Possibly due in part to recent bad publicity about large ocean cruising vessels gone wrong, travel agents are seeing an upsurge in interest in small ship and river cruising, according to an internal American Express Travel survey released during a recent cruise industry conference in Vancouver.
The survey of 250 Amex agents showed that 38 percent of them ranked small ship cruises as their highest-demand voyages, followed by megaships at 31 percent and river cruises at 27 percent.
This dovetails with my own surveys of baby boomer travelers, who have often told me they would never consider taking a cruise — until I ask about small ship and river cruises. Then I often get this kind of reply: “Oh, those are different — I’d try them.”
Megaships carrying thousands of passengers — with their myriad on-board activities, entertainments, restaurants, shops, spas and other amenities — obviously remain popular, and are often much less expensive than the smaller vessels, which carry no more than a few hundred (and often much less). But long lines to disembark and re-board the ships, crowded buffets, noisy poolside games and shopping-mall-like interiors put off many folks who would otherwise enjoy a relaxing vacation on the water.
Baby boomers, especially, seem to be drawn to small ship and river cruising, partly because many are looking for more peace and quiet and intimate settings on a sea or river voyage — and can afford to pay for it.
The American Express survey notes that while pricing and perceived value are important, higher-end stateroom categories are more in demand than ever. And so are exotic cruising destinations like Cambodia, Vietnam, the Amazon and the Red Sea.
I believe this is a reflection of more and more baby boomers traveling as they begin to retire and have the time and resources to explore new destinations around the globe.
Expect interest in small ship and river cruising to follow in their wake.
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