When I travel solo on a cruise, after the anger of the 200% fare wears off, I tend to overschedule myself to remain busy in the day and forget I’m alone on a ship of over two thousand people. It’s easy to blend in and become invisible if you want. At night, I would then join a shared dinner table to meet new people and listen to their amazing stories of interesting lives lived. If I was lucky, I would get adopted by folks who took pity on me for being alone (without a husband of course). Being adopted has worked out well over the years, until now as Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has drastically changed the solo cruise traveler experience (it’s about time!) witht he EPIC Solo Studio cabin.
In 2010, Norwegian took the bold step of creating solo cabins, called studios, on their new ship the EPIC (and since then on other ships). Going a step further than just making a smaller room (100 sq ft) for one person and not subjecting them to the single supplement (often 100% additional), Norwegian also created the Studio Lounge as a special gathering place to eat, work, play while onboard.
The NCL EPIC Studios and Studio Lounge is a separate area within the ship (all inside no view rooms) located on Deck 11 and 12 (with an interior stairwell) accessed only by those staying in the studios (although the Happy Hour is accessible by knocking on the main lounge door). The studios are generally a very popular category and sell out quickly with each sailing.
The NCL EPIC Solo Studio Cabin
I was not able to book a studio cabin for the repositioning cruise to Barcelona on the EPIC as they were sold out, but was able to tour the room (via the Cruise Critic Cabin Crawl). I was surprised by the space expecting it to feel small and claustrophobic but it was designed so well that it felt a perfect size for one person. On the EPIC the bathroom has been split into a separate shower and water closet with the sink in the room (not my favorite configuration). Most of the cabins are like this except for The Haven, which is a separate, luxury space with private access and exclusive benefits – they have amazing bathrooms! Here’s the video of the room NCL Solo Studio Cabin Tour
You do have a porthole window that looks into the hallway to provide a bit of light (don’t worry no one can see in). The Studio Cabin does not have a minibar/refrigerator.
The NCL EPIC Studio Lounge (Solo Lounge or Living Room)
The Studio Lounge is open to those staying in the 128 studios. At night, it opens up to host a Solo Gathering at 5pm for all solo travelers. There is as a dedicated crew member who plans on board activities such as happy hour games (who doesn’t want to win a pen or a t-shirt?), shared meals and events. A note is posted on the board each day and if interested you just sign up. I saw many options to keep busy throughout the cruise in addition to the regular cruise activities for all. While you could eat, drink or see a show alone, bowling or ice bar (crazy people who pay to don a parka and drink vodka in a cold room of ice) is better with other people, in my opinion.
The Lounge has a bar that is staffed at happy hour, a self-service coffee area and a cookie jar. The lounge also has several seating area configurations, a high top table and flat screen TVs to watch a game. The great feature is that you can choose to participate, there is no pressure, it’s your cruise and you figure out what’s best for you. You might be staying alone but that doesn’t mean you are traveling alone – your friends or family may be elsewhere on the ship and the studios offer you the opportunity to cruise with them without the added costs as well as a private space to decompress if you want (did I mention the cookie jar and coffee machine?).
My Studio (Solo) Lounge Experience
During my cruise, every day at 5pm, my friend and I visited the lounge and because it was a repositioning cruise, the mix (and amount) of people was different from a normal cruise I was told. Generally, those staying in the studios tend to do many activities together. This cruise was a mixed bag of ages and travel experiences – while it tended to be older and retired given the type (repositioning, no ports) and length (11 days) of cruise, there were many young (under 40) travelers too. I met backpackers, Camino de Santiago walkers, parents on the way to Pakistan, Geneva and London to visit their kids and grandchildren. I watched men act like children with one man’s toupee, trying it on and remembering when they had hair (lots of laughter and lots of photos) both young and old. I watched the single guys chat up the single girls and I watched the guy in the corner reading a book alone. The lounge offers a nice getaway from the smaller studio cabin for both more space and more opportunity to connect (if you want).
The Verdict – NCL EPIC Solo Studio
I’d happily stay in an EPIC Solo studio cabin for a cruise if the itinerary was good and love the solo gathering each night. I met amazing people in the studio lounge at the happy hour that I then met for dinner, a show or drinks later (plus a few new Facebook friends). I didn’t need to be adopted by anyone and no one took pity on me which was a nice change. The general consensus has been surprise at how busy we all are on this cruise which I attribute to the solo lounge and studio cabins. I never got to read my books or sleep in a lounge chair on deck – I was too busy having fun with other solo travelers and that was EPIC.
Have you tried a Norwegian studio cabin yet or have you considered it? What about the studio lounge? What did you think?