Solo cruising is the new black, with more and more single travellers choosing to take an ocean or river cruise. We spoke to the cruising experts for top tips on sailing solo.
Whether you’re craving some well-earned tranquility on the high seas, or looking for an opportunity to meet new people while travelling the world, solo cruising is the new way to travel.
Solo travel bookings are growing every year and cruise lines are responding by offering more studio cabins, and extras such as solo loungers, as well as eliminating single supplements.
“The number of people choosing to sail on their own continues to grow,” says Andy Harmer, Senior VP of the Cruise Lines International Association (UK & Ireland). “Offering both space for solitude and opportunities for social interaction, cruise holidays are a fantastic option for solo travel, as they take away the stress that can come with travelling alone on a land-based trip.
“Itineraries are organised by the cruise line, meaning guests can explore even the most far-reaching destinations without worrying about the logistics. Many travellers decide to cruise on their own to connect with others; cruises are a great way to meet new people, form community bonds and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
David Winterton, Director of Marketing and Global Brand Curator for Emerald Waterways, points out that more people are choosing to travel by themselves. “Solo guests are not necessarily single: they are just as likely to be married or have a partner. One reason for travelling on one’s own is not having to compromise on destination or itinerary.”
Whatever your reason for sailing solo, we’ve consulted the experts to help you make the most of your cruise.
Top tips for solo cruising from the cruise experts
Julie Peasgood, contributing editor for Cruise International
“You obviously won’t want to distribute your cabin number indiscriminately, but if you meet someone you really get on with then you’ll need to know each other’s cabin numbers, as you may not bump into them again until much later in the cruise (or at all if it’s a big ship). Make your own calling card by cutting up a plain postcard (or the plain part of a greetings card) or recycle unwanted onboard invitations from the spa, beauty salon, etc. Carry them with you and you’ll always have one ready to give to new friends for keeping in touch on board.”
Nigel Banks, Managing Director, Saga Cruises
“Cruising solo can be a great way to see the places you’ve always wanted to; it can be really liberating. At Saga, our itineraries and activities always have something special for solo travellers. Our two new ships, Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure, each have 109 dedicated single cabins, individually priced, spread throughout the ships grades and everyone has a balcony.”
Lynn Narraway, Managing Director UK and Ireland, Seabourn/Holland America Line
“The intimacy and friendliness of Seabourn makes it an ideal choice for those going on holiday alone. As a solo traveller with Seabourn, you have peace of mind when heading for excursions, as members of the ship’s crew regularly escort tours — ensuring you have a familiar face nearby.
“Seabourn has a choice of hosted tables each night, so whether you want to get to know more about the Bridge by dining with a Deck Officer, or prefer hearing entertaining stories from the Cruise Director, you need never feel as if you don’t have plans for dinner. Seabourn’s relaxed all-inclusivity takes away any concern about ordering alone at a bar or wondering who should pick up the tab. The Cruise Director often hosts early-evening cocktails allowing you to meet like-minded travellers before heading on to dinner in a venue of your choice.”
Sara Macefield, cruise expert and contributing editor for Cruise International
“The smaller the ship, the easier it is to meet fellow cruisers. And the best way to do this is to throw yourself into the ship’s social scene; try new activities and classes, join the onboard quizzes and hit the piano bar where singalongs are always a good ice-breaker. It’s also worth telling the Cruise Director that you’d like to meet other single travellers, who might be able to arrange introductions or tell you the places to go to meet them. Getting to know the bartenders is another way of ensuring you’ll be greeted by a friendly face.”
Giles Hawke, CEO UK & Ireland, Avalon, Cosmos, Globus family of brands
“River cruising is perfect for solo travellers, especially when it comes to shore excursions and activities. When in port, there are so many options and most are included in the cost. The active and discovery cruises from Avalon are perfect for solo travellers who are active, as they get to experience very different activities with like-mined people. Doing activities together and having these shared experiences helps to create binds and bring people together.”
Anna Lewis-Laverty, General Manager for customer experience, Marella Cruises
“When travelling solo with Marella Cruises, it’s best to make sure you book in advance as our solo cabins are snapped up quickly. Also, if you do fancy socialising, get in touch with our social hostess on board as they organise events and dinner activities for fellow solo travellers.”
David Winterton, Director of Marketing and Global Brand Curator, Emerald Waterways
“Cruising solo gives you the freedom to explore. Sail in to the heart of one of Europe’s best cities, walk off and head in the direction you want to go. Pick up a map from reception and see the sights you want in the order you want to see them.
“On an Emerald Waterways’ river cruise, I recommend heading to the terrace at the bow of the ship or up to the sun deck to relax in a comfy lounger and read a book while passing the picturesque riverbanks. Take an EmeraldACTIVE hike through vineyards and up the hillside, and enjoy a tipple with wine-tasting when you reach the top. At the end of the day, head back to the ship and enjoy dinner with new-found friends on one of the Reflections Restaurant’s tables seating between eight and 12 guests.”
Liz Jarvis, Editor, Cruise International
“As a very social person, one of the things I enjoy most about cruising alone is meeting new people – in fact, I’ve made so many fabulous friends travelling solo. Of course, you might not want to be sociable, and that’s fine too. Any cruise is an opportunity to disconnect; it’s your holiday, after all, so never feel pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do. Being in control of your own time is incredibly liberating.”
Karen Sequeira, Marketing & PR Director (UK&I and MEA), Norwegian Cruise Line
“Many travellers might consider bringing a book when travelling alone, as an alternative to
a dining companion — but there is no need for that when travelling with Norwegian Cruise Line. Most of our ships cater to solo travellers by providing them with our unique studio concept — an exclusive area with specially designed one-person studio cabins, which are all connected to a studio lounge. It’s a great place to meet like-minded people and it will often be buzzing with events, such as pre-organised dinners with fellow solo travellers, or a pub crawl around the ship. A top tip would be to head there first thing to see what activities you can look forward to during your holiday.”
Becky Wiggins, contributing editor for Cruise International
“I adore cruise holidays and have enjoyed everything from luxury cruising to family holidays, but being newly single, the thought of taking a cruise holiday alone seems a little daunting. Luckily, my new solo status seems to have coincided with the cruise lines paying much more attention to their solo passengers. I always think if you’re looking to book something that’s a bit unfamiliar to you, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a great travel agent. They often bag great deals that you might not get yourself by booking direct, and they always have loads of inside information, too. Bring on the solo travel.”
Explore our edit of top cruises for 2021 to see where your solo cruising adventure will take you.
More from Julie Peasgood on making the most of solo cruising…
With 12 million adults living by themselves (close to one in four of the UK adult population, according to ONS data) it’s not surprising we are witnessing a surge in solo cruising.
“Our statistics are showing around six per cent of Brits cruising do so as solo travellers,” says Andy Harmer, SVP Membership and Director of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) UK & Ireland. “Given around two million Brits cruised last year, that’s a significant part of the market.”
James Gambling, Saga Cruises’ Brand Communications Director, says: “I think the customer is changing. There are more people now who are single and adventurous and happy to travel on their own. I think that the customer is perhaps a bit more independent now than they were 10 years ago.”
Dan Whitehouse, Marketing Director at Titan, agrees. “The fact is that there are more and more people living by themselves, either through choice or circumstance, plus we’ve got a population that’s getting older, with many people outliving their partners by quite some time,” he says. “The idea of being single is no longer seen as a stigma – living by yourself is seen increasingly as a positive choice and we’re really seeing that with our customer base. The cruise market has known this for a long time, but we’re now getting to the point where the industry is really recognising the need to properly cater for this growing sector of the population and to take them seriously.”
David Winterton, Global Brand Curator at Emerald Waterways, says that solo travelling offers much more flexibility and choice in comparison to travelling as a couple or a group.
“River cruising in particular offers the chance to see and explore a new destination every day,” he says. “And the knowledge that your travel arrangements are handled by experts and that you are looked after throughout your journey means that a solo traveller can really embrace their adventure, meeting new people and vibrant cultures.
“Plus, there are opportunities to join as many, or as few, shore excursions and activities as you wish, or you can simply indulge in a little ‘me’ time.
“At Emerald Waterways we offer single staterooms on most of our fleet of European Star-Ships and we always see a strong demand for these single staterooms from solo travellers, with them constantly selling out quickly across our collection of itineraries.”
Of course, not all solo travellers are single. It’s also not unusual for couples to leave their partner behind and to travel by themselves or with friends.
“My mum and dad are still together, still happily living in Folkestone, but they have slightly different interests,” says Gambling. “People do have different interests and I think that’s one of the key reasons why people travel alone.”
And it’s not just the over-50s who are fans of solo cruising. “Single travel is really cool among the younger generation now,” adds Whitehouse. “So for companies like G Adventures, a huge part of their business is the younger, single travel market, and I think it’s almost seen as a rite of passage by many people in their early 20s and early 30s to do the single travel thing. The market is changing and the cruise lines are wanting to look after this huge section of it.”
In fact, at G Adventures, 44 per cent of their Marine customers are solo travellers, while 30 per cent are female solo travellers.
“Solo travel and cruising are both growing in popularity, so it makes sense that people are now feeling confident enough to take a water-based holiday on their own,” says Sarah Schlederer, G Adventures’ Marine Sales Specialist, EMEA.
“For a long time, cruise lines didn’t cater well for solo travellers, but things are improving across the board. At G Adventures we don’t charge a single supplement, we have one fixed per-person price – everyone pays the same, and we will pair travellers of the same sex together so they aren’t penalised for travelling solo.
“Adventure lovers also tend to be bolder travellers and driven by seeing a destination, as opposed to experiencing the facilities of the ship. They know they are going to meet like-minded people when they travel, especially when choosing a small group operator.
“Cruising has traditionally been seen as a slow-paced and relaxing style of travel best suited to couples and families but now, with so many more options out there on smaller vessels going off the beaten track and into local communities, it provides a much more local travel experience.”
The cruise industry is responding to the growing demand by solo travellers by offering facilities that cater especially for them – a trend spearheaded by Norwegian Cruise Line.
“What the cruise industry is very good at is identifying trends and putting the customer central to everything they do,” says Harmer. “NCL has a great area of studios and a specific area for solo travellers where they have the opportunity to share a communal area. We see cruise lines who offer opportunities for solo travellers to meet each other by booking restaurant tables so they can sit together if they wish to. There are dance hosts on some cruise lines, and a choice of activity, destination and shore experiences available, all part of the trend in cruise lines meeting the needs of solo travellers.”
NCL’s award-winning solo cabins, or studios, were an industry first, giving passengers up to 100 square feet of well designed, contemporary living space. Studio guests have exclusive, key card access to the Studio Lounge, where they can relax, watch TV, order room service and meet their neighbours – there are even daily hosted happy hour gatherings. There are 59 to 128 studios in NCL’s fleet, and their newest ship, Norwegian Bliss, has 82. All are custom-built, cutting edge and priced for solo travellers, with no single supplements.
“Simple additions such as events for solo cruisers and perfectly-sized accommodation make it possible to enjoy a holiday with some ‘me time’ while also meeting other like-minded travellers,” explains Nick Wilkinson, Vice President and Managing Director UK & Ireland and MEA for NCL.
“New options such as interconnected single rooms that allow guests to travel with friends while enjoying their private space are also proving to be increasingly popular on our ships.”
Viking River Cruises also caters for independent guests. “We have a lot of solo travellers who book with us,” says Neil Barclay, Head of Sales for Viking. “I think they come on our river ships because they are quite intimate and you can have the space and peace and quiet if you want, but you know that because of the ship’s intimacy there are always people around that you can start chatting to.
“If you are a single traveller, cruising is the ideal scenario to experience a destination – it’s a safe environment and you can be as social as you want to be. Cruising is such a friendly industry; the people that go on cruises are all there for the same reason, so if you’re a bit nervous about travelling on your own, you’re always going to have something in common with somebody.”
Also proving to be solo-friendly is Saga Cruises, with an impressive 25 per cent of its staterooms dedicated to passengers travelling unaccompanied. Hosted get-togethers and cocktail parties before each port of call are popular for guests who don’t fancy a ship’s excursion but would like company while exploring the destination. Another highlight is its complimentary chauffeur service.
Gambling explains: “A Saga cruise starts with your private chauffeur picking you up at home, so nobody needs to worry about how to get to the ship. The way that your onboard experience starts is with the team on board making sure that nobody is ever feels alone.
“Saga has always catered very well for solo cruisers, but as we move into a new dawn with our new ships, Spirit of Discovery and subsequently sister vessel Spirit of Adventure, we’re going to have 109 single cabins on a ship which carries only 999 people.
“Every cabin will have a balcony, and with the minimum size about 172 square feet, we’re really changing the game in the way we cater for the solo traveller.”
He adds: “Single pricing on any cruise is always an emotive subject, but the way to get the best discounts with Saga is absolutely to book a cabin early. If, for whatever reason we need to reduce the cost of a cruise later on, then we will proactively come back to that customer and refund them the amount they’ve been disadvantaged, so you always get the best deal by buying early with us.”
Titan’s Whitehouse echoes this sentiment: “Our solo travellers don’t like paying large supplements and we don’t think it’s fair, so we do our very best to be able to offer as much as we can, either at a very low supplement or ideally at a zero single supplement.”
Wilkinson adds: “Perhaps the most important step many cruise brands have taken recently is the introduction of dedicated sailing dates for single supplement-free options, making it possible for guests to be solo travellers without a significant increase in cost.
“These new opportunities are part of a wider pattern we are seeing in travel that allow guests to enjoy the benefits of travelling solo.”