People travel alone for all sorts of reasons. Yes, many solo travelers are single. But many simply want to be able to come home to their spouse and children, renewed, after a relaxing break. Some want to do something fun while their partner is away on business, or if the kids are at summer camp or have flown the nest. Others simply like going it alone. There doesn't have to be a reason, really, to book a trip all for yourself.
Cruises, though, have historically been the hardest way to travel alone—the punishing but nearly ubiquitous single supplement charge tends to push a cruise right out of most people's budget. Plus, the fact that many cruise ships are packed with rambunctious families or couples (who seem to forget that they've got a room) can make the prospect of being partner-less among these passengers seem nauseating. But floating on the high seas, cocktail in hand, with convenient stops at the world's most beautiful places, is still an activity worth pursuing alone. Here are ten cruise companies that get that.
Norwegian Cruise Line
One company's name comes up again and again when researching the prospect of cruising solo: Norwegian. Christine Hardenberger, who owns Modern Travel Professionals, a travel agency that specializes in cruising, books many lone boaters. Norwegian stands out as the best option for these clients.
"Norwegian's newer ships—the Getaway, Breakaway, Epic, and Escape—actually have entire areas specifically designed for solo cruisers," says Hardenberger. "The section is called 'the Studios' and it's amazing for the guest traveling alone. It features smaller—but still luxurious—staterooms designed and priced for one traveler." Hardenberger adds that Studio guests also get access to a dedicated lounge with a wine bar, snacks, and a layout that lets them mingle, should they want to. The only problem is that this section sells out extremely quickly, so book at least a year out if you can. (Tip: AARP members can get deals on Norwegian's studio cabins here.)
Tauck recently announced that the historic company is waiving the single supplement on all category 1 cabins for all 220 of its riverboat departures in 2016. In addition, it's knocking $1,000 off the supplement on other cabin categories for 170 of its departures. Most of Tauck's itineraries center around the Danube, the Rhine, the Rhône, and the Seine. "River cruises are well suited to solo travelers because the more intimate size of riverboats isn't as off-putting as the huge ocean-going megaships," says Tom Armstrong, a Tauck spokesperson. "Our riverboats typically carry just 130 guests, making [the cruises] even more intimate and cozy."
Blogger Janet Basilone, a frequent solo cruiser and the founder of Fine Diners Over 40, has gone it alone on several major lines. "I'm generally not interested in group activities and the hubbub that goes with them," she says. "I'm happy to fly solo all day in more of a meditative state. But at mealtime, I appreciate company and chitchat with fellow guests from near and far."
She plans to continue her solo travels aboard the Carnival Splendor because of how cruise employees manage mealtimes on board. "They did a great job assembling groups of solos, friends, and couples who wanted to dine with new companions at each meal," she says. "I was seated with others in group sizes ranging from two to 10 whenever I requested it. I also could have arranged to sit with the same group at the same hour for dinner each evening. Other companies couldn't do this or didn't try very hard."
Though Carnival isn't known for waiving supplements, the company does occasionally offer single-occupancy sales and rates. It also offers the "Serenity Adult-Only Retreat." (Tip: Book a Carnival cruise via SinglesCruise.com to get access to a dedicated onboard host, exclusive activities, lower prices, and a roommate-matching service to avoid the single supplement.)
Abercrombie & Kent
"What's surprising is that the majority of A&K's solo travelers aren't single," says Phil Otterson, the president of Abercrombie & Kent USA. "They choose to travel solo for a number of reasons. Perhaps their significant other doesn't share their enthusiasm for a particular destination, or they simply can't get away from work. Most often, they travel to pursue a personal passion, such as history, music, art, or food and wine. Our themed river cruise journeys are ideal for this type of traveler."
The company's European river cruises, in particular, hold a lot of value for solo travelers, thanks to boat capacities of just 24 travelers and private sightseeing excursions. New this year is an art and architecture cruise through Germany, Switzerland, France, and Holland; a food and wine trip through France; and a holiday shopping trip down the Rhine. A&K provides all of its clients with private airport transfers, plus a tour director who offers guidance and companionship.
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Australis is a Chile-based outfit that specializes in taking cruisers on tours through Patagonia, the Strait of Magellan, and the Beagle Channel—a region the company calls the "end of the world."
Their three-, four-, and seven-night expeditions are ideal for solo travelers for several reasons—the first of which is that they don't charge a single supplement. In addition, as company spokesman Jorge Rodriguez says, "Whether you come alone or with a friend, an expedition on Australis allows you to have a fascinating story to tell for years to come. Your individual experience is heightened as you travel in regions that, for the majority of time, never had a person visit. The people you meet will become your friends, and the adventures you will undertake will impact you deeply."
Australis provides guides and fills the days with group activities, while making safety an utmost priority. Frequent landings let you explore glaciers, watch penguins and seals, take a zodiac ride, and more. During mealtimes, you'll have plenty to discuss with your tablemates, since you'll all be sharing the same memorable moments each day.
SmarTours, a guided-tour company that's celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, offers river cruises through Europe, Asia, and South America that are ideal for solo travelers. Their selection of bargain itineraries is priced appropriately if you do not happen to be a member of a two-income household.
"We have so many solo travelers that love to cruise with SmarTours," says CEO Greg Geronemus. "We provide truly accessibly-priced cruising options for solo travelers who are typically priced out of cruising. Not only do we keep the single supplement as low as possible, but we also provide a forum on our website for solo cruisers to find a roommate to avoid the single supplement."
Geronemus cites the 11-night "Cruise of the Czars" itinerary, which hits Russia's highlights, as a prime example of the value his company offers: including airfare and the single supplement, solo travelers get on board for less than $3,600—thousands less than, say, Viking's rates, even if that company were to waive the single supplement. Plus, the SmarTours rate includes sightseeing tours and guided shore excursions, meaning that you'll have a safe, built-in group to travel with, even if you're not sharing a room with anyone else.
Hebridean Island Cruises
Hebridean has carved out a niche for itself by taking especially good care of solo travelers. The English company runs all-inclusive cruises out of Scotland, transporting passengers to the British islands and highlands, including the Isle of Man. Each of its ships has more than the usual number of solo cabins, and they're not minuscule, nor are they off in some far corner of the boat. The Hebridean Princess is the world's only cruise ship with a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II.
According to company spokesperson Jonathan Moffatt, "There is no better way for a single traveler to explore some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world. The personal service on board makes the ship ideal for single travelers. With a third of the 30 individually-designed cabins being dedicated to single occupancy, along with a guest-to-crew ratio of almost one-to-one, guests soon feel at home with the unique country-house atmosphere." In the ship's Columba Restaurant, single guests sit together at tables hosted by the captain and senior officers. As Moffatt puts it, "Convivial conversation ensures friendships are quickly and easily made."
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
Uniworld's website has a section that lists all of the elite company's best trips for those who plan to embark alone. It boasts that its "meticulously planned itineraries are ideally suited for solo travelers, with open seating at every meal, small group excursions, and kindred spirits who share your cultural curiosity and passion for fresh destinations."
Each of the dozen trips on this page are offered sans single supplement, with even more options at the bottom of the page for cruises with a reduced single supplement. Uniworld's 15-day "Grand European Discovery" itinerary, in particular, is a strong option for those traveling alone. Cruise from Basel to Vienna, along the Rhine and Danube, aboard the elegant River Ambassador, with a price that includes many shuttled shore excursions—including to historic Nuremberg and Bavarian castles—led by expert guides.
Though they don't advertise themselves as such—their website offers portals for families and couples but not singles—MSC is, by many accounts, a decent option for solo cruisers, especially if you don't mind last-minute planning. Like many European lines, this Italian company will knock the cost of the single supplement off its remaining cabins if it looks like the boat is going to set sail with empty rooms. This means that late-booking solo cruisers can get a normal-sized room, or even a balcony, for very close to the cost of traveling with a friend.
Plus, there's plenty to keep you busy: "MSC Cruises is an ideal option for solo travelers due to the countless activities offered onboard and ashore," says Ken Muskat, the company's vice president. "Our unique wine-blending experience, for example, allows solo travelers to experience the art of blending and bottling your own wine with a small group of fellow cruisers with like interests. We also offer hundreds of shore excursions across each of our ports-of-call that cater to individual travelers." In addition, ship managers put on "mix and mingle" events to help unaccompanied passengers meet one another.
Maple Leaf Adventures
This Canadian company has been operating expedition cruises in British Columbia and Alaska since 1986, and solo travelers comprise about a third of its guests. Maple Leaf charges no single supplement on one of its two ships, the classic schooner the Maple Leaf, which operates trips from April through October (making it a perfect just-for-you summer activity while the kids are at sleepaway camp). Rates are affordable, ranging from about $1,300 to less than $4,000.
In part to promote camaraderie, each boat carries a maximum of 17 people, including the crew. Fellow passengers tend to be likeminded adventure-seekers, since these historic wooden ships don't offer the same cushy amenities as the mega-lines. Likewise, the itinerary involves going ashore multiple times a day, mostly to see wildlife in off-the-beaten-track locations. "Our crew are all guides as well," says Maureen Gordon, who co-owns the company. "They are fully present and engaged with the trip and the guests all the time. So a solo traveler, immediately upon boarding, has five built-in fellow solo travelers, before even meeting any other solo travelers who are guests."
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(Photo: Cruise ship via Shutterstock)