River cruise lines are seeing an increase in solo travelers. // © 2018 Tauck
Feature image (above): For singles traveling with family, consider a three-person stateroom. // © 2018 Crystal River Cruises
For travelers who are on their own, river cruising is particularly attractive — a welcoming, safe way to see the world, including exotic destinations. The culture onboard is invariably friendly and inclusive, and open seating at meals, along with lectures and entertainment in the evenings, stimulates conversation among guests.
The river cruise lines are aware that not all single bookings are alike: A high percentage of solo cruisers may be members of family or friend groups, but they also prefer having private space. And even among those traveling alone, some want to socialize while others choose to be on their own.
Although river cruises seem tailor-made for this market, a serious challenge is the single supplement, which can bring the rate to as much as 200 percent (the amount the cruise line would earn for double occupancy bookings of the stateroom).
But designated single accommodations, third-person cabins and special discounts are offered on many itineraries; it’s just a matter of finding the right match between the client’s timetable and the cruise line’s offerings. The solutions vary from line to line, from entire cruises designated for single travelers without supplement to specially designed single cabins.
Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways executive vice president and co-owner, described the company’s policies in handling solo travelers.
“At the beginning of the cruise, we have a cocktail reception for solo travelers,” she said.
Depending on the preferences of the solo travelers, Ama will sometimes host more events for solo travelers. And at dinner, the maitre d’ always asks whether solo cruisers want to join another table.
Solo bookings are growing; Karst said Ama used to see about 10 percent of its passengers in this category; now the numbers are closer to 15 percent.
She pointed out that in many cases relatives or friends travel together on Ama with individual accommodations. Others can choose to take advantage of the staterooms designed for Adventures by Disney to accommodate a third person.
Ama reserves two staterooms on the lowest deck for solo travelers, the same size as doubles, but with no supplement. If the two are already booked, the reservations agent may suggest an alternative departure where one is available, and in some cases he or she may be able to open another solo stateroom on the desired cruise. There are also special promotions offering accommodations on other decks without single supplement.
Ama sends out promotional emails regarding specials to its database of agents, but Karst pointed out that things change quickly, and it is best to discuss possibilities with a reservations agent by phone or via email.
Avalon Waterways, too, is taking single cruisers very seriously. The line is waiving the single supplement on several rooms for departures throughout Europe and on the Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers in Southeast Asia. Agents will find them in the travel agent portal.
“We understand that there’s no such thing as a typical traveler,” said Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “Not any more. Travel preferences have never been more diverse nor has traveling the world been more accessible or appealing to solo travelers. As a result, solo travel is becoming increasingly popular. Nearly 10 percent of travelers who choose Avalon go solo.”
In the case of American Queen Steamboat Company, the greatest opportunities to cruise solo on all boats are in July and during the Christmas holidays. Otherwise, they have four single cabins on American Queen and one on American Empress. The newest vessel, American Duchess, has none. Because of these constraints, the company carries about 8 percent solo travelers, a bit under the industry average, although its cruises are well-suited to this market.
Emerald Waterways’ Star-Ships on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers have signature Emerald Single Staterooms exclusively for solo travelers on the Riviera Deck, with no supplement. The staterooms range from 105 square feet to 117 square feet and have picture windows, a single bed with luxury linens, a minibar, complimentary bottled water and free Wi-Fi access.
In addition, Emerald is currently waiving the single supplement on standard staterooms (categories D, E and F) on its July 21 and July 28 Secrets of the Douro departures, and its June 2 and June 23 Sensations of Southern France sailings. The waived single supplement can be booked through Emerald’s Expressbook system or via its call center with promo code “Galentine.”
U.K.-based Riviera River Cruises — which has opened a U.S. national sales office and is selling five new ships in North America — will have two departures completely dedicated to solo travelers this year, with no single supplement on any category.
The Blue Danube River Cruise for Solo Travelers departs from Budapest on Nov. 1, 2018, onboard the Oscar Wilde; and the Burgundy, River Rhone & Provence River Cruise for Solo Travelers departs from Lyon on Nov. 6 onboard the Lord Byron. Agents can find details here.
Additionally, Riviera offers four to six single-supplement-free cabins on every departure throughout the year, even during peak season. The number available depends on the ship.
Solo travelers wishing to sail on Crystal River Cruises will find the single rate (200 percent) lowered to 125 to 130 percent for select cruises such as the 14-day Jewels of the Rhine cruise on departures June 24 and July 22, and the 10-day Treasures of the Danube departing May 10 and May 20. In addition, Crystal Mozart can accommodate at least three travelers in every stateroom for singles traveling with friends or family.
In North America, American Cruise Lines offers single travelers solo staterooms available on all of its 10 ships. All vessels have cocktail and hors d’oeuvres hours each evening before dinner that contribute to an environment that is very welcoming for single travelers.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours is currently offering 50 percent off the single supplement on a select number of 2018 and 2019 European river cruises; agents can check availability and book via Expressbook or Scenic’s call center.
Tauck provides special savings for solo travelers this year by again eliminating the single supplement on its Category 1 European riverboat cabins on each departure of every Tauck river cruise itinerary. In all, the single supplement is being waived on more than 200 Tauck river cruise departures for the coming year.
In addition, Tauck is reducing the single supplement by $1,000 on other selected cabin categories on 58 departures of 16 different river itineraries. They’re all noted in the 2018 river cruise brochure and on the line’s website. Agents can go to a specific page for any river itinerary, click on the Pricing & Availability tab and then scroll down to see if any dates with the reduced supplement are listed below the pricing grid.
In the West, UnCruise Adventures sees about 14 percent of its bookings coming from solo travelers, although around half of these have friends and/or family members on board, too. Singles benefit from the buddy system they use during adventure activities such as snorkeling, kayaking and hiking.
The company has a 175 percent single supplement, but they do have specials that lower it at times. Agents should inquire when they call, as these are not published.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, too, is finding more of its guests traveling solo, and the line has waived the single supplement on many of its most popular itineraries, such as Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux; Castles Along the Rhine; Enchanting Danube & Munich; and more. The waived supplement fee is listed here.