Part of the fun of cruising is the people we meet – from the funny, outgoing types who keep us entertained to the quiet, interesting ones who teach us a thing or two about life. Even the annoying types give us something to gossip or laugh about, while the nicest ones can become friends for years, or sometimes, even partners.

At least, that’s the theory. But stepping aboard a cruise ship among literally thousands of strangers can be a daunting experience, especially for those of you who are solo travellers. So, what’s the secret of meeting people and making friends? Well, fortunately you’re already in the right place.

“By its very nature, a cruise is a sociable holiday,” says Gill Hasson, author of Confidence Handbook. ‘Nobody gets on board thinking: “I’m going to keep myself to myself and stay in my cabin all week.”’

When it comes to making friends on a cruise, life coach Becki Houlston also believes it’s easier than people think. “Just being there gives everyone something in common. So, get on board with a positive, easy-going attitude, and there’s no reason why you can’t disembark with a bunch of brand new friends.”

With that advice in mind, here’s our guide on how to make friends on a cruise.

Small Talk

The first step is often the hardest, says Gill Hasson, but the key is to start small. “You could introduce yourself to someone while you’re both queuing at the buffet or relaxing by the pool.” Just say: ‘Isn’t this an amazing ship?’ Then follow up by asking if this is their first cruise, or where they’re from and whether they had to stay over in Southampton before getting on board.”

It won’t be the most scintillating conversation but, it doesn’t have to be. What matters is that you’ve made a start and shown that you’re friendly.

“Ask questions but share a bit of yourself, too, so there is some give-and-take,” says Gill. “That way you’ll soon find some common ground, and the conversation will develop. Then next time you see them you can ask about their day. If you get on well, that might lead to having a drink together, or sharing an excursion.”

Aerial shot of a cruise ship, Caribbean sea
Communal areas like the pool are a great place to strike up conversations

Listen Up

Good listeners make good friends – but most of us could do it better, especially when meeting new people.

“There is more to listening than simply not talking,” says Becki Houlston. “Listening means really hearing what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what we can ask next, or what stories we can tell about ourselves.

“Listen with your eyes too – don’t look over the other person’s shoulder to see who’s just come into the bar, or down at your phone to see who’s sent you a message. Make someone feel they matter to you, and then they will want to be your friend.”

Don’t Latch On

When you arrive at an onboard gathering such as a wine tasting or even just the dining room for dinner, it’s always worth taking a little time to scope out the scene, advises Gill Hasson.

“There’s a tendency to latch on to the first person you meet, but that can appear a little needy,” she says. “Instead, find somewhere to sit with a drink, where you can people-watch. Don’t look as though you’re trying to hide in a corner – have a friendly expression on your face and let people approach you. When someone asks if they can sit in the next seat, you can strike up a conversation and take it from there.”

Take a Class

Conversation is easy when there’s common ground – and on a cruise ship there is one sure-fire way to find it.

“Join a class and you’ll automatically be among like-minded people,” says seasoned cruiser Susan Clarke, a mum of two from London. “It might be star-gazing or something academic, or a dance class. It doesn’t really matter what you choose – the point is that you’re all beginners together, and the whole set-up encourages you to make friends.”

Attending a regular class also means you’ll see the same faces again and again – never a given when there are 4,500 other people on board – so once a friendship gets going, it’s easy to build it up. The next stage is to suggest you have dinner together or even to join you on one of the shore excursions one day – it’s that simple.

Friends cheering-glasses-on-yacht-with-champagne
A cruise is a place where you can make lifelong friends

Don’t Rush In

When you arrive at an onboard gathering such as a wine tasting or even just the dining room for dinner, it’s always worth taking a little time to scope out the scene, advises Gill Hasson.

“There’s a tendency to latch on to the first person you meet, but that can appear a little needy,” she says. “Instead, find somewhere to sit with a drink, where you can people-watch. Don’t look as though you’re trying to hide in a corner – have a friendly expression on your face and let people approach you.

“When someone asks if they can sit in the next seat, you can strike up a conversation and take it from there.”

The Social Network

Thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp, making new friends is a whole lot easier than it used to be. “Before you set sail, check if there’s a social media group for your voyage,” suggests Anna Reay, a professional singer who has been performing on cruise ships for the past 16 years.

“People are more open about themselves online, so you quickly get an idea of who they are. If you like what you read, why not suggest meeting for coffee as soon as you get on board?”

Time to Move On

If you’ve tried to strike up a friendship with a fellow cruiser and they’ve rebuffed you, don’t let it spoil your holiday, says Gill. “There could be any number of reasons for their reaction,” she suggests.

“We don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives. Maybe they’ve just had a row with their partner, or perhaps they simply aren’t as sociable as you are. Either way, just smile and make friends with someone else.”