Cruising for solo travellers

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Cruise prices are geared toward couples. Yet about one in four cruise passengers travels alone or as a single parent. How do they fare? Douglas Ward, author of the 2015 Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships (to be published on 1st October 2014) , reveals all

 

Cruising, in general, is designed for couples. Many solo passengers (including GLBT – gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) are prejudiced against cruising because most lines charge them a single-occupancy supplement. The reason is that the most precious commodity aboard any ship is space. Since a solo-occupancy cabin is often as large as a double and is just as expensive to build, cruise lines feel the premium price is justified. What’s more, because solo-occupancy cabins are at a premium, they are less likely to be discounted.

Single supplements
If you are not sharing a cabin, you’ll be asked to pay either a flat rate or a single ‘supplement’ to occupy a double-occupancy cabin by yourself. Some lines charge a fixed amount – $250, for instance – as a supplement, no matter what the cabin category, ship, itinerary, or length of cruise. Such rates vary between lines, and sometimes between a particular line’s ships. Because there are so few single-occupancy cabins, it’s best to book as far ahead as you can.

Cruise lines that charge low single supplements – on selected voyages – include Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Peter Deilmann Cruises, Saga Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises, and Voyages of Discovery. Note that Saga Cruises has no additional supplements for solo travelers on any cruise, but has special fares built-in. Do watch out for sneaky cruise lines that may try to charge you twice for port charges and government taxes by including that non-existent second person in the cabin you occupy as a single, so check your cruise fare invoice carefully.

Other cruise lines, such as MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, often have special promotions for solo occupancy of what are normally priced as double-person cabins.


Guaranteed singles rates
Some lines offer singles a set price for a double cabin but reserve the right to choose the cabin. So you could end up with a rotten cabin in a poor location or a wonderful cabin that happened to be unallocated.

Guaranteed share programs
These allow you to pay what it would cost each half of a couple for a double-occupancy cabin, but the cruise line will find another passenger of the same sex (and preferences such as smoking or non-smoking) to share it with you. If the line doesn’t find a cabin-mate, the single passenger may get the cabin to himself or herself at no extra charge. Some cruise lines don’t advertise a guaranteed share program in their brochures but will often try to accommodate such bookings at times when demand for space is comparatively light.


Solo dining
A common irritation concerns dining arrangements. Before you take your cruise, make sure that you request a table assignment based on your personal preferences; table sizes are typically for two, four, six, or eight people. Do you want to sit with other singles? Or do you like to sit with couples? Or perhaps with a mixture of both? Or with passengers who may not speak your language?

When you are on board, make sure that you are comfortable with the dining arrangements, particularly in ships with fixed table assignments, or ask the maître d’ to move you to a different table. Aboard ships with open seating or with several different dining venues, you can choose which venue you want to eat in, and when; Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is an example of this arrangement, with its Freestyle Dining, as is Star Cruises.

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Author, Douglas Ward, at work


Cruising for single women
A cruise ship is at least as safe for single women as any major vacation destination. It may not, of course, be entirely hassle-free, but it is not a ‘meat market’ that keeps you under constant observation.
If you do want to meet other singles, the easiest way is probably to participate in scheduled activities. However, do beware of embarking on an affair with a ship’s officer or crew member – it has been known for them to award an imaginary Golden Mattress to whomever can bed the most passengers.


Gentlemen cruise hosts
The female-to-male passenger ratio is typically high, especially among older people, so some cruise lines provide male social hosts. They may host a table in the dining room, appear as dance partners at cocktail parties and dance classes, join bridge games, and accompany women on shore excursions.

These men, usually over 55 and retired, are outgoing, mingle easily, and are well groomed. First introduced aboard Cunard Line’s QE2 in the mid-1970s, gentlemen hosts are now employed by a number of cruise lines, including Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Voyages to Antiquity.

If you think you’d like such a job, do remember that you’ll have to dance for several hours most nights, and be proficient in just about every kind of dance.

Options for GLBT travellers
Several US companies specialize in ship charters or large group bookings for gay and lesbian passengers. These include the California-based Atlantis, San Francisco’s lesbian specialist Olivia, or New York’s Pied Piper Travel.

One drawback of gay charters is that they’re as much as 20 percent more expensive than the equivalent general cruise. Another is that they have been greeted with hostility by church groups on some Caribbean islands such as Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Bermuda. One Atlantis cruise was even denied the right to dock. But their great advantage is that they provide an accepting environment and gay-oriented entertainment, with some big-name comedians and singers.

Another idea is to join a gay affinity group on a regular cruise at normal prices; these groups may be offered amenities such as private dining rooms and separate shore excursions.

If you are concerned that on a mainstream cruise, you might be seated for dinner with unsympathetic companions, opt for a cruise line offering ‘open seating’ (where you sit where you want, when you want at dinner, and you can change time you dine), for example Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International (request this option when you book) and upscale lines such as Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, and Silversea Cruises. Open-seating dining is not currently offered by Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, or MSC Cruises.

That doesn’t mean that any of the major cruise companies are not gay-friendly – many hold regular ‘Friends of Dorothy’ gatherings, sometimes scheduled and sometimes on request – though it would be prudent to realize that Disney Cruise Line, for example, will not really offer the ideal entertainment and ambience. Among the smaller companies, Windstar’s sail-powered cruise yachts have a reputation for being gay-friendly.

Gay families are catered to by R Family Vacations (www.rfamilyvacations.com), although it’s not essential to bring children. Events may include seminars on adoption and discussion groups for teenagers in gay families. One of the company’s founders was the former TV talk show host Rosie O’Donnell.

Transgender passengers may encounter some problems, such as the passport name being of one gender while appearance and dress suggest another. Ships sometimes encounter problems in some ports when passenger ID cards do not match the gender on the ship’s manifest.

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Extract taken from the fully updated and revised, Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2015 (£18.99, 704 pages, with hundreds of colour photographs) published on 1 October  2014. Also forthcoming will be the guide in e-book format.  For further information visit www.insightguides.com/berlitz/berlitz-cruising.

 

 

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