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Photograph by Jeffery Salter

Smooth Sailing: Cruise Ships For Singles

Can cruises catch a younger crowd?

PITY THE SOLO cruiser, suffering through fumbling small talk over dinner, lonely conga lines, and overchaperoned get-togethers. To add injury to insult, cruise lines charge solo travelers a steep penalty -- double fare -- for the privilege of a standard tiny cabin. But Norwegian Cruise Line now offers another choice for single mates: Studios, 128 postage-stamp-size rooms aboard its 155,873-ton ship, Epic, that trade private space for public connection.

The rooms are the work of Priestmangoode, a British design firm on the sardine side of the luxury market (airplane interiors, trains, hotel pods). It was given free rein over the ship's hard-to-sell lower-middle decks, which lack outside views. The firm used visual tricks -- rounded ceilings, lighted corners, an airy palette -- to make the rooms feel larger than their 100 square feet, and a one-way porthole onto the hallway provides in-room voyeurism. For actual human contact, there's a double-height lounge in the center, offering Wi-Fi and coffee.

Priestmangoode designed Studios with an eye toward luring the elusive young cruiser, but they're marketed to solo travelers of all ages, with a modest 25% premium. That means less revenue, but Maria Miller, Norwegian's senior vice president of marketing, says it's worth it: "This was a good trade-off. It allowed us to develop something for this market, provide a benefit, and attract new people to the cruise industry who may not otherwise have cruised." It's working: The Epic heads on its second transatlantic trip this summer, and the cruise line recently announced plans to outfit its next two ships with Studios.

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