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

Are you looking to book a cruise departing in the next few months? Here’s the bad news: You might have trouble finding a cabin — at least if you’re picky about the type of room you get.

With demand for cruises running at sky-high levels, bookings are soaring. As a result, many cruise departures in the next few months are already nearly completely sold out. Space is disappearing fast on sailings for the coming summer and fall, too, even as the imbalance between supply and demand is leading to rising fares.

This surge in bookings comes as no surprise to industry experts. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Jason Liberty, the CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, stated that bookings have consistently outpaced last year across all key products and at higher prices. He mentioned that the five highest booking weeks in the company’s history have all occurred since the last earnings call.

Royal Caribbean Group, which includes Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea Cruises, has just half as many cabins available to book for the first quarter of 2024 compared to what was available at the same time last year for the first quarter of 2023. This is despite an 8.5% increase in cabin capacity due to the addition of new ships.

Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America, and several other major lines, has also experienced a similar situation. According to the company’s president and CEO, Josh Weinstein, they had already sold 85% of their cabin inventory for the entire first half of 2024, which he described as a “historical” level. Carnival Corporation is already selling cabins for the second half of 2024 and beyond.

Leisure industry analyst Patrick Scholes of Truist estimated that Carnival Corporation had already sold over 70% of its cabins for all of 2024 by mid-January. In a more typical year, the company would have sold around 60% of its cabins by that time. This trend is not unique to Carnival Corporation, as cruise lines in general are running about 7 to 10 percentage points ahead of normal when it comes to booked occupancy for 2024.

The high level of bookings can be attributed to several factors. One reason is that cruisers are planning their trips further in advance than before. As of mid-January, travelers were booking cruise vacations about 210 days prior to sailings, on average. This means that cruisers are locking in trips for September and beyond.

The strong bookings have also led to higher fares. Cruise lines have been able to raise prices notably in recent months, resulting in fewer deals available during wave season, the period at the start of the year when many cruisers book trips for the year. Last year, the focus was on filling ships, but this year, the focus is on pricing growth due to the high demand.

According to Scholes, pricing for cruises was up by a “low-to-mid teen” percentage level in December into early January. The greatest degree of pricing growth is seen for departures in the first quarter of 2024 and to a lesser extent in the second quarter. This strategy allows cruise lines to have better control over their pricing environment and keep prices at an elevated level.

So, if you’re looking to book a cruise departing in the next few months, be prepared for limited availability and higher fares. It’s advisable to plan and book your trip well in advance to secure your desired cabin and avoid disappointment.

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