by Scott Laird
Last updated: 2:00 AM ET, Thu August 18, 2016
I have a love-hate relationship with cruises. I love the ships. I love staring out at the ocean, watching flying fish skim across the flotsam, looking like insects from twelve stories above the waves. I love the nonstop availability of paid-for food and booze. I love shipboard traditions like fruit bowls and formal dinners. I love having plans on a weekday that involve little more than a book and something with rum in it.
I'm also a sociable introvert who likes to travel solo. Some introverts might consider being trapped on a ship full of impertinently chatty strangers torture, but my love of the sea and the flying fish and the rum drinks outweighs my irritation with under-traveled, oftentimes obnoxious fellow travelers who spend their day yelling at their kids and holding their forks like game show buzzers while they saw away at meals that after a few days all begin to taste the same.
I like Princess because they manage to do a good job of blending modern amenities with cruising traditions. They're not afraid to build their ships to look and feel like ships-no distracting guests with tree-lined avenues and bowling alleys and garish water slides here. You'll find typical cruise line entertainment like stage shows, movies, and karaoke. Some things are new, like specialty dining and the cushy quiet adults-only retreat known as The Sanctuary, and some things harken back to the days of the Love Boat (which is also available for viewing on in-stateroom television). Consistent with industry practice, Princess also typically charges solo cruises up to twice the double occupancy rate on the majority of sailings, but they make up for it by counting single occupancy fares as two sailings in their loyalty program.
For solo travelers who don't like crowds and fuss, it's possible to have a perfectly existential journey, even onboard a ship like Caribbean Princess, which you'll be sharing with over 3,000 fellow travelers on a fully-booked sailing. I'd like to share some tips, and thankfully many Princess ships have a lot of the same features, so these don't necessarily apply to just Caribbean Princess.
[READMORE]READ MORE: 14 Best Cruises for Solo Travelers[/READMORE]
Avoid the buffet
It's always a circus. It's popular with many cruisers for breakfasts and lunches on sea days, and tends to be particularly busy on embarkation day (ever notice how the first question a stateroom steward always asks is whether you've eaten?) Princess typically opens one of the Anytime Dining rooms for breakfasts and lunches on dis/embarkation days and sea days, and this is often a quieter, lower-hassle experience for solo diners.
Book Traditional Dining, Second Seating
The second seating is the last one of the evening, so if you're a particularly languid diner, you won't be rushed out the door so the stewards can reset for the next seating. If you like dining alone, you can also check your table assignment with the chief steward by visiting the Traditional Dining room (the name varies by ship) during set hours on embarkation day to make sure you've been seated by yourself. With Traditional Dining, you simply show up at the same table each evening with the same wait staff-no asking for a table for one, explaining you don't want to share a table, and often waiting with several other hungry diners to be seated.
While in the Wheelhouse Bar
Most Princess ships have The Wheelhouse Bar. On Grand Class ships it's on the Promenade Deck, either forward or aft of The Piazza. Adorned with maritime memorabilia, the entertainment schedule tends to run lighter than other venues, like the Explorer's Lounge and Crooner's (which typically fronts The Piazza) and, as a result, it's often less-trafficked. It's a great place for a pre- or post-prandial beverage with a good book or an eavesdropping ear.
Book a Balcony
There are raucous exceptions, but it's been my experience that most passengers who book balcony staterooms tend to use them in a similar pattern: Step out, lean on rail, stare at ocean, get bored, wander back inside to find entertainment. When the atmosphere on deck gets too frenzied, it's nice to be able to escape into a cubby with a beverage and a wall-to-wall vista of the briny blue.
Take a Walk on the Promenade Deck
The Promenade Deck, often the lowest publicly accessible outdoor deck on the ship, is rarely a popular part of the vessel. The lifeboats sit right overhead, the décor is Spartan, and there's often a noisy generator or fan exhaust in close vicinity. But for lovers of ships and quiet reveries, this is a great place for a leisurely stroll to or from meals or activities.
There are plenty of reasons to cruise solo, and it's no surprise that many cruise lines are starting to add cabins and amenities directed at solo cruisers. I've found that Princess, whether by design or by accident, has always been a good bet for those who go to sea to escape completely (to borrow from the company's marketing tag) even if it means doing so in the company of a crowd of strangers.
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