Cruising solo: Now it’s easier

by Anita Dunham-Potter on January 29, 2007

Finally! A cruise Web site that offers price breaks for solo travelers and an interactive roommate finder aimed at sophisticated adults. It’s called SoloCruiser.com.

“We’re not a mating-and-dating service,” says Rick White, president of White Travel in West Hartford, Conn., and co-founder of SoloCruiser. “We’re for people who are mature travelers who have a great time traveling and are looking for a companion ship buddy.”

White’s partner in the venture is Anne Campbell, co-founder and past editor-in-chief of two cruise travel Web sites: CruiseMates and Cruise Critic. “SoloCruiser came about because Anne and I are baby boomers and we’re single and we discovered there wasn’t anything out there for our age group,” White says. Although White and Campbell have a special interest in the boomer crowd, their site caters to all age groups — and with good reason: According to recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are 89.8 million unmarried and single Americans, which represents approximately 41 percent of all U.S. residents. That’s quite a market to tap into.

Rocking the boat

The bane of solo cruising is the “single supplement,” or as some people say, the “single penalty.” This supplement is an adjustment to the published cruise fare that compensates the cruise line for the loss of double occupancy in the cabin. The supplement can be quite high, as much as double the regular per-person rate, and it can keep a lot of people from considering a cruise as a solo vacation.

White saw the opportunity. “The cruise lines can’t afford to give away half a cabin for free just because a passenger chooses not to bring a roommate,” he points out. But volume sales and strategic booking can bring down the cost, and that’s where SoloCruiser can really help. By booking large groups and negotiating directly with the cruise lines, SoloCruiser can offer single travelers a break on the single supplement. “In some cases we’re able to offer no single supplement, but on those where a moderate single supplement applies, we still offer great savings,” White says. The most significant savings are found for off-peak cruises, where there is always more room to negotiate.

Ahoy there, roomie!

But the best way for solo travelers to cut costs is to find a roommate for the cruise. SoloCruiser’s interactive “Roommate Finder” lets travelers pick their own roommate from a database of other individuals seeking to share a cabin. While some cruise lines also offer a pairing service for solo cruisers, they usually base their matches only on gender and smoking preferences. With the Roommate Finder, you can communicate directly with potential cabin mates to determine whether you will both feel comfortable in each other’s company.

“This way, it’s not like walking into a room with a total stranger,” White says.

Theme me up

SoloCruiser provides sailings in four cruise categories. The first, “Lower Single Supplement Cruises,” are for independent travelers; the other three categories are for escorted groups: “55+ Cruises,” “Themed Cruises” and “All-Inclusive Cruises.” The 55+ cruises and the all-inclusive packages feature a dine-around program in which guests are assigned to a different table every night so they can meet other solo cruisers (unless, of course, they prefer to sit with the same people every night).

White says the company is building its roster of themed cruises (which currently include photography, culinary, and health and wellness cruises) and some cruises will be more inclusive, covering bar tabs and some shore excursions. Because new cruises are added to SoloCruiser’s Web site each week, the company offers a free newsletter to visitors who want to be able to pounce as soon as a terrific bargain appears.

“Our goal is to be the only place to go if you want to cruise on a solo basis,” says White.

Solo cruising has come a long way from the days when doddering widows sailed off to sea with a good book and a lap rug. This Web site has caught the new wave.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column.

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