Solos and assigned-seating dining on ships

This item appears on page 32 of the May 2019 issue.

Solo traveler Edna R.S. Alvarez of Los Angeles, California, described showing up ahead of time at the assigned-seating dining room on an ocean cruise, requesting to be seated at a table with other travelers and being disappointed to end up by herself at a corner table.

She asked ITN subscribers, among other questions, “What specific cruises have you taken where, as a solo, you were comfortable with the meal seating? Did you have better experiences on small ships or large? Was there resistance to seating you with couples? What advice can you offer to improve a solo’s chances of sitting with other diners?”

Here are a few subscribers’ responses. More letters will be printed next month.


In reading about Ms. Alvarez’s experience, my husband and I had a number of questions.

Our first reaction was that this was a totally unhelpful maître d’, but then it occurred to us that if assignments had already been made, it’s very possible that there was nothing he could have done.

There ARE cruise lines that don’t have assigned seating for dinners. In reading message board comments posted on the Cruise Critic website (, it seemed to me that more lines are abandoning assigned seating. Certainly, Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; 855/623-2642,, Norwegian Cruise Line and Azamara Club Cruises don’t have assigned seating.

We started out cruising with the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, which didn’t have assigned seating, but since Oceania came into being, we have pretty much sailed exclusively with them (most recently on back-to-back cruises from Monte Carlo to Rome to Barcelona in May 2017). Among Oceania’s fleet, there are two ships that each carry 1,250 passengers and four ships carrying up to 684 passengers each.

The easiest way to find out if your cruise has assigned seating or not is to call up a cruise line and ask what their policy is. If the cruise line does have assigned seating, you should ask for a seat assignment ASAP. It seems to me that putting in your request before all the assignments have been made is the best way to insure being able to dine with others.

On an Alaska cruise we took many years ago that did have assigned seating, we requested in advance to be seated together with other passengers because we preferred to dine with others.

On a few other occasions, when we saw that a solo traveler was ahead or in back of us while we were waiting for a table, we invited that person to join us. We happen to like sharing a table and always tell the maître d’ that fact.

It’s more simple when they assign tables to people as they come in rather than having a preordained seating arrangement. At least that way, if the people aren’t compatible, it’s just for one meal!

Mura Kievman

Brooklyn, NY

My husband and I took a 14-night “Chasing the Northern Lights” trip in October 2018 on the 1,836-passenger Marella Discovery 2 of Marella Cruises (Luton, England, UK; phone +44 203 451 2682,, a British line operated by TUI UK. I had Googled “discount Norway cruises,” and this was a result. (I booked online. They were difficult to get on the phone.)

The ship has both buffet and sit-down dining. When you go to the dining room, the first thing they ask is, “Do you wish to sit by yourself or would you like to share?” My husband and I always “shared,” and that was one of the highlights of the trip. Most of the other passengers were repeat customers.

We cruised round trip from Southampton, England, and the ship and trip were excellent!

The price was good. The base fare for both my husband and me was $2,760. However, I wanted a back-of-the-ship balcony, so we paid an extra $1,644 for cabin 6626, making our total $4,404. The price was all inclusive, including drinks and gratuities. (We still tipped our room stewards. Why not?)

Marella does cruises all over the world and have quite a following in the UK. We would definitely go with them again. Lots of value for the money.

Jane Hobbs

Virginia Beach, VA

Since my wife died, I have gone on two solo cruises: a 4-day cruise out of Long Beach with Carnival Cruises (Miami, FL; 800/764-7419,, where I was seated with nine heavy-drinking college students on spring break, and a Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, relocation coastal cruise to Vancouver, where I was among four singles at a table for six.

I will not ask for assigned seating again. I don’t like the idea of singles tables.

Carl Boyer

Newhall, CA

My cruising experience is limited to Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 855/932-1711, and Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237,, each with mid to large ships, and Star Clippers (Miami, FL; 800/442-0551,, with small ships.

I always travel alone. I rarely eat in the dining room, so I choose “anytime dining” options. When I do go to the dining room, I am quickly seated with whoever comes in at the same time who speaks English. Sometimes that leaves a vacant seat, but I’ve never complained.

On the bigger ships, I also can choose to sit by myself.

Carol Anderson

Delray Beach, FL

Since my wife died in 1996, I have taken five cruises, including one around the world, all of which were with Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 855/932-1711,

I always eat at the latest mealtime, usually beginning at 8 o’clock. I have had no complaints about the seating I was provided. I was usually assigned a table with other couples and sometimes with a single or two.

On my most recent cruise, “Voyage of the Vikings” in August 2017, I sat with a couple from Canada as well as two couples from the US. The last seat was usually occupied by a single lady from DC, when she was not dining elsewhere. This seating arrangement lasted for the 38 days of the trip, and there were never problems among us.

Philip H. De Turk

Pinehurst, NC

On cruises with Viking River Cruises (Woodland Hills, CA; 800/706-1483, from 2011 to 2016 and with Viking Ocean Cruises (Woodland Hills, CA; 866/984-5464, in 2017 and 2018, I found the ships very accommodating to solo passengers.

Viking’s river ships (about 200 passengers) each have one dining room, and it’s open seating for all meals.

Viking’s ocean ships (approximately 900 passengers each) each have multiple restaurants, including two main dining areas. Two restaurants on each ship require reservations, but none of the other restaurants, dining rooms or other eating areas (buffet, lounges, poolside) have assigned seating; they’re all open seating.

On all Viking River ships, there are large, open-seating “community” tables that can accommodate eight to 10 passengers, and this is often where I sit. All couples or other singles have been very welcoming. Another alternative is to ask for a table for two that is close to other tables.

On the Viking Ocean ships, the arrangement in the dining rooms places tables for two close enough to each other to allow for conversation. There also are tables for four to six.

In the restaurants that require reservations, as a single, you can reserve a spot at a community table or you could request a table for two seated near other tables. In one other restaurant that does not require reservations, you need to ask for a community table when you arrive or you will be seated alone at a table for two.

There are also small eating areas around the ship which are intimate and lead easily to conversation.

My favorite thing to do when I’m alone is to go to the bar/lounge before the first night’s dinner. They serve nibbles and a variety of drinks. I just sit down or join a group, and, next thing you know, I have met people whom I can eat dinner with.

Also, on the excursions or at various ship events, I often ask people if they have dinner plans and, if it seems appropriate, invite them to join me for dinner to talk about the day’s events.

It’s been a long time since I was on a ship with assigned seating. I remember that when that did happen, it was uncomfortable at times, while at other times it was very enjoyable. It just depends on the people.

Cheryl Servais

Dallas, TX

I took three trips with Viking River Cruises in the ’90s and two more with travel pals five years ago plus a cruise through the Panama Canal with Viking Ocean Cruises, Dec. 13, 2018-Jan. 3, 2019. I’m happy to report that ALL the Viking cruises had open seating.

On the river cruises, one enters the dining room and chooses a table.

On the ocean cruise (900 passengers), as we would enter the waiting area the hostess would ask if we’d like to share with a small or large table, and it was a different one each evening.

The seating policy works beautifully.

Meg Coulter

Los Angeles, CA