The cruise industry is riding a wave of strong demand into the new year.
"Travel demand is off to a strong start, which means availability will continue to shrink in the next couple of months," Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA, said in a statement. "So, if you want a specific itinerary, ship or cabin type, act fast or you’ll have to start planning for next year instead."
The cruise industry’s "wave season" — the three-month period beginning in January — is underway. AAA said this period is the best time to book a cruise due to discounted pricing, cabin upgrades, drink packages and more.
The demand is coming on the heels of what AAA described as "record-breaking booking days" notched by cruise lines in 2023.
In 2023, cruises were projected to collectively see passenger volumes of 31.5 million globally, according to a report from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade association that counts Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and other lines among its members.
"We’ve seen cruise ships already sell out suites and cabins with balconies for various spring and summer itineraries," Haas said.
AAA also observed multiple cruise trends, such as an increasing number of weekend cruises, year-round European river cruises and heightened competition for Alaskan cruises.
People "may find more availability and competitive pricing by sailing during the fall and the period between spring break and summer" compared to the peak periods around school holidays, the group said.
U.S. travelers looking to sail to foreign countries may be relieved to hear getting a passport now takes less time. It has decreased to six to eight weeks for processing, according to AAA. It previously took eight to 11 weeks to receive a new passport.
Ocean-going cruises will carry 36 million passengers this year, the CLIA predicted.
The cruise industry is rebounding after facing low passenger counts and restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.