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Sailing Solo

by Linda Coffman

What on earth was I doing heading half way around the world on my own? My husband and I routinely go our separate ways for business travel, but when it comes to cruising, we’re a team. I plan and pack and he handles the “heavy” lifting—from keeping track of currency to dealing with our often weighty luggage. When business obligations kept him from accompanying me on a Mediterranean cruise, I decided I could I manage it alone.

"Unaccompanied" ladies enjoying cocktails, canapés & camaraderie on Silver Whisper

While planning, I made an important discovery—don’t pack more in a suitcase than you can lift. Luckily, women’s clothes take up less room than men’s and are lighter. Everything I needed for an overnight hotel stay and my lengthy cruise fit into one medium-size suitcase, a rolling carry-on bag, and a huge purse. I accomplished this by limiting my wardrobe to two basic colors and mixing-and-matching. There was even a bit of room left over for souvenirs to add along the way. Best of all, I could carry the suitcases for short distances without straining my back.

For airline flights, it’s easier on your shoulders to use a rolling carry-on rather than a tote bag. Use a bit of caution here, though. If your rolling bag has a “hook” rather than a more secure locking strap, you could be relieved of anything you hang on it without even realizing it's gone. While struggling to deposit my carry-on bag in overhead airplane bins, gentlemen are usually willing to lend a hand. Chivalry is still alive—thankfully. Lifting the bag wasn’t a problem, but lifting it overhead wasn’t easy.

Cruise line transfers made the trips between airport, hotel, and the ship a simple procedure. Just follow the cruise line's welcoming representative. In my pre-cruise hotel room I marveled at all the space—all for ME. All alone. This was when it hit me that the loneliest part of the voyage would be when I was by myself in my hotel room and ship’s stateroom. I shook off that odd feeling of solitude and luxuriated in a long bath to revive after the plane ride. No need to hurry, no one was tapping a foot waiting on me.

It was my good fortune to meet up right away with other female solo sailors and we found each other to be compatible travel companions. But what if I were completely on my own? No problem. A cruise line courtesy desk offered advice and tours at the hotel and the concierge was available with restaurant and shopping recommendations. A pre-cruise tour is an excellent opportunity to make friends with fellow shipmates.

Embarkation day reinforced the notion that cruise ships are modern versions of Noah’s Ark. My fellow passengers were overwhelmingly couples. Again, not a big deal. It didn’t take long to find other women sailing on their own or in small groups with friends and female family members. Instead of attending the singles get-together held on most ships, head for the spa, Jacuzzi, or the computer center where striking up a conversation is more relaxed. The computer center is where I met a congenial group of ladies sending email to the husbands and children they left at home.

Shipboard hours are easily filled with lectures, shows, and activities where singles are urged to join in. I was delighted to find that my ship had Gentlemen Hosts® and I wouldn't be left out of the dancing. That desolate “hotel” homesickness never overcame me during the cruise portion of my trip. And imagine the luxury of having a deluxe stateroom all to myself with storage and amenities designed for two. It sort of made up for not being able to share a bon voyage toast on my private balcony—somehow, champagne doesn’t have its customary sparkle when there is no one to share it with.

On port days, shore excursions are the most effortless way to see the sights, but don’t discount teaming up with newly made friends to explore independently. Women on their own are eager to share their experiences with one another and an informal group increases everyone’s comfort level when in a new and foreign environment.

And let’s be honest here, men don’t always share our interests. On our own, we women find leisurely window-shopping just as fascinating as seeing yet another cathedral. And how about a late afternoon stop just for tea and relaxation? Doing frivolous “female” things never gets in the way of exploring ports. In fact, what better way is there to get an understanding of a foreign culture than by observing the current fashions, home décor trends, and foods of a region?

The major downside to cruising single in a couple’s world is pricing. Most modern cruise ships just don’t have “single” cabins and nearly all fares are based on double occupancy. Depending on category, supplements for sailing solo can range from 125 percent to the entire fare for two. If you don’t mind relinquishing privacy, some lines will match you with a roommate. In that case you pay the lower double occupancy rate and, if there’s no one to pair you up with, you get a cabin to yourself for no additional charge.

With proper planning and the right attitude, I found it’s a snap to sail solo.

Gentlemen Hosts® LET THE LITTLE GIRL DANCE... As I prepared for the Captain's Reception on Silver Whisper, song lyrics from my teenage years ran through my mind—"little wallflower on the shelf, standing by herself." Was it worth going through the formal night ritual of makeup, hair, a gown & heels? Would anyone ask me to dance?

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