In a post-pandemic trend that has been a long time coming, cruise lines and travel agencies selling cruises are reporting that bookings are up, with record numbers of passenger bookings.
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Virgin Voyages all reported reaching a new high for sales during the last week in March into the first week in April.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifting its COVID-19 Travel Health Notice for cruise at the end of March is one factor in the big number, agents say. So is pent up demand from cruisers, cruise line executives have been saying in interviews.
"The enthusiasm and excitement for the successful return of cruising is undeniable," said Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean international, which reported both its best week and largest single booking day ever.
"We are seeing a big boom," Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voayges said on CNBC. "We have seen bookings that have skyrocketed up 120 percent since just January."
Carnival reported the busiest sales week in the company's 50-year history. Bookings came in from Carnival's website, calls centers and travel advisors, said Christine Duffy, president of the line.
"Not only are cruise lines seeing record-breaking sales, travel advisors are too," John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, told Cruise Critic. "Travel Leaders Group’s cruise sales volume over the last few weeks is better than 2019."
Cruise Planners recently had its largest sales weeks since the pandemic, said Michelle Fee, CEO of the homebased travel advisors' network.
The CDC removed its COVID-19 warning on cruise travel on March 30. A Travel Health Notice on cruise travel had been in place for two years, since the federal agency first imposed restrictions on cruise travel in the U.S.
"Lifting of the cruise warning is having a profound impact on cruise bookings," Lovell said.
"People now feel more at ease knowing that the premier public health authority is saying what the travel industry has known all along: Cruising is safe," he explained.
Cruise lines are continuing to follow, on a voluntary basis, the CDC's recommendations in terms of vaccine, testing, mask-wearing and other requirements. (For updated requirements, see Cruise Critic's running list).
The CDC publishes a consumer-friendly color-coded ship directory, which tracks any COVID-19 outbreaks among guests and crew on specific ships.
"Red-hot, pent-up demand for travel" is also at play, said Fee. "In addition, cruising is hot because people can leave from a US port, visit various destinations and not have to re-test upon returning to the U.S."
Another factor may be simply that cruise ships are now able to carry a higher volume of guests, as opposed to the restrictions on the number of passengers imposed by the CDC. And there are many more ships back in service than there were right after cruising resumed last summer.
"As the No Sail orders were lifted, cruise lines kept a strict gap on how many people were able to sail, and that number was far below the actual capacity of the ships," said Annie Scrivanich, Senior Vice President, Cruise Specialists. "Now, cruise lines can actually fulfill the demand."
"The Caribbean, Alaska and Europe are hot spots for bookings right now," said Lovell.
"Outside of the Caribbean, Alaska is looking great, especially now that ships can call in Canadian ports again," he added. "And Europe continues to sell well. Although the situation in Ukraine has affected Baltic (sailings), many of those itineraries have been re-positioned to the UK."
A factor in the increased bookings may be the lifting of travel restrictions in countries outside the U.S., Lovell said. "With the UK and EU dropping many requirements for entry, it makes it easier than ever to cruise."
Unclear is whether a current increase in COVID-19 cases in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe will have any impact on future bookings. The city of Philadelphia this week reinstated a mask requirement. So far, no cruise lines have followed suit.
What is clear is that as life returns to normal, so too do the number of people who want to get back to cruising.
"Since the pandemic turned life upside down, consumers are ready to get back to travel, especially cruising," Cruise Specialists' Scrivanich told Cruise Critic. "With borders opening up, we'll see a continued surge in business."