Cruising ahead: Demand for vacations at sea continues to rise

by Melissa Martin

A whopping 35.7 million passengers are expected to embark on a cruise vacation in 2024, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. U.S. cruise operators and travel agents report that travelers across all income and budget levels have been booking voyages at greater volumes than even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the industry down in 2020 – and for good reason.

With more ships, larger ships and a steadily increasing number of destinations to visit, cruise vacations are often cheaper than most other land-based alternatives, including all-inclusive resorts. In fact, the only thing preventing travelers from making even more bookings, expert said, is there’s not enough capacity to deal with the demand, despite a 5% increase in overall ship capacity in the last year.

“The great thing about going on a cruise is that you have an entire city’s worth of activities available to you at all times, which is perfect for families and multigenerational groups traveling together,” said Sobeyda Schilling, travel consultant for Park Place Travel in Hudson. “Cruising gives everyone the most options of things to do. From chilling at the spa and playing in the casino to watching entertaining shows and taking part in a number of fine-dining options, there’s a little something for everyone.”

While the options are endless once aboard the ship, given the ongoing popularity of cruise vacations, Schilling said planning ahead is the best way to guarantee the trip is an enjoyable one.

“When you are investing this much time and money, taking steps to minimize any mistakes that might happen always pays off,” she said.

That process, which begins up to a year in advance, typically starts with deciding which ship is right for your party – not only in terms of budget, but in terms of activities and excursions available on the ship and in its ports of call.

“It’s best to do your research or work with a travel agent, as some cruise ships might not necessarily have a lot of child- or teen-friendly activities, while others offer a lot more options for those age groups,” Schilling said.

Destinations in the eastern Caribbean, the Bahamas and Mexico remain among the most frequently requested, yet Schilling reminds travelers to look for cruise itineraries that include stops at private islands owned and operated by the cruise lines themselves. Such ports, she said, not only offer some of the best beaches and clear waters, but they have a variety of food and shopping destinations, as well as secluded bungalows over the water for couples who want to enjoy a quieter experience.

“Many of these islands also offer some of the largest waterparks that can offer some of the most magical experiences for families,” she said.

Just as important, she noted, is finding the right state room to house your party.

“The closer you book to your departure, the more limited it’s going to be in terms of what’s available,” Schilling added, noting that getting rooms close to one another can be more difficult for parties that require multiple cabins or larger space configurations. “If you have a larger family, it’s important to remember you’re likely going to need more beds and multiple rooms; however, getting adjoining rooms is almost unheard of, especially if you’re booking late in the game. For that reason, the earlier you book, the better your options.”

While interior cabins are the most affordable option, balcony rooms and suites tend to offer more spacious sleeping quarters and living arrangements.

Insure your voyage

Above all else, Schilling said, travelers want to make certain they purchase travelers’ insurance.

“Even if you think you’re young and healthy and that everything will be fine, accidents do happen,” she said,

One of Shilling’s clients, for example, recently experienced a jet ski accident in Jamaica and had to fly back home for medical attention. Because she didn’t have insurance on the trip, it cost her a significant amount of money to fly home. The same can be true where sickness and other emergencies are concerned, as traditional medical insurance is not accepted on board or in other countries, which means any care has to be paid for out of pocket, she said.

Should travelers have to cancel the trip altogether for medical or family reasons prior to the trip, traveler’s insurance is just as important.

“Make sure to read the fine print and the cancellation policies,” Schilling added. “Once you put down your deposit, getting your money back is difficult the closer you get to embarkation day. Travelers insurance insures that you will be refunded for certain reasons in the event you have to cancel.”

Because traveler’s insurance typically inexpensive – costing less than 10% of the overall price of the trip – Schilling considers it to be worth every penny.

“You never know what might happen and, this way, you’re better safe than sorry,” she said. ∞