Singles cruises bring together hunters, hunted

  • Article by: ALEXIA ELEJALDE-RUIZ CHICAGO TRIBUNE
  • Updated: January 3, 2014 - 3:01 PM

Cruises for solo travelers lead to dancing, cocktails and even a few marriages.

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Guests on the Carnival Imagination pose in the pool. A little more than 200 of the 2,000 cruise passengers took advantage of booking the Labor Day cruise through singlecruise.com.

Photo: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz • Chicago Tribune,

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The night before the Carnival Imagination was to set sail on a four-day Labor Day cruise from Miami to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, the 233 people who had signed up for the organized “singles cruise,” part of the general 2,000-passenger cruise population, were invited to a pre-sail cocktail party at a lounge in the city.

I walked in alone feeling like a nervous freshman on the first day of school, except that the crowd ranged in age from the 20s to the 70s and was in full schmooze mode. A loud “whoo!” erupted as a group of fifty-somethings did shots at the bar.

“Where are your beads?” asked a gregarious woman with a mojito and a thick New Jersey accent. A beaded necklace that spelled “Angela” rested in her cleavage, where she also kept her money and phone.

The name beads, I soon discovered, are the singles cruiser’s most important accessory. They are an automatic friend finder, a green light that it is safe to approach.

Angela, who that day was celebrating her 55th birthday, told me she was divorced and booked the singles cruise to be around “positive people.”

“If you’re not having fun, you haven’t tried,” she hollered over the thumping music.

We worked the room together, meeting the universally friendly folks with whom we would spend the next four days in an 855-foot-long party boat. One of them was a 68-year-old gentleman, twice my age.

“I’m here to have fun; if I get lucky, it’s a bonus,” he said with a wink, expressing a mantra I would hear pretty much everyone repeat.

And so began the fascinating anthropological experiment that is a singles cruise, where people meet for nonstop speed dating in a hotel you can’t escape.

That sounds horrifying, I realize — but, somehow, it was fun.

“Cruise goggles” make everyone seem more attractive after a couple of days. And for many singles tired of being the extra wheel among their married friends, Singlescruise.com’s very fitting motto — “Travel single, never alone!”­ — can be a vacation savior.

“I just wanted to go away and dance with someone single if I want and not eat alone,” explained David, a 54-year-old from Fort Lauderdale.

Rare romances bud

Once the Imagination had set sail, the singles gathered for an orientation mixer in the Xanadu Lounge. The Cupid Shuffle line dance got the party started. Karaoke followed. There were, thankfully, free cocktails.

A patchwork of characters soon emerged: divorcees letting loose; shy guys vying for attention; marriage-ready women scouting for mates; a group of thirty-something friends who were, it seemed, never sober.

Gathering for dinner each night at the designated singles-cruise tables in the Spirit dining room, people whose paths otherwise never would cross made small talk about their jobs and kids and how they heard about the cruise (many saw a promotion on Match.com).

It’s no surprise that booze plays a starring role on a singles cruise. The organized excursion in sweat-soaked Key West was a five-bar pub crawl, starting at 9:30 a.m., following a guide who blew a conch shell when it was time for the next bar. In Cozumel, snorkeling and a tour of the botanical gardens were some of the activities at the Chankanaab National Park, but mostly people did shots at the pool’s swim-up bar and then squeezed into a hut for a raucous tequila tasting.

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