We were on our way from Japan to Taiwan, having a lovely lunch in the dining room of the Oceania Nautica, when I suddenly realized that our table — an eight-top of women — was easily the loudest in the room.
It was surprising because most of us had met just an hour ago. Instead of being friends from home or a mix of couples, we were the single travelers on the ship, brought together by a social hostess for a sea-day lunch. The goal: to give us a chance to meet and potentially to befriend future dining companions.
It was just one way, along with providing more single cabins and creating more chances to mingle, that cruise lines are increasingly catering to solo travelers.
A majority of solo travelers are women, whose life expectancy is 83 compared to 77 for men, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Many have lost their spouses, yet they still long to see the world.
But cruising can be prohibitively expensive for people who travel alone. Most lines add an extra charge for cruisers who want a whole cabin for themselves – a “single supplement” that can go for as much as twice the cost of a single ticket.
All that is changing, however.
In June 2010, Norwegian Cruise Line became the first to launch a wing of 128 single-occupancy inside cabins on the Norwegian Epic. The smaller, elegantly-appointed cabins are designed with mingling in mind, and they feature a shared lounge that serves as a coffee shop, bar and meeting place.
It was so successful, the line created similar spaces on the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, each of which has 59 single occupancy cabins. The Norwegian Escape will launch in November with 82.
Royal Caribbean followed suit with 28 on Quantum of the Seas, which launched in November, and Anthem of the Seas, which launched in April. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean also have added small numbers of single-occupancy cabins on older ships in dry dock, as has Cunard Line, which added nine single staterooms each to the Queen Elizabeth last June and the Queen Victoria in January.
Cruise lines are also offering more opportunities for solo travelers to socialize. They used to have gentleman hosts – single male travelers who, in exchange for sailing for free, would dine and dance with single women. All but a few lines, such as Cunard and Silversea, have done away with the service, but most provide some kind of programming for solo travelers.
Crystal still has hosts dance and dine with the 12 to 15 percent of guests who are traveling solo, but they also join them on shore excursions. Disney Cruise Line supports solo travelers and single parents traveling with kids by organizing family-oriented group lunches.
Cruise lines are also addressing the dining experience, which can be the most awkward moment in a solo traveler’s day.
While many travelers stick to socializing with the people they came with, there are always those who are looking to meet new people. Arrive alone on any ship at any time, and the maître d’ will always seat you with guests who are looking for company.
And, if you’re lucky, you just may end up at the most fun table in the room.