Cruise lines double down on solo cabins


Norwegian Cruise Line’s move this month to double its number of single-person cabins was the latest cruise industry recognition of the increasing strength of the solo travel market.

Cruise lines and travel agencies have seen an uptick in bookings from single travelers, leading more lines to build or designate cabins specifically for guests traveling alone.

“The single traveler demo has grown considerably,” said Alex Sharpe, CEO of Signature Travel Network. The percentage of Signature bookings from solo travelers is in the high single digits, he said.

The trend reflects current demographics: One-person households made up 29% of all U.S. homes in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, almost half of U.S. adults, 46.4%, are unmarried, including those who are widowed or divorced.

Solo travel is especially popular among women, and it has gained even more attention since the pandemic. Tour operators have reported increased solo demand this year, and cruise lines ranging from luxury and expedition to contemporary brands have adjusted to the trend by adding cabins for singles and dropping single-supplement fees.

When the new Crystal debuted this summer, it had added single cabins without a single supplement to the renovated Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. The Oceania Vista, which launched in May, introduced a solo cabin category with balconies. Cruise lines that launched during the pandemic, including expedition line Atlas Ocean Voyages and Virgin Voyages, built their first cruise ships with solo accommodations.

“It’s an important niche for our brand, as almost 10% of our audience is made of solo travelers,” said John Diorio, Virgin Voyages’ vice president of North American sales.

Solo staterooms frequently sell out

NCL cited an increase in solo demand in its decision to add more single-person cabins. But the line has long recognized the solo travel category. In 2010, NCL built its first complex of “studio cabins” that were designed and priced for solo travelers and included a Studio Lounge for occupants to mix and mingle. The line now has 642 studio cabins across nine of its 19 ships.

Beginning next year, NCL plans to make at least 850 inside, oceanview and balcony staterooms available to solo cruisers depending on availability and demand. In total, the line will have more than 1,500 cabins set aside for solo travelers.

“We did this because these staterooms are incredibly popular with our guests and frequently sell out,” said John Chernesky, NCL’s senior vice president of North America sales. “With these new staterooms, we are providing more opportunity for guests to travel to other destinations, such as Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, on ships that historically did not offer solo staterooms.”

NCL will expand access to its Studio Lounge to those solo travelers in the staterooms that are not part of the Studio complex and will add programming designed for solo travelers.

Chernesky said rates for those rooms will be less than the price for a double-occupancy cabin but declined to go into detail about pricing.

Not all cruise lines are growing their footprint of solo accommodations. Although Royal Caribbean International offers 160 such staterooms across a dozen of its ships, it doesn’t have any planned for Icon of the Seas, a first-of-its-class ship that begins sailing in January.

About 2% of the line’s guests book solo trips not connected to any other people or groups, said Vicki Freed, Royal’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service. For guests wanting solo accommodations, the line offers a 150% solo supplement that can be applied toward a variety of cabin categories.

“Cruising is a community of friends,” said Freed, who said solo travel skews slightly higher on its sailings in Australia and Alaska and on short cruises. “They want to go on the ship because they have their friends, but now they may be widowed” or traveling solo for other reasons like waiting longer to marry, she said.

Price-conscious travelers may balk

Several advisors said they’re glad to see lines like NCL offer more accommodations for solo travelers but are concerned about the cost.

Mandy Goddard, owner of Cruise By Mandy in Prosper, Texas, said she focuses on family travel but also books solo travelers, such as teachers on a budget looking for a spring break vacation.

Depending on the line, she said, pricing for staterooms set aside for solo travelers can offer little value compared with double-occupancy pricing. This makes the advisor’s ability to decipher costs and find the best fit for clients so important, she added.

“Solo travelers are happy to be in a regular-sized stateroom, but they don’t want to pay double,” Goddard said. “It can be your highly successful solo traveler who still wants to have the perk [of a larger room] but not have to donate a kidney.”

Courtesy of Travel Weekly

solo cabin on a cruise ship