European River Cruises for Single Travelers
By Ted Scull.
To begin with the hard reality, there’s far greater demand for single accommodations aboard cruise ships than there is an adequate supply to meet it. Then comes the task of landing a fair fare that equals or gets close to the per person double occupancy rate.
There’s no question, some Europe river cruise lines cater to single travelers more than others.
If you didn’t know, by the way, cruise boats and ships of all sizes (unlike hotels), base their cabin fares on a per person rate for two people in a cabin.
For most single travelers, without deep pockets, the general paucity of single rates is a barrier to cruising as often as one would like, and for some, a dead end.
This dilemma comes as no news to veteran travelers, including my own experience for many years. Sometimes I would find a friend to join me, and otherwise, it was go it alone and pay the freight, or not sail at all.
Why are there so few single cabins?
Let’s discuss the reason for the paucity before we get onto some good news.
Quite simply, cruise lines can make more moolah building and selling cabins for two than for one.
It is nearly as expensive to design, build and equip a single cabin as it is to build a cabin for two, as both require roughly the same amenities. Further, a double cabin means two people share the same bathroom facilities, which, with their complex piping and wiring, are fairly expensive to build.
At one time, many city hotels were built with single rooms for business travelers. These days, in many countries, that has gone with the wind.
Few river ships today even bother to build any single cabins, and if they do, it’s usually less than the number of fingers on one hand. And if they have a few, they may be on the lowest deck with a view through a small window or porthole.
So, what improves the likelihood of getting a single’s fare?
No river cruise line (or any cruise line or hotel for that matter) wants empty cabins at sailing time. There’s no revenue in that. And this fact is a silver lining for solo cruisers.
From past experience, river cruise lines may sense that some upcoming off-season sailings in spring or fall aren’t selling as well and so may offer discounts and deals for single travelers. That said, there can also be special offers for solo cruisers at other times of the year when demand is down.
Of course, there are pros and cons to cruising at different times. Going in July and August means putting up with the summer tourist crush in the more popular ports. River cruising in the off-season months means the weather may not be ideal — too cool or too rainy.
And remember, taking a river cruise at the last minute to avail of a good deal, means you will have to get your act together relatively quickly to travel (ie, book the dog kennel, get someone to water your plants, purchase airfare etc etc).
Personally, if I have a choice for when to take a European river cruise, I like late spring and autumn, but not too deep into the November chill.
Just what is the single supplement?
If you get lucky, the single rate could be the same as the per person double rate, and that means there is no supplement and the cabin is yours.
Or a single rate could mean there’s an added surcharge of maybe 20 to 50 percent.
Either way, if it’s the itinerary you want, it’s a good deal because you’re not paying the standard double occupancy fare.
Veteran river cruisers who keep coming back know there are roughly a dozen very different Europe river itineraries that often have little or no overlap at all. So, be flexible with your choice of itineraries and take the better fare deal.
It is difficult to rate the lines by their single-fare policies as they do change with supply and demand. Therefore, this round-up is based on a sampling of what I could find on the websites of popular river cruise lines at the time of writing.
Keep in mind, the terms for single fares are all over the map, with some more welcoming than others. And remember, good offers can be long range (ie on a cruise next year) or last minute (ie, a cruise next month).
While not all river lines are covered, the following hopefully gives an understanding of the wide-ranging policies.
River Lines Genuinely Catering to Solo Travelers
As some river cruise lines see single travelers as an important part of their revenue stream, they actively cater to them.
This UK-based river line loves solo travelers enough that they have scheduled eight solo-friendly Europe river cruises for fall 2019, including two departures on the Danube and Douro rivers. On these sailings, singles will not pay a single supplement. Riviera debuted its series of solo cruises in 2018 and they’re very popular. A 7-night Danube River cruise for solos starts at $2,189 USD per person on Oct. 28, Nov. 1 and 4th departures. They have a dedicated section on their website called “River Cruises for Solo Travelers.”
Grand Circle Cruise Line promotes “The Solo Experience” front and center on its website’s homepage, boasting: “We offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed.”
When you click on Uniworld’s “Offers” button at the top of the homepage, the “2019 Solo Traveler Savings” comes right up. You can see the dates that are open for single fare discounts. Then you are asked to call Uniworld for the actual price.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel has a prominent “Solo Travel” button on the home page that outlines fares, discounts, teaming up with another single traveler in a double cabin, and lots of good information about traveling solo.
Avalon shows selected departures with single rates, with five cabins initially offered. They show how many are left and the deadline for booking.
The line’s 2 to 4 Single-Specific cabins on more than half the riverboat fleet are slightly smaller than a standard cabin. During promotions, the single supplement may be waved for a few weeks or a month and more, and when there is a single supplement for a double cabin, it usually runs between 25 and 35% and seldom higher.
Meanwhile, Crystal River Cruises’ site reads, “Solo Fares on Request.”
AmaWaterways does not tout single travelers, rather indicates that if a discount sailing is offered, the single supplement, if not waived, is added to the already established discounted or original base fare.
When you go to Viking’s Help/FAQs and look for “What is your single supplement?” it starts off — “On occasion, Viking Cruises will make special solo traveler fares available. Please check back for pricing updates.”
While perhaps not the first line to look for attractive single fares, Viking does operate by far the largest fleet of European river boats and, therefore, offers the most departures.
The Scenic river cruises website has a “Special Offers” notice, but recently that led to solo fares buried under the offer for a third passenger occupying a suite. It says, unless the single supplement for that sailing is waived, the passenger will pay the supplement (percentage) before applying that to the discounted fare.
Keep checking back if you don’t see what you want and can afford, and if a lead appears, and requires a phone call, do it. If the line wants you to book a single, the offer may improve.
River Cruising is Ideal for Single Travelers
Taking from less just than 100 to perhaps 200 passengers, riverboats are definitely small ships and they’re great options for solo travelers. On Europe’s waterways and other parts of the world as well.
- Singles on river boats don’t face multiple lounge choices as on the big ships when searching for the right atmosphere. Upon entering the riverboat’s lounge bar, take a quick scan and then choose a seat to aim for.
- If you want to meet others, ask those seated if they are saving the seat(s) first, and if the answer is “no, please join us,” you have an invitation. The ensuing conversation may lead to, “Would you like to join us for dinner?”
- If you don’t find much of a rapport, sooner rather than later, excuse yourself and head for the restaurant. The maître d’ might ask your preference and suggest a table with others who were just seated.
- At the outset, it’s best not to get too tied to the same people, as you the may miss chances to widen your repertoire.
- Shore excursions give you additional opportunities to meet others with easy topics at hand to discuss.
Good hunting, and hopefully Bon Voyage!
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