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

I’ve been a solo cruiser for a very long time and almost always by choice.  If you’re just about ready to commit to your first solo cruise or only have a couple solo adventures under your belt, here are some things to know that the cruise lines don’t tell you.

Cruising solo at the sailaway party on deck of Koningsdam.
No qualms about cruising solo aboard Holland America’s Koningsdam, heading out on a 14-day voyage from Ft. Lauderdale to Rome.

What the cruise lines don’t want you to know about cruising solo

Experienced solo cruisers never hesitate to set out on our 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. 

No, it’s not about being alone on your balcony under a beautiful moonlit sky.  Or having no one to schmear suntan lotion on your back.  Dining alone in a crowded dining room. Or even having an end-of-the-cruise glass of champagne by yourself. None of these situations are unexpected or surprising.

There’s a challenging side to a solo cruise that we, as solo cruisers, have simply had to adapt to and accept in order to survive.

How to plan your solo cruise

Norwegian Epic Studio Stateroom for the solo cruiser.

1.  Reserving your stateroom

You probably know where I’m going with this one:  the 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, they do that and in my opinion, that’s wrong.  Especially when you’re already paying 200% of the base cruise fare.  Choose wisely before you book.

Solo staterooms are usually MORE expensive!

Maybe you’ve heard about some ships that have dedicated solo staterooms.  There’s Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America, Royal Caribbean to name a few.

If you think that booking a solo cabin will save you money, think again.  You’re paying for the uniqueness of being in a new, sometimes tiny, single stateroom. 

Unfortunately, a solo cruiser who buys a pricey solo stateroom will often pay more than if they reserved a double-occupancy stateroom.  Even with the hefty single supplement.  It’s important to watch for promotions for reduced single supplements. 

Then compare the prices for a solo stateroom vs. the standard double occupancy stateroom. 

Watch for promotions

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 balcony stateroom for less money.  A lot depends on the time of year, itinerary and if the ship just isn’t sailing full.

2.  Dining as a solo cruiser

Britannia Dining Room aboard Queen Mary 2
In the Britannia Dining Room aboard Queen Mary 2, there are many tables for two that you can request for yourself.

If cruising solo isn’t challenging enough for some people, dining on a ship as a solo can be terrifying.  If you’re not comfortable dining alone in a land-based restaurant, your shipboard dining experience should be 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.  Even 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 table on the first night, only to find 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 walk slow. 

As I get nearer to my assigned table (because I know where it is) and if it looks like all romantic couples or a situation Id’ 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.  

Even at a table full of solo cruisers, there might be no one with whom you can relate.  Head for the Maître d’ after dinner.  Just make sure to say that you don’t want your next table near that one.  It could be very embarrassing.  And yes, it has happened to me.  Once. 

3.  How to Navigate ashore in port when cruising solo

Going solo on a recent river cruise, I opted to try 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.

I’m firmly convinced that four eyes are better than two when exploring a new city.  If “mazeophobia”, my made-up name for fear of getting lost in unknown surroundings, is something of concern, you’ll need to be prepared.

What a solo cruiser should do when going ashore

  • Make sure to write down the name of your ship, pier, port agent and departure time on a piece of paper.  Sometimes the cruise line daily planner includes it in a corner of the paper.  Tear it out and put in your pocket.  Or simply take a screenshot.
  • Once again, take a photo of the All Aboard time sign 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.

Of course, you’re going to have to turn on your inner radar for anything or anyone that gets too close to you.  With only one set of eyes, you’re on your own.

4.  Safely use an ATM in a port

This can be tricky.  With no one to watch your back, you have to be extra aware of your surroundings as well as using your PIN and pocketing your new money.  Do it quickly, securely and leave the area. 

There will be people on your ship that head to an ATM as soon as they go ashore.  Follow them.  Then if you happen to see a familiar face or know for sure they’re from your ship, ask them to watch your six.  And you’ll do the same for them.  

Read related:  Top 10 Reasons Why I Love to Cruise Solo

5.  Pre- and post-cruise hotel stays

solo hotel room in Rome
Solo hotel room at the Versailles Hotel in Rome. Anything but “Versailles.”
solo hotel room in Cochem, Germany.
My post-river-cruise solo hotel room in Cochem, Germany. It was lovely.

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.  If you’re not familiar with single-size hotel rooms in Europe, you’re in for a surprise.

I’ve had hotel rooms so small that I had to walk sideways into the bathroom.  Some rooms are nothing more than refurbished broom closets with a window.  Seriously.

Compare prices with your cruise line and booking a hotel on your own.  Factor in the cost of transfers.  Chances are, you’re better off not doing this through your cruise line.  

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with these tiny rooms, many of which 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 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.

Back in the U.S., a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay as a solo may find your room at the very far end of a corridor.  I don’t know why this continues to happen.  One day in 2018, I remembered to tell the hotel clerk at check-in not to put me at the end of the hall.  Now I ask to be near an elevator.  Helps with rolling luggage on carpet, too. 

6.  Pre- or post-cruise land travel

stack of suitcases on rack on train
That’s my trusty burgundy suitcase at the bottom.

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 down to leave the train, hope that you can get both yourself and luggage off before the doors close. 

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 at the train station.  When you board, look for the seat numbers usually under the overhead storage. 

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.

The second worst part after boarding is finding a shelf to stash your biggest suitcase.  If you want to chance it, you can wheel it 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 who wear Armani suits are your least likely candidates to offer their assistance.  Young men in jeans are your most helpful.  

Read on:  More Tips and Advice for 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.

Once you become a savvy solo cruiser, hopefully right after your very first solo experience, none of these points will matter anymore.  Just try it.  Maybe take baby steps first like with a short 4-5 day cruise.   Weekend cruises tend to be party ships but the four- or five-day cruises which 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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6 thoughts on “Cruising Solo: What the Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know”

  • 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

  • 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

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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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