It used to be that sailing solo on cruise ships was like the opening lyric of the old hit song “One” by Three Dog Night. You know, the song that begins by proclaiming that “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” However, thanks to some significant changes over the past few years in the way cruise lines build ships and treat single travelers, a lot has changed for the better.
For those not familiar with the way many cruise lines used to treat solo sailors (and some still do), here’s how it used to work.
The cruise industry would build ships mainly for couples and families with cabins large enough for at least two people and price them accordingly. So if a cruise was advertised for $999 per person, that price was based on at least two people sharing the same cabin for a total cost of $1,998.
If you were traveling with a spouse, partner, friend, etc., the double occupancy policy was no problem. But if you were travelling alone, the cruise line required you to pay a single supplement, which could be as high as 200% of the per person fare.
Of course, there were a few ways to get around the single-supplement charge, but they involved some risk. For example, some cruise lines offered to match single sailors with other singles of the same sex in a shared cabin. This could work fine if the cabin mates had compatible personalities and interests. But if they didn’t get along, it could become a disaster — some so bad that the stories became legendary among cruise ship staff.
Another strategy was to wait for last-minute cruise deals when the single supplement was often waived or greatly reduced. But this “wait and see” strategy could backfire if last-minute airfares were so high that they negated most or all of the savings from reduced single supplement charges. In addition, the last-minute cruise may not have been sailing anywhere the single traveler wanted to go.
Why the cruise industry treated single travelers this way for so long is puzzling. After all, according to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study, 24 percent of people surveyed traveled alone on their most recent international vacations, up from just 15 percent in 2013.
Fortunately, the industry has finally taken notice and a growing number of cruise lines are finally building ships with exclusive cabins, facilities and activities for singles.
For example, the Norwegian Epic (built in 2010) has 128 single cabins that provide 100 square feet of space at competitive rates. In addition, these “studio” cabins have private access to a common lounge area where they can grab a coffee, meet up with fellow singles, and relax with a cocktail in the evening. This scheme has been so successful that studio cabins have been installed on other ships in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet including aboard the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Bliss.
Royal Caribbean International has 28 single cabins aboard each of the Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, including interior studios with “virtual balconies” (80-inch floor-to-ceiling LED screens projecting real-time ocean and port views) and “super studios,” with 55-square-foot open-air balconies. Harmony of the Seas also offers inside and ocean-view studios.
Holland America’s Koningsdam has 12 single ocean-view staterooms, and the line’s Nieuw Statendam has a dozen single cabins.
In 2016 Cunard Line added a total of 15 single occupancy staterooms on the Queen Mary 2. Unlike early staterooms dedicated to solo sailors – cramped quarters that seldom featured port holes – Cunard’s new Britannia Single Staterooms feature oversized picture windows, a sitting area, a writing desk, a private bathroom with shower, and an in-suite refrigerator. Cunard also offers a handful of single occupancy cabins with outside and interior views on the Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
And in late 2018 Celebrity Cruises will launch the first in a new series of Edge-class ships, which will feature 116 single cabins, some with a balcony.
In addition to purpose-built cabins and facilities for singles, many cruise lines now offer special activities and social events for solo sailors. These include “welcome aboard” cocktail parties and daily get-togethers, as well as recreational events and dance partners provided by the cruise line.
So while “One” may have been the loneliest number on the high seas in the past, it isn’t anymore, In fact, today’s solo sailor will find that cruising is not only a lot more fun and welcoming than it used to be, it’s also less expensive. And with the growing number of single travelers, it’s about time.