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Cruise Travelers Looking for More Luxury

AAA Travel bookings reveal surging interest in luxe suites and smaller, premium cruise lines

Cruise by Roderick Eime
Photo copyright Roderick Eime

Mega-size cruise ships that can carry upwards of 5,000 passengers are becoming more common on the high seas and are popular with a wide range of travelers, according to a new AAA Travel analysis of cruise booking data from the last 12 months.  At the same time, the data reveal an emerging trend of vacationers increasingly selecting smaller-ship voyages on luxury ocean and river cruise lines.  AAA Travel’s cruise sales have increased substantially in the last year, while bookings of suites on large cruise ships and sailings on small, luxury cruise lines have exploded, by high double-digit percentages in some cases. 

“With all of the evolving options for dining and entertainment for people of all ages, there has never been a better time to cruise,” says Bevi Powell, senior vice president of AAA East Central.  “And while mega-ships that hold thousands of people at once are still a very popular option, we’re starting to see more interest among travelers for more intimate cruising experiences on smaller, ultra-premium cruise lines like Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, and Amazara Club Cruises.”

As some travelers select smaller, luxury cruises, mass-market cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are introducing bigger, more expansive suites on new oceangoing ships.  Many suite guests now have exclusive access to specialty restaurants, private pools and lounges, and in some cases, even the dedicated service of a private butler while onboard.

The cruise industry is experiencing strong growth across the board, as cruise lines invest billions of dollars in new ships and continue evolving their offerings to attract more travelers.  In 2019, the North American cruise market capacity is projected to grow seven percent, adding space for one million additional passengers annually on seven new ships.  According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 26.7 million passengers sailed on an ocean cruise globally in 2017, and that number is expected to climb to 28 million in 2018.

AAA Travel experts have identified these additional trends that are transforming the cruise industry:

  • Changing Destinations: Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean and Hawaii remain the most popular cruise destinations, but travelers’ preferences are starting to shift.  AAA Travel bookings for cruises to Europe and Hawaii are growing substantially, compared to other popular destinations. 
  • Leaps in Technology: Responding to the growing demand of travelers who wish to stay connected to their devices and social media, cruise lines have invested significantly in technology to enhance the onboard experience.  This includes adding high-speed Wi-Fi; high-tech, interactive sign boards throughout the ships; and free smartphone apps that allow passengers to customize their own daily itineraries, exchange messages with other passengers and keep in touch with friends and family back home.
  • Something for Everyone: Both ocean and river cruise lines are tailoring their offerings to appeal to more niche audiences.  For example, Viking River Cruises has adopted an adults-only policy on its ships, while others, like AmaWaterways, are adding connecting staterooms to appeal more to families and multigenerational groups.

Travel planning comes with a myriad of options and can be overwhelming. To ease the planning process, AAA offers these top tips for cruisers:

  • Work with a travel agent. Travel agents work with cruise lines every day and often have access to added benefits and deals that may not be available elsewhere.
  • Book early and be flexible to take advantage of special promotions and secure first choice of ship, itinerary, cabin location and sailing date.
  • Consider the full cost of a cruise.  Most cruises are not all-inclusive, so travelers should factor in what they will likely spend on specialty dining, beverages and spa services.  Added-value promotions, such as those that include beverage packages, are popular options to consider.
  • Reserve shore excursions directly through a travel agent when booking a cruise, rather than onboard the ship or in the destination, as many popular activities sell out quickly.
  • Fly to the embarkation port the day before the cruise, not the morning of departure. Cruise ships have firm departure times and won’t wait for a delayed flight.
  • Check in for the cruise online before leaving to save time at the cruise ship terminal.

For more information or to begin planning a cruise vacation, visit

AAA East Central is a not-for-profit association with 80 local offices in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia serving 2.7 million members.  News releases are available at  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

For More Information, Contact:
Jim Garrity, Public & Community Relations Manager
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AAA East Central is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.