Cruising Solo: What the Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know

I’ve been a solo cruiser for a very long time on over two hundred cruises, and 99.9% of those were by choice. Maybe you’re on the fence to commit to a first solo cruise or only have a couple of solo land adventures under your belt. 

Cruising solo isn’t scary or odd or an act of bravery, as I’ve heard it called. It’s simply a way to travel on your own rather than sit at home.

On deck for the Koningsdam Sailaway
Koningsdam Sailaway! 14-days cruising solo.

Solo cruising doesn’t mean it’s a singles cruise! It’s literally going on a cruise by yourself. What you choose to do when onboard is, well, up to you!

In this post, you’ll find my best solo cruise advice and insider tips that the cruise lines really don’t want you to know. Plus, solo safety and shoreside advice, too.

What the Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know About Cruising Solo

Experienced solo cruisers never hesitate to set out on their next cruise. We love to cruise solo on a whim, take over an entire stateroom, do what we want when we want to do it. All looks really rosy. And it usually is.

What cruise lines and experienced solo cruisers don’t tell you about cruising solo probably isn’t what you’d would expect. It’s not a singles cruise. I can’t stress this enough. 

A solo cruise isn’t about being alone on your balcony under a beautiful moonlit sky. Or having no one to schmear suntan lotion on your back. 

RELATED:  My Solo Cruise on a Holland America 2-Week Transatlantic Crossing

Cruising solo isn’t about the occasional awkwardness of dining alone in a crowded main dining room. Or even having an end-of-the-cruise glass of champagne by yourself.

These situations are all part of being a solo cruiser. It’s the challenging side to a solo cruise that we, as solo cruisers, adapt to and accept in order to survive and thrive.

Let’s start at the beginning.

How to Plan Your Solo Cruise

Norwegian Epic Studio Stateroom for the solo cruiser.
Norwegian Epic Studio Stateroom for a solo cruiser. (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)

1. Reserving Your Stateroom

You probably know where I’m going with this one:  the DSS – Dreaded Single Supplement. When a cruise line can fill a stateroom with two people, why should they give it away for the price of one? Most times a solo cruiser will pay 200% for the stateroom.

It depends on the cruise line whether or not to charge the solo cruiser double the taxes, fees and port charges. Yes, some cruise lines will charge a solo cruiser double port fees and taxes, and in my opinion, that’s wrong. Especially when you’re already paying 200% of the base cruise fare. Choose wisely before you book.

Did you know that those cute SOLO STATEROOMS are usually MORE expensive?

Maybe you’ve heard of the cruise ships with dedicated solo staterooms. There’s Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean to name a few.

If you think that booking a solo stateroom will save you money, think again. You’ll pay more for the uniqueness of being in a new and tiny single stateroom. 

Solo staterooms (solo cabins on European river cruises) are usually not less expensive than a standard double stateroom. Especially if you do some cruise pricing research. 

It’s important to watch for promotions for reduced or even waived single supplements. This happens a lot during off-season or when the cruise line simply needs to fill more staterooms.

Compare solo stateroom prices with a comparable (inside, oceanview or balcony) double stateroom. 

If you’re flexible with the time of year to cruise and not fussy about stateroom location, you’ll probably find that you can get a double occupancy stateroom for the same price or less than a solo one. Plus, you’ll have a larger room, too. 

Watch for Promotions

If you’re set on trying one of those solo staterooms, despite the price differences, solo staterooms are trendy and quickly sell out. Occasionally, if you reserve far enough ahead (like 18 months) you may be able to get a decent rate on a solo stateroom. But even so, it’s crucial to closely monitor your cruise line for price drops.

If your cruise line drops their rates before your final payment, you might be able to change your solo stateroom to a double balcony stateroom for less money. It’s definitely worth investigating. 

2. Dining as a Solo Cruiser

Britannia Dining Room aboard Queen Mary 2
Britannia Dining Room aboard Queen Mary 2. There are many tables for two that you can request for yourself. (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)

If cruising solo isn’t challenging enough for some people, dining on a ship as a solo can be terrifying. Even if you’re not comfortable dining alone in a land-based restaurant, your shipboard dining experience should be a little better. 

On a ship you have dining options. Retreat into your own world at the Lido buffet or one of the sandwich or pizza bars. But if only for social reasons, the Main Dining Room can be a lifeline if you need one.

If you request a large table in the dining room, be forewarned. If you’ve requested to sit at a large table with solos, there’s still the chance of a mix-up. Your waiter could lead you to your solo cruisers’ table on the first night, only to find when you get there, that the others at the table are all cozy couples. 

That’s happened to me a few times. Right after dinner I went straight to the Maître d’ and remedied the situation for the next night.

Here’s What I Do in the Main Dining Room

On boarding day, I go to the dining room and check out where my assigned table is located. Then at dinner on the first night, as the waiter leads me to my assigned table, I deliberately walk slow. 

As I get nearer to my assigned table (because I already know where it is), if it looks like it’s all romantic couples or a situation I’d rather avoid, I keep walking, stop short or do a U-turn. 

Then I’ll quietly tell the waiter that I want to go back to the Maître d’ and get a new table assignment. I’ve done this many times.

Not that I have anything against dining on big cruise ships with a table of all couples. (It’s a different situation on river ships). But on cruise ships, if I want to be sociable, it’s with other solo travelers or just pals traveling together.

Let me note that there have been times when a couple or a table of couples (when seeing me dine alone) ask me to join them at dinner. For me, it’s a wonderful experience and I’ve made life-long wonderful new friends this way. But you do have the right to decline.

Even at a table full of solo cruisers, there still might be no one with whom you can relate. Head for the Maître d’ after dinner. 

Make sure to say that you don’t want your next table near that other table. It could be very embarrassing. And yes, it has happened to me. Once. 

3. How to Navigate in Port When Cruising Solo 

Don’t rely on your memory to find your bus pick-up point. Your ship’s shore excursion guide doesn’t always do a head count. 

Solo on a recent river cruise, I opted for public transportation to Strasbourg’s city center. I took a photo of the nearby Maison Rouge hotel as a landmark to find my way back to the tram. (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)

I’m firmly convinced that four eyes are better than two when exploring a new city. As a solo, you’re on your own once again. 

If the fear of getting lost in unknown surroundings is something of concern, you need to be prepared. 

And of course, should you get lost and miss the All Aboard time, your ship will depart without you.

4. What a Solo Cruiser Should Always Do When Going Ashore in an Unfamiliar Port

  • Make sure to write the name of your ship, pier, port agent and most important, the departure time, on a piece of paper and don’t lose it. Sometimes the cruise line daily planner includes it in a corner of the newsletter or you can get a card at the Front Desk. Take it with you and maybe take a photo of it for backup.
  • You should also take a photo of the All Aboard time signage as you leave the ship. Guessing the departure time does not help. This will also help you remember where your hundreds of photos were taken on that day.
  • If you’re on a motor coach tour or public transportation, when you step off the bus take a photo of the bus with its surroundings. Make sure to include a notable or colorful building or some kind of identifier. I’ve used this ploy a dozen times to find my way back to the bus pick-up point.

Turn on and listen to your inner radar for anything or anyone that gets too close to you. With only one set of eyes, you’re on your own. 

5. How to Safely Use an ATM in Port

Most cruise lines offer to exchange foreign currency for you at their Front Desk or Purser’s Office. They’ll also warn you about money scams in foreign ports. 

However, the cruise lines charge commissions to exchange currency, similar as you’ll find on shore. 

It’s the amount of commission that can vary. I usually avoid currency exchange on the ship whenever possible.

Because the currency exchange commission is another source of revenue for the cruise line, they always recommend changing currency with them rather than ashore.

Be cautious when using an ATM in a foreign port.

Using an ATM in a port (doesn’t matter where in the world) does have some risks. With no one to watch your back, you have to be extra aware of your surroundings as well as discreetly using your PIN and pocketing your new money. Do it quickly, securely and leave the area.

Here’s what I always try to do to exchange local currency in foreign ports.

There will be people on your ship that head to an ATM as soon as they go ashore, so I follow them. How do I know where they’re going? I listen and watch. Usually it’s a topic of conversation. 

As I walk to the nearest ATM with them, sometimes I’ll strike up a conversation, especially if we sort of recognize each other from the ship. 

As we queue in line for the ATM, I’ll ask if they’ll watch my back as I use the machine. And then I’ll offer to do the same for them.

There’s nothing wrong with exchanging currency on the ship. But usually the commission is lower at an ATM machine. 

I’ll even walk into a Currency Exchange office if it looks safe or if I’m tagging along with other cruise passengers. And I quickly put my money away before walking out the door. 

Related:  Top 10 Reasons Why I Love to Cruise Solo

6. Pre- and Post-Cruise Hotel Stays: What Your Cruise Line Doesn’t Tell You

If you’re traveling all the way to Europe for your dream Mediterranean cruise or an exciting river cruise, chances are you’ll want to stay a few days at either end of your cruise. 

In addition, if you’re not familiar with booking a hotel room for one person in Europe, you’re in for a surprise.

I’ve had hotel rooms so small that I had to walk sideways into the bathroom, I’m not kidding. Some rooms are nothing more than a refurbished broom closet with a window and a light bulb.

solo hotel room in Rome
Solo hotel room at the Versailles Hotel in Rome. Anything but “Versailles.” (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)
solo hotel room in Cochem, Germany.
My post-river-cruise solo hotel room in Cochem, Germany. It was lovely. (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)

First, compare prices with your cruise line and booking a hotel on your own. Then factor in the cost of transfers to the hotel and from the hotel to the airport (assuming you will fly home). 

Chances are, you’re better off not doing this through your cruise line. Cruise lines love to package pre- and post-cruise hotel stays. Usually the price is double of what you can find online.

To save money, when I book a hotel in Europe as a solo, I feel there’s really nothing wrong with a tiny hotel room. Most of these solo hotel rooms are much smaller than your average interior stateroom. 

But if you reserve a single room at a hotel in Europe and expect something the size of your typical double room in a hotel in America, it really doesn’t exist. 

If you’re slightly claustrophobic, reserve a double room. Just like on a ship, you’ll pay a premium to have the room to yourself.

That’s partly why booking a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay is more expensive (not including ship-to-hotel-to-airport transfers); the room is bigger.

However, book a solo pre- or post-cruise hotel stay with the cruise line and you may find your room at the very farthest end of a corridor. This seems to happen quite a bit.

On several hotel stays that were included with my cruise, I ended up being the very last room at the end of a very long corridor. Not a great location for a solo female traveler. 

Now I always tell the hotel clerk at check-in not to put me at the end of a hall, despite what the cruise lines’ may have planned. I want to be near an elevator. 

7. Pre- or Post-Cruise Land Travel

stack of suitcases on rack on train
That’s my trusty burgundy suitcase at the bottom. (Photo by Sherry Laskin / Cruise Maven)

Are you taking a train or several trains in Europe before or after your cruise? As a solo, you must be prepared to lift your luggage up three or four steep steps to board. Then you have to figure out how to hoist your luggage into the overhead bin. 

There are no equivalents to Amtrak’s Red Caps in Europe. Your cruise line doesn’t send someone to help you get on the train.

BE AWARE!  In some countries, a man might follow you onto the train and offer to lift your luggage. Check to see how he is dressed and if he has any luggage with him. 

This often happens to easy-to-spot Americans, and not just solo travelers. If they don’t have their own luggage, that’s a red flag.

If you unknowingly say, “Yes” and your bag is stowed overhead, he’ll ask…rather demand…payment. It’s a huge scam and can get a little dicey when you decline to pay because you thought it was free.

So after all that, when you get to your destination, be prepared to get your bags down from the overhead bin, drag them through the narrow aisle and finally down the train steps to the platform. On top of all this, there are people behind you eager to leave the train before the doors start to close. 

Get ready to grab your bags and down the stairs as efficiently as you can. With luck, a passenger behind you might offer to help. Always watch your belongings.

Know where and when to board your train and be prepared. There’s no cruise line rep to help you. 

My BEST advice is to know exactly where you need to board. That’s easy to do in Europe. Memorize your coach number and look for signage where it will stop. Also memorize your seat number. 

You can find this information online and on the departure board the train station. As soon as the departure board posts your train’s platform number, do your best to be at the front of the pack. 

If you bought a 1st class ticket with a reserved seat, there will still be a mad crunch to board but not as bad as in 2nd class. When you board, look for your seat number usually under the overhead storage. 

The second worst part after boarding is finding a shelf to stash your biggest suitcase. Assuming that you didn’t fall prey to one of the non-passengers offering to help you, wheel your luggage to your seat and politely ask someone to put it in the overhead shelf. 

Even though I’m used to hauling luggage on and off of trains, I simply cannot lift my suitcase over my head to reach the shelf. Since no one ever offers to help, I always have to politely ask. 

Insider Tip for Solo Women and Luggage: 

Men wearing Armani suits, especially in Italy, are your least likely candidates to offer their assistance. Young men in jeans are your most helpful. Maybe you remind them of their sister or mother!

Read on:  More Tips and Advice to Finally Plan Your Solo Cruising

If you’ve read all of this and don’t feel daunted by any of the above then it’s time to plan your solo cruise! As long as you know the potential downside for cruising solo, then hopefully you won’t be in for any surprises. But really, I can’t think of any downsides to taking a solo cruise, except for over-packed luggage!

Once you become a savvy solo cruiser, hopefully right after your very first solo experience, none of these points will matter anymore. 

Take baby steps first with a short 4-5 day cruise. Weekend cruises tend to be party ships but the four- or five-day cruises that are mid-week, attract a different, usually more staid crowd. 

If you want to cruise solo, just do it! But I’m warning you…it’s addictive.

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Cynthia,
    Thank you for sending your comment and question.

    Good for you! There’s no reason to wait for someone to go with you on a cruise (or any trip!). I bet you’ll have a wonderful time. Here are a couple of links to other solo cruise and travel articles that you might find useful:
    https://cruisemaven.com/solo-female-travel-tips-and-advice/
    https://cruisemaven.com/43-lessons-ive-learned-from-traveling-solo/

    I hope these articles offer some good advice so you can truly enjoy your solo cruise. I have a feeling that you’ll be hooked! Have a great time and thank you again for your comment.

  2. I am from MD going on my first solo cruise Aug 3-6 to Grand Turk via Miami. I have struggled as a single Mom to take time for myself. My teen daughter will be visiting her father’s family in Mexico, so I have this time to myself. For a long time, I thought I needed a romantic partner to cruise. Well, the hell with waiting for that. I finally took the plunge. I love the pampering of a cruise. The traveling hotel concept of a cruise. The “get dressed up for dinner” or lounge around the pool part of a cruise. I always struggle with accommodating others, so this time everything will be on my schedule. I am anxious and nervous too. Any advice is welcome.

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for reading my article and taking the time to comment. Those “U-Turns” are either hilarious or frustrating! I agree with your choice of cruise lines, as well as dining. Happy cruising!

  4. What a wonderful article. I’m a solo traveler too, including 17 cruises. I agree with most of your points. Have had similar experiences. Always thought it was hard for me as a grown/mature man but I see it could go both ways.
    I do like HAL, Princess, and Celebrity the best, as most of the time my main interest is the ports and the ship is just the convenience of a moving hotel. Do love to read a book out by the pool deck and have a drink after dinner on a piano bar, but if too tired will happily go to bed.
    Dining was/is the most challenging experience on a cruise. I do ask for my table away from others, if possible. Some cruise lines like to place these tables too close to each other and it is uncomfortable for me.
    And lastly, even on certain organized “solo get together” I had to use your technique of keep walking or making a u-turn 🤣

  5. Hi Margaret,
    Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m impressed that you’re going on your first solo cruise and in The Haven! It will be a wonderful experience, I’m sure.

    Also very nice for exclusive accommodations is the Yacht Club aboard MSC. Like NCL, the “regular” staterooms are nice but there’s something special about The Haven and Yacht Club.

    Enjoy your first solo cruise! Thank you again for taking the time to write. Bon Voyage!

  6. I’m so glad I found your website! I’m taking my first solo cruise next month (NCL Haven) and am super excited. I’ve cruised many times before just not solo. Travelled solo to Europe as well. Love your articles! Thanks again.

  7. Hi Amy,
    Thank you so much for reading my article and taking the time to write. It sounds like we both have the same outlook on solo travel. I, too, request solo seating in the dining room for most of any cruise. I totally enjoy the break. However, I do try to go to trivia, surveying the crowd before asking to join a group. Seems to work well!
    Happy cruising and thank you again for your comment! Much appreciated.

  8. Excellent advice here! I have cruised solo several times and love it! One of my favorite cruises was a solo transatlantic. I’m an introvert, so loved just sitting around, enjoying the view, reading my book, etc. I often ask for a table to myself, then I don’t have to worry about sitting with a table full of couples or antisocial singles. I also get the anytime dining so my dining experience is different every time.

  9. Hi Bernie,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. There were times that I was the only solo at a table of 20-something honeymooners and other times with other solos who absolutely were anti-social. It’s such a mixed bag and toss of the dice.

    I like your idea of actually reaching out to HAL shoreside to arrange your mixed dining. I may try that idea, too. I have noticed that with so many specialty dining options, there are more and more empty chairs each night at my usual table for 8 or 10 people, which can lead to some awkward moments, too. But heck! I feel lucky just to be on the cruise and I’m not glued to the chair.

    Thank you again for reading my article and sending in your comment. Happy sails…whenever that may be these days.
    Sherry

  10. Hi Sherry: Re: Single solo dining.

    As you know, cruise lines (at least HAL), set up separate tables for couples
    and singles. Early on, I was not crazy about being with all singles/solos at my
    preferred table size of 8; although I still enjoyed it. Anyway years ago, I always
    emailed HAL’s ships service before my sailings, that I wished to be assigned to
    a large table of 8 with mixed couples and singles and at least 2 couples.

    For most of the time that has worked at well. Although on one occasion only
    one couple was at the table, and the next evening they were gone. (“Variety is the
    spice of life”) You may wish to try this option Sherry, you might very well like it
    as I have for many years!

    Bernie Blackman

  11. Hi Denise,
    Thank you very much for your comment. Until someone has cruised solo, it’s not easy to understand. Happy cruising!
    Sherry

  12. Love cruising solo, not having to agree on what another person wants to do and you do not. I feel it is more relaxing solo.

  13. Hi Marilyn,
    Sorry to hear you’ve had a not-too-good Holland America experience. I really seem to gravitate to them for my go-to cruise line. I really enjoy Music Walk, the crew is really helpful etc. Curious what you didn’t like about Holland America. It’s really difficult to recommend a cruise line without knowing your past land-based vacations, hotels you prefer, types of activities, budget, etc. Keep in mind that Richard Branson’s new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, is set to debut next April. Maybe that would be more appealing to you?
    Thanks for writing and happy cruising!
    Sherry

  14. Thank you — just starting out on this Solo adventure – have a mate this time but trying to find a good cruise line to travel on without going the Royal Caribbean line (mate had bad experience on that and I had bad experience on Holland America)

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