Solos and assigned-seating dining on ships

This item appears on page 32 of the June 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?”

We printed a few subscribers’ experiences in last month’s issue, and more are shown below. (Since complaints about recent cruises should be sent to ITN’s editor to be dealt with separately, in this compilation the names of lines and ships about which complaints were cited were not included.)


 

I took a 16-day cruise on the Quest of Azamara Club Cruises (Miami, FL; 855/292-6272, www.azamaraclubcruises.com), departing Singapore Dec. 6, 2018, sailing through the Indonesian islands (including Komodo) and ending at Perth, Western Australia. This was my first solo cruise trip and my first one NOT with Princess Cruises.

I had a wonderful experience with the dining opportunities on the Quest, since there was a buffet available for all meals, with plenty of open seating, inside and outside.

The dining room on the fifth level was very welcoming, the host or hostess always asking if I wanted to sit at a communal table or wanted a single seating. I always had a communal table, since I met such interesting people (couples from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and even one from the US).

The Quest is a rather small ship (686 passengers), and I found that everyone — staff, officers and other passengers — was very friendly.

There were two specialty restaurants at which you could make reservations, but I opted to go to the the buffet or regular dining room for my meals (superb, by the way).

• The three cruises I took with Princess Cruises (Santa Clarita, CA; 800/774-6237, www.princess.com), on ships with over 1,000 passengers each, were 30 days from San Francisco to Sydney in 2007, Alaska in 2010, and San Francisco to Florida via the Panama Canal in 2012. I went with a travel partner on each, but we ate breakfast and lunch at different times.

For breakfast and lunch, the head waiter in the formal dining room always asked if I, dining solo, wanted to sit at a community table, and I did.

For dinner, in the formal dining room, I was assigned seating by the headwaiter at the beginning of each cruise. Once, I switched my first assigned seat because I didn’t like the rumble of the ship under my table. My travel partner and I moved to another table with four other diners.

They were the most enjoyable meals, and we met lots of people from different countries. I didn’t see anyone dining alone in Princess’ formal dining rooms at dinner.

Diane Gunsul
Citrus Heights CA



Having taken a number of cruises — from the big-ship lines such as Celebrity and Princess with my late partner, John, to the smaller ships of the Azamara group — I can certainly state a preference for small ships, especially when traveling alone. It is so much easier to meet and make friends, as you continually run across the same people, unlike on the large ships, where you never seem to see anyone twice.

In August 2016, as a single traveler, I selected a Dalmatian Coast cruise (Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Italy) from Azamara Club Cruises, sailing on the 694-passenger Azamara Journey.

I approached the manager of the main dining room about my concerns of dining alone. He said they made up larger tables for singles, and I joined these on several occasions. Other times, I took a table for two on my own. In every instance, my neighbors initiated conversation and it was delightful.

As an aside, I should mention that Azamara does offer occasional “single” cruises for which the single supplement is considerably reduced.

• In September 2018, another widow and I traveled on the Viking Sky (930 passengers) of Viking Ocean Cruises (Woodland Hills, CA; 866/984-5464, www.vikingcruises.com/oceans). We expressed an interest in sharing a dining room table and were most frequently seated at tables of eight. Again, it was a very comfortable scenario and an easy way to connect with other people.

Janet Pinckard
Lincoln, RI



My husband and I took a river cruise in the Netherlands and Belgium, April 21-28, 2017. The other passengers were mostly a mix of Europeans. The only other Americans on the cruise were six women traveling together.

As far as I know, there was no assigned seating in the dining room. On the first night, we were just told by the maĆ®tre d’ to “Sit there,” indicating a table where a German couple and a Norwegian were already sitting. Though they introduced themselves in English, for the entire meal they only talked to each other in German. The American ladies had their own table for six.

The next night, we asked for a different place where we could eat. A spot was found for us but not with other people.

One night we approached a group at a table and politely asked to sit with them but were refused.

We always ended up sitting alone, wherever we could find a spot. We were never actually assigned a table until toward the end of the trip, and then it was at a table alone.

Happily, out of nearly 100 cruises, this happened to us only this once.

Anonymous



For ease of single dining, I can recommend, with great enthusiasm, a river cruise with Tauck (Wilton, CT; 203/899-6500, www.tauck.com).

I took their Basel-to-Amsterdam river cruise on the MS Inspire in mid-April 2018. The ship carries a maximum of 130 guests. There were several of us solo travelers (not traveling together).

There was no assigned seating for any meals. You could sit alone or join a couple or a group. It really didn’t matter whether you traveled alone, in pairs or in a group. The camaraderie developed very quickly. People choosing Tauck tend to be well-traveled, retired professionals.

I have traveled with Tauck on a number of land trips too (most recently to Ireland in July 2017), and the same was true then. Tauck’s trips are pricier, but the service is superb.

• For ocean cruising, I recommend Oceania Cruises (Miami, FL; 855/623-2642, www.oceaniacruises.com). In December 2018 I sailed with them for the 14th time. There is no assigned seating for any meals, including dinners in the specialty restaurants. I have not sailed solo with Oceania but have shared tables with solo travelers in the past.

For the specialty restaurants (which are popular and fill quickly), you can and should book dinner reservations online, which can be done up to 90 days prior to sailing, and specify whether you want to eat alone or share a table. In the main dining room, you will be asked if you want to eat alone or join a table.

There is no extra charge for specialty restaurant dining. You only pay for alcohol. (Order a bottle of wine and have it stored for subsequent meals.)

Of Oceania’s seven ships, four (Insignia, Nautica, Regatta and Sirena) carry 684 passengers each, and two (Marina and Riviera) carry 1,250 each.

Emmy Allgood
Fremont, CA



Starting in 2005, I have traveled with Oceania Cruises a dozen times, particularly during holidays (most recently to Cuba in December 2017-January 2018). They have small ships, each with 684 or 1,250 passengers.

They do not have assigned seating for any of the meals! You can sit by yourself or with anyone you like or join a table with new people.

Contrary to Ms. Alvarez’s experience, I have never gotten a stink-eye from the staff. The host double-checks if I’m dining alone. If it’s a gentleman who is seating me or serving me, I diffuse the “alone” question by asking him to join me. We both have a good laugh. I’m always treated respectfully and get a nice table.

I find the tables of eight too large; it’s difficult to chat with and hear everyone.

A table for four just about guarantees you (a single) will be with a couple. If that happens, I find I am often the couple’s entertainment. They don’t talk to each other; they just ask you bunches of questions, so you can’t eat, and they don’t share anything about themselves. That’s been a typical experience, anyway; a few couples have been lovely.

A table for six is just right. You have a better chance of getting a mix of couples and/or singles, and the table is the right size to converse with all.

As an aside, I have to pay double to Oceania for my single-occupancy cabin. My cruise-travel agent has suggested I sail with other lines, as Oceania is quite punishing in regard to the single supplement.

Karen Caldicott
San Diego, CA



Concerning solos and dinner seating on cruises, I have to tell you that my personal experience has been pure torture.

I went on small ships (under 300 passengers). As a solo, I ended up being put at tables with some very unusual people.

It’s a very, very difficult situation if you don’t have children or grandchildren to talk about during each meal. Some people who are childless bring photo albums of their cats, dogs, etc., so they can attempt to join a conversation. It’s pure hell, and you wonder why you are paying for this experience.

I ended up not eating in order to avoid the dinner table, and I lost weight. It’s an easy way to diet.

However, I must say I have met so many nice, interesting people from all walks of life on my tours and have made some very nice friends on cruises, but mealtimes always seemed to be a problem one way or another.

Anonymous



In September 2017 I took my first solo cruise. I reserved a single-traveler studio cabin on the Norwegian Epic for its 7-night Mediterranean cruise, round trip from Rome/Civitavecchia. The Epic is a mega-cruise ship of 4,100 passengers, but it never felt crowded.

Regarding dining, Norwegian Cruise Line (Miami, FL; 866/234-7350, www.ncl.com) has Freestyle dining, meaning no assigned seating and no fixed mealtimes, though you can certainly reserve a time slot. If you show up at one of the dining rooms as a solo, they will ask if you wish to be seated as a solo or at a group table.

There is even a director who arranges a solos table each evening for dinner and posts a signup in the solos-only lounge. Entry to this area requires a key card.

Also, six months before departure, I signed up for the “Roll Call” for my sailing date on the cruise-reviews website www.cruisecritic.com. By doing this, I made friends online before the sailing. Several of them were senior solo cruisers. We even arranged an independent “meet and greet” the first night. I did several shore excursions and had a few onboard meals with this group.

Sherry Sturges
Williamstown, NJ