State of the Cruise Industry

Intro Statement

Like many businesses, the cruise industry has been challenged by the COVID pandemic of 2020. So much has happened in the nine months since cruising’s pause in service first began: sailings canceled, fleets cut, policies adjusted, new protocols introduced and even a slow restart for some cruise lines.

Most notably through it all, the industry joined together to tackle the challenges at-hand. Their unified effort led to the establishment of expert-led health and safety panels, the presentation of industry-wide recommendations and best-practices, the sharing of technological advancements and learnings – all with the safety of guests, crew and communities across the globe as the guiding focus.

Through nearly eight months of research, we’ve closely tracked the sentiment and opinions of our Cruise Critic readers – from the most avid of cruisers to first-timers, Millennials to Baby Boomers. In this report, we break down the latest data across audiences, uncover key trends and look ahead to what the future could bring.

Colleen McDaniel

Editor-In-Chief, Cruise Critic

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Future Cruise Intent Remains Strong

Based on sentiment data from travelers across the globe, a significant number plan to book a future cruise. In fact, over one-third of respondents (35%) are already looking to book a future cruise – an increase of 7% since our first survey in April.


will book a future cruise

The biggest driver of future cruise intent is cruise experience. Those who have taken 10+ cruises are 18% more likely to book a future cruise than those who have taken one cruise or fewer. Traveler age is a less-significant driver, with all groups reporting a strong intent to cruise again, but those in the 18-44 age range are most likely to already be looking to book – 40% report they’re already looking to book, compared with 33% in the 65+ age range.

Will you book a future cruise?

Results based on 3,681 responses from November 1-16, 2020

Cruisers Are Booking

While return-to-service plans are still being developed, cruisers continue to book future cruises – most of which are being planned for 2021 (80%). While bookings continue, we saw notable differences compared with bookings in Q4 of 2019.


of shoppers are planning a cruise in 2021


Average Booking Window Increases

At present, travelers are booking cruises further out than they were during the same time last year. We can attribute the year-over-year increase to a lack of last-minute sailings offered this winter, as well as the unknown timeline for future cruises. That said, the booking window is declining from Q2 2020 (-17%) and a majority of cruisers planning to cruise in the coming year are still looking to book in the first half of 2021 (49%).


Average Cost of a Booked Cruise

We're seeing travelers spend more on their booked cruises this year than they were during the same time period last year. The increase is tied closely to a greater number of bookings on smaller cruise ships across luxury and river cruise lines. With smaller ships come higher, more inclusive base fares, which we've seen reflected in the average cost of cruise bookings.

Top Booking Considerations

Among the top considerations for those currently looking to book a cruise, a flexible cancellation policy continues to grow in importance. We saw a 17% increase in those who list a flexible policy as a top booking consideration since Q2 2020.



They are looking for a great deal (58%)



They are choosing where they're going carefully. (51%)


Cancellation Policy

They will book with a line that has a flexible policy. (45%)


Departure Port

They will book a drive-to cruise port. (29%)


Ship Size

They will look to book on a smaller ship. (20%)

Alaska Is A Top Cruise Destination

While the Caribbean remains the top destination for future cruise bookings, Alaska has been number two on the list since Q2 of this year – a position previously held by Mexico. Interest in Alaska continues to grow, particularly as the entire 2020 Alaska season was canceled due to the industry’s pause in service.

Data based on searches and clicks on Cruise Critic, along with bookings made from those clicks to booking partners.

Industry-Wide Research and Planning Make a Difference

Cruise Critic readers reacted favorably to the release of Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s joint Healthy Sail Panel recommendations and CLIA’s related report. Through subsequent surveys, readers shared which of the panel’s areas of focus were most important to their confidence in sailing, with sanitation and ventilation topping the list.


had a favorable response to the Healthy Sail Panel

Areas of focus that cruisers care most about:


Sanitation and ventilation (81%)


Testing, screening and exposure reduction (76%)


Response, contingency planning and execution (60%)

Results based on 3,253 responses from Sep 21 - Nov 16, 2020

What Does the CDC's Latest Order Mean for U.S. Cruising?

Following the expiration of the CDC’s No Sail Order in October and taking into account recommendations made by the cruise industry, the CDC issued a new framework for conditional sailing to run through November 2021. While the order provides guidelines for a limited return to sailing, cruise lines must complete the CDC’s four-phased approach in order to begin sailing from the U.S.:

Phase 1

Crew Member Testing

All crew members will be lab tested, in order for lines to fully crew vessels for a U.S. restart.

Phase 2

Simulated Voyages

Volunteers will help lines to form and refine health, safety and operational protocols.

Phase 3


Lines that meet all of the CDC’s pre-sailing protocols will be granted certification.

Phase 4

Return to Service

Initially, cruise offerings from the U.S. will be limited to sailings that are seven days or fewer.

Top factors that would make cruisers most comfortable in port:


Minimal or no reported active COVID-19 cases in the area (68%)


Strict protocols for leaving and returning to the ship (63%)


COVID-19 vaccine (60%)

Results based on 3,231 responses from Sep 21 - Oct 23, 2020.

See the latest travel restrictions and cruise line policies

Looking Ahead: New Cruise Ships

With a number of new ship launches canceled in 2020, all eyes are on 2021 as a big year for the introduction of brand-new vessels and offerings for travelers -- those that have been postponed and those that were originally slated to launch this year.

Of the more than 20 new ships on tap for 2021, these ships are scheduled to launch in the first half of the year:

New ships setting sail in 2021

See a full list of ships scheduled to launch next year


While 2020 was a year unlike any we’ve seen, the cruise industry has plenty to be encouraged by – cruisers who are eager to return to sea, brand-new cruise ships being launched and an industry more unified than ever.

As the global health community continues its work to understand and control the virus, the cruise industry will continue its own efforts to work hand-in-hand with leading experts who will help to guide a safe – and methodical – return to the seas.

And when that time comes, plenty of cruisers are looking forward to stepping back onboard and traveling the world by sea.

For media questions, email pr@cruisecritic.com

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