Thinking of a cruise for spring or summer? We’ve got some bad news

Are you in the market for a cruise departing in the next few months? Well, you might be in for some bad news. With demand for cruises at an all-time high, finding a cabin that meets your preferences could be a challenge. Bookings for upcoming cruises are skyrocketing, and as a result, many departures in the next few months are nearly sold out. Even sailings for the summer and fall are seeing a rapid decrease in available space, leading to rising fares.

According to Jason Liberty, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, bookings have consistently surpassed last year’s numbers across all key products and at higher prices. In fact, the five highest booking weeks in the company’s history all occurred since the last earnings call. This surge in bookings has led to a significant decrease in available cabins for the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same time last year. Despite an 8.5% increase in cabin capacity due to the addition of new ships, Royal Caribbean Group’s brands have just half as many cabins available to book.

This trend is not unique to Royal Caribbean. Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Carnival Cruise Line and other major cruise lines, has also experienced a historical level of bookings. As of late December, 85% of its cabin inventory for the entire first half of 2024 had already been sold. This level of bookings is unprecedented, with the company now focusing on selling cabins for the second half of 2024 and beyond.

Leisure industry analyst Patrick Scholes estimates that Carnival Corporation has already sold over 70% of its cabins for the entire year of 2024. In a typical year, the company would have sold about 60% of its cabins by mid-January. This higher-than-usual booking pace is consistent across the industry, with cruise lines running about 7 to 10 percentage points ahead of normal for booked occupancy in 2024. Despite an 8% increase in global cruise cabin capacity, cruise lines are struggling to keep up with the demand.

One reason for this surge in bookings is that cruisers are planning their trips further in advance than in the past. As of mid-January, the average booking time for a cruise vacation is about 210 days prior to sailing, or about seven months. This means that cruisers are now locking in trips for September and beyond. With such strong bookings, cruise lines have been able to raise prices significantly in recent months. This has resulted in fewer deals available during the wave season, which is typically when cruisers line up trips for the year.

Last year, cruise lines focused on filling ships and paid less attention to pricing. However, this year, the strategy has flipped. With the industry already well-booked at the start of the year, the focus is now on pricing growth. According to Scholes, pricing for cruises has increased by a “low-to-mid teen” percentage level from December to early January. The greatest degree of pricing growth is seen for departures in the first quarter of 2024, where there are the fewest cabins left to sell.

Despite the challenges in finding available cabins and rising fares, cruising remains a popular choice for many travelers. If you’re planning a cruise, it’s important to start early and be flexible with your preferences. Keep an eye out for any last-minute cancellations or promotions that may become available. With proper planning and a bit of luck, you can still secure a spot on an unforgettable cruise vacation.

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