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Smooth Sailing: 2024’s Top Cruise Trends

As cruise bookings continue to see major growth, lines are adding new ships, fresh experiences and increased luxury

by Susan J. Young

March 13, 2024

Grand Suite living room on Cunard’s Queen Anne / Photo: Courtesy of Cunard

For many consumers, a river, ocean or expedition cruise is the perfect way to explore the world. Trending strongly in 2024? Travelers are booking lengthier cruise vacations because they desire to see, do and experience as much as possible. Back-to-back cruises and Grand Voyages are increasingly popular, but there are even more trends surfacing for this year and beyond.

Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, a host agency affiliated with 5,000 independent travel advisors across the U.S. and Canada, cites three top cruise trends. First, “Many cruise lines are offering longer port times in popular destinations with a few lines even offering overnights to give their guests the ability to really explore a new place,” she says. Azamara’s new itinerary, Spanish Wine Discoveries Voyage on April 8, affords guests 83 hours in port during a seven-night trip. Sailing from Barcelona, Azamara Quest will call at a port every day, plus stay overnight in Lisbon.

Cruise fares are typically sold per person, double occupancy, and “traditionally single cruisers have had to pay a single supplement,” Friedman says. “But this year, some cruise lines have done away with that and are encouraging solo cruisers on their ships.” Ponant, a small-ship luxury ocean line, offers more than 100 voyages with no single supplement, while Tauck has waived Category 1 single supplements on European river voyages this year. Some lines also have solo cabins.

“Another big trend is that cruise lines are flipping the script when it comes to their new ships, which have been traditionally deployed on longer voyages,” says Friedman. “I’m seeing cruise lines that are rotating the newer ships into their short, long-weekend cruises. That gives new passengers the chance to experience the latest and greatest without having to commit to a long sailing.” In July, Royal Caribbean International’s new 5,668-passenger Utopia of the Seas will debut at Port Canaveral, Florida, and operate three- to four-night Bahamas voyages.

“Overall, there’s been a shift toward people wanting to indulge in more enriching travel experiences,” says Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations and CruiseOne. Consumers might opt for an Arctic expedition cruise to see the northern lights; a safari to gaze at elephants during a luxury cruise with Kenyan or South African port calls; or a food-and-wine-focused voyage. Daly sees epicurean offerings as a top draw for European river cruises and luxury ocean ships.

S.A.L.T. restaurant on Silversea’s Silver Nova / Photo: Courtesy of Silversea

AmaWaterways will offer more than 70 wine-themed cruises on European rivers, while small-ship, expeditionary Atlas Ocean Voyages has created Epicurean Expeditions in nonpolar regions. And Silversea’s new 728-passenger Silver Nova offers a Chef’s Table experience ($180 including wine/cocktail pairings) in its S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) lab.

Based on guest feedback, Seabourn just introduced a new Mediterranean-inspired Solis specialty restaurant on Seabourn Quest, with three other ships adding the venue in spring. Meanwhile, chef Masaharu Morimoto has introduced his first stand-alone restaurant at sea, Morimoto by Sea, on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. And some lines are adding more shore excursions with fresh-market visits, tastings of local dishes and wines, and culinary classes.

Fresh halibut at Morimoto by Sea restaurant on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam / Photo: Courtesy of Holland America

When Virtuoso’s 20,000 advisors were recently asked what “must-have” travel experiences they’re seeing, one top trend that emerged was “exhilarating and customizable adventure cruising.” Similarly, Cruise Planners is seeing a 25-percent increase in expedition cruise booking volume year over year.

“We’ve seen solid growth in river cruising compared to bookings made over the same time last year with roughly a 50-percent increase,” says Daly, who adds that capacity for river is up only slightly, so consumer demand is very strong. He is also “seeing increased demand for luxury cruising across the board.”

Technology-wise, cruise lines are introducing new mobile apps, AI-powered virtual assistants and more reliable, faster Wi-Fi, including Starlink. Also, Cruise Lines International Association members have set a goal of net-zero-carbon cruising by 2050. Five new ships launching this year are LNG-powered (liquid natural gas), while SeaDream Yacht Club, Cunard and Holland America now have shore-power-equipped fleets to foster sustainably conscious cruising.

Certainly, a top cruise trend is fleet growth. Ten new ocean-going vessels, big and small, are setting sail this year. Those include Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s new 456-passenger Ilma; Cunard’s highly anticipated Queen Anne; Princess Cruises’ 4,300-passenger Sun Princess; a second Explora Journeys vessel with 461 oceanfront suites; Royal Caribbean’s new 5,610-passenger Icon of the Seas (now sailing from PortMiami); and Disney Cruise Line, Silversea, TUI, Viking and Virgin Voyages ships.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty says, “Looking ahead, we see accelerating demand as we build the business for 2024. Our booked load factors are higher than all prior years and at higher rates.” Travel advisors say that’s also reflected in their booming cruise vacation sales for 2024… and beyond.