Whether it be Royal Caribbean’s nine-month Ultimate World Cruise headed for Drake’s Passage or the Life at Sea Cruises’ inaugural three-year voyage being cancelled, it feels like both my newsfeed and social media feeds have been dominated with cruise content lately.
It’s no coincidence, but rather a first look into what’s shaping up to be a massive year for cruising.
According to a Reuters report from early last month, travelers “across all income and budget levels” have been booking cruises for 2024 at “greater volumes” than even before the pandemic. Roughly 35.7 million passengers are expected to cruise in 2024, up from 31.5 million in 2023 — which is 6% more than the amount of passengers that set sail in 2019, per the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). According to InsureMyTrip, travel insurance policy sales for cruises have hit numbers in the last few weeks not seen in years.
“Demand for 2024 has continued to accelerate with bookings consistently outpacing 2019 levels by a wide margin,” Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty said in October on an earnings call. Interestingly, Royal Caribbean told investors that in the third quarter, “two-thirds of its guests were either on a cruise for the first time or using Royal Caribbean for the first time.”
Why now, you ask? I have a few theories. The first has to do with the shift in the core cruise market, from Boomers to Millennials and older Gen Zers, coming out of the pandemic. A 2021 study by Tripadvisor and Accenture showed that Millennials were found to be more interested in cruising than ever before, with a whopping 58% saying they plan to take a cruise for their next leisure trip.
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That’s largely because, in addition to the fact that Millennials and Gen Zers were the first generations to be exposed to cruising at a young age, cruises really do offer the best bang for your buck. Say what you will about them, but the average rate of $130-$260 per person/day covers a cabin, most meals, soft drinks, onboard entertainment, 24/7 access to a concierge and access to the pools, lounges and, presumably, a handful of countries. It doesn’t require much imagination to see why that would appeal to a younger cruiser with potentially limited travel experience and even less disposable income.
Further, cruise lines today are offering real travel opportunities that even the greatest cruise critic can’t deny. There are the Alaskan and Arctic expedition cruises — the demand for which has skyrocketed in recent years — but there are also itineraries that take passengers through the Mediterranean, European rivers and around the Galapagos, just to name a few. I was recently invited on a springtime sail through Japan, China and Vietnam with Azamara and I’ve never wanted to be holed up on a ship for 17 days so badly.
The last reason, I think, has to do with the sheer amount of options. Itineraries aside, passengers can take a two-night Bahamas cruise, a four-night Amsterdam cruise or, yes, even a nine-month cruise around the world now. The possibilities are endless. And if you live near a port in a city like New York or Miami, it’s easy to justify a short, potentially even weekend, cruise.
Of course, an increase in bookings means reduced capacity across the board, which ultimately means price hikes are coming. Operators have already confirmed as much. So if you’re considering a cruise this year? You’re going to want to book that soon.
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