Napoleon Solo. The Lone Ranger. Han Solo. All were lumbered with a name that marked them out for the single life. Only that’s not quite how it worked out. Napoleon was best buddies with Illya Kuryakin. Tonto was always there for the Lone Ranger. And Star Wars fans can’t think of Han without his constant sidekick, Chewbacca.
But, if you’re The Lone Cruiser, there is no handy companion for you and, more importantly, no way to ward off those single occupancy rates that can make life so tough (and expensive). For those cruising on their own, it’s a sad tale of distress and exploitation, a desperate situation of spatial inconvenience and singular disadvantage. You’ve no doubt asked yourself before: Why are solo cruises so expensive?!
Walk with us a moment while we explain how this terrible situation arose. Cruise ships are peculiar beasts in that they are compartmentalised in such rigid fashion there is little to no room for manoeuver once complete. Steel bulkheads can’t be moved around on a whim (barring a lengthy spell in dry-dock) and it just isn’t feasible to change the layout of most areas, notably the cabins (or staterooms, or suites, whichever you prefer to call them).
They are also built to maximise yield, hence the aforementioned cabins (or staterooms, or suites, etc) tended to be built in uniform fashion, with two beds that could be combined as a double, or with added spaces such as pull-out sofas or pull-down berths.
In this rigid, compartmentalised world, the only unit of currency was two, as in two people to a cabin (or stateroom, or, etc). Cruise line accountants could never figure anything out in other units, hence one person represented just 50 per cent of the occupancy (and, of course, the fare).
Units of one were anathema to the bean counters, things to be loathed and despised. As much as nature abhors a vacuum, so the financial minds behind the cruise companies hated solo travellers. How could they possibly take up a space designed for two (and not pay as if two people were still utilising the space, according to their logic)?
You could, in some instances, find a cruise line that would partner you up with another passenger of the same sex, and then you paid the regular rate. This was, of course, how it was done in the old days of third and fourth-class transatlantic travelling, when there was no choice about who you might end up sharing maritime living space with. But, in the 20th century, this was seen as just a little icky, and few lines offered it.
Therefore, we typically saw the real Solos of the ocean-going world having to pay anywhere from an extra 50 to 100 per cent of the regular rate to have all that space for themselves; the dreaded single supplement.
True, a handful of lines did have cabins purely for the lone cruisers. In the 1970s and 80s, both the venerable QE2 of Cunard and the classic Canberra of P&O had a handful of cabins designed specifically for those on their lonesome. But they were a genuine handful and, if you didn’t book early enough, you were still left staring at the single supplement once more and wondering if you could afford to pay almost twice as much, per person, as the couple next door.
Happily, modern trends in holiday-going did filter through to the cruise industry about 10 years ago, when someone finally prised those calculators out of the soul-less fingers of the accountants and insisted, “Solo cruisers are people, too!” and that there can be benefits to cruising solo.
First, Norwegian Cruise Line, with their 2010-launched Norwegian Epic, came up with a completely new style of single staterooms and provided no fewer than 128 inside cabins for those travelling in numbers less than two. They even built a special studio lounge for the occupants of those cabins.
At the same time, P&O was pushing two brand new ships into the Solent with some distinctly upgraded single-appeal. When their Arcadia made her debut in 2005, she carried just six cabins designed to accommodate a solitary cruiser (and just two with a balcony). Five years later, both Ventura and Azura had triple that number. Britannia, in 2015, had 27.
Other notable single-minded lines were Fred Olsen, who could offer no fewer than 190 single cabins across their four-ship fleet (heavily reconfigured during dry-docks), and Saga, that bastion of solo holiday-making, who featured 57 uni-cabins on their two vessels.
Even Royal Caribbean got with the single-cabin beat with their Quantum-class trio (2014, ’15 and ’16), providing 28 studio staterooms configured for sole occupancy, 12 with balconies. OK, they were a touch on the small side, but the price was definitely right – no single supplement in sight.
But that’s all very well if you want to travel with P&O, Norwegian, Fred Olsen, Saga or Royal Caribbean. What about if you’re after the genuine five-star, ultra-luxe cruise style? You know, Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea or Regent? Ah yes, that’s another story.
For ships with 2,000-plus cabins, it’s no big deal to provide five per cent of those for singles but, if you only have two or three hundred cabins, it’s not the same economy of scale, hence we’re back to where we started, with the infamous single supplement.
But not quite. While there ARE still solo cruise supplements on Crystal, for example, they can be as low as 10 per cent on certain stateroom categories, which puts them back into the range of many budgets, even at this end of the market. More importantly, Crystal are renowned for taking special care of their solo guests, to the extent where up to 25 per cent of passengers may all be cruising unaccompanied, and they benefit from singles get-togethers, gentleman hosts for dancing and other activities, including dining, geared specifically for them.
By the same token, Seabourn goes the extra mile in looking after singles – notably when it comes to dining with its officers and entertainers – while Silversea has an equally attentive approach, and single supplements as low as 25 per cent in some cases.
Therefore, if you’ve always thought that being a Lone Ranger yourself was a stopper when it comes to cruising, think again. It is definitely advisable to consult a proper cruise agent to get the best of the deals. But, if you can book either very early, or leave it to the relative last minute, you can be sure there are definitely some deals out there that will get you to sea, in high style and without breaking the bank. And that’s some true sole music.