In recent years, the cruise industry has witnessed the rise of a new kind of passenger: the solo traveller. With more people seeking adventures in 2023, major cruise lines are following suit by adapting their ships, activities and general outlook to the expanding needs of the solo traveller.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is one of the first lines to offer single cabins and has been observing this trend with interest. As Gary Anslow, head of UK & Ireland business at NCL, explains: “We found solo travel is becoming increasingly popular with many choosing to leave friends and family at home to embark on a cruise by themselves. Guest feedback tells us that this can offer a truly authentic experience and many reported that ‘going it alone’ provided, ‘self-discovery and growth’.”

Keen to find out more about these changing consumer trends, NCL recently conducted a survey with OnePoll and found 37% of travellers claim they prefer to travel alone, with 31% already booked on to a solo holiday for 2023. Anslow adds, “Solo travel is popular amongst all ages; however, we found many enjoy their first solo trip between the ages of 18–23 (49%). What’s more, we found the emerging trend is almost equally as sought-after amongst male (28%) and female (25%) guests for experiencing one to two solo trips in their lifetime.”

In part, Anslow acknowledges the impact the Covid pandemic has had on this surge in solo travel. “The easing of restrictions has seen bookings increase as travellers of all kinds are returning to cruising,” he notes. “Post-pandemic, there has been a clear desire to go further afield and experience true wanderlust. Demand for solo cruising has also increased and we found that solo traveller expectations vary considerably, as some yearn for quiet time on their sailing, while others seek new friends and experiences.”

Alone but not lonely

NCL has been catering for solo travellers since the launch of the Norwegian Epic in 2010. “We wanted to offer something to cater to new demographic developments and travel trends, and debuted a cruise-industry first with our studio concept – an area and experience dedicated to solo travellers,” says Anslow.

“The concept includes a private lounge but, most desirably, solo cabins are priced without single surcharges. When first introduced, the concept revolutionised how many people viewed the cruise experience and, as a result, the industry as a whole.” The Studio Staterooms that NCL offers today are “sleek, modern, and ideally suited to solo guests”, Anslow explains, “offering all the necessities including a full-sized bed, separate sink and shower areas, a flat-screen TV and more”.

UK-based cruise line Fred Olsen – which won Best for Solos award at the 2022 Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks Awards – has also observed an uptake in solo travelling in recent years.

“Every year we are seeing more and more solo travellers join us on board,” says managing director, Peter Deer. In particular, Deer has observed that “our longer cruises are particularly popular with our solo guests, allowing them to join on an adventure of a lifetime. Typically, although not exclusively, the longer the cruise, the more popular it will be with solo travellers.”

To accommodate these growing numbers of single travellers, Fred Olsen has developed a “fleet of smaller-sized ocean ships – Bolette, Borealis and Balmoral – allowing for a more intimate and less intimidating atmosphere”, Deer explains. “Our smaller ships mean guests can share their adventure with hundreds – not thousands – of others and enjoy a relaxing cruise experience without feeling overcrowded. By having fewer guests, we are able to provide the personal, attentive service that our solo guests enjoy from the moment that they step on board.”

Footloose and fancy-free

As Deer explains, Fred Olsen offers one of the industry’s highest proportions of cabins dedicated to solo travellers, with all cabin types available “to ensure that our solo travellers have the same options available to them as those who travel with others”.

Fred Olsen is also attentive to the needs of the solo traveller throughout the ships’ communal spaces. “For mealtimes,” Deer says, “the option of mixed dining tables allows our guests to choose to socialise and meet new people, or happily enjoy their time alone. Each day our waiting teams reserve tables for solo travellers for breakfast and lunch, so those who come to socialise never need to worry about dining alone.”

The line also offers dedicated solo traveller events, every cruise with a solo travellers meeting, “showcasing upcoming activities, events and offering a chance to chat with the entertainment team and meet other guests”.

Keen to make sure they offer something to keep everyone busy, there are plenty of activities that solo travellers can get involved in. “For those who enjoy a dance, we provide dance partners for solo guests, as well as a number of activities such as bridge and arts classes that can be enjoyed with other travellers or individually,” Deer lists.

“Each day our waiting teams reserve tables for solo travellers for breakfast and lunch, so those who come to socialise never need to worry about dining alone.”
Peter Deer

The provision of singles activities is also a high priority for NCL. On Norwegian Viva, for example, Anslow describes a plethora of on-board activities ranging from “the world’s first and only three-storey racetrack, to Broadway-style entertainment, such as Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.”

Anslow continues, “there are 17 different dining options on board, meaning [there are] plenty of options for guests to tuck into a meal either by themselves, or with friends they’ve met on their trip”.

“We expect solo trips to rise in popularity as people continue to seek out unique experiences and we are very excited to play a big part in the future of the industry’s solo offering.”
Gary Anslow

“For solo travellers wanting to socialise with a drink in-hand,” Anslow goes on, “guests can meet fellow cruisers in one of our many bars and lounges, including the popular Ice Bar, take part in a margarita tasting class, or sample one of our sustainable cocktails – created using surplus ingredients and speciality alcohols to be both eco-friendly and delicious, in partnership with Bar Lab.”

The percentage of people who enjoy their first solo trip between the ages of 18–23.
NCL and OnePoll

On your own turf

Of course, there’s plenty to do on land too, with NCL and Fred Olsen offering onshore excursions that are increasingly being developed with the solo traveller in mind. At Fred Olsen, “being able to easily access and explore destinations is important for our guests, and particularly the solo traveller”, says Deer.

“The smaller size of our ships allows us to dock in the heart of many destinations, including Copenhagen in Denmark,” Deer explains. “[Once onshore,] guests can also choose to join our knowledgeable expert guides on shore tours, to discover the best of each destination and its culture. Or, for those who prefer to explore under their own steam, we can help to arrange companions, so they don’t need to venture on their own.”

Cruise lines may be increasingly catering for solo travellers’ needs, but are there any provisions in place to help ensure the safety of passengers who travel alone? “While travelling by yourself offers unparalleled personal freedom, we understand that solo travellers might feel more secure with additional safety measures in place,” Anslow acknowledges. “That’s why our studio concept can only be accessed using a dedicated key card reserved solely for studio guests to provide [the] ultimate peace of mind at the end of each day on board.”

With more cruise lines offering a greater variety of options for solo travellers – from single cabins to social spaces, activities and safety measures – this looks like one trend that’s here to stay. “We expect solo trips to rise in popularity as people continue to seek out unique experiences,” agrees Anslow. “And we are very excited to play a big part in the future of the industry’s solo offering.”

Deer is similarly optimistic about the future of the single traveller. “Solo travelling is definitely here to stay,” he contends. “People love to travel and being alone should not be a barrier to that. By understanding what it is each guest is looking for in their adventure, whether that be a relaxing break alone or the chance to socialise and meet new people, we want to continue to provide a warming and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone.”