7 best cruise lines for sailing solo

Elissa Richard

Perhaps no vacation category caters more to a coupled-up clientele than cruising. Setting sail solo can be costly (factoring in the dreaded “single supplement” — the extra fee incurred by one person booking a cabin priced for two), intimidating (who wants to endure pitiful glances during a party-for-one dinner?) and downright uncomfortable (being paired up with a stranger as a bunkmate to avoid fees — no, thanks!).

Happily, with the right cruise line, traveling alone doesn’t have to translate to loneliness. In fact, it can be liberating to be the captain of your own cruise vacation (no arguing over what sights to see or when to eat), with the ever-present option of meeting other like-minded travelers.

Some cruise lines cater to solo seafarers with different budgets, ages and special interests — whether you’re ready to mingle, looking to get away from it (or them) all, or hoping to indulge in some simple rest and relaxation, off-the-path exploration or personal enrichment. For travelers seeking cabins built for one, hoping to curtail single supplements or opting in to solo-friendly activities that can help break the ice with cruisers in the same boat, these seven cruise lines are primed for solitary travelers looking to fly — er, cruise — solo.

1. Holland America Line

Baby boomers flock to HAL’s diverse itineraries spanning the seven seas and onboard atmosphere seeped in high-seas tradition. For solo travelers wanting to share a cabin (and skip out on the single supplement), the company offers a Single Partners Program, matching up interested guests with other same-sex singles. If they can’t find a fit, you’ll get your own cabin at the per-person double occupancy rate. Plus, the cruise line hosts singles welcome parties, cocktail mixers and games; along with more than 40 ship-wide activities including cooking demonstrations, team trivia and wine tastings. They’ll happily seat you with other solo cruisers for dinner, on request, and gentlemen hosts are available as dance partners on longer cruises. Check in with Holland America’s Roll Call tab on Facebook to connect with other solo travelers before your trip. hollandamerica.com

2. Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the modern-day move toward the solo cruise market back in 2010, launching 128 “studio” staterooms for independent travelers on its 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic. The 100-square-foot high-design studios, all clustered in a shared corridor, come with full-size beds and modern touches like mood lighting and flat-screen TVs. Plus, a two-story lounge serves as an exclusive social hub for solo seafarers. Or hit up any of the bustling ship-wide lounges, the adults-only relaxation area or hip onboard shows like Blue Man Group and The Second City comedy troupe. Sail Norwegian Epic to the Caribbean or Mediterranean (try a hosted singles cruise from Singles Travel International on a sailing next June), or hop aboard the new Norwegian Breakaway — which has 59 studio cabins of its own — to Bermuda or the Bahamas and Florida. ncl.com

3. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

Britain-based Fred Olsen Cruise Lines has long been heralded for singles-friendly policies for the 55-and-older crowd. Nab one of its dedicated singles cabins — some 190 of them are spread out over four ships in its fleet. The cruise line will happily pair same-sex solo travelers in other cabin categories upon request. Book ahead for 2014, when, for the first time, Fred Olsen will also offer a slate of cruise itineraries touting no single supplements in select twin cabins (sail the Boudicca to the Black Sea, the Balmoral to the Azores, and more). Plus, you’ll find plenty of singles-oriented activities like exclusive cocktail mixers, welcome receptions, group dinners and coordinated group shore excursions. “Gentleman and lady host” dance partners are also aboard all ships, for singles looking to get into their groove on. fredolsencruises.com

4. Silversea Cruises

Luxury line Silversea has reduced its single supplements to 25 percent above the double occupancy rate on select 2013 sailings to worldwide destinations including Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Solo travelers, who make up a significant 10 percent of the cruise line’s clientele, seem to flock largely to port-intensive Baltic and Mediterranean itineraries. Onboard, distinguished independent guests can enjoy exclusive champagne welcome receptions and singles-friendly activities like group fitness classes. On select voyages, gentlemen hosts join guests for dancing or dining (they often participate in shipboard activities and escort shore excursions as well). Or try the line’s themed Cooking School or Wine Series enrichment voyages, for culinary connections with like-minded fellow cruisers. silversea.com

5. Crystal Cruises

Upscale Crystal Cruises has recently expanded its offerings with single supplements of just 10 percent (in deluxe staterooms) on more than two dozen 2013 sailings to Europe, South America and more, aboard the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Onboard, expect mingle-friendly events geared toward its more than 10 percent of guests who travel alone, including new digital filmmaking classes, language courses, art lessons, wine tastings, lectures and magic shows; plus a special singles cocktail party. Sign up for assigned seating with other singles in the main dining room or try the “Table for 8” program for shared dining experiences in specialty restaurants. The cruise line also offers an “ambassador host” program with gentleman companions available for dinner and dancing on every sailing. crystalcruises.com

6. Tauck River Cruising

River cruising’s intimate atmosphere and smaller ship size lends well to singles looking to connect. Happily, for 2013 and 2014, Tauck has waived the single supplement on entry-level cabins for all of its 14 European river cruise itineraries — that’s more than 100 sailing options each year. The line has also reduced the single supplement by $1,000 on select cabin categories for some other sailings, and two of the company’s new-build ships (the MS Savor and MS Inspire), set to launch next year, are slated to feature four dedicated solo cabins. Tauck’s riverboats accommodate as few as118 guests and itineraries include all guided shore excursions, guaranteeing regular and easy camaraderie between guests. Tauck even maintains a Solo Traveler Forum for solo guests looking to connect ahead of their trips. tauck.com

7. International Expeditions

There’s nothing like shared adventure to form fast friendships. Enter expedition cruising, with the folks at International Expeditions now waiving single supplement fees on select cabins for their Amazon and Galapagos cruise departures through 2014. (Plus, IE has a roommate-matching service for guests interested in booking other cabin categories.) More than 20 percent of cruisers with IE are solo travelers, a staggering stat for the cruise industry. Sail the Amazon aboard the new 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica or head out on the 32-passenger MV Evolution in the Galapagos. Onboard, small groups foster regular socializing with nightly happy hours, local bands and dance performances, cooking demos and more. Onshore, head out piranha fishing, meet up with an Amazonian shaman, or picnic alongside giant tortoises. ietravel.com