2023 is shaping up to be a big year for travel, and that includes going on cruises.
Signs are building that this will be the year in which the cruise industry makes its full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With strong demand on the horizon, travel agents have been asking interested customers to plan far ahead and book their cruises early before prices increase and desired cabins get snapped up.
During the pandemic, cruises were effectively shut down, then heavily regulated, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), which significantly reduced passenger volumes. The industry is now experiencing pent up demand returning in force.
A survey from AAA in January found that 52% of U.S. adults are just as likely or more likely to consider taking a cruise than they were before the pandemic, which increased by 7 percentage points from last year. Likewise, Cruise Lines International Association predicted that passenger volumes in 2023 will finally surpass 2019 levels, the last time in which the industry operated normally.
Expedia Cruises, a travel agency located in Pine Lake Village, is seeing a blockbuster year for bookings take shape. Shawn Bracewell, who owns the agency with his wife, said they just had their best January ever, and February will likely follow that pattern.
Bracewell points to two trends that may be driving strong demand. The first trend is that people are traveling in bigger groups after being locked down for so long.
“In January and February, we’ve had just a ton of people come in, and it’s 3, 4, 5 plus [people], and cabins of family and friends,” Bracewell said.
He is also seeing customers willing to spend much more money on travel than they did before.
“Coming out of the pandemic, people are traveling and are upscaling their accommodations. So people that would normally be in an ocean view or an inside cabin are now maybe booking a balcony [room]. Folks that were in balcony are moving up to suites,” Bracewell said, referring to the different types of rooms that are typically available on each ship.
In typical years, people start buying their cruises to Alaska for the upcoming summer. Bracewell said that right now, in some cases, he is having a hard time booking desired cabins five to seven months in advance.
Bracewell recommends booking as far ahead as one can reasonably manage to get the best price for a cruise. The belief that customers can get good deals at the last minute no longer applies in this environment.
“The cheapest price is as soon as they release that cruise, which is usually 18 to 24 months ahead,” Bracewell said.
Agencies like Expedia Cruises can help customers tease out nuances between different cruise lines and destinations, and pick the right product based on their preferences and needs. For instance, Bracewell said his agency often steers families with children to cruises with a lot of onboard activities to keep the kids busy.
“My wife often says, you know you’ll have a great time on the cruise, but you’re going to have a spectacular time if you’re on the right cruise,” Bracewell said.