Solo cruising is the new black, with more and more single travellers choosing to take an ocean or river cruise, tempted by increasingly attractive offers. Julie Peasgood has the lowdown


Solo cruising

The tide is turning with regard to solo cruising, and it’s not a moment too soon. For many years solo travellers have felt penalised for their single status, paying hefty supplements to make up for the ‘missing’ passenger in their cabin and with zero activity programmes tailored to their needs.

But solo cruising is the new big trend, with cruise lines finally focusing properly on the solo traveller. Single cabins are on the increase on both new and reconfigured ships, more
and more companies are reducing or even waiving surcharges, and considerable effort has gone into creating bespoke get-togethers for passengers travelling alone.

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.”