Mix and match
The best cruise lines for solo sailors
In many ways, cruising is the ideal holiday for solo travellers. There is plenty to do both on and off the ship, it is easy to strike up a conversation with fellow travellers and there is no need to worry about the logistics of getting from one destination to another. But one issue that is anything but smooth sailing is the dreaded single supplement. Solo cruisers are often shocked to discover some lines charge up to double the per person fare for the privilege of a single cabin. While many of us had imaginary friends as children, paying to bring them on holiday with us as adults was never part of the plan.
Fortunately, the cruise industry is adapting to better meet the needs of solo travellers, with some lines now waiving this additional fee. “We prefer to look after our guests travelling alone by offering a cabin for single use at no additional cost on many of our river routes,” says Paul Strachan, founder and chief executive of river cruise line Pandaw, which has a loyal following of adventurous solo travellers.
The single-stateroom concept is another trend revolutionising the cruise industry. Newer ships such as Holland America’s Koningsdam, Celebrity Cruises’ soon-tobe-unveiled Celebrity Edge and Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, which returns for its second Australian season this year, have cabins especially designed for solo travellers. “Most single accommodation on cruise ships is in interior rooms [with no windows] but Ovation of the Seas offers solo cruisers staterooms with balconies, as well as cheaper ‘virtual balcony’ staterooms that show real-time views on large screens in the interior category,” says Adam Armstrong, managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia and NZ.
Even with more lines offering single cabins and reduced or no single supplements, solo cruisers should book early to secure the best deals. Single staterooms usually disappear faster than cake at a cruise ship buffet. It is often first-in, best-dressed when it comes to no single supplement deals too. For example, Ponant regularly waives the single supplement on select itineraries but as the ship fills, the additional charge for solo travellers starts going up in increments of 5 per cent. Having to book so early must surely leave some travellers wondering whether they will still be single by the time their cruise finally departs.
Other solo saving strategies include joining cruise line mailing lists to find out about no-single-supplement specials in advance or using a cabin-mate matching service. While most passengers are often forced to compromise based on the wishes of their travel partner, solo cruisers have the freedom to please themselves. Don’t feel like going to dinner one night? Order cabin service and put up your feet. Dancing? Single female passengers can dance the night away aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity with Crystal Cruises’ Ambassador Hosts. These distinguished gents are available to dine with solo travellers, join shore excursions and serve as congenial liaisons between singles and the on-board social community. Cunard and Silversea also include dance host programs.
This boutique Australian eco-tourism expedition line explores the waters of the South Pacific, Cape York, the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef. A standby singles program and cabin-mate matching service is available on all Coral Expeditions cruises. However, it is hard to go past the yearround three, four and seven-night Great Barrier Reef itineraries, which are free of single supplements. With set dining times, a convivial daily cocktail hour, and no more than 72 passengers on any of its ships, this is an ideal line for active singles. More: coralexpeditions.com.
Australian family-owned APT (and sister companies Travelmarvel and Botanica World Discoveries) each have a popular Solo Traveller Club, with monthly newsletters offering a plethora of deals. Sailing with others who share a common interest makes it even easier to make friends. The number of solo sailors on Botanica’s botanical and cultural cruises continues to grow, according to founder and co-owner Judy Vanrenen. Savings on European river cruises can amount to more than $10,000 for single travellers who book early enough. More: aptouring.com.au; botanica.travel.
AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES
With two boutique-sized ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, this upmarket line is renowned for its immersive itineraries and friendly on-board vibe. Longer stays in port, more overnights, and intimate shore excursions with no more than 25 fellow passengers help singles make new friends. Azamara offers a reduced single supplement on some voyages and occasional no-single-supplement specials. More: azamaraclubcruises.com.
PONANT YACHT CRUISES & EXPEDITIONS
This luxury French line waives the single supplement on a selection of elegant yet casual voyages, where early booking bonuses can be combined with solo traveller deals. Itineraries range from the Arctic to Central and South America, Oceania to Atlantic and Northern Europe, although you will rarely (if ever) see solo fares for the Antarctic. Ponant cruisers tend to be well-travelled and aged over 50. Sailing aficionados and those who appreciate a more intimate cruising experience will enjoy the line’s three-masted sailing ship, Le Ponant, which carries a maximum of 64 passengers. The buzz is building about Ponant’s new expedition fleet, launching with Le Laperouse in mid-2018, and three sister ships to follow. For passengers with mobility or balance issues, Ponant is introducing a hydraulic platform that enables easier boarding and Zodiac embarkation and disembarkation plus entry to the sea for swimming and water sports such as kayaking or paddle-boarding. More: au.ponant.com.
This operator specialises in Asian voyages aboard boutique, colonial-style luxury river steamers, which each accommodate no more than 60 passengers. Pandaw has tailored several of its expeditions in response to the growing demand from independent explorers, offering adventures along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and Chindwin and the Mekong, within the secure environment of a small group of like-minded people. Fares include all meals onboard, bottled water, local soft drinks, beer and spirits, crew gratuities and shore excursions. Offers for singles are available on a regular basis throughout the year. More: pandaw.com.
Cunard offers a traditional experience with elegant formal nights, assigned dining rooms and afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters. Single-occupancy cabins are available across the fleet, with nine staterooms featuring oversized single beds available on Queen Elizabeth and nine staterooms, consisting of eight with ocean views and one interior, available on Queen Victoria. During last year’s extensive refurbishment of Queen Mary 2, 15 single oceanview staterooms were added, reflecting the growing popularity of solo cruising. Book early for these options as Cunard’s single supplement tends to be upwards of 175 per cent for those who miss out. More: cunardline.com.au.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
If you don’t mind sharing a cabin, this line’s Single Partners Program, which matches solo travellers with another same-sex single, is available on all its ships. Holland America’s flagship Koningsdam has 12 solo cabins priced for single occupancy. Passengers travelling alone are hosted at a dedicated singles’ get-together at the start of each cruise, which creates instant camaraderie. With more than 40 daily activities, such as line dancing classes, wine tasting and cooking demonstrations on offer, there is little danger of getting bored. Dinner seating with other singles is available by advance request. More: hollandamerica.com.
Pandaw regularly offers special deals for singles, top; Holland America’s Koningsdam, top right, and the new Celebrity Edge, above right; Crystal Cruises offers Ambassador Hosts, above