You won’t believe how far in advance people are booking cruises these days

Mar 21, 2021

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Thinking about booking a cruise departing in the next few months in the hopes it’ll really happen?

If you do, you’ll be bucking the trend.

After a year of seemingly endless cruise cancellations, cruise fans increasingly are looking further out on the calendar when scheduling their next voyages — way further out.

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In a research report issued earlier this month, Truist Securities analyst C. Patrick Scholes said the cruise “booking window” — the number of days in advance of sailings on average that cruisers are booking trips — had soared to an all-time record of 365 days.

That’s up from just 210 days a year ago, he said.

“Basically, customers are booking an entire year out,” Scholes noted.

Cruises traditionally have been booked far further in advance than other sorts of travel, with an average booking window of six months or more being common. But to have the average booking for a cruise be a full-year away is unprecedented, Scholes suggested.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Sailings for cruises in 2022 and even 2023 are already selling heavily at such lines as Oceania Cruises. (Photo by NAN728/Shutterstock)

Scholes credits the widening booking window in part to strong pent-up demand for cruises in the wake of the shutdown of most cruising for a year. Cruise fans who missed their trips in 2020 and already have mostly given up on 2021 are now looking ahead to 2022 and beyond and snapping up cabins with gusto.

To that point, Truist Securities data shows the pace of 2022 bookings for all types of cruises is 30% to 35% ahead of where it normally would be at this stage in the booking cycle. And a breakdown by region shows even bigger increases in some destinations.

Scholes said bookings for 2022 sailings in Europe and Alaska are up around 100% vs. where they normally would be at this point in the booking cycle. Bookings for Caribbean sailings in 2022, by contrast, are relatively flat to up about 5% as compared to past years.

Europe and Alaska, notably, are more expensive cruise destinations than the Caribbean.

“Pent-up demand abounds, especially for higher-end travel,” Scholes said.

Related: 2 major cruise lines will resume North American sailings in June 

Scholes suggested the widening booking window was being driven in part by older travelers who typically book higher-end cruise products in places like Europe. Higher-end cruises are traditionally booked further in advance than mass-market cruises.

“What has stood out to us in our conversations (with travel industry executives) and booking intelligence around demand is that higher-end/luxury bookings and sales are up substantially more than for mass-market cruises,” Scholes said. “As one very large seller of cruises told us, luxury booking volumes are 3x that of mass-market.”

Scholes suggested that senior travelers who have recently been vaccinated and have been missing out on travel for more than a year now have a new “have vaccine will travel” attitude.

The demand for further-out itineraries has prompted several cruise lines to open their 2023 and even 2024 sailings for bookings sooner than originally planned.

Related: For the first time in more than a year, a new cruise vessel is debuting in North America

Luxury line Crystal Cruises, for instance, in August opened bookings for its smallest vessel, Crystal Esprit, all the way through early 2024.

Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Viking are among lines that already have opened a wide range of 2023 sailings — sometimes with record results.

Oceania, for instance, just reported the single best booking day in the company’s history after opening its “tropics and exotics” itineraries for late 2022 and early 2023. The collection of 127 itineraries across Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, the Caribbean, South America, and the South Pacific opened for bookings on March 3.

Oceania is a relatively upscale line that caters heavily to older travelers.

“The tremendous wave of bookings we saw on the day we opened our new 2022 and 2023 itineraries for sale underscores the extraordinary demand for long and exotic cruise vacations,” Oceania president and CEO Bob Binder said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Upscale travelers are eager to explore the world once more and are booking farther in advance to ensure their travel dreams are fulfilled.”

To satisfy demand from cruisers who are booking further in advance, the line said this month it would open its spring, summer and fall 2023 Europe and North America voyages ahead of time. They’ll be live in the company’s reservation computers by September.

Already, Oceania and sister line Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which specializes in luxury voyages, are 40% booked for all of 2022, the top executive at the lines’ parent company said in February during a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

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Featured image by NAN728/Shutterstock

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