Boarding a cruise ship may feel like stepping onto Noah’s Ark.
Most passengers arrive two by two. While married couples make up some 50 percent of the general population, according to a survey by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), some 80 percent of cruisers travel with spouses.
According to a study by Travelport, solo travelers make up nearly 18% of global bookings in the travel industry. More recently, Radical Storage reported a 267% increase in online searches for the term “solo travel” between December 2020 to April 2022.
And the population of solo travelers seems to be growing at a rapid pace on cruise ships.
Solo cruising is distinctly different from going on a singles cruise
Solo cruisers travel independently on a ship where there may be a mix of singles, couples, and families. In addition to singles, this group also includes people who are divorced, widowed, and people whose partners or spouses are reluctant to cruise.
On a singles cruise, a block of cabins (or an entire boat) is designated for singles with hosted social activities planned to help them meet each other.
Joanne Zito, a sales manager from Hollywood, Fla., has taken several solo cruises. “I like to come and go as I please and unwind at my own pace when cruising,’’ she says.
The penalty for cruising alone
One of the greatest barriers to cruising alone has always been financial. Because cabins are typically designed to accommodate two people, passengers traveling alone are required to pay a “single supplement,’’ generally ranging from 25 to 100 percent more than the fare for one individual.
“The barrier is more psychological than financial,’’ says travel agent Amber Blecker of Aurora, Colo., a CruiseOne franchise holder and founder of SoloCruiseResource.com which specializes in solo cruising. She explains that this rate structure is virtually the same one hotels use.
Double-occupancy rooms are priced at a set amount, whether or not a guest sleeps alone. Another rationale for the charge: While the cost of a cruise includes meals and entertainment, solo occupants historically are less profitable when it comes to additional onboard spending.
Blecker suggests that when assessing cost, consumers should focus on the bottom line relative to the cost of a land vacation. “If the price is acceptable, disregard the supplement and have a wonderful time,’’ she says.
Minimizing the pain
For those on tighter budgets or philosophically opposed to the inequity of the single supplement, there are several ways to minimize cost.
Many lines, such as Avalon Waterways, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea Cruises, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, advertise promotions throughout the year offering reduced single supplements, most often on luxury and river cruises.
Some singles opt to share staterooms, either with people they know or with someone else of the same sex they don’t know. Some cruise lines even offer a service to help pair travelers to reduce costs.
For example, Holland America offers a stateroom-sharing program matching guests on the basis of their gender, age, and smoking preferences.
The joys of the untethered
Cruising can be particularly appealing to people traveling alone, especially women. It offers a relatively safe and easy way to get from city to city without worrying about logistics.
For the person traveling alone, being in a boat with a number of other people offers a sense of security. Should a problem arise, crew and fellow passengers are around to call upon.
Many unattached travelers prefer cruising solo over singles cruises because they want to avoid feeling obliged to participate in a regimen of scheduled activities. They want to explore new places, take a break from their usual routine and aren’t necessarily interested in making new social connections.
They want the flexibility of being able to socialize when they want and with whom they want, and of retreating to the sanctity of a private cabin when they choose.
Certain lines are known for catering to solo guests. And the intimacy of smaller ships makes it easy for a single cruiser to feel part of a group.
Zito recalls her first solo cruise to Alaska, where she joined a couple from her ship and their three children, ages 15 to 20, for a whale-watching expedition on a six-person boat. “After that trip, I became an honorary member of their family and have been an advocate of solo cruising ever since,’’ she says.
Some cruises organize onboard meet-ups for singles. Solo cruisers can also line up friends-to-be before their voyage by meeting others on the same ship through online forums such as Cruise Critic Roll Calls.
If a person’s greatest fear is eating at a table for one, most cruise ships offer multiple dining venues, from cozy espresso bars to formal dining rooms. At dinner, solo cruisers can ask to be seated at larger tables or request to dine alone.
Solo cruising: A change of course
In a recent article in the industry publication Travel Weekly, Andrea Zelinkski writes:
“Tour operators have reported increased solo demand this year, and cruise lines ranging from luxury and expedition to contemporary brands have adjusted to the trend by adding cabins for singles and dropping single-supplement fees.”
“The mainstream cruise brands are beginning to be more solo friendly,’’ says Blecker, who is 46, single, and has been cruising solo for a decade. “They are starting to understand solo cruisers and their potential.’’
Norwegian Cruise Line was an industry pioneer in creating an exclusive enclave devoted to singles on a megaship more than a decade ago. “The Studios’’ included staterooms with full-size beds, all priced without a single supplement. About half the size of other ship cabins, they were attractively outfitted and offered key-card access to an inviting, two-story common lounge with a bar, plasma TV, and seating area.
The studio cabins attracted a wide variety of solo travelers of all ages, including friends traveling together who still wanted their own private space. According to Travel Weekly’s Zelinski, NCL currently has 642 studio cabins across nine of its 19 ships.
In October 2023, NCL announced in a press release that it would be introducing nearly 1,000 dedicated solo staterooms across the fleet. “The new staterooms will also have access to the key card entry-only Studio Lounge, available on select ships, which features a dedicated space to relax, a bar equipped with beer and wine, and a variety of snacks served daily.”
In addition, the cruise line will offer onboard opportunities for single travelers to mix and mingle. Those solo travelers who are less interested in meeting others will have expanded opportunities to cruise to a greater number of destinations–such as Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand–on vessels that historically didn’t have these unique offerings.
Zelinksi notes that other lines are similarly catering to solo travelers.
“When the new Crystal debuted this summer, it had added single cabins without a single supplement to the renovated Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. The Oceania Vista, which launched in May, introduced a solo cabin category with balconies. Cruise lines that launched during the pandemic, including expedition line Atlas Ocean Voyages and Virgin Voyages, built their first cruise ships with solo accommodations,” she says.
With more people remaining single longer or forever, the social stigma of traveling without a companion is fading, and respect for independent travelers is growing. As a result, many single travelers are eager to cruise solo.
This article was substantially updated. An earlier version of this article was previously published in the Boston Globe.
Save to Pinterest!!