Definitive Guide to Solo Cruising
As you will hear repeatedly in this article, there is going to be a good time to be had on any cruise line, as long as you are bringing the right energy to the table. Having said that, from a solo cruiser’s perspective, it might be a challenge to hop out of your comfort zone and become the life of the party. On paper, we all have a “best case” scenario mindset about solo cruising before we get on board. It’s easy to imagine us getting on the ship, ordering a cocktail and then immediately being the central social figure who everyone wants to party with all week long. We envision this fun-filled, carefree atmosphere with a “how could this go wrong?” mentality. Until…
You get on board, and it hits you that 95% of the people on this ship are here with a group of people they are very close to and have no expectations of picking up solo stragglers along the way. That is not to say they won’t. It just means it’s not part of their plan as they board the ship and settle in. There is usually a moment on that first day when things get real, and you start to question what you were thinking about with this whole “solo cruising” idea. You see families, kids, couples and groups of friends and you wonder where you will possibly fit into any of this already-established comradery. This is good though. The quicker you get hit with this reality check, the quicker you are able to adjust your expectations and re-establish your game plan.
The first step is to embrace the loneliness. Think back to your “worst case” scenario when you initially considered booking. At the very least you will not be working, cooking, cleaning or any other pesky land-based task you’ve been burdened with. If the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, you can still expect a gorgeous, relaxing and stress-free getaway from all that life throws at your day to day. This will change your energy and prevent you from becoming desperate to make friends. Being overly enthusiastic and engaging can work, but is just as likely to repel already established social circles. Once you decide you’re going to be comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be ready to approach the next few days with the appropriate mindset to attract fellow passengers who just might be cool enough to hang with you for the week.
If you are looking for more insight on solo cruising and you enjoy podcasts, click here for the Fun Guide Into Solo Cruising episode. It is a great tool that can be used in conjunction with the article.
What Kind of Itinerary
It depends on what type of solo cruise you are looking for. If you really want to make sure you find some high-energy revelry amongst fellow cruisers, then here are some of the types of cruises that will make that happen.
- Weekend cruises
- 4 days or less that happen to be
- Sailings out of Miami
- Smaller or older ships
- Simple itineraries such as Florida or The Bahamas
Any combination of these factors will increase the likelihood of you ending up on a “party cruise.” Especially if they happen in or around the spring break season.
If you are looking for a more sophisticated experience, choose a newer, larger ship that might cost a little more. This will price out many of the wild crowds who would be more likely to rock the boat. You also might want to pick a longer voyage that sails to more exotic locations. The young and wild demographic are less likely to have the inclination to prioritize cultural experiences that are featured on voyages that sail to remote locations.
Pre Cruise and Onboard Coaching
Be sure to find the group associated with your voyage on Facebook. I have not been on a cruise in the past 5 years that did not have a Facebook group that directly represented that sailing. Once you join, you will likely find other solo travelers or even other groups of people who are open to embracing singles into their circle. Very often, you’ll encounter the “solo, but not solo” cruiser. This is a person who is sailing with a family member or family members that may not be of the same generation. An example of this could be a mother-daughter cruise. While the two will spend hours on the pool deck and dinner together- there is a good chance that the daughter would like to hit up the nightclub or casino, long after her mom sailed off to dreamland. These types of cruisers are often all over Facebook groups with the hopes of securing a late-night buddy. Same thing for the single dad cruising with the kids, or the people who are third wheeling on a couple’s cruise. Other places you can find pre-cruise chatter are the “row calls” on cruisecritic.com as well as an app called “shipmate” from cruiseline.com.
Tell the reservation desk you want to sit at a large table
Some cruise lines do this better than others. For my first night at dinner on a solo Carnival cruise, I was at a table of 8 people. A few minutes into night one, we quickly realized that this was a table entirely of solo cruisers. That was a nice, thoughtful touch by Carnival and one that enhanced the cruise for all of us. Since policies and procedures are always changing on cruise ships, and you would like to optimize your chance of not cruising alone for your entire vacation, be proactive and inquire about all your options. If you call ahead, you may be able to get someone helpful on the phone who notify the dining room manager that you would prefer to be seated with other solo cruisers for dinner. In some cases, they will simply instruct you to let guest services know once you are on board. Once you board the ship, you may mention this to guest services, and they might refer you to someone in the dining room. Some cruise lines make it a priority to accommodate solo cruisers and some don’t. So be as proactive as necessary in order to ensure that you are set up to have a good experience.
Norwegian Singles and Solo Coordinator
When Norwegian Cruise Line started building ships with studio (one-person) staterooms, everything changed. In addition to making it conducive for solo cruisers to sail alone, they came up with several other touchpoints to enhance the overall experience. All of their studio cabins are located in the same wing of the ship. Within that wing, they also added a solo cruiser’s lounge. Only guests who are cruising solo are allowed access to this venue and since it’s in an exclusive location, anyone who happens to be there is likely also cruising solo. To take things a step further, Norwegian has designated someone on their entertainment staff to be the “solo cruise coordinator.” The person who took on this role was responsible for assuring participation, scheduling events and hosting meetups all cruise long. For myself, and others on my sailing, this was an absolute game changer. Within two days, my new friends and I were officially no longer “solo cruisers.”
Important Note** If you are looking for this type of solo cabin and overall experience, make sure you are booked on an Epic, Breakaway (or NEWER) class of ships.
Self-Led Single and Solo Meet Ups
Almost every sailing on every ship will have an event listed that is geared toward singles and solos. It is always in a bar and usually during happy hour. These get-togethers usually fall under the “self-led” category- meaning that you might just go and it’s up to the attendees to find and interact with each other. The success of these gatherings often depends on the type of crowd that is on the ship. If there are just a few apprehensive guests in attendance, it may turn out like a middle school dance where everyone waits for someone else to make the first connection. If you find yourself on a ship with more extroverts, these events can facilitate life-long friendships. Single and solo meetups will only be as productive as the passengers allow them to be. Realistically, people are who they are. Some will simply never be comfortable as the life of the party, or even initiating conversations with strangers. While that is understandable, guests should understand that if they are on a solo cruise, their chances of having a great time will be directly related to their willingness to step out of their comfort zone.
Best Parts of the Ship
Nightclub- If you’re on a cruise ship, the nightclub is where most inhibitions are left behind.
The Gym- An interesting one. The best place to find people alone and possibly open to meeting new people. Just remember that even though they are alone on a treadmill doesn’t mean they are alone on the sailing. Respect people’s boundaries.
The Main Dining Room- This is a great one, as mentioned above- Just make sure you get yourself at a table of cruisers that are in a similar situation as you.
The Casino- This is one of the best places to meet people in general. You are usually in tight quarters and forced to interact with each other. You develop an “us against them” mentality as you battle the house, and things can get very celebratory when you win. It’s very easy to make friends in the casino. Just don’t hit on 20 when the dealer is showing a 6.
Any Area of the Ship Exclusive to Adults- This is just common sense. It’s easier to meet people without the distraction of small children running around in need of supervision. Adults-only areas aren’t limited to solo cruisers, but any area that is not as “family-friendly” will contain a higher percentage of passengers looking to meet new friends.
Money Saving Tips
One of the biggest downsides to solo cruising is that there is no one whom with to split the expenses. Between the cruise fare, taxes, port charges, gratuities and onboard spending- the expenses can add up quickly. While solo cruising will, almost always, cost more than splitting the cabin with a cruise buddy, there are a few ways to maximize your ability to save on your solo cruise.
Book Early- Cruises tend to be less expensive when they are first offered. There is pressure to fill the ship and you can benefit from being one of the first to book your reservations.
Book Late- If you are open to different cruise lines and slightly flexible from a timing standpoint, there is almost always a great deal to be had on a ship that didn’t end up selling at the level the cruise line would have hoped
Check Cruiseplum.com– Aside from being a great search tool for cruises across all lines, this website also allows you to filter down to which cruise lines are discounting (or eliminating) the solo supplement.
Enroll in the Casino Program- These days you don’t have to be such a high roller to get crazy casino offers. Cruise lines are very motivated to fill their ships and will extend surprisingly aggressive offers just for being in the casino program at any level. The low cruise fairs will help in the event you HAVE to pay double, and very often these deals will come with perks that will further allow you to save money on board. You’ll see deals that offer complimentary cocktails while playing in the casino. This DOES include penny and nickel slots.
- If there is ever a time to be the most extroverted version of yourself, it’s on night one. On the first day of the cruise, everyone is on a level playing field, and those you are not cruising with are ALL in the same boat as “strangers.” As the week progresses, passengers who are looking for friends begin to fall in line together and social groups develop. While it won’t be impossible to infiltrate, more challenging for sure.
- Consider your attire. Don’t be less than your genuine self, but feel free to take some fashion risks or wear something conversational. If someone is looking for a reason to approach you, a tee shirt with a funny quote can give them one.
- Have a detailed plan for your entire cruise BUT be willing to ditch that plan at any time. Have a purpose, know what you want to do and where you want to go next. Throughout your interactions, let them know your plans. Be excited about them. If you convey the right enthusiasm, others might want to join you. Conversely, if they invite you on their excursion, feel free to ditch what you had going on and join them.
- Third-party charter or group cruises can really enhance the experience. While you are not likely to find any discounts, websites like sixthman.net and singlescruise.com do a great job of throwing amazing parties at sea while bringing like-minded people together.
- Managing your expectations will put you in a position to not come off as desperate. You want to be willing to meet other guests and be welcoming of their company, however, you do not want to come off as overzealous or clingy. You are headed to paradise and need to establish the fact that, while you’d like to meet people, you’ll be perfectly fine enjoying your own company. With that mentality, other passengers are more likely to gravitate toward you. Whether it’s a 30-second pleasant hello, or a full night of drinking and dancing, embrace each exchange for what it is and don’t try to force anything.
Hopefully this help. Most importantly, be sure to have fun no matter what the crowd around you is like. If you have any tips or stories regarding solo cruising, please feel free to share them with me at Tommy@alwaysbebooked.com