You may dream of embarking on a glorious Caribbean cruise with a suitcase packed with novels and sunscreen. Your agenda would consist of no more than enjoying the ship, making some new friends, and exploring sunny and sandy ports of call.
However, you may have heard that cruises are expensive if you sail solo. Not true! We’re here to happily tell you that the industry has changed a lot over the last five years and pricey cruises for singles—ones where a “single supplement” was charged if you didn't have someone sharing your cabin—are just about over. That’s right! Today’s cruise ships often have cabins specially designed—and priced—for solo cruisers.
Here’s what you need to know to plan a fabulous cruise for yourself.
Photo courtesy of Silversea
When do I need to worry about the single supplement?
In the old days of cruising, every line charged “extra” if you wanted to sail in a cabin by yourself. That’s because cruise fares are priced for double occupancy. If a cabin only had one person in it, the line charged double. Of course independent sailors balked at this and so some lines began instituting reduced single supplements (anywhere from 10% to 50% less) or waiving them completely on certain sailings (usually the ones that were off-season and not selling very well).
Luxury cruise lines like Crystal, Silversea and Seabourn all offer reduced—and sometimes waived—single supplements as do a variety of river cruise companies, like Avalon Waterways and Riviera River Cruises.
However, as cruise lines really started listening to passengers, they understood that something had to change. Today, many cruise lines—both ocean and river-going—waive single supplements on more sailings. Others have designed ships not just with cabins built for one person but also amenities like a lounge dedicated to all solo travelers on board, special group dining tables for people that want company at a meal and even singles meetups throughout the voyage.
Today, you don’t have to worry as much about the single supplement as you did in the past. But as you research cruise options, be aware that some lines still charge up to double to book a cabin on your own.
A travel agent specializing in cruises is your secret weapon when searching for a voyage with a low or no single supplement. A good agent knows who’s got the best singles cabins or waived single supplements and can help you plan a fantastic solo voyage.
Or, if you already know what you want, look for cruise discounts through NEA Travel. You can book more than 30 different cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Viking and others. NEA members receive $500 Travel Dollars as an enrollment bonus, which can be used like cash to buy down the cost of your trip.
Let’s talk solo cabins: Which lines have them?
Generally speaking, for ocean cruises, the newer the cruise ship, the more likely you’re to find dedicated single cabins. These cabins are usually “interior,” which means you have no porthole, window or balcony. Though, some ships do offer “virtual balconies” that consist of an LED screen with a live camera feed from another part of the ship that approximates what you would see if you did, in fact, have a balcony from which to watch the world go by. Other ships also offer upgraded solo cabins with a window or a balcony.
Here are some of your options for ocean cruise cabins dedicated to one person that don’t charge a single supplement:
Costa Cruises: Certain ships have a limited number of solo-designated cabins.
Cunard: All three Cunard ships—Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2—all offer single cabins. Queen Mary 2’s recent renovation saw the addition of 15 Britannia Single Staterooms that are more spacious than a typical solo cabin and offer ocean views through picture windows. Between Cunard’s three ships, you can sail just about anywhere in the world. If you want to try a quintessential transatlantic voyage though, between New York and London, book aboard Queen Mary 2.
Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Edge, the line’s newest ship, has two types of cabins for one: Single Staterooms and Edge Single Staterooms with Infinite Veranda. The latter has a drop-down glass panel that creates an open-air balcony without eating up precious space inside the cabin.
Holland America Line: Two of HAL’s newest ships, Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam, each have 12 ocean-view solo cabins that measure 127 to 172 square feet. Plenty of space for a solo cruise to camp out for the week.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian offers The Studio, a keycard-accessible complex with up to 100-square-foot interior single cabins on Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Encore (launched November 2019), Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway and Pride of America. Well-designed Studio cabins have a full-size bed, private bathroom and virtual porthole with “live video feed” of exterior views. The Studio’s exclusive Lounge is a solo traveler gathering spot with a big-screen TV, coffee/tea/snack station (except Pride of America), activities and evening bartender services.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean International: Many of Royal Caribbean’s ships have solo cabins. Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas from the line’s Quantum class of ships each have 28 “studio” solo staterooms spanning 101 to 119 square feet. All have either open-air or virtual balconies, some with a floor-to-ceiling LED screen displaying “live” exterior views. The Oasis-class Harmony of the Seas also offers cabins for singles.
River cruise lines are also catering to independent travelers with solo cabins. Look for them on American Queen Steamboat Company’s ships that sail North American rivers. In Europe, look to companies like Emerald Waterways and Vantage River Cruises.
Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company
As a solo traveler, will I fit in on a cruise?
Absolutely! Here are some tips to get the most of your cruise.
Rely on the ship’s officers: Even if you don’t want to join all the activities, there are two people it pays to know on the ship: the cruise director and entertainment director. Both of those roles are usually held by fun, gregarious people that already know a lot of repeat passengers on the ship and can introduce you. The cruise and entertainment directors are usually on the gangway at check-in to greet passengers. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re traveling solo and would love to join in on some of the activities they have planned.
On embarkation day, head to any designated areas for solo travelers: Some ships with solo cabins also have lounges that are for the exclusive use of anyone staying in those accommodations. Visit early and often to meet your fellow solo cruisers. You might meet someone to share a meal with or go on a shore excursion together.
Read the ship’s daily program: Each evening, a daily program will be delivered to your room that outlines the next day’s activities. Read through it and decide which activities you might like to try. Bingo, trivia and dance classes are all terrific places to meet other travelers.
Go on ship-sponsored shore excursions: Sign up for a shore tour and you’ll meet plenty of fellow passengers in a setting where sharing and interacting is easy and natural.
Finally, our biggest piece of advice is to just relax and have fun! Solo cruises give individuals the opportunity to customize their vacation with as much or little interaction with others as you'd like. So, if you have your heart set on a cruise but no shipmate in sight, go it alone. You’ll be glad you did!