No agenda, new people and plenty of entertainment: Is it worth it to go on a cruise by yourself?
- Going on a cruise with family or friends can be a great experience, but there are also downsides.
- My first solo cruise could have been cheaper with someone to split costs, but I could see why it's worth it for solo travelers.
- While the itinerary was only three nights in duration, I felt I could have spent more time on board and continued to enjoy myself.
On a Friday morning at the end of May, I looked out at sea from a balcony on MSC Cruises' MSC Divina cruise ship at a string of shore in the Bahamas.
It was peaceful – quiet in the stateroom I had booked for myself just a week before.
I've traveled by myself in the past, but this was the first time I'd ever gone on a cruise alone.
The ship was more crowded than a Royal Caribbean cruise I had sailed on in July – with just over 2,400 guests on board, a little over half of the maximum occupancy. The maximum is 4,345 passengers filling every single sleeping space, Field Sutton, director of communications for MSC, told me.
The cruise line is starting to see more bookings, Rubén A. Rodríguez, president of MSC Cruises USA, told USA TODAY in an email.
"Demand is strong, and we’ve had a few weeks in a row of record bookings globally," Rodriguez said last Thursday. "In the Mediterranean, we just added another ship for the summer season in response to the demand for MSC Cruises' unique vacation experiences. We're seeing similar demand growth for our ships serving U.S. ports."
Even with so many co-passengers boarding alongside me, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I be lonely? Uncomfortable? Bored?
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Pushing the internal questions aside, I boarded the Sophia Loren-inspired MSC ship on a Thursday afternoon in May with a required negative coronavirus antigen test, proof of vaccine and my passport in hand. It was technically a work trip, so even if I felt alone there would be plenty to do, I told myself.
So, after three nights on board the ship, complete with stops at Nassau and Ocean Cay, the marine reserve owned by MSC Cruises, was it worth it to cruise alone?
In short: yes.
A solo cruise was a true escape
I've never spent time alone quite the same way as I did on MSC Divina.
Alone time in itself can be a luxury but it can be even more of a gift on vacation.
I often forget how nice it is to do what you want, when you want, without concern for someone else's desires.
One night, for example, I thought to myself, "I should take advantage of everything the ship has to offer – check out a show, attend another bar, see what the casino might be like."
But I was exhausted.
Had I been with a travel partner, I would have asked what they wished to do and gone along with it. Instead, I retired to my stateroom (which was spotless when I boarded, to my delight) and its warm-toned decor and was lulled to sleep by the waves.
I woke up the next day well-rested – a feeling I hadn't had in some time – surrounded by pillows on my stateroom's plush mattress and noticed my bedhead in the wide full-length mirror that spanned the width of the sleeping area.
I padded over to the balcony to watch the sunrise as we headed toward Nassau. The feeling of calm was almost surreal.
I wasn't thinking about my to-do list, what my plans were for the day, or what was coming up through the weekend, much less after the cruise would conclude.
In a totally new environment and without anyone in my life, I had a true escape, being nearly untied to my life at home – apart from the fact that I was on a work trip.
Plus, I was excited to try the food on board, which I had heard was notable (I thought it was decent – though I couldn't try everything due to a gluten allergy) and also to visit the cruise line's marine reserve, Ocean Cay, which looked beautiful in photos I'd seen online and on Instagram before embarking.
I met plenty of people
Generally speaking, people are friendly. I've experienced this traveling solo before but after spending a long weekend on the same ship with hundreds of other people, faces start to become familiar.
While on board MSC Divina, crew members were friendly and chatty as were passengers.
I met an entire bachelor party on the ship from which I continued to see members through the remainder of the trip. It was nice to see familiar faces and wave to them in port in Nassau and also on the ship over the course of the sailing.
And, one night, before heading to dinner, I met a woman by offering to take her picture. She was alone too. After we finished snapping some sunset shots, I joined her for a drink on one of the ship's top decks.
Chatting over mojitos, I learned we had some common ground and we agreed to meet up again later on. I spent part of the day on Ocean Cay with her and had dinner with her the last night of the cruise as well.
Others on board were plenty chatty too.
It was so nice to meet new people, especially after two years with more time spent at home than in years past.
Seeing new places alone can be exciting
One of the elements of cruising I like most is that ships often stop in multiple locations. MSC Divina stopped in Nassau and at Ocean Cay, MSC's marine reserve in the Bahamas.
Both are beautiful. I'd been to Nassau before and I was excited to see the city's downtown area again and visit its local shops.
I also had never visited Ocean Cay so I was looking forward to checking out its beaches and clear waters.
It was nice to get off the ship on our morning in Ocean Cay and explore the island, and all it had to offer MSC passengers. I wasn't in a rush, I had the time to explore as I wished.
There was plenty to do to entertain myself
While the itinerary was only three nights in duration, I felt I could have spent more time on board and continued to enjoy myself. I didn't even get to everything I would have liked to try during the sailing such as the water slide and specialty dining restaurants (which come at an extra cost).
I enjoyed multiple areas of the ship and explored the main dining room's options as well as the buffet and another café on board for a snack. I also walked through all entertainment venues and enjoyed a steel drum band in addition to other musicians who played on board.
But if I had been on the ship longer, I probably would have attended one of the performances on board or an exercise class. And maybe, even though services cost extra, I might've signed up for a massage or facial in the ship's spa.
I think I still would have preferred to sail with company
Even having had a lovely experience sailing alone, I still think I would have preferred to enjoy the cruise with a friend or family member.
That said, given the chance, I would do it again. I enjoyed myself.