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The state of the cruise industry today

Allure of the Seas

Allure of the Seas (AP)

Back in December, I provided a general guide to help travelers decode cruise deals for wave season, and now that we’re two months into it, I thought I’d report back on where the best values are. 

For the industry overall, we’ve seen everything from the expected influx of cruise bookings, incredible discounts, flash sales and flight credits, to the unexpected distress in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Our hearts go out to those affected by the stranded Carnival Triumph and we’re happy to hear that passengers are finally back on dry land. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for cruisers and the cruise industry, but my opinion is that this disaster was an anomaly and not at all indicative of the cruise industry as a whole.

Many Hotwire customers have been asking whether we’ve seen cruise prices fall since the accident. At this point, we haven’t seen a reduction in pricing or bookings. We’re currently seeing the expected amount of interest – and faith – in cruising, but also keep in mind that it took a few weeks for prices to change in the wake of last year’s Costa Concordia tragedy, so I’ll keep my eye on the data. 

Speaking of which, we are constantly keeping a pulse on what’s trending –  where people are sailing, how long they’re away, or what cruise lines folks seem to be shopping – in order to help our customers get the best deals. This year, various factors like sluggish economies and higher airfare prices have impacted the cruise industry in different ways, and have led to some interesting opportunities. I’ve provided an overview of those trends below, and hopefully they can help both novice and experienced cruisers alike to make better-informed decisions as they book their next getaway.  

2013 Destinations

While much of the industry continues to evolve, the most popular destinations haven’t changed. It’s not surprising to see the Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas and Alaska top the list again this year. Most of the major cruise lines sail to these locales, meaning there are more ships and bargains to choose from during wave season. 

In my last post, I discussed how the Caribbean is a popular winter destination to get to by air, and the same holds true for cruisers. When it gets cold at home, folks love sailing to these idyllic isles with their warm weather and crystal clear waters. Come summer, Alaskan cruises with glacier excursions and land adventures rise in popularity.

One area that’s undergone significant changes over the past year is Europe. Many lines moved their ships to Europe before the economic downturn, and now there are plenty of cabins to fill – and excellent deals to entice travelers – for a couple of reasons. 

First, Europeans have been experiencing slow economies, so they’re spending less money on cruises and this certainly impacts the number of folks on ships in the region. Second, the rising cost of international airfare has caused more North Americans to choose cruises closer to home in ports like Florida, New York and San Francisco. 

Realizing this trend, some cruise lines are offering amazing deals like $1,000 in airfare credits to attract more Americans, so folks should look for those bargains before dismissing the idea of a European cruise just because it might be too expensive.

Trends in Cruise Length

Now that we have a better idea on where folks are cruising this season, let’s talk about the length of their trips. 

This year, the majority of folks booking on Hotwire have been looking for 4- to7-night cruises, which has led to some interesting insights. For example, we’re seeing a younger demographic sailing in 2013 on cruises of this length. 

Cruises have been known to attract families, particularly during the summer when school is out, as well as couples and retirees looking to travel any time of year. But this year, younger folks are looking to set sail for a quick getaway at a reasonable price. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned before, Americans overall are being more budget-conscious this year and cruises that sail for a week or less tend to give you the best bang for your buck.

The great news is that those who can’t get away for long vacations and don’t want to spend a bunch of money are in luck; cruise lines are taking note of this trend and are adding more shorter-length cruises to cater to these travelers. As such, there are sure to be deals to meet the demand. 

That being said, travelers with more robust vacation budgets who still want a similar deal can also extend their time at sea. Several lines are allowing people to string two or more cruises together to create custom itineraries that are better suited to their vacation schedules.

Top Selling Cruise Lines

When it comes to which cruise lines folks are choosing for their next getaway this season, it seems most are sticking to major lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian already have a number of brand-new ships with positive buzz around them. 

In fact, Royal Caribbean has two of the most talked about ships in the contemporary cruise market – Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas – which have a ton of on-board amenities to enjoy like an ice skating rink, a rock climbing wall, surf simulators and a zip line. And Norwegian plans to unveil two new ships that will have fantastic entertainment options and new family programs. 

One of those is Breakaway, which is scheduled to launch this May out of New York, and the other is Gateway, which is scheduled to launch in 2014. These lines tend to offer the most value for your dollar and all continue to offer fantastic deals as they compete for cruisers, especially Norwegian which has really been going the extra mile when it comes to their offers. Carnival is a line to watch as the news coverage around the Triumph situation may affect pricing in the coming months, but it’s too soon to tell just yet.

A little information can go a long way if you’re looking to save money on cruises this season. And with the market at its peak during this time of year, it’s important to know what to look for if you want to get the biggest discounts. Staying in the loop on popular cruise routes, trip lengths and ships will help you save big and ensure you get that cruise you’ve always dreamed of.

Clem Bason is the president of the Hotwire Group. Every month he provides FoxNews.com readers travel information, tips and advice to help them plan a fun, affordable trip.