All Aboard

Cruising moves from bucket list to to-do list.
Feb 3, 2023
Mike Fuller
Illustrations by Savannah Furniss

If we look back just one year ago, the cruise industry was at an inflection point. Would the pandemic forever change cruising? Would cruise die-hards come back and, if so, what were their expectations of the cruise experience?  

The cruise industry was one of the very few businesses (perhaps the only one) that had a total, global shutdown for more than 18 months. Many smaller cruise lines did not have the capital to continue, but the “Big 3” global groups – Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Carnival Corporation – had deeper pockets and access to billions of dollars to stay afloat. Not only did they survive, but they also continued their expansion plans with new ships being launched this year, and more planned in the next few years.

The cruise industry is a vital contributor to both the U.S. and global economies. Prior to COVID, the cruise industry generated $2.6 billion in direct taxes to U.S. federal, state and local governments. Additionally, the cruise industry supports more than 436,000 American jobs. There were nearly 30 million cruise passengers globally, with more than one million jobs, generating more than $50 billion in wages. The impact to local economies was well over $150 billion. 

COVID hit the cruise industry particularly hard, but the comeback has been especially strong. While nearly half a million jobs were lost, many of those jobs (if not ultimately all) will have returned as almost all remaining ships of the major cruise lines have now returned to service. All cruise lines have retired older ships to make room for newer, more sustainable ships to replace them in the coming years.

The onboard cruise experience has also changed. COVID brought on even more strict sanitation practices to an industry that already had a very high level of cleaning protocols in place. You see more reminders to wash your hands, more hand sanitizer stations, and you are greeted upon entry and reentry to the ship at ports with a friendly smile from a crew member holding hand sanitizers. 

As the ships begin to return to nearly full sailing capacity, we’re also seeing all the cruise lines shift their pricing strategies. Previously when it came closer and closer to sailing date you would see more discounting to “fill the ship.” But now, with so many more people planning last-minute vacations, the cruise lines often raise prices on the final few premium suites and cabins that come with more amenities. It truly pays to book early, and all the cruise lines have now published their global schedules well into 2024.

New Destinations
During the pandemic, most of us went for at least a year, some nearly two, without a true vacation with family and friends. So now we have a pent-up demand to travel to all those places on what we used to call our bucket list. Now, there is a strong wave of so-called revenge travel, where people are booking more. More total days away. More experiential. More expensive. More groups of travelers. People want to see things they have always dreamed of seeing. 

Cruising makes the experience that much easier, as anyone who has cruised knows that your ship can serve as your hotel, taking you to different places overnight while you sleep. This affords travelers the opportunity to wake up the next day, explore new places and have numerous once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

Bucket lists have now become to-do lists. Multiple generations of families are traveling to places together more often and to places they didn’t think they might ever visit. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, NCL and Carnival have added all the bells and whistles to keep all age groups occupied and engaged, day and night. This includes mega-ships that sail with over 5,000 passengers, or more intimate, luxury-focused cruise lines like Silversea, Oceania and Seabourn that hold only a few hundred passengers.  

All of the cruise lines are also targeting a new, younger adult clientele they hope to get hooked on cruising and make it their annual vacation choice. Celebrity Cruiselines has targeted millennials and GenX with a re-envisioned all-inclusive experience that includes beverages, WiFi, and gratuities. River cruises also provide a closer-to-the-main-square experience with less than 200 passengers. 

With many new ships on the horizon, the cruise lines have put a stronger focus on sustainability. Environmental protection is both an operational and a humanitarian imperative for the cruise industry, which has invested more than $26 billion in ships with new technologies and cleaner fuels to help protect the land, air and seas in which cruises operate. Hard-to-reach destinations like the Galapagos and Antarctica have very strict environmental policies in place. We have seen tremendous advances in new ships that are anchorless and use more environmentally friendly propulsion technologies. Silversea will be launching a new ship that includes fuel cell battery technology engines that will mainly use liquefied natural gas.

What’s Coming Next
With a strong resurgence of cruising, we are seeing a mix of “back to basics” and new destinations. While the Caribbean will always be a strong draw for passengers all over the world, Alaska still attracts a huge number each summer season, especially for multi-generation trips. Europe comes in at a strong second to Alaska for the multi-gen experience, especially the river cruise experience. However, more and more people are now looking toward more exotic cruise experiences. Antarctica and Galapagos are at the top of this list and provide an amazing educational experience around the importance of sustainability. Trans-ocean sailings are back as one of the top things people must do at least once. These now sell out very quickly, especially the unique crossing on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia are also seeing very strong demand.

Whether you have been an avid cruiser, an occasional cruiser or never cruised at all, the cruise industry is working hard to get you onboard and provide you with unforgettable experiences. 


Mike Fuller is a certified Master Cruise Counsellor. He is Chief Voyager at Fuller Travel World, which is affiliated with Cruise Planners, the nation’s largest home-based travel agent network.

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