(2:30 p.m. EST) -- Has the solo cruiser's ship finally come in? At a reveal event today aboard Norwegian Gem in New York City, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that its soon-to-launch prototype Norwegian Epic. will feature an unprecedented number of cabins designated for solo travelers. All 128 of its studio cabins will be priced for single occupancy -- with no supplement whatsoever -- from $799 per person.
These are small cabins, measuring just 100 square feet with a full-size bed and separate areas for the bathroom, sink and shower -- and when they were first announced, we did wonder if they'd be marketed to solo travelers, even though they can sleep two. The idea at the time was to provide chic accommodations for about the same price as a standard inside stateroom.
Now the focus has been shifted to serving solos after all, though the overall concept hasn't really changed. Studio passengers still get an exclusive, shared social space called the Studios Lounge, featuring a bar, two large TV screens, a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions, and comfy seating for hanging out, ordering room service or sipping pre-dinner drinks. The studios are all insides, with windows facing a corridor; 90 connect for pals traveling together (and you must be 21 -- no dumping your kids off here).
Solo travelers have long struggled to cruise affordably, as most lines have moved away from offering solo cabins and levy a surcharge of up to twice the double-occupancy rate on single cruisers occupying a two-passenger cabin.
There are some exceptions. P&O's Azura, which will debut in the U.K. this spring, was designed with 18 cabins specifically for solos. And Fred. Olsen has for years promoted the fact that it sets aside cabins for singles and designs them for singles as well -- removing the second bed, for example, and including one comfy chair to make solo travelers feel more at home. And Cruise West and Holland America offer a cabin share program to match solo travelers.
However, NCL's move with Epic's studio cabins is on the largest scale we've seen.
Maria Miller, senior vice president of marketing for NCL, told the assembled group of press and travel agents, "Finally, someone is paying attention to solo travelers. For solos, cruising is great because you can travel alone without being alone."
And what about cost? Insides (for two) on Epic start from $649, so the studios can be slightly more expensive if shared, but a fantastic bargain for solos used to paying double. We also visited P&O's Web site to price out a solo cabin on a similar length Azura itinerary for comparison's sake -- but they were all sold out for the rest of the year, which speaks volumes about the demand for such an option.
That begs the question: Will this eventually be rolled out fleetwide? The question was asked during the Q&A session after the big reveal -- but there's no definitive answer. "One step at a time" was the reply from Executive Vice President, Global Sales and Passenger Services Andy Stuart.
The specially designed and priced studios go on sale January 18, 2010.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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A New, "Epic" Option for Solo Travelers
January 13, 2010