to cover the cost of the "missing" second passenger. Cruise lines simply want to make sure they are making the same money for the cabin whether it is used by one or two passengers. However, there are some tricks of the trade.
Cruise lines will sometimes waive or reduce the single supplement to fill empty cabins, but this is almost always for overseas departures, and often on more expensive small ships or river cruises. From time to time, Australian cruise lines do release single fares that are cheaper than the standard twin fare. This is usually for "distressed inventory" -- cabins they are worried they can't sell -- 90 days before departure when final payments are due, and people tend to cancel. These deals may be 150 percent of the full cabin price instead of 200 percent and are rarely advertised. Basically, you have to be lucky to stumble upon them by continually searching websites for such pricing anomalies.
One way to find out about good deals without too much web-surfing, is to sign up for individual cruise lines' deals and special offers. Websites usually have a drop-down page that you fill in with your name and email address -- while you might get lucky and find a cheap gem hidden amid all the marketing material, the downside is you'll be bombarded with info.
Some sneaky people try another practice: the 'no show'. This is when you find a good twin-share fare, book yourself and a friend (who has no intention of coming), and then your friend doesn't show up on the day of boarding. So, you have still paid for two people, but you get the room to yourself. No, you certainly don't get a refund for the person who didn't turn up, but your discounted twin-share fare was cheaper than paying for the single fare (the full twin-share price).
If it all sounds like hard work, too dodgy or high-risk, generous people often share bargains they have found online. The El Cheapo Cruises Thread on Cruise Critic's Australia & NZ Cruisers board has been running since 2014 -- skip to the last page for the most recent posts. Cruise Critic also promotes solo specials on our Solo Basics article.
1. Norwegian Cruise Line
Why: The Caribbean-based Norwegian Epic was the first Norwegian Cruise Line ship to feature studio cabins (128 in all) targeted at and priced for solo cruisers. The line continued the trend with Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, which each have 59 studio cabins, and Norwegian Escape, which has 82 studio units. Four studios can also be booked on Pride of America, which sails year-round in Hawaii, while Norwegian Bliss -- launched in April 2018 -- has 82 studio cabins. Studios are tight (measuring about 9.3 sq. m) but they have all a solo traveller would need. The Sydney-based Norwegian Jewel holds some evening meetups in a quiet bar, but the ship has no studio cabins.
Special Extras: A full-size bed, flat-screen TV and private bathroom are all squeezed into this pocket-sized space. Although all studios are inside cabins, each has a window that looks out onto the corridor; the Norwegian Bliss has a window with a 'virtual' ocean view. Four different colours of ambient lighting jazz up the room, but the biggest perk is access to an exclusive, shared social space called the Studio Lounge. It's a sleek hangout area with its own large-screen TVs, coffee-making facilities, a bartender at certain times of the day and daily hosted pre-dinner gatherings (from 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm). These studio cabins are grouped together and their occupants have access, via their key-card, to the Studio Lounge, a comfy but compact space where they can order a drink, meet fellow solo travellers, watch a movie on a large TV screen and enjoy complimentary coffee and snacks (the coffee/snacks are not available on Pride of America).
Discounts Available: The studio cabins are priced for solo travellers, with no extra supplement to pay.
2. Holland America Line
Why: Holland America Line is renowned for catering to solo cruisers. There are plenty of programs that don't require partners and activities that can be delightfully solitary or a means to meeting others. (The culinary programs -- from hands-on cooking workshops to wine tastings and even wine-blending -- are tonnes of fun.) Most voyages also have hosted solo events, which is all part of what's called a Singles Partner Program. It does sound a bit like a paradox, but it refers to partnering solo travellers with others in the same boat, so to speak. These can include hosted get-togethers held early in the cruise, pre and post-dinner drinks and arranging dinner sittings with other singles (advance notice is needed for this one).
Koningsdam has 12 solo cabins; even the smallest ship in the fleet, Prinsendam, has three. Koningsdam's solo cabins are all ocean view and range from 12 to 16 sq. m. They feature the same amenities as a double-occupancy cabin, but with one twin bed. On Prinsendam, the trio of solo cabins measures 14.5 sq. m to 19 sq. m and again, share standard cabin features, with the exception of one twin bed and a shower instead of a bathtub. The line's latest ship, Nieuw Statendam (launched in November 2018) also has 12 single cabins with ocean views, measuring from 11.8 sq. m to 15.9 sq. m. Not such good news for Maasdam, based in Australia this summer, which has no single cabins.
Special Extras: Singles are invited to dine together (by advance request) and, on voyages of 40 days or more -- or if you're on a sector of a world cruise -- gentleman hosts are available for dancing and dining.
Discounts Available: Koningsdam's and Nieuw Statendam's solo cabins are priced for one. Typical rates for Prinsendam's cabins run from 150 percent to 200 percent of the double-occupancy rate.
3. Royal Caribbean International
Why: Royal Caribbean International's Ovation of the Seas (based in Australia for half the year), Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas feature 28 dedicated studio cabins for solo travellers on each ship, these are a mix of virtual balcony cabins (floor-to-ceiling LED display screens that project live images of the ocean and ports) and staterooms with 5 sq. m open-air balconies. Harmony of the Seas also offers two categories, but only 15 cabins are available. The recently launched Spectrum of the Seas, the first ship designed specifically for the Asian market, has a selection of 28 balcony, ocean view and interior studio cabins. Other ships with a very limited amount of studio cabins (mostly interior cabins) include: Adventurer of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas (five each); Jewel of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas (three and two respectively); Radiance of the Seas – which sails from Australia – with three interior cabins each with a twin bed; and Serenade of the Seas, also with three interior twin-bed cabins. When US lines refer to a twin bed, we Australians can assume it's what we call a single.
Special Extras: A variety of singles-friendly activities onboard Royal Caribbean ships allows solo cruisers to have just as much fun at sea as couples and groups. From scuba training in the pool and group fitness activities to wine tasting demonstrations and cooking classes, solo cruisers can easily keep themselves well entertained. And with the line's 'My Time Dining' policy, passengers who wish to enjoy a meal with others can request to be seated at large table -- no need to eat alone.
Discounts Available: Royal Caribbean's studio staterooms carry no supplement.
4. P&O Cruises Australia
Why: P&O is an Aussie favourite and ships depart from a variety of Australian ports year-round. Its comprehensive program of short cruises, including themed itineraries such as comedy cruises, country music cruises and even the occasional Elvis cruise, as well as short hops to places like Queensland's Moreton Island, or to events like the Melbourne Cup, are just the thing for solo travellers who are looking to mix and mingle with their 'tribe'. Unfortunately, there are no single cabins,.
Special Extras: All three ships in the fleet have classes to join where you can learn to cook a new dish or mix a cocktail, which are great ways to meet new people. Other ways to meet fellow singles include: tangoing to a dance class; competing in a singles barefoot bowls tournaments on the artificial grass field on Deck 11; and joining in the early-morning hosted walk around the deck. There's also karaoke and fun activities such as rock-climbing, zip-lining and even the heart-stopping Walk the Plank experience on the flagship Pacific Explorer. In late 2020 a bigger ship, now part of the Princess Cruises fleet, will join the fleet as Pacific Adventurer.
Discounts Available: P&O has plenty of deals throughout the year -- but not for singles. However, sometimes the fare discounts also include hefty amounts of onboard spending money, which can help allay the cost of the fare by cutting down on the amount of money needed for drinks and other indulgences, such as spa treatments.
Why: Silversea doesn't have allocated single cabins, but its occasional special fare deals mean that a solo traveller can sail alone without a huge penalty or pay no supplement at all. These zero supplement deals usually have a short booking window, so would-be travellers should get in quick. Silversea also has a range of solo fares that can be as low as 10 percent above the double-occupancy rate, and others that range from 25 to 75 percent above that rate. Singles make up about 10 percent of the line's passengers, which is significant in cruising. Another plus: With just 296 passengers on Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, 382 apiece on Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, 596 on the new flagship Silver Muse and 608 on Silver Spirit, solo cruisers find it easy to feel at home. Silver Muse spends summers in Australia, visiting surrounding islands and Southeast Asia.
Special Extras: A welcome reception with Champagne is held on every voyage with a large number of solos. Most voyages of more than 10 days also have gentleman hosts onboard as dance partners and shore excursion escorts (except on expedition vessels).
Discounts Available: Solo fares are often as low as 125 percent of the regular fares, but occasional sales can bring single traveller rates down to 110 percent or -- from time to time -- include 'zero supplement offers' on a handful of itineraries. The line is quick to point out that these fares are "capacity controlled and subject to availability". In other words: book early.
Why: Cunard is spending increasing amounts of time in Australian and New Zealand waters: from 2020 to 2021 the line's three ocean liners will visit Down Under, while Queen Elizabeth will spend almost four months here. The famous line has long attracted solo travellers to its traditional ocean liners, and the convivial onboard atmosphere means that solos can easily make friends with their shipmates if they choose. Cunard does try to accommodate passengers who wish to dine solo, but this depends on how full each voyage is. In general, solo travellers are assigned to tables with other singles in the Britannia Restaurant. In addition, gentleman hosts are available to whirl single ladies around the dance floor.
Special Extras: Queen Elizabeth has nine midship single-occupancy cabins; eight are ocean-view cabins, while the ninth is a standard inside cabin. Queen Victoria has nine solo cabins and Queen Mary 2 has 15 ocean-view single-occupancy cabins, located on Deck 2 and Deck 3; the latter is carved out of part of the casino and the under-used art gallery, which is cheaper than paying half the twin-share rate. Be warned: they sell out quickly. The beds in single cabins are said to be "a generous width" measuring 120 cm, and bathrooms have a shower and plenty of storage place. A great option for solo passengers who also want a bit of me time is the 24-hour complimentary room service. When it's time to mix and mingle there are many activities taking place onboard that are ideal for solos including: watching a planetarium show on QM2; or participating in theatrical workshops and performances by members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Cunard also offers coffee morning meetups for solo travellers.
Discounts Available: Cunard's typical solo supplement is 200 percent for Queens and Princess Grills and 175 percent for inside, outside and balcony cabins. On occasion, the line offer discounts to solo travellers.
7. Crystal Cruises
Why: Crystal is one of the most popular luxury lines for solos, who make up to 25 percent of the line's passengers on some sailings. Solo travellers are attracted by the wide range of activities onboard, plus singles' parties, gentleman hosts (and hostesses) and supplements that can be as low as 10 percent for certain categories. Crystal has changed its dining policy following the extensive refurbishment of the Crystal Symphony (in November 2017) and the Crystal Serenity, in November 2108. The former Dining Room has been rechristened Waterside and it now offers free seating dining. The former concept of assigned dining room seating is no longer available; however, the line is committed to offering dining company for solo guests. An invitation is sent to all single passengers onboard, inviting them to dine with fellow travellers at a pre-set time and designated restaurant.
The refurbishments also include new names and new looks for restaurants -- the former Lido buffet is the Marketplace and Churrascaria (a Brazilian barbecue),while the Silk Road & Bar is the former sushi restaurant. The Japanese celebrity chef restaurant (with dishes crafted by Nobu Matsuhisa) is now called Umi Muma and it offers Japanese-Peruvian dishes, while Prego, the Italian speciality restaurant remains unchanged. The Stardust Supper Club, which offers a four-course menu and music on Black Tie Optional evenings, is also new. Passengers are allowed one complimentary reservation at both speciality restaurants on seven-night cruises, after which a return visit will attract a surcharge of US$30, to ensure that all guests who want to experience these venues get to.
Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are as spacious as mega-ships, but they carry less than 1,000 passengers and a sense of community prevails.
Special Extras: Crystal's unique activities include seminars through the Creative Learning Institute, with choices such as acting workshops, language lessons, astronomy classes and a Computer University@Sea.
Discounts Available: Depending on the sailing, solo supplements range from 10 percent to 100 percent of double occupancy rates. On occasion, Crystal will offer limited-time sales on cabins for solo cruisers on select voyages.
Why: The cosy atmosphere on Seabourn's small ships assures solos they won't be overlooked and getting to know fellow cruisers is easy.
Special Extras: One of Seabourn's lovely traditions is to have its officers and entertainers host tables at dinner -- not only on a formal evening but just about every night. Solo travellers receive special consideration when it comes to invitations, so you really don't have to dine alone if you don't choose to. Single travellers will also be escorted across the dining room by the maitre d', which is a nice touch. Hosted solo get-togethers are another way Seabourn looks after its single travellers.
Discounts Available: Seabourn's standard single supplement is 75 percent more than the double-occupancy fare for ocean view and veranda suites and 100 percent more for premium suites. The line also offers single guarantee fares for just 50 percent more than the double-occupancy fares; with this pricing, Seabourn will choose the stateroom location (the passenger does not) and availability is limited.
9. Azamara Club Cruises
Why: This three-ship company has short seasons based in Australia each summer, not to mention world cruises and grand voyages, which can begin or end in Australia. The friendly crew makes sure solos feel welcome. The recently refurbished Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest take just 690 passengers and exude an intimate ambience. The Quest's refurbishment saw the creation of a new lounge in the space previously used as a casino, which will no doubt appeal to quite a few travellers, solos and otherwise. The third ship, Azamara Pursuit, joined the line in August 2018 and carries 702 passengers. The ships venture to many places that bigger ships cannot access and spend more time in port, often with two or more nights in some places. Azamara's cruises are virtually all-inclusive with selected wine, beer, cocktails, soft drinks, speciality coffees and gratuities included. The line also provides free shuttle buses in each port, when the walking distance into town is too long.
Special Extras: Solo fares are often 125 percent of the twin-share fare. Each itinerary includes a complimentary AzAmazing excursion, which may be a cultural experience such as a night at the ballet in St Petersburg, Russia.
Discounts Available: Azamara sometimes waives single supplements so keep an eye out for special deals.
10. Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV)
Why: Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) has a ship based in Australia, Vasco da Gama, during the summer months that has 40 single cabins (a choice of interior, ocean-view, premium ocean-view and balcony). The ship carries predominantly Australian passengers when sailing locally. Another fleet member, Columbus, visits Australia annually on a world cruise, and features 150 twin cabins designated for solo travellers. Fleet-mate Magellan has the same number for solo use; the smaller ships in the CMV fleet -- Marco Polo, Astoria and Astor -- have up to 15 cabins for solo use. On some cruises, the single cabin of the same category will actually be cheaper than the per person twin share rate for the same category; at other times it will be the same price and sometimes there'll be a supplement of about 20 percent So fares do vary and of course it's wise to sign up for the ship's latest deals through the website.
Special Extras: A special onboard singles program of events includes a welcome cocktail party and other get-togethers.
Discounts Available: Cabins are set aside for single occupancy, with the number varying according to the ship. Very good fares (such as fares lower than the twin share fare) are offered from time to time. One thing is certain -- CMV offer very competitive prices for solo travellers.
11. Riviera Travel -- River Cruises
Why: This UK-based company of 30 years' standing has a clutch of riverships named after British writers, such as Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, plying the rivers of western and eastern Europe, along with the Douro Elegance and Douro Splendour, cruising in Portugal, and others including the Swiss Corona on the Rhone River. The company offers a wide range of itineraries -- for example cruises from Amsterdam will also venture into Belgium, and short excursions to Salamanca, Spain are offered on the Douro River itineraries. Special Solo Travellers-only cruises depart on most itineraries, and these tend to operate at the beginning or end of the season; there are no single supplements charged for these. There is also a small selection of single cabins available on most other itineraries; again, no supplement is charged. Unlike other river cruise lines, Riviera does not include drinks in the fare However, drinks packages are very affordable, from $A199 per person for a seven-night sailing.
Special Extras: The company's solo traveller cruises are a perfect way to meet other solo travellers and the no-single-supplement policy means singles can book any cabin they wish -- such as a suite -- and not be hit with double the normal twin-share price.
Discounts Available: The solo-only cruises operate on six different rivers including the Rhine, Main and Danube and Douro, while a limited number of single-occupancy cabins are made available on all the line's itineraries.
12. Viking Cruises -- Ocean and River
Why: Viking Cruises launched its ocean division in 2015 and now has six stylish mid-size ships. Their design is Scandinavian minimalist and very chic. Each ship features a Nordic Spa offering complimentary use of steam, sauna, plunge pools, hot saltwater bath and -- for those who really want to chill out -- access to the Snow Grotto, a room filled with fluttering (fake) snow. With all restaurants, alcoholic drinks, shore excursions and gratuities included in the fare, there are plenty of ways for singles to save. Ocean ships carry about 930 guests (and riverships less than 200), making it easy to mix and mingle.
Special Extras: Viking Ocean Cruises offers hosted solo meetups, in one of the great bars, such as the stunning Explorers' Lounge for guests who want to meet fellow travellers over a drink prior to dinner. These are held on world cruises.
Discounts Available: Both Viking river and ocean cruises have limited-time sales where deals such as 'Fly Free to Europe' and sizeable discounts off the normal fare are offered. Over the years, Viking has also offered reduced single supplements on some of its most popular river cruises, bringing the supplement down to 25 percent more than the twin share price. This deal was extended to selected ocean itineraries in 2019 and 2020.
13. Coral Expeditions
Why: Coral Expeditions has fantastic itineraries to largely untouched destinations. Its four ships carry between only 42 and 120 passengers, making life onboard friendly and convivial. The cruise line has a long history offering three, four and seven-night cruises through the Great Barrier Reef and more recently to more remote areas such as New Guinea, Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands and the Solomon Islands. Its small ships also operate in the Kimberley, Cape York and Arnhem Land, Tasmania and New Zealand. The company's newest ship, the 60-cabin (120 passenger) Coral Adventurer was launched in April 2019 and another new build, sister ship Coral Geographer, will be launched in December 2020. The Adventurer has plenty of outdoor viewing space and several bars. Passengers meet others over welcome drinks, at shared dinner tables and on the daily (sometimes twice daily) shore excursions and snorkelling/diving trips.
Special Extras: While there are no designated single cabins on any of the vessels, Coral Expeditions offers 'no single supplement' cruises year-round on Great Barrier Reef itineraries and occasionally on itineraries to Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and South Pacific islands.
The line also offers Single Occupancy fares (where a supplement does apply on confirmed bookings) and a Single Guest Match -- a buddy system whereby likeminded guests of the same sex are matched so they can share a cabin. With the latter, each guest pays the normal twin share rate. These two guests are put in contact with each other before sailing, so they can exchange emails or other messages and build a rapport.
Discounts Available: Single occupancy fares work in two ways: Confirmed Bookings and Standby Bookings. The single occupancy confirmed booking guarantees that the passenger will receive a cabin on a particular sailing. A single supplement is applied. The supplement varies but it is usually 50 percent more than the twin-share price. The Single occupancy standby fare is good for travellers with plenty of flexibility. Guests pre-register for this fare and are placed on standby, on a first-come-first-served basis. They will be notified about their cabin 30 days before sailing. These fares do not carry a supplement.