For an aspect of the travel industry with more than 150 years of history and tradition behind it, cruising sometimes gives the impression it remains pretty traditional and hidebound. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The amazing development of the modern cruise ship, with its overflowing array of features and amenities – many of them now linked to the latest technologies – is one of the most obvious examples of how things have changed even in recent years. The ships of the 1980s looked extremely different from those of 2019, both in size and onboard facilities.
When it comes to the way vessels nowadays are designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, it is also clear to see that cruising has been quick to innovate and add services and styles that the public demands. This is especially true for solo travellers.
In the past – and we’re talking mainly pre-2000 here – anyone cruising on their own usually had to pay a distinct premium, often as much as 195 per cent extra on a per person basis, to travel on their own as opposed to a couple occupying one cabin. The dreaded ‘Single supplements’ were the bane of brochures for anyone not sailing with a partner.
It was one of the great iniquities of cruising, as opposed to simply staying in a hotel room. Cruise lines basically hated sailing with empty berths, and virtually every ship was built with double occupancy in mind. The old P&O stalwart Canberra was a rarity in having cabins purely for single occupancy and, as the whole modern idea of cruising began to catch on during the 1970s and 80s, no new vessels acknowledged the poor, lone cruiser.
Happily, things began to change in the 1990s. Harking back to the days of the Canberra, P&O’s new Oriana in 1995 sported several staterooms for one, while Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines began to make it a priority as they expanded their fleet from 1996 to 2007, ensuring that each newcomer they acquired and renovated was given cabins of the single variety. They even went a step further than P&O by providing balcony cabins that still slept only one.
Others took notice. Norwegian Cruise Line, always one of the industry’s great innovators, stepped things up with their Norwegian Epic in 2010, adding a new stateroom category of ‘Studios’ that were purpose designed for numbers less than two. True, at just 100sq ft, they lacked a fair amount of elbow room, but the addition of a Studio Lounge purely for solo cruisers gave them an added amenity that has proved extremely popular.
Taking a leaf out of NCL’s design notebook, each of Costa, Royal Caribbean and Holland America followed suit, while Cunard added a series of extremely elegant single staterooms to their fleet from 2014-16.
So, if that is the big picture as far as cruising alone is concerned, what are some of the individual highlights to look out for when planning a voyage for just yourself? Here are seven of the best cruises for solo travellers.
Crystal’s recently announced series of 14 sailings on Crystal Symphony have been branded as especially single-friendly, with supplements as low as 110 per cent. The voyages feature destinations from Los Angeles to Miami and most points in between, from five to 27 nights of the line’s distinctive, ultra-luxe comfort.
Norwegian Cruise Line
As one of the pioneers of modern solo sailing satisfaction, NCL has no fewer than six ships that all offer their unique Studio staterooms, with fully 128 on Norwegian Epic and 82 each on the newest duo of Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss. Even their round-Hawaii adventurer Pride of America has been retro-fitted with four Studios.
Holland America Line
Another of the more enlightened lines, Holland America Line has equipped their two latest 90,000-ton megaships Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam with single-occupancy staterooms as large as 172sq ft and with the full range of amenities that their larger brethren have. And, like Crystal, Silversea, Regent and Cunard, HAL features gentlemen hosts to dance with single ladies on every cruise.
With some of the smaller ships in the luxury end of the market, Silversea can’t offer single suites or staterooms, but their supplements can be as low as 125 per cent to occupy regular accommodations, and the line goes out of its way to cultivate solo travellers with their onboard programmes and activities, making them extremely popular in single cruiser-dom.
As one of the bastions of traditional cruising, Cunard’s relatively late arrival as a choice for those on their own in terms of specific accommodations was slightly surprising, especially as the venerable QE2 had a handful of (rather small) single staterooms from her 1960s vintage. However, the retro-fitting of both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, followed by QM2 in 2016 added some of the loveliest staterooms for solos anywhere on the high seas.
Fred. Olsen Cruises
All four Fred. ships have at least 40 staterooms that are configured for solo use. Even better, they run the gamut from (small) inside cabins to genuine balcony rooms. And, if they are overbooked for single cruisers, they also feature some generous single supplements for double cabins, making for one of the most solo-friendly cruise lines of them all.
River-cruises aren’t renowned for cutting single travellers a break on pricing, but there are, increasingly, some deals to be found, mainly because the number of river-cruise vessels is growing every year and there are periods when they need to attract singles as well as couples. At the forefront of offering good deals and being solo-friendly is AmaWaterways, who actually have six ships with a couple of single cabins while their regular single-supplement rates are some of the most generous in the industry.
All this single-cabin jubilation comes with one small caveat – always check the single-supplement occupancy rate for a double stateroom beforehand. Sometimes the solo stateroom rates can actually be higher than paying the supplement, so book wisely!
Have you travelled as a solo cruiser? What was your experience, and would you recommend it? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.