It's 7 a.m., and the sun's rising about Europe's Moselle River, shining bright rays of light through the wall-length windows of your ship cabin. What's on the agenda today? A bicycling tour through Bernkastel, Germany, with Emerald Waterways—as part of their EmeraldACTIVE activities program. You've already dined with some of the other onboard guests and gotten a solid night's rest in your single stateroom. Now's an opportunity to make the most of your cruise. The most beautiful thing about it? What you do is entirely up to you.
While the thought of cruising solo can be intimidating for some (Who will I eat with? How do I meet people? Will I be bored?), a solo cruise done right can be the vacation of a lifetime. Don't wait for your friends' schedules and budgets to mesh with your own before taking the plunge. Get ready to go solo and have the holiday you've always wanted.
Why We Love Solo Cruising
- It offers flexibility. Want to spend a guilt-free afternoon by the ship's main pool or head into the Italian port town of Bari, Italy, to watch nonnas making pasta by hand? Cruising offers a template you can abide by, those it's just as easy to go rogue. Traveling solo allows you to do what you want when you want, without having to coordinate schedules with family or friends—and more importantly, to spend your time exactly as you like. Here's the thing: you may be traveling solo, but you're never really alone. You might meet a couple looking for a third member for their onboard trivia team or find a snorkeling buddy on a cruise in the Galapagos whose husband would rather stick closer to shore. Whether it's hiking above the Danube on a river cruise stop with a new group of acquaintances, or sharing laughs aboard a Zodiac boat en route to see some of Patagonia's glaciers up close—there are always people who are genuinely interested in interacting with you. Rather than trying to mold your significant other to your ways (or vice versa), you can share experiences with others who enjoy them just as much as you do—and make some wonderful friends as a result.
- It's one of the safest ways to travel. You may be traveling solo, but your ship's crew always has your back. Thanks to precautions such as electronic keycards, crew members know when you're on and off the boat, and can also tell if you've been in your stateroom recently. It's a much different (and in many ways, more calming) experience than solo travel on land, and offers a level of inherent safety that you won't find when booking trips piecemeal.
- It's sort of like summer camp. Planning to book a facial? Start your day off with yoga? Attend a movie night atop your ship's pool deck? Cruise ships offer ample options for things to do both onboard and off, and much of it comes included in your overall booking price. You can be as active or a passive as you like, and it's a great opportunity to try new things like say, baking bread in Austria as one of Viking River Cruises' onshore excursions, you might never attempt at home.
- It's actually affordable. One of the biggest deterrents to solo anything has long been the dreaded "solo supplement" fee. Having to pay extra for independent travel is a kick in the pants when you may already be feeling a bit self-conscious about not having (or wanting) a person to partner with. While cruising remains by and large a holiday catering to couples and larger parties, this has been changing in recent years. Both river and ocean cruise lines (most notably Norwegian and river lines like Avalon and Emerald Waterways) are offering solo perks like waving their double-occupancy stateroom fee aboard certain ships and routes and furnishing some boats with single staterooms. Riviera River Cruises even runs some European departures exclusively for solo travelers. One more option is being willing to share a room with another solo traveler. In many cases, you have the room to yourself in the end at no additional cost. Holland America is one cruise line that offers this option.
Tips When Booking a Solo Cruise
You might be thinking, but “I'm not a cruise person.” The thing is, there are as many different types of cruises as there are people. You may not like all the bells and whistles of a 3,000 passenger Caribbean-based ship, but find the small size of an Asian river cruise ship or a boutique yacht-like Latin Trails' 16-passenger Sea Star Journey more than appealing. Try not to make a general assumption about cruising before you've done your research, and you may find yourself very pleasantly surprised.
Decide what type of cruise best suits your wants and interests. River cruising is especially enticing for solo travelers, because there's always a new village or city to explore, and the ships' smaller sizes (anywhere from 150 to 400 passengers) mean that you're going to many of the same people over the length of your trip, making it easier to get to know some of them. Still, if you'd rather dance until the wee hours and spend your afternoons careening down a 765-foot-long waterslide, than a larger ship like Disney Fantasy or Carnival Sunshine may be for you. (Just remember: with so many people it can be easier to get lost in the crowd, especially if you're an introvert.) Some ships have restaurants onboard catering to every type of appetite, while “expedition cruises” cater to more outdoorsy types. There are also tall-masted sailing vessels such as Star Clippers, and of course, theme cruises for those who really want to hunker down with other like-minded travelers, from Royal Caribbean's upcoming 80s music cruise (with acts like the B-52s and activities that range from costume parties to Olivia Newton John-inspired aerobics) to departures that focuses entirely on scrapbooking or birdwatching. Hoping to minimize your day-to-day planning? Opt for an all-inclusive, while going a la carte with things like drinks and optional excursions may allow you a bit more freedom to pick and choose, and stay on budget. There is also the option of booking a cruise through a tour company such as Backroads or REI Adventures, another way to guarantee you'll be traveling alongside other passengers with similar interests. Always remember: this is your chance to have the holiday you deserve. If there's a cruise style that just isn't your thing, find one that is.
Shop around. More and more, cruise lines are making their ships both accessible and, more importantly welcoming to solo travelers. Deluxe river cruise line Emerald Waterways offers single cabins on board, and lines such as Avalon and Uniworld often offer solo traveler deals. As far as larger ships go, Norwegian Cruise Line was the first to furnish some ships with single staterooms as far back as 2010. They even boast their own shared social space called the “Studio Complex and Lounge,” which hosts its own pre-dinner gatherings and makes getting to know your fellow solo travelers easier. Some Royal Caribbean ships—including Ovation of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas—have studio cabins, several of which feature open-air balconies. They also host fun activities that are perfect for singles like salsa dance lessons and guest lectures. Holland American Line's largest cruise ships—Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam—have solo cabins with ocean views, as well as a Single Partners Program—featuring team trivia contests and wine tasting socials—on ships outside of their Grand Cruises. Even Cunard's Queen Mary 2 boasts staterooms for single travelers, making a transatlantic crossing the ideal escape. One caveat: depending on the time of year or route, it may be cheaper to pay the single supplement on a double-occupancy stateroom than book that solo cabin (which is typically less than a double but still more than half the price) at another time, and you'll have much more space. Always compare and do your shopping. It's sure to pay off in dividends.