How often are you able to make your our own vacation choices, able to wander the world and contemplate life on your own terms? The liberation of a solo cruise -- of not having to be responsible for anyone's pleasure but your own -- allows you to appreciate the experience on an entirely different level than when you're with a friend, spouse or family member.
There is a difference between being a solo cruiser and a single cruiser. While single cruisers tend to want to find others with whom to congregate, those who choose to cruise solo have to be comfortable with the concept that they are responsible for their own good time, whatever path that takes. To be alone is a choice. That choice, however, doesn't always guarantee a fabulous cruise vacation. In this coupled-up world, a solo can find it difficult to negotiate the obstacles inherent on larger cruise ships, from harried and inattentive maitre d's to programs and activities that make it difficult for a solo to participate.
And then there's the issue of cost. A solo or single cruiser creates "spoilage" in cruise-speak. In other words, not only does it leave an empty bed that doesn't add booking revenue, but it also means a missing body to add auxiliary revenue from drink sales, casino use, shore excursions and spa treatments. A single or solo can expect to pay between 150 and 200 percent of the published cruise fare to cover the cost of the "missing" passenger, but, in an effort to fill berths, cruise lines will sometimes waive those fees.
For the North America-based solo, it used to be that luxury lines offered the best deals and the most amenable services. That's starting to change, as Norwegian Cruise Line's largest mega-ships -- Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic -- along with Royal Caribbean International's Anthem of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas as well as Holland America's Koningsdam now have solo cabins. European cruise lines, from big ships to small, high-end ones, have been proactive in this area for a long time.
(For pointers on traveling solo, read our Solo Basics article.)
Here is a look at the best lines for those who like their "alone time."
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1. Norwegian Cruise Line
Why: Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic was the first ship in its fleet to feature studio cabins (128 in all) targeted at and priced for solo cruisers. The line continued the trend with Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, which each feature 59 studio cabins, and Norwegian Escape, which features 82 studio units. Four studios also can be found on Pride of America, which sails year-round in Hawaii.
Special Extras: A full-size bed, flat-screen TV and private bathroom are all squeezed into these 100-square-foot accommodations. Although all studios are inside cabins, each has a window that looks out onto the corridor. Four different colors of ambient lighting jazz up the room, but the biggest perk is access to an exclusive, shared social space called the Studio Lounge. It's a sleek hangout area with its own large-screen TVs, coffeemaking facilities, a bartender at certain times of the day and daily hosted predinner gatherings (from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.).
Discounts Available: The studio cabins are priced for solo travelers, with no extra supplement to pay.
2. Holland America Line
Why: Holland America Line is renowned for catering to solo cruisers. There are plenty of programs that don't require partners and activities that can be delightfully solitary or a means to meeting others. (The culinary programs, from hands-on workshops to wine tastings, are tons of fun.) The Single Partners Program, available on most voyages, offers hosted onboard solo traveler events like cocktail mixers and games. It also proposes a roommate-matching service, pairing passengers of the same sex with others who want to share -- and guarantees you'll pay only the agreed-upon price, even if no partner can be found.
The line's newest (and biggest) ship, Koningsdam, offers 12 solo cabins. Its smallest, Prinsendam, has three. Koningsdam's solo cabins are all ocean view and range from 127 to 172 square feet. They feature all of the same amenities of a double-occupancy cabin, but with a twin bed. On Prinsendam, the trio of solo cabins measure 156 to 205 square feet and again, share standard cabin features, with the exception of one twin bed and a shower instead of a bathtub.
Special Extras: Singles are invited to dine together (by advance request), and, on voyages of 40 days or more, gentleman hosts are available for dancing and dining.
Discounts Available: Koningsam's cabins are priced for one. Typical rates for Prinsendam's cabins run from 150 percent to 200 percent of the double-occupancy rate.
3. Royal Caribbean International
Why: Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas feature 28 dedicated "studio" cabins for solo travelers on each ship, a mix of virtual balcony cabins (80-inch floor-to-ceiling LED display screens that project live images of the ocean and ports) and staterooms with 55-square-foot open-air balconies. Harmony of the Seas also offers two categories, but only 15 cabins are available.
Special Extras: A variety of singles-friendly activities onboard Royal Caribbean ships allows solo cruisers to socialize and have just as much fun at sea as couples and groups. From scuba training in the pool and group fitness activities to wine tasting demonstrations and cooking classes, solo cruisers can easily keep themselves well entertained. And with the line's "My Time Dining" policy, passengers who wish to enjoy a meal with others can request to be seated at large table -- no need to eat alone.
Discounts Available: Royal Caribbean's studio staterooms carry no supplement.
Why: Silversea doesn't offer "single" cabins, but its occasional special fare deals mean that a solo traveler can sail alone without a huge penalty. Their typical solo fares are 25 to 75 percent above the double-occupancy rate. Singles makeup about 10 percent (pretty significant in cruising) of the line's passenger base. Another plus: With just 296 passengers on Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, 382 apiece on Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper and 540 on Silver Spirit, solo cruisers find it easy to feel at home. Some of the enrichment programs and special-interest cruises ensure a compatible mix of people with like interests, solo or not.
Special Extras: A welcome reception with Champagne is held on every voyage with a large number of solos. Most voyages of more than 10 days also have gentleman hosts onboard as dance partners and shore excursion escorts.
Discounts Available: Solo fares are often as low as 125 percent of the regular fares, but occasional sales can bring single traveler rates down to 110 percent. The line is quick to point out that these fares are "capacity controlled and subject to availability." In other words, book early.
5. Crystal Cruises
Why: Crystal is one of the most popular luxury lines for solos, who makeup to 25 percent of the line's passengers on some sailings. Solo travelers are attracted by the wide range of activities onboard, plus singles' parties, gentleman hosts (and hostesses) and supplements that can be as low as 10 percent for certain categories. Many luxury-minded solos also choose Crystal because it features assigned dining room seating, which is unique in this market segment. (Most luxury lines have an open single-seating dining room.) This set-seating dining policy means you dine with the same folks every night, and the Table for 8 program lets solo travelers dine at the specialty restaurants with other singles. Finally, while Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are as spacious as mega-ships, they carry only 922 and 1,070 passengers respectively; a sense of community prevails onboard.
Special Extras: Crystal's unique activities include seminars through the Creative Learning Institute, with choices like acting workshops, language lessons, astronomy classes and a Computer University@Sea.
Discounts Available: Depending on the sailing, solo supplements range from 10 percent to 100 percent of double occupancy rates. On occasion, Crystal will offer limited-time sales on cabins for solo cruisers on select voyages.
Why: The cozy atmosphere on Seabourn's small ships assures solos that they won't be overlooked, and getting to know fellow cruisers is easy.
Special Extras: One of Seabourn's lovely traditions is to have its officers and entertainers host tables at dinner -- not only on a formal evening but on just about every night. Solo travelers receive special consideration when it comes to invites, so you really don't have to dine alone if you don't choose to. As well, single travelers will be escorted across the dining room by the maitre d' or other staffer, which is a nice touch.
Discounts Available: Seabourn's standard single supplement is 75 percent more than the double-occupancy fare for ocean view and veranda suites and 100 percent more for premium suites. As well, the line offers single guarantee fares for just 50 percent more than the double-occupancy fares; with this pricing, Seabourn will choose the stateroom location (not the passenger) and availability is limited.
7. Costa Cruises
Why: Costa Cruises has limited single cabins in both inside and outside units on half of its ships, including its two newest vessels, Costa Favolosa and Costa Fascinosa, which have 17 solo cabins each.
Special Extras: This Italian cruise line offers singles' meet-and-greet parties onboard, as well as a full range of other traditional shipboard activities that encourage social interaction among solo passengers. As Europeans love to dance, Costa's newest ships have some of the largest dance floors on the seas. While they don't have dedicated gentlemen hosts, there are plenty of opportunities to take to the dance floor for everything from merengue to polka.
Discounts Available: Single cabins do carry a supplement, but it can be as low as 6 percent above the double-occupancy rate.
Why: Cunard has long attracted solo travelers to its traditional cruise ships and ocean liners, and the convivial onboard atmosphere means that solos can easily make friends with their shipmates if they choose. Cunard does try to accommodate passengers who wish to dine solo, but this depends on how full each voyage is. In general, solo travelers are assigned to tables with other singles. In addition, gentleman hosts are available to whirl single ladies around the dance floor.
Special Extras: Queen Elizabeth has nine midship single-occupancy cabins; eight are ocean-view cabins, while the ninth is a standard inside cabin. Queen Victoria has nine solo cabins, as well, and Queen Mary 2 has 15 ocean-view single-occupancy cabins, located on decks 2 and 3. Additionally, solo travelers will never be bored on any Cunard ship with so many activities taking place onboard. You can attend lectures by experts in various fields, see a planetarium show on Queen Mary 2, enjoy theatrical workshops and performances by members of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, play numerous rounds of team trivia and relax in the Canyon Ranch spa.
Discounts Available: Cunard's typical solo supplement is 200 percent for Queens and Princess Grills and 175 percent for inside, outside and balcony cabins. On occasion, the line offer discounts to solo travelers.
9. P&O Cruises
Why: P&O Cruises Azura, which launched in 2010, offers 18 dedicated single cabins for solo cruisers. Britannia has 27 single cabins of its own. Plus, several other P&O ships, including Ventura, Oriana, Arcadia and Aurora, have had singles-friendly cabins installed during refurbishments.
Special Extras: P&O's solo cabins include both inside and outside options and have a "boutique hotel" feel to them. Special touches include complimentary water and a "pamper pack" on arrival. Each cabin has a single bed, a flat-screen television and a vanity/writing desk and drawers, plus a bathroom with a shower.
Discounts Available: Cabins are priced for one, with no solo supplement, but they do sell out quickly since they're so limited in number. Don't expect any last-minute deals on these staterooms.
10. Fred. Olsen Cruises
Why: Fred. Olsen, now in its fifth generation of ownership by the same family, has long catered to its traditionally over-55 passengers. The line has dedicated cabins for its solo travelers, provides gentleman hosts, offers exclusive solo gatherings and pairs single travelers together for dinner; they can even arrange companions for solos going ashore, upon request. Fred. Olsen caters mostly to a mature British market, with a relaxed and intimate atmosphere, offering a welcome change for those who choose to avoid the more raucous nature of most mass-market lines.
Special Extras: All Fred. Olsen ships -- Balmoral, Boudicca, Braemar and Black Watch -- offer solo cabins, ranging in number from 40 (Braemar) to 64 (Balmoral). Cozy single cabins, outfitted with just one bed, come in a variety of categories, including a few balcony suites.
Discounts Available: In addition to its dedicated solo cabins, which carry no supplement, Fred. Olsen waives single supplements for solo occupancy of certain twin-grade cabins on select sailings.