Have you ever wanted to take a cruise alone, but found yourself frustrated by the hefty single supplements for solo travelers? Me too. Well, read on, because our time to cruise solo has come. Norwegian Cruise Lines’ new ship, The Epic, has created a new category of staterooms called the Studios, that are priced and sized for solo travelers. There are 128 Studio Staterooms aboard the Epic, spread between decks 11 and 12. They come with access to the Studio Lounge, located on deck 11. I’ve written about these staterooms before, but now I’ve seen them in person.
I was fortunate enough to be hosted by Norwegian on its two-night inaugural cruise aboard the Epic out of New York City this past weekend. While I certainly tried to see and experience as much as possible aboard the ship while I was there, my primary goal was to see those Studios in person and assess whether Epic is, indeed, a solo-friendly ship. This will be the first of several blog posts about Epic in coming weeks, but my short answer is: Yes, I believe it is.
As you probably know by now, I’m a fan of shiny things. This ship is very shiny. It is also huge (at 153,000 gross tonnage, it is the world’s 5th largest cruise ship). As this was my first cruise, I have no basis for comparison, but I spoke with cruise veterans who were equally impressed with the vastness of the ship. There is so much to see and do here, I can’t imagine any solo traveler ever getting bored–especially when you consider that you’ll be in a different port of call just about every day. There are more than 20 restaurants, several nighttime entertainment options including the Blue Man Group and Legends in Concert, ten bars and lounges (including the gimmicky but way cool Svedka Ice Bar), an amazing Aqua Park, a full-service spa, a sports complex, a casino that takes up much of deck 6, and more.
My only disappointment with this trip was that I could “look, but not touch” when it came to the Studio Staterooms. No one was booked into the Studios during this trip, including me. So I can’t tell you how comfy the bed is, or whether noise filters into the room from the hallways, or whether there are enough hangers for all the clothes you brought. I had a deluxe balcony stateroom, designed in the new Wave style (the room curves like a wave). It was spacious and nice and I’ll blog more about it some other time.
En route to the Studios, I got off the elevator on deck 11, and walked down a hallway tinted with purple light, giving it a high-tech, futuristic feel. Very hip. I felt like I had beamed up to the Starship Enterprise. Then, there it was, the solo traveler’s Holy Grail of cruising, marked by balloons and a crew member standing watch outside. At 100 square feet, you would think this would feel like a tiny room, but I had just come off a stay at the Pod Hotel in New York City the previous weekend, where my room was approximately the size of a prison cell, so the Studio Stateroom felt spacious by comparison. Some of the Studios are connecting rooms, so if you’re traveling with a friend, sibling, parent, etc. but don’t want to share the same cabin, you could get connecting rooms.
It was hard to really get a feel for the place under the watchful eye of the crew member stationed just outside the door. I don’t know if he thought I might stuff the room glasses in my bag or start jumping up and down on the bed. I was giddy about these rooms, but not that giddy. I was tempted, though, to stretch out on the bed to see if it was as short as the one in my deluxe balcony room. I restrained myself.
Still, I spent some time in the room scrutinizing it, trying to see if anything seemed awkwardly positioned or inconvenient or if anything was missing that I normally find in a hotel room. I couldn’t come up with a thing “in the moment”, but I should have had a checklist with me. According to Paul Motter of CruiseMates.com, these rooms do not come with hairdryer or coffee maker. (Paul was one of the lucky devils who got to stay in one of these rooms during the ship’s transatlantic crossing/shakedown cruise.) The lack of a coffee maker is insignificant when you can walk down to the Lounge for a free espresso or cappuccino any time you want. The hairdryer is more of an issue for me, though Paul says these are available upon request.
The double bed spans almost the width of the room, with a narrow space on one side to accommodate the closets, desk, and storage space. I think this would be a bit of a tight squeeze for a large person. The sink, shower and toilet all occupy separate spaces within the room. The shower stall and toilet enclosure seemed plenty roomy to me, though I’m a bit on the small side (I’m 5′ 5″ and 120 pounds).
The TV is on the wall beside the bed. I pictured myself piling my pillows in the opposite corner of the bed and sprawling out to watch some TV at night. Very doable. There was sufficient closet space for your clothes. I liked the inclusion of a porthole window in the room so it doesn’t feel too claustrophobic, even though the window only looks out onto the hallway (don’t worry, it’s one-way; nobody can see in). Sliding shades can be closed to block hallway light at night. To me, the room felt like a cozy cocoon, one I would be happy to retreat to at the end of a busy day in port and a sanctuary from the sensory stimulation of the public areas of the ship.
The biggest perk, aside from price, of staying in a Studio Stateroom is access to the Studio Lounge, located on Deck 11. (The Lounge is supposed to be exclusive to the Studios, with keycard access. Because this was a fam trip, it was open to anyone when I was on the ship.) Imagine: A place aboard ship where you can easily meet others who are traveling alone just like you. It is spacious, with lots of sitting areas, and easy staircase access from the Deck 12 Studio Staterooms. Based on the decor alone, I’m not sure it will be to everyone’s taste. For instance, I’m trying to picture my grandmother staying in one of the Studios and hanging out in the Lounge, and . . . nope. Just can’t picture it.
There are two big-screen TVs, a bar with bartender staffing it, and a coffee machine where you can help yourself to espresso, cappuccino, and other coffee drinks throughout the day. I enjoyed a fresh cookie and iced coffee at the bar prepared for me by bartender Coco. Both were quite good, as was Coco’s company.
As I earlier alluded to, I had been following Paul Motter’s posts and Q&A about his TransAtlantic journey on the Epic staying in the Studio Stateroom. He noted that people on his cruise had suggested a whiteboard in the Lounge so solos could invite others to join them for dinner or other activities aboard ship: Let’s say you want company for dinner, you could write “If anyone wants to join me, I’ll be having dinner in the Manhattan Room at 6pm” and leave your name and room number. Or if you want company at Fat Cats, you could write “Anyone up for Fat Cats tonight? I’m headed there at 10.”
I didn’t see the whiteboard, so I asked Coco about it and he said they took it down for the weekend, since no one was staying in the Studios. But presumably, it will go back up again. (If it doesn’t, ask them to put one up. I found the Epic crew to be incredibly responsive to requests–especially when it comes to the Studios. They want these to be a success.)
I know what some of you are wondering: Are these rooms really priced for solo travelers? So I sampled some prices from NCL’s website to share with you: You can get a Studio cabin for as low as $849 for a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise (depending on the date, of course; some dates are more expensive). The Inside Cabin (the next cheapest type of cabin) on that same cruises would cost you $1,318 as a solo traveler (if you see a lower price on the web, multiply times 2, because they are priced per person double occupancy). So no, you’re not paying 50% of what a couple pays for a stateroom (more like 75%), but it’s a whole lot better than what you’ll get elsewhere, and I think the access to the Studio Lounge makes it worth the price.
The good news is, prices for these rooms may go down even further. For more on this, see this video on the Studio Staterooms by Jason Cochran of WalletPop:
I also got a little taste of what it’s like to be a solo traveler aboard a cruise ship full of couples and families this weekend. Even though this was a fam trip for media types, travel agents, and NCL sales partners, many brought their significant others (the “plus ones”, as they called themselves) and some brought their children. At times, it seemed like everyone was there with someone else except for me. Most of the time, I was too busy to care, but I did have the occasional pang of loneliness. That’s why I think the Studio Lounge will become such an important space on the ship: A place where solos can find each other and be around others like themselves, instead of one solo in a sea of couples and families. Partner this “solo traveler neighborhood” aboard the ship with a plethora of dining options, activities, and entertainment (many of which are included in the cost of your cruise), and I can’t help but believe that the Epic might just be the most solo-friendly cruise ship in operation today. If I were to take a solo cruise, this is the ship I would choose.
Here are some more photos of the Studio Stateroom and Lounge: