(11:50 a.m. GMT) -- A record 1.9 million holidaymakers from the UK and Ireland took an ocean cruise in 2016 -- up by 100,000 on 2015.
The 5.5 percent increase outpaced all other European cruise markets and put the UK just behind Germany, which passed the two million mark for the first time, according to figures released by the Cruise Line Industry Association.
UK river passenger numbers also saw record figures last year with 166,900 passengers taking a river cruise -- an 11 percent increase on 2015.
The increase in passenger numbers comes as British ports released figures showing a record 1,214,000 passengers visited 55 UK ports in 2016 -- an increase of 19 per cent over 2015.
Overall, worldwide cruise figures surpassed the 25 million mark last year, driven by unprecedented growth from Asia and also the biggest ship order book ever recorded.
A total of 74 ships are being built over the next 10 years with a combined value of $51.76 billion, cruise line executive revealed at the annual Seatrade Cruise Global event in Fort Lauderdale yesterday.
Other U.K. highlights included:
- The Mediterranean continued to be the number one choice of destination for UK passengers, with 458,000 passengers in 2016.
- The number of passengers starting their cruise at home grew strongly in 2016 with UK cruise departures now accounting for 48 percent of the market, or 912,000 passengers -- a nine percent increase on 2015.
- Luxury cruise bookings were also on the up last year, with a near nine percent rise in bookings pushing the total above the 2012 peak of 28,450 to almost 29,000.
- Fly-cruises were up in 2016 with a 2.8 per cent increase on 2015.
- Average age of UK cruise passengers fell to 55, its lowest in six years.
- High levels of repeat passengers helped to drive the increases.
Andy Harmer, SVP Membership & Director, CLIA UK & Ireland said: "The past year was an impressive one for the UK and Ireland cruise industry. The increase in passenger figures is a testament to the industry’s resilience to economic and political change and further demonstrates the value that a cruise holiday offers."
Commenting on the increase in UK river passenger numbers, Harmer added: “We have seen significant investment by companies in new, innovative ships with greater amenities on board and a wide variety of excursions included in the package. This coupled with an ever-increasing choice and diversity of itineraries in Europe and further afield, has led to more UK passengers opting for a river cruise holiday.”
Angie Redhead, chair of Cruise Britain, said: "Day call figures have tripled in 10 years and 2016 has seen one of the biggest year-on-year increases."
--By Adam Coulter, U.K. Managing Editor