Cruise ship life is a breeze for the solo traveller, writes Nicola Lamb.
Big cruise ships are temporary villages forming and floating on the water.
You slide on in to join a shapeshifting community that broadly resembles the one you've
left behind. Families, couples, traders, cleaners, cooks and sailors from everywhere, will populate your two-or-three-week sea town.
The usual social rules and norms travel with you. On board is all the wealth disparity, uneven status, power dynamics, social awkwardness, excitement, fun and budding friendships of home. There's enough official supervision from your hosts to create a feeling of safe boundaries.
That contained familiarity is part of what makes cruise ship life a breeze for the solo traveller.
It's easy for someone on their own to both fit in on board and follow an itinery while doing their own thing.
A small group of people travelling together carry their own social circle with them. They can react to outsiders from a position of confidence and family support.
The independent tourist has to rely on him or herself. In that situation, the goal is about finding a level of enough comfort in your surroundings with a bunch of complete strangers to really enjoy the ride.
A ship on a voyage is not the open-ended crossroads a hotel is, where guests' journeys take their own routes rather than move together. On the big boat you're both with and apart from your fellow trip mates. In that sense it's more like a coach tour but without the enclosed, enforced intimacy. You're not being thrown together in a small space and having to make the best of it.
Do you really want to remember your precious 10 days in Italy as much for the couple late back on the bus at most stops or the family complaining about the meals as the marvels of Pompeii or Siena?
People want different things from that short period of time they've thought about and saved for over months or years. There are places they want to see, dreams to fulfill, time to kick back, hopefully unknown experiences and surprises ahead and new people to meet.
A sizeable ship gives you the chance to tick those boxes in a balanced way, and limit annoyances. You have your own cabin that you unpack into at the start. There's no more packing and moving until you leave. It's your quiet space if you get sick of everyone else and want to blob out or read that book you haven't had time for.
On board there are so many different, regularly restocked, dining options it's easy to float around and pick up food where and when it suits. You can eat early or late, you don't feel conspicuous having lunch on your own. The cost has been paid before you board.
There's enough space on board to get the exercise to work off those meals, to have chats and drinks with people, to see a film or listen to live music.
And a major slice of cruising heaven is taken for granted but is still miraculous to experience — simply being out on the sea during a blood red sunset.
On a more practical level, a cruise is a great way to pack a lot into a short period for a solo traveller while staying in control of your costs. Port stops are for hours rather than days and result in a different approach that sacrifices some depth in finding out about destinations for width. For instance, seeing areas of the Scandinavian region via land would require a tighter focus considering the time and work involved in moving between destinations. You might be lucky to fit in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm or Oslo and some fjords in your available time. A typical Baltics cruise will visit those highlights plus other calls in Denmark and Germany; Helsinki; St PetersburgandTallinn.
The ship travels between stops from the afternoon or evening of one day and arrives the next morning, meaning distances are covered during "dead" time while you are sleeping. Compare that to moving across land: Taking a series of train journeys or flight hops, waiting in airports, and extra taxi, bus or subway fares. As a solo tourist, all those elements of travel involve extra stress around having to be organised, alert, and aware of costs while just hoping you don't stuff up.
In contrast, on the ship the golden rule to worry about is simply to get back on board on time. The easiest way to be sure of that is to go on ship-organised day tours. But there's plenty of opportunity to save the money and wander about on your own.
You will come out at the end with extra costs for items such as those day tours, laundry, shopping, internet at sea, alcohol, bottled water and lattes.
But that can all be factored in.
For a solo traveller, the largely stress-free and safe voyaging on a cruise helps you find a level of enough comfort in your surroundings with a bunch of complete strangers to really enjoy the ride.