Toying with the idea of setting sail on your own? Consider your age, your budget and — perhaps most important — your goal. Are you looking for romance? Enrichment? Rest and relaxation?
Take your pick, then dive in alone.
If you have any illusions that cruising solo is likely to result in a steamy Kate Winslet-Leonardo DiCaprio smooch-fest in the bowels of the ship, let me disabuse you of that Titanic fantasy. (Besides, that affair didn’t end well.) I’m not saying it never happens, so please: if you met the love of your life at the buffet, spare me the hate mail.
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Here’s why you’re unlikely to find a soul mate on the sun deck: nearly 80 percent of people who take a cruise are married, according to a Cruise Lines International Association market profile. “Virtually no one travels alone,” the study said.
But can you tip the odds in your favor? Yes. If you sign up for a singles cruise.
Still reading? Good. Now let’s manage expectations: joining a singles cruise does not mean the entire ship will be akin to a floating bar rife with prospects. Rather, companies like Singlescruise.com, Vacationstogo.com, Singlestravelintl.com and Singlesatsea.com organize groups of single travelers — often by demographic (like 20s and 30s, and 50s and older) or theme — and then escort them on larger cruises. Tour operators reserve rooms for participants and help match them with roommates if they request one. That’s helpful since cruise lines typically charge solo travelers an added fee (a few cruise lines offer discounts, a topic I’ll address in a future column).
The price of a singles cruise usually includes the cruise, a cabin, meals and exclusive group activities that range from the refined (cooking lessons and wine tastings) to the “never-post-photos-of-this-on-Facebook” variety (Jacuzzi parties and 1970s theme dances). If you want a good turnout, try traveling during Halloween. Singlescruise.com says its Halloween Spectacular cruise is its largest (last year more than 600 people attended; this year it’s a weeklong Caribbean cruise on Carnival Liberty, departing from Miami on Oct. 26 with private cabins starting from $1,402.27 and shared cabins from $783.27). But take heed: masks, capes and fangs can make evaluating potential lovers tricky.
The kinds of singles you’ll meet on board will depend in part on the cruise theme: Singles Cruise’s 20s and 30s Spring Break cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean (starting at $694.74) is likely to have a different atmosphere than Singles Travel International’s Alaska Cruise Adventure (starting at $1,129). So it’s best to call the travel company to ask questions — especially about the projected number of attendees and the male-to-female ratio. After all, while Singlescruise.com tells visitors to “forget online dating,” it’s far harder to jump ship on a ship.
If your goal is not to meet Mr. or Ms. Right but rather to learn Japanese, the piano or how to design a website, you’re in luck.
Crystal Cruises offers free courses on its ships with experts from companies and organizations like Berlitz, the Tai Chi Cultural Center and the Cleveland Clinic. Spanish classes are available on most cruises, and many include language lessons befitting the trip, like Italian on the Amalfi Coast or French on the Riviera. The Society of Wine Educators offers tasting instruction. And a program called Computer University (AT) Sea enables passengers to learn everything from rudimentary computer skills to getting the most out of their iPads to digital photo finishing to website design.
Passengers on certain Cunard Line voyages can star gaze and learn about constellations with the Royal Astronomical Society (founded in 1820), while guests on Seabourn can attend talks by diplomats, art scholars and maritime historians. (These and other activities are included in the price of the cruise.)
Another suggestion if you’re going solo and looking to meet or volunteer with the locals: think small. River cruise companies contend that they are appealing to solo travelers who want a lot of interaction on board with the crew and with the people they meet at the smaller ports and towns the ships visit.
Grand Circle Cruise Line, which has ships that carry 50 to 164 passengers, says that about 25 percent of the people who book its cruises are solo travelers. Most are baby boomers. The ships’ small groups allow for activities everyone can join in on. For example, Priscilla O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for Grand Circle, said that in India, passengers have the opportunity to meet and sing songs with teachers and students in the rural area of Ramsinghpura. “On all of our trips, travelers share meals or snacks in the homes of local families and get to find out what life is like in a community,” she said in an email message.
And don’t forget theme cruises, which are yet another way for solo travelers to immerse themselves in a favorite subject and meet like-minded passengers. The major cruise lines post their upcoming themes on their websites, but sites like Themecruisefinder.com list a number of options, be it cruises for conservatives or the Marilyn Monroe tribute cruise.
REST AND RELAXATION
Some of us require little more than sunshine and a deck chair to unwind. But if your desires go beyond a tan and a disco nap, be sure to pick a ship with a good spa.
Canyon Ranch SpaClubs (yes, that Canyon Ranch) are some of the most luxurious at sea. You’ll find them on Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. This last’s SpaClub is some 20,000-square feet, with a coed relaxation lounge, fitness center and salon.
The “ship features finder” on the Cruise Lines International Association’s website enables visitors to search a variety of ships (the association is made up of 26 major cruise lines serving North America) for different spa and wellness amenities like saunas, steam rooms and Pilates classes. The cost depends on the cruise line, the ship and the treatment. A 50-minute Swedish massage on Disney Cruise Line’s Fantasy is $118; the 100-minute Absolute Spa Ritual (which includes a facial and a full body Swedish massage) is $249.
A more affordable path to tranquillity is an adults-only sun deck or lounge.
Many Carnival Cruise Lines ships have a Serenity Adult Retreat, an area for passengers ages 21 and older with whirlpools, bar service and “mellow music.”
Disney Cruise Line ships have a Quiet Cove Pool for ages 18 and older with whirlpool spas or a hot tub (though this being Disney, there are games even at the grown-up pool).
Princess Cruises has one of the most deluxe adults-only respites: the Sanctuary. Here, while you’re sprawled on a cushy chaise lounge, “serenity stewards” will bring you chilled face towels, Evian water atomizers, food, drinks, even an MP3 player with noise-canceling headphones. Not hungry? On some ships you can order an al fresco massage instead. And at the end of the day, you can take a sunset yoga class.
This particular brand of serenity, however, will cost you.
Entry to the Sanctuary is $10 a person for an approximately four-to-five-hour period. Massages cost, as one might imagine, significantly more. Thus you might find yourself alone, lying under a cold, damp towel, pondering an existential question: what price Zen?