At least one big cruise line has decided to court the solo travel market. Norwegian Cruise Line's new Norwegian Epic has 128 "Epic Studios" designed for single occupancy. Although a few other big cruise ships have a few single cabins, the Norwegian Epic is the first megaship I know of where the single cabins represent a serious effort to target the solo traveler market, not just an afterthought.
Those studios are unlike anything else in the major-line cruise inventory. At 100 square feet they're smaller than even the typical river cruise cabins. In fact, they're about the same size as the rooms in Formule 1 and other low-end French motel chains, although each does have a separate shower, sink, and toilet. Cabins provide a full-size bed, flat-screen TV, and small desk. All studios are inside, and some have connecting doors to others. For more personal space, studio occupants have access to a dedicated two-story "studio lounge" where you can mingle with other singles or get a cup of morning coffee or an evening drink.
The layout represents an ingenious use of shipboard space. Cabins are on decks 11 and 12, with the lounge near midship. All studio cabins are located on either side of a central corridor, on the center of the ship and between rows of conventional inside cabins on either side. Only studio passengers use the central corridor. The advantage is a certain level of privacy and separation of studio occupants from the other 4,000 or so cruisers; the downside is that occupants of the far fore and fore aft studios have a long schlep to the lounge. Following a transatlantic cruise in late June, Norwegian Epic will operate seven- and 14-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami.
Pricing seems attractive to solo travelers. For summer seven-day cruises, studio cabins generally go for $150 to $200 more than the least expensive per-person rate for an inside cabin. Where the inside cabins start at $649 per person, the studios start at $799; when the inside cabins start at $799 per person, the studios start at $999. Those prices are the equivalent of a single supplement of 23 percent to 25 percent, a better deal than the 50 percent to 100 percent supplement most mass market cruise lines charge for single occupancy of a double cabin. Norwegian's studio cabins represent the best offering I've seen for travelers who really want to cruise solo.
Of course, you have alternatives.
-- Some other big-ship cruise line ships have at least a few cabins designed for single occupancy. Check with any of the big online cruise agencies for possibilities.
-- Carnival has a reputation for low single supplements. Several postings on the Website Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com) report promotional single supplements that are often very low. And the high-end cruise lines generally charge small supplements -- or even none -- although even the no-supplement rates on these ships are far higher than you'd have to pay on a mass-market line. And some small-ship "niche" cruise line ships have single cabins.
-- If you're willing to share, many cruise lines or cruise agencies will match you with another single of the same sex, so you pay only the per-person rate. A few actually "guarantee" a match: If they can't find a match, you still get the per-person rate. Or if you prefer, you can arrange your own match through one of several travel-matching organizations. But many singles I know really don't want to share cabin accommodation with anyone, and the studio cabins represent an attractive option.
-- If you're willing to gamble on finding what you want, you can also wait until a month or so before you want to leave to check last-minute deals. I've often seen "no single supplement" or "reduced single supplement" deals on last-minute promotions. And I sometimes see per-person rates cut so much that even with a 50 percent supplement, single occupancy is a great deal.
Despite these options, many solo travelers will welcome Norwegian's new approach. If you're interested, contact Norwegian (www.ncl.com) or one of the big online agencies.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at email@example.com. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun