As you probably know, there are tons of blog posts from people who just finished their first solo cruise. Well, I like to read those too, but let me tell you, being an expert at solo cruising takes more than one or two solo cruises.
I’m not claiming to be the ultimate pro, but I’ve been cruising solo since 1980, with over 200 boarding passes to prove it. My first solo cruise was a three-night trip to the Bahamas (a good way to test the solo cruising waters). From that moment on, I was hooked.
In this post, I share my top ten solo cruise tips and set the record straight on some rumors floating around the internet on cruising solo.
Whether you’re a guy or a gal (though it seems like there are more women solo cruisers these days), I’m sure you’ll find something here that resonates with your own solo cruising expectations or hesitations.
Top Ten Tips for Cruising Solo
Board the Ship With a Smile
Even if you aren’t the most intrepid traveler and have your doubts that you can do this, hold your head high and act like you belong there. Why? Because you do!
Traveling solo is not a dreaded condition nor should it be perceived that way. But since you will be in the minority of cruisers, be prepared for the Snoop Sisters or Hercule Poirot lines of questioning. Simply shrug it off and move on.
Find a Bar and Bartender You Like
My very first transatlantic crossing (seventeen days, no less) could have been ruined by a man who called himself, “Spaghetti Eddie.” Thank goodness for a wonderful bartender named Goran who helped me give “Eddie” the brushoff.
Here’s a “trick” I learned several years ago. Shortly after the muster drill and before dinner, I scout out a bar that looks comfortable, and the bartender seems to love his job. My goal is to find my own “Cheers” for the duration of the cruise.
Completing my bar-trials, I settle in on what I want to call my comfort zone. When the bartender serves my drink, I tip him $20 bill. A conversation shortly ensues. Soon he knows I’m a solo guest and that I would like to have a place to go for a drink without being bothered by random drunks or overly chatty bar-flies.
If I want to use my laptop and not be stuck in my room, I can sit at this bar and work, people-watch, sip and relax.
So what about “Spaghetti Eddie?” He was an older man with a deep tan and roamed the bars dressed in a white suit, white patent leather shoes and a flowing long white scarf.
After one obnoxious encounter, Goran the bartender interceded. I don’t know what Goran said to Eddie, but he never came near me again. $20 well spent.
READ MORE: Best Solo Travel Tips for Women
Make Friends With the Front Desk Staff
Except for the wee hours of the night or during show times, the front desk staff is usually bombarded with unfounded complaints and unreasonable requests from unruly passengers. They need a smiling face once in a while.
At the first port of call, I try to find a local bakery or chocolate shop and bring back a sweet treat for the front desk people. If there isn’t a shop ashore, even a box of candy from the gift shop is a nice gesture. A little kindness goes a long way. And they’ll remember you if you ever need anything for your stateroom.
Dining as a Solo Cruiser
Here’s your dilemma: early or late seating, open seating, large table, small table, dine alone, food court, specialty restaurant. Whew. So many choices. What’s a solo guest to do?
Large Table vs. Small Table
On some cruise lines, the maître d’ or a computer matches solo passengers to dine together. I like this. Occasionally, though, I’ve been seated at a table for ten where I was the only non-coupled diner. Sometimes this has been a lot of fun.
Once on formal night, though, I was the only one who showed up. Boy, did I feel stupid. No one said that they were all going to different specialty restaurants.
I immediately asked the head waiter for a table for one. He escorted me to a wonderful little table within minutes. For the entire dinner I was treated like royalty. This became “my” table for the duration of the cruise and was a highlight of my trip.
Avoid a Table for Four
My worst nightmare occurred when I was seated with one couple and another solo passenger. I had nothing in common with any of them, requested a table change after dinner and spent the rest of the cruise avoiding them at every turn.
Early or Late Dining
Early (or main) seating generally attracts older couples and families with small children. Late dining is great if you like to do activities well past dinner or spend time in port until they haul in the gangway.
With late seating, after a long day in port, you don’t have to scurry back to your room, shower/change and rush to the dining room. This is especially important on a European cruise. Hungry? Get a snack to tide you over until 8:30PM.
Food Court and Specialty Dining
Tired of making idle chatter with total strangers night after night? Maybe you just want to reflect on your day. Then opt for the food court or specialty dining. You’ll be able sit alone and let your mind wander, read a book or people-watch.
Headed to the food court? I suggest bringing a book, laptop or some other object to claim your solo table. Otherwise, you are left to your own devices to juggle a tray, beverage and your book while wandering aimlessly to find a table.
For me, dining alone at a specialty restaurant is a delight. You’ve paid for the experience so getting a solo table is easy. The wait staff are also wonderfully attentive and eager to make this a positive solo experience.
There’s no reason not to enjoy your solo cruise dining experience. If it isn’t wonderful one night…simply move on to another option for the next evening.
Have the Entire Cabin to Yourself
No more having to equitably divide shelf, drawer, closet and counter space. If you want to watch TV at 2am, there’s no one to disturb. No snoring cabin mate to wake you up or neat freak to tolerate.
It doesn’t matter if your roommate is a spouse, relative or best friend. In this case, sharing isn’t always caring when it comes to being together in a small stateroom for many days. Enjoy having all the space to yourself.
Cruising Solo Doesn’t Mean a Singles Party Boat
The words “Solo Cruise” or “Solo Traveler” have finally come of age. In the past, cruising solo often resulted in more like a singles market party than a place to meet fellow passengers for camaraderie. But if that’s your intention, go for it!
Today, the cruise lines offer cocktail parties, lunch, dinners and coffee hours for solo passengers to meet others. No strings attached.
Truth be told, until a couple of years ago, I never attended any of these events. I’d peek in the doorway to check it out. I was a total chicken. Then I ventured into a solo passengers meetup aboard Queen Mary 2 on a transatlantic crossing.
How bad could it be? This was Cunard, after all. I headed to G32 Disco for a pre-dinner meet-n-greet. It wasn’t so bad after all. Actually, I was one of the younger solos but not the youngest person there.
Drinks were free, hors d’oeuvres were passed and I made contacts that I would acknowledge throughout the rest of the cruise. Maybe I should have tried this sooner.
In addition to this particular event, every morning at 10:45 there was a coffee hour for solo passengers in a quiet area of the buffet. The Gentlemen Dance Hosts were there to strike up conversation if needed.
Jump into the Fray
If you are the outgoing type or simply want to soak up the ambiance and listen to music, head over to the disco on the very first night. It’s a great way to cut to the chase and jump right in. You’ll get over your solo travel jitters and realize that hey, it’s not so bad after all!
In fact, the senior officers (male and female) tend to congregate at the disco later in the evening. Grab a table for yourself or ask if you can join a table (that’s what you do on ships, anyway). With the loud music, you’re not forced into long drawn-out conversations and can excuse yourself to table or bar hop at will.
Sign Up for Your Ship’s Shore Excursions
Definitely sign up for at least one ship’s shore excursion, especially if it’s a long day’s excursion. Riding a bus with total strangers is a great way to get acquainted in a hurry. Especially if you are headed for a party boat cruise!
Seriously, though, I’ve met people on the tour buses who have become great friends through the years.
Going Ashore at Night
When your ship is docked late in a port and you plan to spend an evening at a popular bar, maybe a Carlos and Charlie’s or Señor Frog, think of a plan as to how you’ll return to the ship late at night.
Watch for a group of cruise-people that are walking back to their ship and tag along. Stay with the group and don’t straggle.
In many ports, where English is not the primary language, a taxi ride especially at night can be a challenge.
If you plan to take a taxi back to the ship, have the port address and ship name clearly written to show to the driver, in the local language. You could even draw a picture of the ship.
Once in Lisbon after a night of Fado and dinner, I and two shipmates stepped into a taxi only to learn that the driver didn’t speak English.
When communications broke down and since we hadn’t yet even closed the taxi door, we jumped away from the cab. Suddenly, the driver gets out and starts screaming at us to pay him. We hadn’t gone anywhere!
When two of his burly buddies approached out of nowhere, my friends and I literally ran into a nearby restaurant to wait until they were gone. A word to the wise: be careful with late night taxis in foreign countries.
Can you imagine this same scenario if you were a solo female traveler?
Go to Trivia on the First Day It’s Offered
This has to be one of the best ways to meet others, single or not. Ships offer all sorts of trivia contests throughout the cruise. Choose with whom or where to sit. Groups form quickly so don’t hesitate to ask if you can join them.
Take a Class
What classes aren’t offered on ships these days! From “how to use a Photoshop” to culinary demonstrations and Shakespearean acting classes, there’s something for absolutely everyone.
Bridge game instructions, scrap-booking, knitting, there’s an endless array of activities. Oceania Marina has the first-ever hands on culinary center at sea. For a fee, you have your own professional work-station and are taught by professional chefs.
Cruise Solo With a Group
If you’re not quite sure if solo cruising is for you, find an affinity group that cruises. Maybe your local place of worship has a cruise planned. If you’re a veteran, there are veteran’s groups to join at sea, alumni groups or even a local radio station.
While you are still traveling solo, there will be onboard events and activities where you will find other like-minded passengers to get to know. This comes in handy if you want to explore port cities without a ship’s excursion.
Avoid the 200% Single Supplement
Bonus Tip: If you are ready for your first solo cruise, you may have heard that the cruise lines charge a double fee even though it’s only you in the stateroom. This extra fee can become very costly so I have these tips to help you from over-paying for your stateroom.
You can save money if you watch for off-season sailings as cruise lines want to fill their ships. You may find sailings with reduced single supplements.
Many ships on several cruise lines now have solo or studio cabins that are purpose built for the solo passenger. Norwegian Epic introduced Studio Staterooms, the first cruise line to cater to the solo passenger.
What Cruise Lines Offer Solo Staterooms?
Among the mainstream and premium ocean cruise lines that offer Solo Staterooms are Cunard, Celebrity, Oceania, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Virgin Voyages.
However, and this is a big however…you just might find that booking a double stateroom can be less expensive or about the same as one of the trendy new solo staterooms. Price shop and compare before you pay a deposit.
Conclusion – Get Ready for Your Solo Cruise
Now you know a little bit more of what to do and expect. You want to take that fabulous cruise and for whatever reason you go it alone. Go ahead and sing your lungs out at karaoke, take part in a goofy pool deck competition or do absolutely nothing at all.
Chances are you’ll never see any of these people again. Unless of course, you want to keep in touch after the cruise. Finally, solo travelers can enjoy a cruise without having to feel embarrassed.
Hopefully, these solo cruise tips get you on your way to truly enjoy your solo cruise. Smile, be nice to the ship’s staff, step a little bit out of your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at the fun you’ll have and be proud that you did it.
I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels, collecting recipes along the way. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath…stop for a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.