Cruising Is Back in a Major Way — and Travelers Are Booking Trips That 'Take the Stress Out of Vacations'

T+L spoke to Jason Liberty, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, and other experts for a closer look at cruising's big comeback.

The Celebrity Beyond sailing at sea

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

After two-plus years of uncertainty — not to mention cruise lines' ever-shifting vaccine mandates and regulations — vacations at sea are suddenly one of the biggest things in travel.

And that suits the CEO of Royal Caribbean Group just fine.

“We're pretty normalized now,” says Jason Liberty, who oversees Royal Caribbean International as well as Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises. “Yeah, we would like load factors to probably be a little bit higher,” he says, referring to the percentage of cabins that are sold. “But it's very clear for us that the demand is there.”

Liberty, who spoke exclusively with Travel + Leisure aboard the new Celebrity Beyond while the ship was in New York City, says many passengers are coming back to cruising, once they consider the cost of other forms of travel and the convenience of vacationing by ship.

“We take a lot of the stress out of vacation,” Liberty says.

That’s giving travelers plenty of new reasons to consider a cruise, particularly at a time when gas prices are elevated and air travel is still normalizing after a summer of operational meltdowns.

“One of the hallmarks of our company is our resilience,” said Holland America Line president Gustavo Antorcha, speaking aboard the Rotterdam on the ship’s recent visit to New York City celebrating the company’s 150-year anniversary. “We continue to learn from every challenge, to adapt, to improve, and ultimately, to thrive,” Antorcha said, addressing an audience of passengers, press, and industry insiders on board.

For all the positive spin from cruise lines, though, it’s the travel advisors who often book these trips that have noticed the vibe shift.

Aerial view of the Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas sailing at sea

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

“There’s a heavy interest in cruises,” says Henley Vazquez, the co-founder of Fora, a collective of travel planners. “Among our advisors, it’s everything from the more traditional Viking cruises to those who are embracing Virgin Voyages as a new style of cruising.”

“We've booked almost 100 cruises in four months,” says Vazquez, noting that the volume of bookings has been a surprise for Fora, which mostly focuses on high-end hotel stays. “Our top-selling cruise lines are Virgin Voyages, Silversea Cruises, and Disney Cruise Lines, which shows the breadth of what clients are keen to book.”

Concerns about sailing amid COVID-19 haven’t gone away completely, but they have diminished, according to a recent poll from the travel-insurance site Squaremouth. Today, more than half of people (65%) considering a cruise aren’t concerned about COVID-19 in the slightest, “a complete shift from earlier this year, when 63% of customers reported they were most concerned about contracting COVID-19 and being unable to cruise as planned,” according to a statement from the firm.

The Sunset Corner Suite onboard the Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Meanwhile, cruise lines are putting ships back into service and returning to some parts of the world that have long been off limits. Silversea, for example, recently announced it will have four ships operating in Asia in the coming months. The line will start with the Silver Muse sailing from Singapore on Dec. 2, marking the first time it will be back in the region in more than two years.

“Asia has long constituted an important sailing region for Silversea, and our guests are eager to return to this enriching, rewarding continent with us,” said Barbara Muckermann, the line’s chief commercial officer, in a statement.

A rooftop garden pool on board the Celebrity Beyond

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

The Edge Villa on board the Celebrity Beyond

Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

MSC Cruises, whose new, 2,270-cabin MSC Seascape will begin its inaugural journey from Italy to the U.S. on Nov. 19, is also seeing huge demand from travelers. “October has been the strongest month for bookings in the entire history of our brand,” according to Gianni Onorato, the CEO of MSC Cruises.

The cruise line Azamara, meanwhile, announced that its ships would return to South Africa and South America before the end of 2022, after a three-year absence. The line’s Azamara Journey will sail a series of South Africa–focused itineraries, including a 14-night trip that explores the country’s entire coast.

Azamara will also offer an incredible 21-night Western Africa Voyage departing Cape Town on March 4, 2023, that stops in places such as Namibia, Angola, Ghana, and the Gambia, before arriving in Lisbon.

Norwegian meanwhile launched its newest ship, Norwegian Prima, this summer in Reykjavik. It represents a step-change in luxury and amenities, with bells and whistles that include a three-level go-kart race track and the world’s fastest waterslide at sea. Though the ship was launched in Europe, it’ll spend the winter season operating in the Caribbean, with trips out of Miami and Port Canaveral designed to appeal to sun-seekers.

The ship is just the latest from Norwegian to offer The Haven, an exclusive top-decks, plural, area for suite guests, with a private pool, restaurant, and spa. Though a trip in some of the bigger suites — like The Haven Premier Owner's Suite, with three bedrooms and an alfresco hot tub — can sell for five figures, that doesn’t seem to be turning anyone off. Norwegian, along with its sibling brands Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, are on pace to match 2019 booking levels in 2023, said company president and CEO Frank Del Rio in a recent statement to investors. “The underlying fundamentals of our business,” Del Rio said, “remain strong.”

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