Cruise demand leaves pandemic in rearview with record passengers, more construction on tap

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

MIAMI BEACH — The COVID-19 pandemic drove the cruise industry to a standstill, but numbers released Tuesday signal the years of comeback are officially over with more expansion on tap.

More than 31.7 million passengers took cruises worldwide in 2023, said Kelly Craighead, Cruise Line International Association president and CEO, speaking at the annual Seatrade Cruise Global conference at Miami Beach Convention Center.

CLIA is the lobbying group for member cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, Carnival, Norwegian, MSC and most other major brands.

The pandemic shut down sailing from March 2020 with only a small number of ships coming back online 18 months later in summer 2021. Cruise lines didn’t return to full strength until partially through 2022, so it wasn’t until a full year of sailing in 2023 that the industry could get a real handle on just what the demand had grown to as people returned to vacation travel.

“We are an industry that’s resilient and thriving all around the world, breaking records in ways we might never have imagined,” she said.

The 2023 total is 2 million more than the industry had in 2019. CLIA projects 34.1 million in 2024 growing to 34.6 million in 2025. It’s still a miniscule chunk of the overall travel pie of more than 1.3 billion, but cruise’s share is growing.


She noted that surveys of travelers who would consider a cruise for a vacation are at an all-time high, noting that 82% who had previously cruised said they would cruise again, but more importantly, among those who had never sailed, 71% would consider it.

The youngest generations — Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z — are the biggest drivers.

The fleet for the growing demand continues as well, including the introduction this year of the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas.

She said CLIA member lines had more than 300 ships sailing globally for the first time in 2023, with 14 new ships that began sailing in 2023 and another eight expected before the end of the year. They have 88 new ships on order through 2028.


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