Mega-size cruise ships that can carry upwards of 5,000 passengers are becoming more common on the high seas and are popular with a wide range of travelers, including those looking for a premium cruise vacation. At the same time, an analysis of AAA Travel’s cruise booking data from the last 12 months reveals an emerging trend of vacationers increasingly selecting smaller-ship voyages on luxury ocean and river cruise lines. AAA Travel’s cruise sales have increased substantially in the last year, while bookings of suites on large cruise ships and sailings on small, luxury cruise lines have exploded, by high double-digit percentages in some cases.
“Many cruise ships today are like resorts, holding thousands of passengers and offering countless opportunities for entertainment and places to dine,” said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “Meanwhile, a growing number of travelers is looking for an intimate experience, and they’re turning to smaller, ultra-premium cruises, demonstrating tremendous interest in cruise lines like AmaWaterways, Seabourn Cruise Line, Azamara Club Cruises, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, and others.”
As some travelers select smaller, luxury cruises, mass-market cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are introducing bigger, more expansive suites on new oceangoing ships. Many suite guests now have exclusive access to specialty restaurants, private pools and lounges, and in some cases, even the dedicated service of a private butler while onboard.
“Cruise travelers today are not shying away from paying for premium experiences,” continued Sutherland. “Whether opting for an upgraded suite class on a large cruise ship, or increasingly, splurging for all-inclusive luxury on a small riverboat, travelers are seeking special opportunities to elevate their cruise vacation experience.”
The cruise industry is experiencing strong growth across the board, as cruise lines invest billions of dollars in new ships and continue evolving their offerings to attract more travelers. In 2019, the North American cruise market capacity is projected to grow seven percent, adding space for one million additional passengers annually on seven new ships. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 26.7 million passengers sailed on an ocean cruise globally in 2017, and that number is expected to climb to 28 million in 2018.
AAA Travel experts have identified these additional trends that are transforming the cruise industry:
- Changing Destinations: Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean and Hawaii remain the most popular cruise destinations, but travelers’ preferences are starting to shift. AAA Travel bookings for cruises to Europe and Hawaii are growing substantially, compared to other popular destinations. While still popular, Alaskan cruise bookings have started to level off some, following several years of surging interest in the destination.
- Leaps in Technology: Responding to the growing demand of travelers who wish to stay connected to their devices and social media, cruise lines have invested significantly in technology to enhance the onboard experience. This includes adding high-speed Wi-Fi; high-tech, interactive sign boards throughout the ships; and free smartphone apps that allow passengers to customize their own daily itineraries, exchange messages with other passengers and keep in touch with friends and family back home.
- Something for Everyone: Both ocean and river cruise lines are tailoring their offerings to appeal to more niche audiences. For example, Viking River Cruises has adopted an adults-only policy on its ships, while others, like AmaWaterways, are adding connecting staterooms to appeal more to families and multigenerational groups.
Travel planning comes with a myriad of options and can be overwhelming. To ease the planning process, AAA offers these top tips for cruisers:
- Work with a travel agent. Travel agents work with cruise lines every day and often have access to added benefits and deals that may not be available elsewhere.
- Book early and be flexible to take advantage of special promotions and secure first choice of ship, itinerary, cabin location and sailing date.
- Consider the full cost of a cruise. Most cruises are not all-inclusive, so travelers should factor in what they will likely spend on specialty dining, beverages and spa services. Added-value promotions, such as those that include beverage packages, are popular options to consider.
- Reserve shore excursions directly through a travel agent when booking a cruise, rather than onboard the ship or in the destination, as many popular activities sell out quickly.
- Fly to the embarkation port the day before the cruise, not the morning of departure. Cruise ships have firm departure times and won’t wait for a delayed flight.
- Check in for the cruise online before leaving to save time at the cruise ship terminal.
For more information or to begin planning a cruise vacation, visit AAA.com/cruises.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 59 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. Motorists can map a route, identify gas prices, find discounts, book a hotel and access AAA roadside assistance with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. Learn more at AAA.com/mobile. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.