The lunch meetup was set for 12:15 where a small group of exuberant travelers gathers outside the ms Eurodam’s Dining Room. Hugs are exchanged as are pictures and stories from the previous day’s shore excursions.
I’ve joined some of the solo travelers (those who came alone or without a spouse on the In Touch Ministries Alaska Cruise) to find out what their experience has been so far. I had wondered what type of atmosphere I might encounter amongst people who barely know one another. But I’m relieved to feel included in a warm reunion of old friends.
Braving a Solo Expedition
The group begins to tell me how they were first introduced at a lunch arranged for them by Inspiration on the first full day of the cruise. Since then, they have kept an eye out for each other and shared as many meals as possible.
Sitting to my right is Etlyn from Boston who has followed the ministry of Charles Stanley for years. She first heard him on the radio while at work and wondered how this man she had never met could address issues in her life with such laser-like accuracy. She found herself so convicted at times, she would cry at her desk.
When her two would-be traveling companions changed their minds about joining her on the cruise, she didn’t waver. They objected, “You can’t go by yourself!” She said, “I’m going!” And she is beyond glad she did. “This isn’t just a cruise—this is ministry—that I am really grateful for.”
Mike from “the sticks” of Georgia is the one of a few solo male travelers aboard and is enjoying life as the patron gentleman of the group. He’s been blessed by the smiles and greetings exchanged by passengers. “You don’t come on a cruise like this just to sit in a room by yourself,” he explains. “I knew I would meet a thousand people on this cruise… I think I’ve met 599 of ‘em so far.”
“So, no one had any apprehensions about coming on the cruise without a partner?” I ask.
“Not this cruise!” is the unanimous reply.
None of the solo travelers seem surprised to have made such fast friends aboard the ship. Linda from Wisconsin chimes in, “It feels like a big community. The atmosphere is so friendly.”
The conversation meanders between light-hearted and deeper topics. The travelers have already shared with each other about some of the difficult things they have walked through. Inspiration’s Event Development Executive Director Charlie Spencer describes what he’s observed on the 200-some cruises he’s attended. “People come on their own and make friends for life. I even see some of them traveling together on subsequent cruises.”
Philadelphia native, Sandy, has been on over 15 cruises, but never a Christian cruise. “There is a kind of camaraderie, a connection that comes from being Christians, that is special enough to break down common social barriers.” She also senses how being surrounded by Believers is playing a role in her spiritual walk. “I don’t have a lot of super strong Christian friends, and this has really encouraged me to seek out the right fellowship when I get back.”
There are moments of laughter as well. For instance, Donna, who ordered an “iced coffee” from a well-meaning member of the Indonesian waitstaff, is brought a glass full of hot coffee and vanilla ice cream on the side. (However, she and her traveling companions are delighted to discover that adding ice cream to coffee isn’t such a bad idea!)
As the lunch concludes and we disperse to afternoon events, I feel refreshed and enlivened. After witnessing such a profound sense of togetherness, I’m not sure the term “solo travelers” really applies.
Family (of God) Connections
Being single myself, I had wondered if I might find it difficult to mingle with the other passengers, since they were predominantly married couples. In fact, I found the opposite. Everyone I met was very open and eager to get into great conversations, and my entire cruise was full of enriching moments with fellow Believers.
Beyond the lunch meetup, I encountered other cruisers who were single or traveling with someone besides a spouse: cousins from different states using the cruise as an excuse to visit; friends traveling together; college roommates; widows and widowers; multi-generational families. Regardless of the type of relationship shared between passengers, the overarching sense that we were all linked together as the Body of Christ prevailed. Denny, who I chatted with in the main corridor, summed up the feeling aboard the ship perfectly, “There are no strangers.”
Gayle, a first-time cruiser like myself, had a wonderful time in spite of her husband not being able to join her. “I loved everything about it. Even the quiet times in my cabin, just reflecting and looking out over the water.” She also used the cruise as an opportunity to reunite with old college friends she hadn’t seen in years.
Jeanette, from California, shared her moving cruise testimony with me. “This is my first cruise since my husband passed. It’s opened my eyes that—I’m here; I’ve not gone to heaven yet; God has a new life for me.”
How about you? Are you considering joining a Christian cruise or tour as a solo traveler? I hope these stories (and countless like them) give you the courage to do so. The world awaits! And you’re sure to be in good company.