What's Trending? Cruise Lines and Executives Talk the Most Popular Destinations for 2023by Dori Saltzman /
In 2023 cruisers are pretty evenly split between wanting to stay closer to home (Caribbean and Alaska) and wanting to go to Europe.
"Wave season started early at the end of 2022 and Cruise Planners advisors are booking travel for clients at an astounding rate… Top destinations include Europe and luxury European river cruising… as well as cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean," said Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners.
Holland America is seeing the most 2023 demand and bookings for Alaska, and then the Caribbean, a spokesperson told TMR. "In fact, in 2022, bookings to Alaska hit the highest levels since pre-pandemic with pent-up demand," a spokesperson said.
Sister cruise line Seabourn is also seeing high demand for Alaska. According to a spokesperson, its summertime Alaska voyages onboard Seabourn Odyssey are one of its top two itineraries for 2023.
For Norwegian Cruise Line, the Caribbean and Europe are about equally popular. "We design our itineraries to provide our guests more opportunities to explore the destinations they are most interested in visiting," said Todd Hamilton, senior vice president of sales for NCL. "As such, our highest capacities, and therefore guest demand, are in the Caribbean and Europe."
At Oceania Cruises, it's the Caribbean that's leading the way (including Panama Canal cruises), particularly for winter 2023, with the Mediterranean most popular this spring and Northern Europe, including Scandinavia and the Baltic region most popular for this summer. Alaska is not far behind, though, a spokesperson said.
Unsurprisingly, North American guests sailing with MSC Cruises are almost entirely focused on the line's Caribbean sailings.
"MSC is seeing that bookings for Caribbean mini cruises (three or four nights) are neck-and-neck with seven-night Western Caribbean in terms of most booked itineraries," a spokesperson for the line told TMR.
According to Cunard's director of revenue management, European cruises are most popular, followed by Alaska.
At Viking, Europe is also proving to be most popular, specifically the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, according to Richard Marnell, executive vice president of marketing for Viking.
Several of the line's expedition-based itineraries are also proving to be quite popular.
"Many of our Antarctic and Great Lakes sailing dates have sold out for the year ahead," Marnell said.
For some cruise lines, the destinations for which they're best known continue to be among their top sellers.
Cunard's transatlantic cruises, for instance, are its third-best selling cruises for North Americans in 2023.
And Windstar continues to see its Tahiti and Greece cruises pull in the most bookings. Both are destinations for which the line is well known.
Like other lines, Windstar is also seeing its Alaska cruises fill up, but that may be partly because this is the line's last season in the region.
Alaska is remains one of the top booked destinations for specialist line Lindblad Expeditions, though its signature Galapagos cruises and Arctic, Antarctic and Costa Rica itineraries are also drawing more bookings than ever.
Lines with signature World Cruises are also seeing those itineraries sell out. The World Cruises for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Viking are all sold out in 2023.
Exotics Popular with Luxury Lines
Exotic destinations are proving to be more popular with luxury cruise lines, which don't offer dedicated season service in set destinations year after year.
For instance, Regent Seven Seas Cruises told Travel Market Report its Africa and Asia cruises accounting for three of the line's six top itineraries in 2023.
Asia, particularly Japan, is proving to be popular with Azamara cruisers as well, but the line also reported increased bookings to cruises that visit Australia, Ireland, South Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well.
(Ireland and the Eastern Med, particularly Italy, Portugal and Spain, are also proving to be overwhelmingly popular with tour-goers this year.)
Silversea Cruises and Seabourn both reported that the Arctic is generating a lot of demand this year.
"We are seeing high demand for itineraries to Greenland and Arctic on our brand new ship, Silver Endeavour, as guests continue to look for new, far flung adventures," a spokesman for Silversea told TMR.
And Seabourn said its Arctic expeditions on Seabourn Venture are one of the two most popular itineraries for the line this year.
Rhine And Danube Lead River Cruising
On the rivers, the Rhine is proving to be the most popular for this year, though several lines told TMR the Danube is doing well with first-time cruisers, this despite a drop-off last year due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"The most popular cruise for 2023 is the Romantic Rhine," Steve Born, chief marketing officer of Avalon Waterways told TMR.
Emerald Cruises' senior manager of brand marketing for the USA, Joe Luchison echoed Born. "The most popular itinerary for 2023 is currently the eight-day Jewels of the Rhine (Amsterdam- Basel," he said, adding the eight-day Christmas Markets on both the Rhine and the Danube are also filling up quickly.
Viking's Marnell also said the Rhine and Danube Rivers remain their most popular itineraries, but also mentioned the Main – the only river cruise line to do so.
Similar to Emerald and Viking, AmaWaterways is seeing a lot of demand for the Rhine and the Danube, mostly from first-time river cruisers, a spokesperson for the line told TMR.
Despite the popularity of these rivers, Born said what's actually booked up has been France.
"Both the Seine and Rhone cruises in equal measure. Why? We have fewer, smaller Suite Ships in France and the country is proving to be extremely popular in 2023."
AmaWaterways' "Colors of Provence" itinerary on the Rhone is also proving to be one of its most popular.
It's something travel advisors are reporting as well.
"France is hot this year! We' have lots of interest in Bordeaux and Provence river cruises from repeat clients," said Amy Madson, owner of an Orlando-based Dream Vacations franchise.
Several river cruise lines also cited the Nile River as a top driver of bookings for 2023, including Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, AmaWaterways and Viking.
"We are also seeing unprecedented demand for Egypt," Marnell said. "Our 2023 Nile River season is sold out; 2024 is selling very well; and we have just opened dates into 2025."
"For 2023, the Douro River in Portugal and Egypt's iconic Nile River have been the most popular for our guests," said Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld. Sailings are booking up fast as travelers are finally taking the plunge on those 'wow' trips that they've been eyeing."
Like the Nile, the Douro is also proving to be popular with some of the river cruise lines, including Emerald and Scenic.
"The 8- and 11-day Douro itineraries, as well as the eight-day Danube Christmas are selling really well," said Heather Lemire, senior manager of brand marketing for Scenic USA.