It's a needless concern that has kept many individuals from booking a cruise.
I've heard this question a lot, and here's the short answer: Sure, you'll be bored if you want to be, but you certainly don't have to be.
I've sailed solo many times. In fact, I prefer to do it that way. I currently have two cruises booked, one coming up in a couple of months, where I will be sailing solo. I haven't been bored on a solo cruise yet, and I never expect to be, because I follow some simple guidelines. These can work for you too.
Get Out and About
The most popular guests on almost every cruise are the ones you see participating in lots of onboard activities. The best way to get to know people is to try new and interesting things onboard. You can participate in some sporting events even if you aren't athletic; take that martini-making class even if you are not crazy about martinis; or give karaoke a try even if you can't carry a tune in a bucket.
The point isn't the activity itself; but rather, it's to get out and meet as many fellow passengers as possible. The more people you meet during your cruise, the better chance you have of spotting a familiar face when you walk into that bar or lounge -- someone who will wave you over to join their group.
When I'm on a cruise where I don't know anyone, I spend as much time outside of my cabin as possible. I know I won't meet people sitting in my cabin, so I check the daily program carefully the night before and select some activities to participate in. If I see two that I would enjoy equally, I pick the one most likely to help me meet new people.
Ask for a Large Table at Dinner
Whether you prefer flexible or fixed-seating dining, ask to be seated with others. The larger the table, the better. This maximizes the chance that at least one other person at the table will share some of your interests, and that relationship can help you find someone to share a shore excursion or shipboard activity with.
A large table also increases your chances of finding other single cruisers. At a table for 10, you have a better chance than at a table for four.
I once was seated at a table for six on Holland America's Zuiderdam, but there were only three other passengers assigned to that table. It turned out we were the singles table. The problem: All the other singles were at least 80 years old. They were all very nice, but clearly there was no compatibility or mutually shared interests, so I requested another dining assignment. Had I been at a table for eight, I would have had a far better chance of finding at least one person I could share a lively conversation with, whether they were single or not.
Don't be Afraid to Ask: May I Join You?
How many of us have searched in vain for a table in the Lido on embarkation day? I've circled the entire room with my tray of food, searching in vain for an empty table where I could eat. After about my third cruise, it dawned on me: Why do I need an empty table? Many tables have plenty of empty chairs. So now I don't hesitate to ask others, Mind if I Join You? Rarely will anyone protest, and if they do you simply smile and move along.
I've done the same thing in bars and lounges, and outside by the pool. If I want to sit down for a bit, I look for a larger table only occupied by a couple of people and I settle in there. I meet a lot of people that way, and sometimes I form friendships that come in handy further along in the cruise, like when I am looking for someone to share a shore excursion with. Maybe our conversation earlier in the week focused on our mutual enjoyment of snorkeling -- now I have someone to ask about joining me on that snorkeling shore excursion.
Another advantage, if you want to call it that, is that I enjoy being a smoker. Most cruise ships today offer few public areas where one can light up. Smokers are all thrown together, and we quickly learn that if we want some company or someone to share a conversation with, we only have to head to the smoker's hangout and we'll find someone. Often we smokers become very close over the course of the cruise, and I have found the dastardly habit holds a major advantage for me in this regard.
I'm not suggesting anyone take up smoking, but if you already do smoke, you might as well make it work to your advantage.
Choose Your Cruise Line and Ship Wisely
Some people will say the ship doesn't matter, but I say it does. The single cruiser has a better chance of meeting others on a smaller ship than on one that carries 3,500 or more passengers. Why?
Because the larger ship has so many nooks and crannies that if you meet someone in a certain bar or lounge on the first day, chances are you won't see them again for the duration of the sailing. There are too many venues onboard for you to have a good chance of building a friendship with them.
If you really want to sail solo on a megaship, get the cabin numbers of anyone that you'd like to see again during the week. Otherwise, you probably won't run into them again.
And make sure the cruise line you select meets your personality. If you enjoy lots of good conversation in a quiet environment, a Carnival or Royal Caribbean megaship may not be your best choice. But if you like a high energy environment, with something always going on, you probably don't want to choose a Holland America ship.
Time Your Cruise Wisely
Singles generally don't do well on holiday or popular summertime cruises, because these tend to draw lots of families. You'll be surrounded by small nuclear families and large multi-generational families, and the focus will be on family bonding -- grandparents who live on the other side of the country from their grandkids, or brothers and sisters who haven't seen each other in several years. Groups like that have no interest in meeting new people. They just want to spend time with each other, and with a large group they can always find someone who shares their interests right from within their own crowd. Even if some of them are single, they won't necessarily be interested in sharing activities with an outsider.
I try to take longer cruises with more sea days, and thus more opportunities to relax and meet people. I realize that not everyone has the time for a three- or four-week cruise, and the single cruiser can certainly meet others during the shorter ones, but I find meeting other singles a bit easier on longer sailings.
Become Active in a Roll Call for Your Cruise
With the popularity of online cruise message boards such as CruiseMates, many cruisers set up a roll call for their cruise. On CruiseMates, these roll call boards are grouped together as Meet Onboard. Select your cruise line and your ship, and then search for a roll call thread for your specific cruise. If none is listed, start one yourself! Other cruisers on the same sailing will see your thread and join in -- and long before you sail, you'll have a group of people you will know onboard.
These roll call boards are great for organizing shared tours, arranging dining companions and even setting up group activities.
On one roll call I am involved with for a 33-day Hawaii/South Pacific cruise next March, several of us took responsibility for organizing excursions in the South Pacific ports. (I'm in charge of Nuka Hiva.) We arranged fun excursions for the group -- mostly snorkeling -- in each of these often pricey South Pacific ports, at a fraction of the cost of the cruise line's excursion offerings.
We also use our roll call to swap ideas about good deals on rental cars in the various Hawaiian ports, as well as group activities we want to do onboard.
Being part of an active roll call won't guarantee you a big supply of friends onboard. But it sure can't hurt. And it's more comfortable to board a ship knowing that you are already acquainted with several fellow cruisers, even if you've never met face to face.
Attend Single Functions
If the cruise staff hosts a Singles Meet & Mingle, you should attend -- at least the first one. But, don't be disappointed if you're the only one in attendance.
I've been to some shipboard events for singles and I haven't had much success with them. I find that generally it's me, a 17-year-old kid, and a couple of 85-year-old women. But on longish cruises, primarily on Holland America, I attended the Hosted Singles Luncheons held on most sea days in the dining room, and had some great conversations with people from all walks of life.
Don't Focus All Your Efforts on Singles
Why does someone have to be a fellow single or solo traveler to be a potentially great cruise companion? I met a pair of my dearest friends on a cruise. She was sailing with her husband; since we were all smokers, we spent a lot of time on the aft deck together, talking and smoking. I had never met these people before, but today, we are close friends, sharing multiple phone calls each week. We have also shared other cruises and have more planned.
Just because someone may be sailing with his or her better half, it doesn't automatically disqualify him or her as a great onboard companion. Most couples do not share all the same interests and are not joined at the hip; each will pursue the things they most enjoy while on vacation. The husband may be busy at the blackjack table while the wife enjoys lazy days at the pool, as do you. There's no reason a nice friendship can't develop.
Join a Hosted Singles Cruise
If you just can't imagine yourself boarding a ship alone, consider joining a hosted singles cruise. Several are listed in our 2009 Singles Calendar, which can be found here. Many more can be found on the internet.
On these cruises, the sponsoring organization provides a singles host to keep things moving. The host organizes special events for the group, including group dinners where members switch tables each night so that everyone has the opportunity to meet everyone else by the end of the cruise. The host will also organize events like a private meet and mingle cocktail party shortly after sailaway where group members can get to know each other. There may also be special games and other events open only to group members.
One group I know of had a whole afternoon's games and events planned at the cruise line's private island during the port stop there. They also sponsored several shore excursions open only to group members, and held a farewell party on the last day so group members who bonded could share phone numbers and email addresses.
Hosted singles cruises are frequently broken down into certain demographics, such as 50+ cruisers or 20-somethings; others are open to a wider age range. Just ask the organization sponsoring the cruise if you would fit the group's profile.
Join a Theme Cruise
A theme cruise is organized around a popular theme or interest, with special onboard events, classes, workshops, lectures and activities. Some theme cruises can be a full ship charter, where everyone on the ship will share that interest; or they might involve a smaller group of like-minded individuals who are sailing together as part of a regular cruise. In that case, the group's special events will usually only be open to group members; other passengers won't be able to participate.
Just about every hobby, sport, or interest has had a cruise organized around it. In fact, I got my introduction to cruising by attending the Maui Writer's Retreat at Sea on Holland America's Rotterdam in 2004.
People don't often think of theme cruises as a way for the single cruiser to meet others, but it's one of the best, because you sail with a group of people who share your passions. Often by the end of the cruise you've made a lot of friends, and swapped phone numbers and email addresses. With that you can make plans for subsequent cruises, either through the group or individually.
I still keep in touch with some people I met on the Maui Writer's Retreat cruise, and have also done subsequent group cruises since.
Some of the closest friendships I've ever made are with fellow cruisers I met during my solo sailings. Some of the best times I've ever had were on a cruise where I boarded the ship not knowing another soul.
If you have any hesitation about taking a solo cruise -- if you are afraid you'll be miserable not knowing another soul onboard -- rest easy. Cruising is one of the best ways to meet other like-minded people. You will have wonderful new friendships to look forward to when you take your first cruise as a solo.