Let’s face it: Women cruising on their own face different challenges than their fellow male passengers. As any woman who’s ever cruised solo can attest, no one has your back except yourself, which makes staying alert when in port and being aware of your surroundings a necessity. These 12 cruise hacks for women are based on my decades (yes, decades) of cruising solo.
But in spite of any drawbacks, there are plenty of advantages to cruising on your own thanks to single-friendly cabins and amenities available from many cruise companies today. With that in mind, here are top strategies for soloists to know before hitting the high seas or rivers.
Know When and Where to Return
If you’re staying in a hotel before your cruise, be sure to get a card with the hotel’s name, address and phone number before you head out to explore on your own. Whether you’re staying in Boston or Barcelona, it’s good to have this information on hand.
Exploring ports on your own has its own set of challenges. As you exit the ship, take a photo on your smartphone of the sign that tells what time to return to the ship – don’t leave it to memory. Also carry an emergency phone number to reach your ship, such as the phone number for the port agent or the reception desk. If you’re planning to step off the ship in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, make sure to write down the name of the port in the language of the country you are visiting. Not every cab driver speaks English.
Cruising from a port in Europe? Most likely, you will want to arrive a few days before the cruise or continue your vacation in Europe after your cruise ends, so remember: you’ll have to manage all of your bags on your own.
I travel with two small, not-very-expensive pieces of luggage, both from Delsey. I’ve weighed, measured and lifted dozens of brands and models and decided that Delsey fits my needs. My favorite piece of luggage that I never leave at home is a compact 19″ four-wheeled trolley spinner with a zipper compartmenton the front (for my iPad and Macbook) called Delsey Helium Aero. My other suitcase is the same model in the 22″ size. With a garage full of cloth and hard-sided suitcases (yes, I’m a luggage junkie) these two inexpensive Delsey pieces reign supreme.
Beyond stuffing your suitcase into an overhead bin on an airplane or a European train, you’ll need to be prepared to handle steps, curbs, cobblestones and even train platforms. Expect elevators and escalators to be broken at small train stations and be ready to haul your luggage up and down staircases.
This is especially true if you opt for a vacation rental, that may require you to haul bags up and down the stairs in shifts if you have too many suitcases. Buy the lightest weight, four-wheel spinner bag that you can afford.
Make Friends With Your Ship’s Front Desk Staff
Since it’s impossible to predict when and if something goes awry with your stateroom, it’s important to make friends with the front desk reception staff. After all, the front desk staff is your front line for getting messages and connecting with key staff members onboard (accounting department etc.).
Show your appreciation by being courteous and polite. Consider surprising the staff with a box of chocolates from the gift shop or stopping at a bakery at your first port of call to bring back a sweet treat. A little kindness goes a long way.
Also, keep in mind that the best times to get to know the reception desk staff are during the early dinner seating time and during show times; the worst time is after lunch on a sea day, when reception is typically busy.
Take an Onboard Class.
These days, cruise lines offer classes and activities geared to a variety of traveler interests, from dance lessons and stargazing to whisky tastings and watercolor painting. It’s always easy to meet your fellow passengers when the event is a common interest, so make sure to sign up for some classes and lecture series.
Sign Up For a Shore Excursion
If you feel like meeting your fellow passengers, sign up for a shore excursion that involves some kind of fun activity. Cooking classes, food tours, bar hopping tours all contribute to conviviality. A tour to spend a day at the beach and snorkel is great for a solitary afternoon. It all depends on what you want out of your vacation.
Don’t Fret Over Dining Alone
Enjoying meals on your own can be a top concern for many women (and men, too) cruising on their own. Plan ahead by bringing something to do. If you’re not feeling social or just need a little time to reflect on your day yet don’t want to aimlessly stare at fellow diners, choose to dine alone.
You can do this easier at a specialty restaurant or Lido buffet. Most main dining rooms have very few tables for one/two so going elsewhere might be more successful. Bring a book, a crossword puzzle or your smartphone and headset to watch a movie that was downloaded before leaving home.
Note: even if you get a table for one at dinner time in the main dining room, don’t plan to watch a movie on your device. You may be asked to cease and desist.
Befriend a Bartender
Before your ship sets sail, walk around and find an inviting bar. Whether a sports bar, martini bar or atrium watering hole, it’s nice to have a place to return to for a pre-dinner cocktail and mix and mingle with fellow passengers after a day ashore or to pass a sea day with your computer close at hand.
It’s a good idea to offer an especially gracious bartender a $10 or $20 tip. That way, you’ll be remembered throughout the cruise and may even get a free drink or two and preferential service.
Take Safety Precautions Onboard and Ashore
Purchase a small, wedge-shaped door alarm for your hotel room and stateroom and place it a tiny bit away from the bottom of the door. That way, if someone tries to enter your room, this little device will give off a sonic blast. Just don’t forget to move it before you leave your room so you don’t accidentally set off an ear-splitting alarm. Use this to foil the room attendant who doesn’t wait for you to reply to a knock on the door before entering your stateroom as well as security at your hotel.
While exploring on land, always make sure to carry pepper spray with you. And if you’re planning to party to the wee hours in Cozumel, Nassau or any port really, don’t walk alone back to your ship. When you see a group of fellow cruisers heading back to your ship, tag along. Remember: There is safety in numbers.
Alert the American Embassy Ahead of Your Trip
If you plan to explore countries outside the U.S., it’s a smart idea to let the U.S. Embassy know when you will be in that country to maximize safety and stay up to date with the latest advisories. Plus, it’s easy and can be done online.
Also, make sure to register with the U.S. Department of State’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive notifications about safety conditions, emergency conditions and travel alerts.
Stop, Look and Listen
Always listen to your inner voice of reason. If you have a nagging feeling or a suspicion about a certain area or tour company ashore, avoid it. Don’t feel awkward if you feel the need to abruptly leave an area. Your safety is more important.
Pretend to Be Married
To avoid unwanted attention, buy a cheap gold ring that could pass as a wedding band. Doing so is especially helpful if you’re planning to ride local transportation or sit at a café on shore and don’t want to be bothered.
Buy Travel Insurance
Make sure your insurance policy allows you to cancel your trip for any reason. For this feature, you’ll need to purchase your insurance within 14 or 21 days from the date of your cruise deposit. Yes, you’ll pay a little bit more for higher coverage, but it’s better than losing your entire investment should you need to cancel any portion of your trip.
With a little common sense, a sprinkling of knowledge and an unbridled sense of wanderlust, there’s a whole world waiting to be explored by cruising and traveling solo. These 12 cruise hacks for women should help to give you the confidence to experience the joys of solo cruising.
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com and self-appointed “expert” on cruises, trains and solo travel. By sharing news and reviews plus my cruise and travel experiences, I hope to entertain, inform and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Be sure to enjoy a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.