Caribbean Cruises Are Back in a Big Way
The Caribbean tourism industry has rebounded spectacularly from the pandemic – and so, too has the cruise sector. Plainly, Caribbean cruises are back in a big way, according to travel agents.
More cruise ships, some larger, are sailing, operating at full capacity, and making port calls in the Caribbean again, according to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
“Cruising is definitely back,” said Kacie Walls, an agent with Traevlista Travels. “I never really booked cruises up until this year, but it is back and everyone is going.”
After two successive years in decline, the cruise business in the Caribbean rebounded. In 2022, the total number of cruise visitors in the region reached 19.2 million, which was five times more than those in 2021 and represented 63.3 percent of the record number of cruise visits (30.4 million) set in 2019, according to the CHTA.
“You can book big ships that entertain all age groups and small ships that get into unique ports,” said Brown. “Yacht style cruising is a huge request especially for those that don’t want to be with lots of people.”
Each month’s total cruise visits in 2022 were more than the corresponding month’s in 2021 underscoring the sector’s robust recovery. These cruise visits, with monthly totals ranging from 1.1 million to 3.3 million, made up a progressively larger percentage of the 2019 monthly number, according to CHTA.
The recovered proportions moved from 23 percent in January up to 86 percent in December.
As a consequence, cruise visits performed best in both absolute and relative terms in the fourth quarter. With 7.1 million cruise visits, the three-month period saw an estimated decline of -16 percent compared to the same period in 2019. In the other quarters, there were fewer cruise visitors: 4.3 million, 3.8 million, and 4.0 million, correspondingly.
In comparison to 2019, the relative disparities observed were more significant, at -59.5 percent, -37.5 percent and -23.2 percent, respectively.
Cruise visits to the Dominican Republic were 20.1 percent more than in 2019 and totaled 1.3 million, the third largest number among the destination. The Bahamas, the most visited individual destination by cruisers, received 5.4 million cruise visits which were 99.3 percent of their 2019 number. This was the best performance among the 23 destinations still lagging in cruise visits, according to the CHTA.
Four other destinations, Bermuda, Dominica, Aruba, and the US Virgin Islands, experienced recovery rates of between 70 percent and 75 percent, according to the CHTA.
In 2022, all regions enjoyed significant increases in cruise activity following the pandemic-driven disruptions over the previous two years. The Northern Caribbean emerged as the most visited region in 2022, having recorded an estimated 6.5 million cruise visits (six times more than in 2021) and achieved 91.9 percent of the pre-pandemic arrivals.
“Families that have never cruised before are cruising now,” said Walls. “I have had a 40th wedding anniversary and spring break group on NCL, and Carnival is very popular for me due to the Norfolk and Baltimore port being so close.”
Cruise visits to other regions were either four or five times more than in 2021. However, while the Eastern and Western Caribbean recovered 55 percent of their 2019 figures, the Southern Caribbean could only muster 51.3 percent, according to the CHTA.
All destinations registered increases in cruise visits against 2021.
However, the exception of the Dominican Republic, the volume of cruise visits to all other reporting destinations was still below 2019 figures.
“Cruises are hot and filling up,” said Lena Brown, an advisor with Largay Travel. “What better way to spend time with family, seeing different destinations and enjoying dinner each night together? With so many styles of cruising these days, I find I can find a good fit for all cruise clients.”