On a recent cruise with a shipload of honeymooners and couples (and a few families, like mine), I observed a rather grumpy old French man in the cabin next to mine. I thought nothing of his situation as we exchanged nods in the corridor.
But then I saw him eating dinner alone one night, in a dining room packed with noisy, laughing people, looking rather sad and dejected, exuding loneliness. Did I go and invite him to join us?
No dear reader, I did not, but it struck me that for all the hype about the adventure of a single life at sea, maybe solo cruising isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Perhaps I ought to rephrase that.
Maybe solo cruising on the wrong ship – if you’re not particularly happy in your own company – isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some people like dining alone and are comfortable spending all day alone; others go on cruises specifically to make new friends and will happily chat to anybody.
But it’s hard; we’re not all gregarious, after all. The singles’ mingles offered by big ships are more often than not pretty dire. And while I have met some wonderful people while I was cruising alone, they’re usually couples and however welcoming they may be, nobody wants to feel like a gatecrasher for a whole week.
So what’s the formula for happy solo cruising if you’re not the world’s biggest extrovert?
My personal choice would be a cruise on a smallish ship with all the excursions included; when you’re touring around together by day, it’s much easier to break the ice, chat to different people and feel you’re not alone.
I’ve had fantastic solo cruises on Orion, Noble Caledonia and Un-Cruise Adventures with this formula and on all three, the open seating dining at big tables made the evenings fun, too.
A big ship with thousands of people, some of whom you’ll never see more than once, can be the loneliest place in the world, although a really single-friendly vessel like Norwegian Epic or Breakaway, with an area of single cabins and a dedicated lounge, might work for younger cruisers.
If you do prefer a big ship, get a flying start with the saviour of the solo cruiser – the Cruise Critic message boards, which provide a chance to hook up with fellow cruisers before you leave through our Roll Calls and to chat to other single travelers.
Sign up for the roll call for your cruise, join forces with fellow travelers looking to make up a group for independent excursions and don’t be afraid to voice your anxieties.
As a case in point, check out the wonderful thread started this week by member Hal_9000, about to embark on his first solo cruise and nervous as hell; the advice from fellow members who have taken the solo plunge is positively heartwarming.
Do you have any advice for a shy single cruiser? How do you make friends on cruises? Give us your tips in the comments.