Many Cruisers Show Preference for Smaller Cruise Ships

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Cruise industry watchers know that the vacation-at-sea option is in comeback mode, big time, as pandemic fears have all but dissipated and travelers are eagerly resuming their global explorations.

On June 6, a leading travel protection company revealed results of a new survey that show what is motivating today’s cruisers, and chief among them is a preference for sailing on smaller ships.

Results Indicate Vessel, Destination Choices

The results of a new survey by Global Rescue, a firm providing medical, security, evacuation, and other travel protection services, offer some surprising insights into what makes today’s cruisers tick, including what kinds of ships they prefer and where they are most interested in going.

According to the Global Rescue Spring 2023 Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey, fully half of respondents who plan to cruise this year will embark on smaller ships that accommodate less than 800 guests. That compares to 11% who will sail on cruise ship with more than 3,500 guests.

Carnival Cruise Ship in Miami
Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

The survey found that 17% of respondents prefer ships that carry between 800 and 1,499 guests; 20% favor ships with capacity for between 1,500 and 2,500 guests, and the same percentage chose larger ships that accommodate between 2,500 and 3,500 guests.

Smaller cruise ships are easier to maneuver and have greater port access compared to mega-cruise ships. The smaller capacity ships open up river cruising, visiting tucked-away harbors, exotic locales, pristine beaches and remote places or ports where larger ships can’t reach,said Michael Holmes, vice president of marketing for Global Rescue.

The survey questions also delved into the kinds of destinations this year’s cruisers are most interested in visiting. Tropical cruise destinations are preferred by 21% of respondents, followed by glaciers at 14%, and fjord cruising at 12%. The survey found other leading destinations this year, including river, transocean, fall foliage, and Panama Canal voyages.

Forty-five percent of cruisers who participated in the survey, all of whom are current or former members of Global Rescue (the company operates on a membership basis), also indicated that, even with inflation and concerns of a possible recession, they are prepared to pay higher travel costs.

Continued Growth in Cruise Volume Expected

Overall, Global Rescue found that cruising has returned as a robust vacation options. In fact, the survey found that 40% of respondents have either taken a cruise since the pandemic started or will cruise in 2023. These indications mesh with other industry sources.

The 2023 Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) State of the Cruise Industry Report predicts that cruise volume this year will exceed 2019 – the year before the pandemic hit. CLIA’s report states that 31.5 million travelers will cruise in 2023, compared to 29.7 million in 2019.

Cruise Ships at Port Canaveral
Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz

Furthermore, CLIA sees continued growth, predicting that 36 million will cruise next year, and in 2027 the number will jump to 39.5 million cruisers. The industry will respond to the growing numbers of cruises guests with a slew of new vessels; according to CLIA’s industry order book, 44 new ships will debut between 2023 and 2028.

A Predicted Comeback Year Materializes

The 2023 comeback has been documented by cruise lines, too, with many of the top lines reporting banner Wave Season bookings at the start of this year.

Luxury line Cunard this year reported its busiest Wave Season in the past decade, while Holland America Line set its highest weekly booking level ever recorded in January, when bookings jumped by 20% compared to the same time frame in 2019, for example. Both are Carnival Corporation brands.

In its first quarter earnings report last month, Royal Caribbean Group said its brands were operating above the historical levels it had reached pre-pandemic. The group owns Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, and top luxury line Silversea Cruises.

Global Rescue surveyed 1,700 respondents in mid-April 2023.

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