As we continue to move on from the pandemic, demand for cruise holidays is rising again. So what trends are emerging as we sail into 2023?  

More travellers are looking to escape on itineraries that provide cultural and destination immersion; solo cruising is on the up; and people want to spend more on bucket-list luxury cruises.  

Exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations; personalised experiences; adventure cruising – and education – in far-flung places like Antarctica; and combining high-end wellness services with discovery in a health-boosting ocean-going experience, are all areas that are predicted to attract high demand this year.  

We hear from some leading industry voices to learn more about what to expect in 2023 and beyond.

Gary Anslow, head of UK and Ireland business, Norwegian Cruise Line 

“For 2023, we’re already seeing some travel trends emerging. First off, guests are seeking to make the most of their time on board, which includes treating themselves to wellness and beauty.

“Luckily for Norwegian Cruise Line guests, our Mandara Spa is available on all 18 ships, including the brand-new Norwegian Viva, which launches this year. In addition to 50 treatments, guests can enjoy a flotation salt pool, an infrared sauna, Welnamis beds, and hot stone loungers. 

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“We’re also seeing a trend for longer and more immersive itineraries, complimented by our Go Local shore excursions. These allow guests to engage and learn about local communities in the destinations we visit. Exciting itineraries include Norwegian Dawn’s sailings from Cape Town to Dubai next year, with many exotic stops including Mozambique, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Oman. 

The Norwegian Prima (left) alongside the Norwegian Viva

“We expect solo travel to increase in popularity this year. A recent OnePoll survey found that two-thirds of adults had travelled alone and 37% preferred the freedom of it. Our Studio concept, found on nine ships, including our new vessels Norwegian Prima and Norwegian Viva, are specifically designed and priced for solo travellers.

“Running up to 100 square feet they give solo cruisers the most affordable and stylish way to cruise. Studio guests have exclusive key card access to the Studio Complex and Lounge, a shared private area where they can relax, have a drink, order room service, and meet your neighbours.” 

Chris Austin, chief sales officer, Explora Journeys 

“Travel is back – people want to travel again, but are looking to go slower and deeper, spend time with their loved ones and discover off-the-beaten-path destinations.

“We are seeing a move towards smaller ship cruising, as luxury travellers look for more exclusive experiences, longing for more time and space. With travellers looking to finally take their bucket-list trips, these ships allow them to engage in more unique and intimate travel experiences, visiting destinations that cannot be reached by larger ships.  

The Explora II

“Guests want more curated, personalised experiences that allow them to relax and unwind, knowing that everything is taken care of by hospitality experts. There are many things that can elevate a vacation, such as a comprehensive itinerary highlighting a destination’s unique culture and tiny details like a hand-delivered bottle of wine. When travellers know that everything on their journey is taken care of, they can truly take time to rejuvenate and immerse themselves in the destinations, creating unforgettable memories.  

“Luxury travellers are looking for memorable and immersive experiences that will allow them to discover the less-explored parts of a destination. They want to enjoy authentic culinary experiences, embrace time-honoured cultural traditions, delve into the rich history and wander through the natural beauty of a destination. With Explora Journeys, there are many immersive experiences available for guests to enjoy the authentic culture of a destination.” 

James Cole, founder and managing director, Panache Cruises 

“Following the pandemic, we have seen a shift in the priorities of travellers across the wider travel sector. Firstly, people have become much more crowd conscious, prompting some people to move away from mass-market-style holidays.

“When translated into the cruise sector, this is driving more interest in small ship cruising due to smaller passenger numbers and the fact that small ships often offer up to 50% more personal space per person compared to the largest cruise ships. This is mainly because smaller ships are mostly operated by luxury and ultra-luxury cruise lines where service levels are much higher. We may see a higher percentage of smaller builds entering the yards in the coming few years as a result.   

“There will be a higher number of expedition-focused vessels coming down slipways in the next few years. Many will be built to withstand the harsh conditions found in the Arctic and Antarctic and the hulls will be constructed to operate in areas where ice is a constant hazard.

The Scenic Eclipse arriving in Valleta

“For example, Scenic Eclipse is a luxury expedition yacht with a Class 1A Super rating, thereby enabling it to navigate through Arctic and Antarctic waters in the warmer months of the year. The boundaries of what is possible in terms of ship hardware are being constantly moved and I think the next year or two will see some incredible new design concepts. 

“Lastly, we are also seeing that people are making up for lost time and post-pandemic, cruisers are prepared to spend more to reach the destinations they really want to visit. More and more people are switching to higher cabin grades and longer itineraries. Travel has become an essential staple of modern life and the opportunity to make lasting memories on ‘once in a lifetime’ type itineraries has become more important in the post-pandemic world.” 

Ben Bouldin, EMEA vice president, Royal Caribbean 

“With over two years of uncertain travel planning, the rise of remote work, and a shared human desire to make travel experiences count more than ever, we are anticipating an uptick in consumer appetite for grand voyages, with sailings longer than 21 days growing in popularity. 

“This year, Royal Caribbean launches a first-of-its-kind cruise with the debut of the inaugural Ultimate World Cruise, an epic 274-night adventure that visits all seven continents, more than 150 destinations in 65 countries and 11 great wonders of the world. This rich, immersive experience on Serenade of the Seas is the longest and most comprehensive world cruise. 

Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas

“Asia is a key long-haul destination for travellers, reopening to international cruises in July 2022 – Royal Caribbean was amongst the first to arrive in Malaysia. Due to consumer demand for adventure in the Far East, we’ve added two new 12-night itineraries for 2023 on Spectrum of the Seas, which means guests can visit as many as seven destinations across three countries, all in one holiday. These sailings can also be enjoyed back-to-back, visiting a new destination almost every day for the entire 24-night adventure. 

“Travellers are craving experiences in unique destinations and so cruise lines are innovating their partnerships and extending the time guests spend on land. They are, more than ever, looking for experiences that are exclusive, unique and local.

“Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay is a private island, only available to Royal Caribbean guests. It provides an array of distinct adventures and iconic features from one of the tallest waterslides in North America, Daredevil’s Peak to Oasis Lagoon, the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean – one-of-a-kind experiences that will top any bucket list.” 

Grant Seuren, director, Sail Croatia 

“With its national football team coming third in the World Cup, and its dramatic and awe-inspiring coastline featured in the award-winning Game of Thrones, Croatia has been growing fast in terms of popularity as a holiday destination. Luxury small ship operator, Sail Croatia, has seen a 254% growth in British holidaymakers joining their cruises in 2021 vs 2022 and expects that to continue in 2023.  

“Sail Croatia’s inaugural Yacht Charter Report confirms Croatia as the most popular sailing destination in 2022. Over 38% of yacht charter bookings worldwide take place in the country and Google search interest increased by 124% compared to ‘sailing in Croatia’ searches in 2021. 

The Croatian island of Korcula

“Another key trend of note is the growth in active holiday seekers – those looking to combine fitness with relaxation in a stunning setting. With a 290% growth in Sail Croatia’s Hike and Cycle cruises since 2021, it’s clear there is an active trend on the rise, which is ever-popular with British travellers. Over 50% of its Hike clients in 2022 were British, and they already make up 32% of those booked for 2023.” 

Patrizia Iantorno, vice president of global marketing, Swan Hellenic 

“Two factors will continue to be dominant in 2023: growing environmental concern as a driver of brand choice; and travellers increasing their desire to gain a deeper understanding of the destinations they discover, including cultures and environmental issues. 

“What does this mean in practical terms? At Swan Hellenic, we take many steps to protect the places we visit, such as providing our guests with reusable water bottles and producing all our freshwater onboard, which helps reduce local water stress and our use of plastics. We also make extensive use of apps and digital technology to overcome the need for paper documentation.  

Swan Hellenic Vega

“Meanwhile, we’ve partnered with the SETI Institute to provide our guests with expert insights not only into the regions we explore but also into worlds beyond our own. This will provide guests with expert insights into the history and latest discoveries in astronomy, astrophysics, astrobiology, and planetary science, and engage Swan Hellenic’s adventure travellers with never-before-seen presentations on explorations around the earth and beyond, with SETI Institute equipment – including an advanced telescope – installed on board.”