Many solo travellers are firm fans of river cruising and, having just returned from Scenic Tours' 10-night cruise on the Seine, I can see why. Scenic Gem (which launched earlier this year) accommodates a maximum of 126 passengers, so it's very easy to meet people on board. (On the other hand, as a fellow traveller pointed out, it might be tricky trying to avoid someone you're not too keen on.) The atmosphere is friendly and everyone seems keen to meet new people, while crew members certainly appear to have fun with the passengers.
River cruising in Europe generally attracts passengers aged between 50 and 80-something and it never fails to amaze me how many fascinating stories you hear from the people you meet. They come from all walks of life; on Scenic Gem there were retired Australian farmers, American academics, an English aviation consultant, a doctor, engineers, a Canadian couple who own vineyards in California – and that's just a few.
People often make lifelong friends on river cruises so it's not surprising that this form of travel is so appealing to singles, particularly first-timers who might be apprehensive about travelling alone. You'll also meet other solo travellers – in the past year, numbers of single cruisers have doubled on Scenic's European river cruises.
Shore tours are usually included in the fare and are well organised; the ship's cruise director is on hand to give general advice and local guides escort groups around attractions, so that's one less thing to organise on your own. And you can always opt for an independent tour or time on your own in any port of call if that's more your style.
Another point in favour of river cruises for solo travellers is that most lines waive the single supplement or reduce it substantially. The single supplement is the premium that cruise lines (and hotels) charge on the basis that single guests use the same space and facilities as two people sharing. It can be 10 to 100 per cent of the standard fare, so reductions make it a lot more affordable – and encourages more bookings.
Scenic Tours is offering deals for solo travellers on selected European river cruises next year. They range from no single supplement to 40 per cent off. For example, there's no supplement on the 15-day "Jewels of Europe" itinerary, from Amsterdam to Budapest on departures in March, November and December; and 40 per cent off the same itinerary in the warmer months of June, July, August and September. If you've never travelled alone before this could be a comfortable start to a whole new way of life.
Disclaimer: the writer was a guest of Scenic Tours
Meet the crew
NAME Joell Ferré, French
POSITION First Captain, Scenic Tours' Scenic Gem
MY JOB As the first commander, I am in charge of the nautical department, responsible for safety on board, and drive the ship.
MY TYPICAL DAY Every day is different, according to the sailing schedule and itinerary. Generally, I greet passengers when they go off the ship for an excursion; delegate tasks to the sailors (like cleaning and maintaining the ship); and then deal with the inevitable administration - keeping our logbook up to date, filling out all sorts of forms and reports for the maritime authorities and our headquarters.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT: The two weeks' vacation I get after every cruise! Seriously though, I love driving the ship. I have been sailing on rivers – and the Seine in particular – since I was a little boy. I know the Seine by heart. I feel most happy when I'm on the river. The stretch between Les Andelys and Rouen is stunning. I can sit quietly in the wheelhouse for hours watching the white chalky cliffs glide by.
FAVOURITE PORTS: Rouen. It is the capital of Upper Normandy, not too big and not too small. There is always something going on.
TIP FOR PASSENGERS: Enjoy a cocktail on the sun deck and watch the sun going down; it's very peaceful.
Before you book a shore excursion, check how long it takes to get to your destination of choice and how long you'll actually spend there: can you really do Versailles in a couple of hours?
Jamming in the clouds
Sea Cloud's 2015 itineraries for its two luxurious windjammers Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are now available. The latest program includes a range of four-night "taster" cruises in the Mediterranean; a 17-night sailing adventure crossing the Atlantic (following the route taken by Columbus); a nine-night "Steinway" music cruise from Hamburg to Bilboa; and an eight-night, traditional windjammer experience through the Adriatic. Sea Cloud accommodates up to 64 passengers and Sea Cloud II up to 94, and are crewed by passionate seafarers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ponant's Le Lyrial, due to make its debut next northern hemisphere spring, was officially launched a couple of weeks ago at Fincantieri's Ancona shipyard in Italy. The new ship, which will fly the French flag, is the fourth sister ship following L'Austral, Le Boreal and Le Soleal, delivered in May 2010, April 2011 and June 2013 respectively. Le Lyrial can accomodate 260 passengers in 122 cabins, most of which have a private balcony. Le Lyrial will sail Mediterranean itineraries until November next year, when it will reposition to the United States. Meanwhile, L'Austral is operating several cruises in Australasia between December 2014 and March next year; see ponant.com.
It's not too late to be at Gallipoli in April 2015 for the 100-year commemoration of the Gallipoli landings. Cruise Express is offering a special "Legends of the Mediterranean" 16-night fly/stay/cruise package that leaves Australia on April 19. It includes accommodation and tours in Rome and a 12-night cruise on Celebrity Constellation. The ship will cruise the waters off the Turkish coast at dawn on April 25 and the official dawn service ashore will be broadcast on board. Australian war historian Peter Donovan will provide presentations on the Anzac story during the cruise. And if you book tomorrow, there are extra savings on offer. See cruiseexpress.com.au.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
Set sail on an 11-night round-trip cruise from Copenhagen on board the new Regal Princess. Ports of call include the culture-rich cities of the Baltic – Oslo, Aarhus, Berlin, Tallinn, St Petersburg – for an overnight on board ship, Helsinki and Stockholm. Cruiseco's 13-night fly, cruise and stay package starts from $5579 and departs on August 20, 2015. Phone 1800 225 656, see cruising.com.au.
WINDSTAR CRUISES Save up to $1086 on a nine-night Aegean cruise on Star Pride, departing May 12, 2015, when you book by November 30. The cruise includes a complimentary Windstar Private Event and a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the magnificent Celsus Library of Ephesus, including a five-course dinner. From $4230. Phone 1300 857 437, see traveltheworld.com.au.
AURORA EXPEDITIONS is extending its Kimberley "partners fly free" offer until November 30. You can save $700 per couple on its 15-day Kimberley Coast Package, which includes an 11-day cruise on the newly refurbished Coral Princess, return flights from your nearest capital city, and accommodation in Broome and Darwin. Phone 1800 637 688, see auroraexpeditions.com.au.