One is Fun: Cruising Solo

epic

Having been asked for advice about cruising solo, I thought I would take this opportunity to bring my thoughts together and post them here for you.  I have been solo on a cruise ship – P&O’s Azura in January 2013 when my OH wasn’t able to join me  – so I have some personal experience to reflect on here, plus tales from table companions and other friends made on board.

Things to consider about cruising solo

Firstly, you won’t be alone.  According to Douglas Ward, the author of the industry’s most used Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2012, over 25% of all passengers are solo travellers.  Many ships have single cabins and add on rates for solo occupancy of double cabins.  Much like hotels, cruise ships base their rates on double occupancy, so you will find it more challenging to find deals.  Single cabins also sell fast, so be prepared to plan well in advance.

Strangely, you’ll be more likely to find a single cabin on an older or newer ship.  Fred Olsen’s older and smaller vessels are well geared to singles with a number of single cabins on each ship.  The newer and much larger Norwegian Epic has recognised the gap in the market, and has a particularly tailored set up (which I’ll tell you more about in a moment) for singles.  Similarly, P&O’s relatively recent-build Azura has a number of single cabins.

As is the case with all cruises, the first thing to consider is the kind of holiday you want.  Do you like to chill and watch the world go by, or are you constantly on the move and wanting to try new things?   Are you a culture vulture, a sun lover, or see no reason why you can’t be both?  Talk to your agent about what you really enjoy, and they’ll do their best to match you with the right ship for you.

studio

Norwegian Epic: Studio Cabin

My travel agent tips for cruising solo

  • Think about whether you would prefer a smaller ship, where you are likely to meet the same people regularly going about the ship, or a larger ship where there will be more to do, but it is less easy to meet people twice unless you arrange to do so.
  • Don’t be concerned about dining alone.  You will be seated each evening at a table where the ship will have done its best to link you up with like-minded souls.  I’ve met some lovely people through this arrangement, and have gone on to enjoy time with them outside of meals.
  • If you want to dine with others at lunch or breakfast, then go to the formal restaurant rather than the buffet.  You will automatically be seated with others and will have someone with whom to chat.
  • Check the daily newsletter carefully.  Some cruise lines operate get-together meetings for singles, particularly before port visits, so you can choose to explore together if you wish.
  • There are also plenty of activities on board where you don’t have to be paired up to have fun.  If you have an interest, go and learn to salsa/cook/craft or whatever else is offered.  A lot of couples who don’t share interests will go along as individuals, and it’s a great way to meet others who enjoy what you enjoy.
  • If you want to get to know people a little before you travel, join a cruise message board that offers a “roll call” for your voyage.   This is a great way to arrange to meet on ships, and potentially to do some shore excursions together.  Sometimes the group will have a get-together on board, or even the opportunity to do something special, like a backstage tour of the theatre or a trip to the bridge.

Some ships for solos

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Courtyard on the Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic came into service in 2010, with space for 4,200 passengers.  The cruise line is seen as the originator of contemporary cruising, with a focus on “freestyle”, and sailings from the USA and European ports (no ex-UK sailings).  Dining choices are extensive.  Epic has 128 single cabins, called studios, which have decent sized beds and share a studio lounge where singles can meet for a coffee and arrange further meet-ups via the well-used notice board.  Epic’s entertainment is, well, epic, including major production shows, comedy, cabaret, and even the ability to rent a Gibson to play -via headphones – in your cabin.

theatre

Azura’s Theatre

P&O’s Azura is a family-friendly ship also brought into service in 2010.  She’s a large ship carrying 3096 passengers.  P&O is a traditionally British cruise line with a lot of sailings from the UK.  The cuisine is also traditionally British (with some rather good curries) and chargeable dining in Sindhu, Atol Kotchar’s restaurant at sea or Seventeen.  You’ll find 18 single cabins on Azura.  On board entertainment is offered in the Playhouse Theatre, the Manhattan lounge and Malabar, plus the Blue Bar and the Planet Bar, the latter having a video wall showing destinations.  Just the thing to distract a table of cruise travel agents at night!

dining

Black Watch – Dining with officers

Fred Olsen’s Black Watch first came into service in 1996 for Fred’s, although she originates from 1972.  She’s a mid-sized ship carrying 868 passengers, and she has 38 single cabins.  Black Watch is comfortable rather than luxurious, and is a very friendly ship.  With the size of the ship, it is easier to meet the same people again whilst on board. Entertainment is focused around the Neptune lounge, with production shows, and there are also a number of cabaret-style venues on board plus comfortable bars.

My final piece of advice: go enjoy!  Find the library or stock your Kindle for those moments of down time, and make the most of everything your holiday has to offer.

Cruise Quirks: Gentleman Hosts

It has to be said that dance is an integral part of cruising.  From deck parties to Zumba for fitness, salsa lessons, demonstrations by professionals, and the night clubs on board or formal tea dances, there’s an opportunity each day to get your groove on.  After all, it’s a way of compensating for all that delicious food…

What you may not realise is that there are gentlemen (and a lady or two) out there working their passage through a role as a dance host.  We found out about this early in our cruising career, when a lovely table mate on the Queen Mary 2 enlightened us.  I had been watching what I considered to be some rather forward men during afternoon tea the day before.  Afternoon tea includes a session or two from the dance orchestra, and an opportunity to take to the floor.  The gentlemen involved were circling the tables and inviting many different women to join them.  I was torn between thinking them very cheeky and offering them a high five, until I found out about the role of the dance host.

On some cruise lines, including Cunard and Fred Olsen, dance hosts are available to provide opportunities to dance for those ladies who are single or have partners with more than one left foot.  On Fred Olsen’s Black Watch, I believe there is also a lady host for those gentlemen in a similar situation wishing to dance.  We learned lots about their role from our table companion on the Queen Mary 2.  Dance hosts must be good conversationalists, happy to chat away to passengers.  They should not monopolise a single guest, nor should they dance too close (!), and they must be prepared to dance for a significant number of hours each day – perhaps up to 6, which must keep you very fit indeed.  I gained a lot of respect for them; that’s quite some time on your swirling and cha-cha-ing feet.  With the popularity of StrictlCome Dancing and Dancing With The Stars, they must be kept very busy.

And it’s not just the more mature audiences who are loving the dancing on board.  We have seen lots of younger couples hitting the floor and impressing us with what might be dance school knowledge.  You can also learn to dance on the ship, with lessons covering everything from the samba to the foxtrot.  Celebrity Eclipse uses the big spaces on Deck 14 for its dance classes, giving you one of the best views ever while you’re learning.

So if you want to be a dance host, where do you start?  The all-encompassing Job Monkey states that:

Most hosts are retired single men who work for the chance to sail around the world for free, or sometimes for a small salary. Gentlemen hosts must know a variety of different dances, but ballroom, swing, waltz, fox trot, and other more formal dances are preferred. Hosts must be able to dance for several hours almost every night so it makes sense that gentleman hosts are social people with a lot of energy. They must also be good conversationalists and enjoy social engagements as well as some hosts are asked to attend parties and onboard events that do not involve dancing.

Read more: http://www.jobmonkey.com/cruise/html/gentleman_hosts.html#ixzz2NWRWk1Gt

Ann Brenoff at the Huffington Post interviewed one of the gentleman hosts, finding that his role was not short on romantic overtures from female guests.  She writes:

“According to Alan Benedict, 58 and a Gentlemen Host™ for 20 years, the rules of conduct are clear. The men dress “in uniform” — either a tuxedo or a blue blazer at all times (replete with name tags/badges) and no jeans are ever worn, even on shore excursions. They never dance with a woman who is traveling with a male companion/husband without express permission from him. And, says Benedict, they don’t focus on the younger women on board. “We are here for the 50+ women,” he said. Hosts also make sure that all the women understand that their role is to circulate and not pair off with just one.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/gentlemen-hosts_n_1260534.html

So if you are a dancing gentleman, why not consider seeing the world, keeping fit, and gathering a rich selection of experiences?

Travel Snippets: A Piscine Diary

Mobile 8 Jul 12 761

Seafood eaten by my OH over 8 nights on the Queen Mary 2:

  • salmon
  • smoked salmon
  • shrimp
  • crab
  • clams
  • mussels
  • langoustine
  • tuna
  • cod
  • scallops
  • lobster
  • haddock
  • sole
  • blanchbait/whitebait
  • sardines
  • kippers
  • unidentified mollusc

My mother has for many years asserted that OH has gills (this being the only reason he can talk at such length without drawing breath).  He’s clearly been dining amongst his own kind.

Cruising with Children

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Deck facilities on Norwegian Epic

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to take your children away to sea, wonder no more!  It’s a brilliant opportunity to give the whole family plenty to do, in a safe environment, and with the ability for both parents and kids to do their own thing.

Firstly, you need to pick your cruise line, and focus in on the kind of facilities that will suit your family.  Do you love nothing more than being constantly in motion from one activity to another, or are you wanting to chill?  Do you want to see lots of places in a short time, or make the most of the ship’s facilities?  Or even both?

If you’ve never cruised before, don’t forget that your holiday includes:

  • Your accommodation in an ensuite cabin, possibly with a balcony
  • All your meals and some drinks with meals
  • Full use of the ship’s facilities including pools, whirlpools, the gym, the library, deck and indoor games and sports courts
  • An entertainment programme by day and night including special parties, live music, nightly shows, quizzes, competitions and demonstrations

 

If you are looking for a great family cruise, look for some of the following features onboard:

  • free kids’ clubs, according to age, with plenty of activities to suit your children
  • family friendly entertainment
  • ports and shore excursions that suit your family.  How about cycle rides, visiting dolphins, or a kayak trip?
  • Extra special ship facilities that will make great memories.  How about a climbing wall, a zipwire, or your favourite Dreamworks characters onboard?
  • Early children’s teas, so you can settle your kids for the night
  • A night nursery, enabling you to have some time as a couple.  P&O’s Azura has the wonderfully named “Sea Bed” as its night nursey and soft play area.

 

 

So don’t be afraid to check out a cruise holiday with your children. And if you have children, and are getting married, it’s a great opportunity to take your children with you but still have some time together.