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jun 15 2009

Solo travel: Avoid getting "singled out" for fees on cruise ships

A reader asks how to skip the "single supplement" fee that cruise lines typically charge solo travelers:

I am a single senior citizen who previously enjoyed cruising with my husband. Since he passed away a few years ago, I have been interested on going solo. I have been very disappointed in the fact that there are no opportunities for this, without paying a penalty.

I realize that cruise lines will waive the fee if I agree to room with a stranger. But I wish to be on my own. After having spent most of my life living and doing things with the same person, it is very difficult to deal with a roommate.

I have seen single room offers on high end cruise lines only. I wonder why in these tough economic times some innovative person within the cruise industry doesn't come up with a plan and convert some rooms on the ship to single occupancy.

Sincerely,

Leanne Clark

Dear Leanne,

First: We're sorry to hear about the loss of your husband. But we're delighted to know that you're continuing to travel. We understand why you would rather not share a room with a stranger at this point in your life.

You ask: "Why in these tough economic times…the cruise industry doesn't…convert some rooms on the ship to single occupancy?"

Good question! Britain's P&O; Cruises has recently announcement that its new superliner Azura, due to be christened next year, will have single cabins for single cruise goers at affordable prices and without supplement fees. Hopefully, U.S. cruise lines will learn from the British example.

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What to do in the meantime? Here are a couple of tips.

1. Try one-way, shoulder-season cruise itineraries. The shoulder-season—when families aren't traveling—is a fine time to save on the single supplement on cruise ships. Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, charge less for the supplement on what these so-called "repositioning cruises," when cruise lines "move their ships from their summer cruising waters to their winter waters (from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean in the fall), or vice versa," reports travel writer Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg.

These cruises often last longer (between 7 and 12 days) than standard cruises—yet cost up to half as much per day per person as the norm. Norwegian, for instance, recently had interior berths on a late October transatlantic cruise going for as low as $399 per passenger, says editor of Cruisemates Paul Motter.

Pick the type of repositioning cruise that suits your style. Some itineraries have themes, such as wine tastings, and multiple port stops, like Holland America's Zaandam's recent itinerary between San Diego and Vancouver, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic. Other routes cover a lot of sea with few—if any—port stops, such as an early November Carnival itinerary between Dover, England, and Boston.

Some people might find the lack of port stops boring. But others won't mind: Because these cruises are less popular, the ships are often well below capacity—which means you receive additional special attention from the (underworked) on-board staff without having to pay additional gratuities, says Motter.

When considering a one-way cruise, nabbing an affordable one-way flight home is key to keeping total trip costs down. For international itineraries, consider that, as of May, American Airlines offers redemptions for frequent flier miles for one-way tickets, which is an affordable way to book one-way tickets. Domestically, JetBlue, and Southwest sell one-way fares that are also inexpensive.

2. Look for last-minute deals. Some companies try to off-load unbooked cabins in the weeks before a departure by offering "happy hour" specials in which they reduce the supplement, writes Brooke Glassberg. The sales are typically held the same day they're announced on the companies' websites, says Amber Blecker, a travel agent who founded a website listing discounts on supplements for solo cruisers: singlescruiseresource.com. Most travel agents receive advance warning of the sales.

We hope that if any readers have additional advice for you that they'll share it in the comments section.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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