By Cheryl Maguire
When the pandemic hit, "no-sail orders" suspended cruises for 15 months.
Once the ban was lifted, Marcello De Lio, an avid cruiser from New York City, couldn't wait to get back onboard. But his girlfriend of three years didn't share his enthusiasm.
Even though he had never sailed solo before, De Lio, 26, a construction company owner and travel blogger, began researching his options and found promotions designed to entice customers to return.
He set off alone from Miami for a four-night cruise to the Bahamas in September on the Norwegian Cruise Line Getaway ship. The trip, De Lio said, was a fantastic adventure that provided him with the opportunity to step outside of his comfort zone and meet new people.
"The trend of solo cruise travel picked up during the pandemic," said Darley Newman, a travel host and an executive producer in New York City. "Many cruise lines offered deals to drive occupancy, and one of those special offers was waiving the single supplement for solo cruisers, meaning greater savings."
The "single supplement" surcharge, which forces solo travellers to pay extra if they are in a cabin designed for two, has been an ongoing issue of contention in the cruise industry.
"Even if [solo cruisers] can afford it, it still bugs them to pay that extra amount," said Stefan Bisciglia, director of I Cruise Solo and co-owner of Specialty Cruise & Villas travel agency in Gig Harbor, Wash.
Bisciglia launched I Cruise Solo in February 2020 to cater to solo travellers who were fed up with paying those high fares. Even though he is married and has three children, he frequently cruises solo as a leisure traveller on trips unrelated to his business. "I really enjoy travelling that way," he said.
The first ocean cruise line to offer one-person cabin options was Norwegian Cruise Line in 2010, which remains a favourite among solo travellers. It also offered a solo cruise host and a solo lounge to give passengers the opportunity to meet one another. Other cruise lines have followed suit.
For example, Oceania Cruises will add a total of 56 solo staterooms to its ships this year after receiving feedback from guests and travel partners that solo cabins are sought after.
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Solo cruise travellers are different from vacationers who opt for singles' cruises. Typically, all travellers on a single's cruise are not in a romantic relationship, whereas a solo cruiser may be married, partnered or single and travels alone on a cruise ship whose population includes families, partnered people and other solo cruisers.
WHY CRUISE SOLO?
Have a safer experience.
For vacationers who want a solo adventure, a cruise may feel safer than travelling alone on land. The cruise ship staff "know you're there, because they're going to check to make sure you got back on the ship," Newman said. "There's a comfort level" with that sense of security.
Holiday the way you want.
One of the biggest advantages to travelling solo on a cruise is having the flexibility to plan your vacation based on your interests. You don't need to check in with anyone else or feel guilty about not wanting to participate in cruise activities that a travel partner might like.
"You do whatever you want. If you want to nap, then you can take a nap, since nobody is standing there saying, 'Mom, get up,' " said Anna Easton, 65, a frequent solo cruiser who is retired in Vancouver, Wash. "You're leaving behind anyone that has expectations of you," said Janice Waugh, founder of Solo Traveler.
When you cruise solo, you also can decide on the type of ship, destination, time of year and trip excursions. "I wanted to go to Egypt for my birthday. Who was available? The answer was just me," said Elizabeth Avery, founder of Solo Travel Pricing Tracker in D.C. "You don't have to follow somebody else's schedule, which most of us have to do at work or with our families" when not on vacation.
Another advantage of solo cruising is having the freedom to change your mind about your plans. "You're able to be a lot more spontaneous. If you feel like getting up in the morning and taking a cab to go explore [off the ship], you can do that," Bisciglia said.
Move outside your comfort zone.
If you're shy and travelling alone, a cruise atmosphere can help you overcome your social anxieties. There's a sense of camaraderie on cruises, because everyone is on the same boat for a specified time, which can lead to friendly exchanges. "It's a nice way to interact. I met people while standing in line chatting, waiting to get into a restaurant, and ended up joining them for dinner," Easton said.
If you are used to travelling with a partner, they may book the dinner reservations or plan the trip excursions. But when you are travelling solo, you'll need to be self-sufficient and plan activities. You might try new experiences, because you have that freedom.
"It can be really liberating," Newman said. "And you learn a lot about yourself when you experience challenges."
TIPS FOR TRYING A SOLO CRUISE
Spend time alone before your vacation.
Most of us are not used to being alone for an entire vacation. Before you book a solo cruise, Easton recommends trying to do activities alone at home. "You have to start with the baby steps," she said.
One way to do this is to take yourself out to dinner at a restaurant or a movie. She likes to use the phrase "I took myself" to emphasize the importance of intentionally going alone and enjoying the experience.
Research different price options.
Post-pandemic travel has been a mixed bag, and cruises are no exception, so it pays to shop around. Cruise lines will often offer last-minute deals if their cabins are not full, but this is rarely the case for solo cruisers. "Book a year ahead if you can, because once the 'no single supplement' slots are booked, there's probably none left," Avery said.
Understand the room configuration.
Avery recommends asking about how the solo cabin is set up. During one of her solo cruises, her cabin had bunk beds, which she didn't enjoy. "I couldn't read on the top [bunk], and I hit my head on the bottom [bunk]. It was dark, so I had to sit on the floor to read."
Research the onboard options for solo cruisers.
Even though you are travelling solo, you may want the opportunity to meet other people.
Some cruise lines offer activities for all of the solo cruisers onboard. Or they may have a dedicated solo cruise room. "Some cruise lines have a cocktail hour for the solo cruisers, or you can ask to be seated at a table with other solo travellers," Bisciglia said.
By asking the cruise line or your travel agent about the options for solo cruisers before you book, you can make sure you'll have the solo cruise experience you want.