Cruise tourism explained: What, why and where

Jul 8, 2019 | Learn about tourism, Tourism management, Types of tourism

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(Last updated on: 19/10/2020)

Cruise tourism is BIG business! So big, in fact, that according to a report by the Cruise Lines International Association, demand for cruising increased by 20.5% between 2011 to 2016. Global cruise passengers reached 25.8 million in 2017, forecasting to reach 27.2 million in 2018.

Cruise tourism encompasses all faces of the tourism industry; accommodation, transportation, hospitality and attractions. Cruising has become the fastest growing segment in the travel industry across the world and it’s no surprise with the wide variety of cruises on offer nowadays.

In this post I will reflect on cruise tourism, what cruise tourism is, how the form of tourism has developed in its time, and where the form of tourism is predominantly focused. I will also give some examples (and inspiration for your next trip, perhaps) of popular cruise tourism destinations throughout the world.

Cruise tourism

What is cruise tourism?

Cruise tourism refers to holidays which are entirely or partly based on a cruise ship. It enables tourists to experience a multi-centre holiday, whereby they spend time at various destinations throughout their trip.

Cruise ships vary from small yachts to mega ships and can take place on the ocean, river or fjords. Cruise tourism is popular in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Arctic amongst other destinations.

Cruise tourism definitions

Cruise tourism is a form of travelling for leisure or sport purposes that involves an all-inclusive holiday on a cruise ship.

The UNWTO defines cruise tourism as “a wide range of activities for travellers in addition to its traditional function of providing transport and accommodation.”

Cruise tourism
Looking out at our cruise ship in the Galapagos Islands

If you are studying or teaching cruise tourism then I absolutely recommend that you consult the texts Cruise Ship Tourism and Cruise Operations Management: Hospitality Perspectives. These texts will cover all of the areas that I discuss in this post in more detail as well as discussing the impacts of cruise tourism and relevant management perspectives.

History of cruise tourism

The market of course tourism has evolved over the years. There are four main components of cruise tourism. They fall into the categories of:

  • luxury cruise
  • budget cruise
  • premium cruise
  • contemporary cruise

The most popular categories are contemporary and premium cruising.

Cruise tourism has always been a popular ‘leisure choice’ worldwide. However, as the cruise tourism industry grows, the destinations in which are visited by cruise ships expands. Cruise tourism was originally predominantly located within warmer climates, i.e. the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. However, we are now witnessing growing trends in colder climates. i.e. Norway, and the Arctic.

cruise tourism
Source: Safety4Sea

For many, cruising has been perceived as an activity for the older generation. The Cruise Lines International Association offered a report for the following profile of an average cruise passenger in 2008:

  • 93% Caucasian.
  • Average age of 46-year-old.
  • Well-educated (65% graduate, 24% post-graduate)
  • 83% married.
  • 58% work full-time.
  • Average household income of USD$90,000.

However, since then it is important to note that cruise ships have become more diverse in their offered services: Offering a variety of onboard services to appeal to a variety of demographic groups, such as; couples, families, the younger generation, sports enthusiasts and the older generation.

Even I have taken a cruise and I don’t consider myself old just yet!

With the diverse demographic groups motivated by cruise tourism, there comes a variety of cruise types.

Read also: Sustainable tourism explained: What, why and where

Cruise ship companies

There are a wide range of cruise companies, although the market is largely dominated by the big five names:


Cunard cruises have been operating for more than 175 years and they specialise in luxury cruises with their famous White Star Service. This formal and traditional cruise company is ideal for couple and the older generation.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean cruises are the leading cruise company for innovation. Offering everything from surfing to Broad Way shows, the cruise line is popular amongst a wide range of cruise tourists, including families, couples and solo travellers.

P&O Cruises

This is the most popular cruise line in the UK. It appeals to a range of customer types including families and couples. It offers traditional cruise products and services.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Another cruise line that is popular with UK cruise tourists, Norwegian Cruise Line offers an American-style service onboard their ships. You can sail from the UK or book a fly cruise.

Princess Cruises

Princess cruises offers sailings around the world using a traditional, American-style cruise approach. Princess cruises are popular the world over with couple, families and premium travellers.

Cruise tourism
Cruising the Whitsunday Islands

Cruise ship packages

As the cruise industry evolves, so does the diversity of its packages offered to cruise tourists. Below I have listed a few examples of cruise ship packages from the Royal Caribbean International website.

Miami Stay & Weekend Getaway Bahamas Cruise

7 night

  • Fly from UK to Miami
  • 3 Night Hotel stay in Miami
  • A dinner on us at Hard Rock Cafe
  • 3 Night Weekend Getaway Bahamas Cruise on Navigator of the Seas
  • VOOM Surf Internet WiFi whilst onboard your cruise for one device
  • Overnight Flight from Miami to UK
  • Private car transfers included

Singapore Stay & Spice Of Southeast Asia

10 night

  • Overnight Flight from UK to Singapore
  • 3 Night Hotel stay in Singapore
  • Universal Studios – One Day Pass or Evening Marina Bay Tour
  • 5 Night Spice of Southeast Asia Cruise on Quantum of the Seas
  • VOOM Surf Internet WiFi whilst onboard your cruise for one device
  • Overnight Flight from Singapore to UK
  • Private Car Transfers included

You can find some excellent t deals on cruise packages if you know where to look! Here are some of my favourite websites to find a cruise package holiday:

Looking for some cruise travel hacks? Best Cruise Tips: 303 Cruise Hacks Saving You Time, Money & Frustration has over 100 detailed pages of travel hacks to help you to make the most out of your cruise experience for as little money as possible.

Cruise tourism
Cruising in Luxor, Egypt

Cruise ship names

There are many, many different ships used by the various cruise companies. Each ship has its own unique name so that you can research exactly what facilities are available onboard. For a full A-Z list of cruise ships, take a look at .

Here are a couple of examples for you to take a look at.

Source: OZ Cruising
Source: OZ Cruising
Source: OZ Cruising

The largest cruise ship in the world

At this moment in time, the largest cruise ship is the Symphony of the Seas. Measuring 361.011 metres (1,184.42 ft) in length and with a gross tonnage of 228,081 across 18 decks, this ship is a engineering marvel! The ship is able to accommodate 5,518 passengers at double occupancy up to a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers, as well as a 2,200-person crew.

Cruise Tourism

The Symphony of the Seas has every you would expect from the largest cruise ship in the world.

The cruise has;

  • 18 decks
  • 22 restaurants
  • 24 pools
  • 2,759 cabins
  • A park with over 20,000 tropical plants

But we are witnessing growing trends in the mega cruise industry and it is no doubt that vessels are going to get bigger in time.

For more a detailed look at this mega ship, take a look at the video below.

Cruise ship facilities

Cruise ships are pretty incredible. They will often have everything you could want onboard. In fact, many are like a small city!

It is fairly common among modern cruises for the following facilities to be found on board:

  • Shops
  • Casino
  • Spa
  • Swimming Pool
  • Theatre
  • Cinema
  • Fitness centre
  • Restaurants
  • Bars

Take a look inside…

Types of cruise

Whilst the large cruises that I have discussed above are perhaps the most well known, there are in fact many different types of cruise, which are less high profile.

Below I have briefly explained the different forms of cruise tourism.

Read also: Airbnb explained: What is it, how does it work and is it safe?

River cruise

Cruise tourism
Looking out on the Nile, Egypt

Many destinations are popular for river cruising. River cruising is different from ocean cruising as passengers are close to the shore and the focus of the cruise is more for sightseeing and visionary landscape purpose. During river cruises, passengers tend to step offshore, and these excursions are typically free of charge.

The facilities on board a river course is kept to a minimum and are restricted due to the smaller size of the ship (it needs to fit down the river!). Typically, cruise ships will hold no more than 100 to 200 passengers, whereas ocean cruises can hold many thousands.

I chose to take a river cruise down the Nile on my travels through Egypt. This was a fantastic way to see all of the sights, without travelling for miles through desert regions, many of which were deemed unsafe at that particular time. I also hope to go on a river cruise on the Yangtze in China sometime soon.

Unfortunately my Nile cruise was before the days that I owned a GoPro or took any worthwhile videos with my phone, so I can’t share with you any personal footage. But here is a great video demonstrating the highlights of a Nile Cruise.

Expedition cruise

Expedition cruising is smaller in its scale, offering niche experiences with shore landings via an inflatable boat to access remote locations. The purpose of expedition cruising is to take part in a comprehensive educational experience.

More often that not, expedition cruises specialise in voyages that offer nature/wildlife-based experiences in areas like Northern Europe, Alaska or the Arctic, for example.

I did a cruise in the Galapagos Islands to see the value landscapes and nature, which was absolutely fantastic! Take a look at this video from the Blond Abroad, which will definitely make you want to add a Galapagos cruise to your bucket list!

For more information on expedition cruising, visit Cruise Specialists.

Mega cruise

The term ‘mega cruise’ refers to a mega cruise ship. Mega cruises are the biggest cruise ships yet, including cruise ships such as; Symphony of the Seas and Norwegian Bliss. Mega ships are a new class of cruise vessel and focus on maximising capacity and onboard services.

Some mega ships can hold more than 5,000 passengers. The Oasis series built by Royal Caribbean International, Oasis, Allure, Harmony and Symphony of the Seas can each hold around 6,700 people.

If you want to learn more about what’s inside a mega cruise, this is a very interesting documentary!


Yacht cruising is particularly small in scale when we compare the form of cruising to luxury or mega cruising. However, yacht cruising can be similar to luxury cruising in that it is a very expensive form of cruise tourism and can have very high standards of service and facilities on board.

Yachts hold fewer passengers than other cruise vessels and usually a family or group of people will hire the entire yacht and cruise the seas. There are many places that are popular for the cruise tourism, such as hiring a yacht in Greece or a Whitsunday yacht charter in Australia.

Luxury cruise

Many of the types of cruise noted here can also be considered luxury cruises. Luxury cruises tend to half a low staff to passenger ratio and a premium class of service throughout. And the sky is the limit when it comes to pricing!

Popular cruise destinations

Cruise tourism is often referred to as a ‘marine resort’ and today, the cruise tourism market has evolved considerably along with its destinations. Below I have listed a few popular cruise tourism destinations, some of which you may be familiar with when you think of cruise tourism and others that may surprise you.

Caribbean cruise

Caribbean cruises are a popular choice for cruise tourists as the weather in the Caribbean is generally good all year round.

Whilst the cruise tourism industry in the Caribbean is large, the economic and environmental impacts are often centre of discussion amongst academics and practitioners. Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean: Selling Sunshine outlines these concerns in a well articulated and interesting way and is definitely worth a read.

Mediterranean cruise

Similar to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean has always been a very popular cruise destination. Particularly for its warm climate all year round.

Nile cruise

As I discussed earlier, river cruising is becoming an increasingly popular choice of cruising among cruise tourists. And the Nile has become a very popular destination for river cruising.

There are many ways to cruise the Nile. Cruise packages range from luxury cruises to something more cut back and affordable. Cruises vary in duration, most commonly, cruises last 3 to 7 days but can also last up to 14 days. The Nile cruise has been deemed as one of the world’s best cruises.

Yangtze cruise

Being the world’s third-longest river, almost one hundred cruise ships operate along the Yangtze.

A Luxury Travel Blog has listed the top 4 cruise ships for the Yangtze cruise, listing the cruise ships that are the western definition of luxury.

  1. Viking Emerald
  2. Yangzi Explorer
  3. & 4.  Century Paragon & Legend

Round the world cruise

Round the world cruises are literally around the world cruises. This style of cruise focuses on travelling around the world out at sea.

Round the world cruises is probably the most expensive cruise and can cost up to anything from £9,000 upwards. Some of the most luxury round the world cruises can cost up to £200,000 per person. They typically last around 90-120 days and allows passengers to embark and disembark.

Read also: Business tourism explained: What, why and where

Arctic cruise

Arctic cruising as a form of “extinction tourism”, whereby passengers travel to the Arctic to observe the distinct wildlife or culture whilst they can.

The potential market for Arctic cruising is for the wealthy, adventure seekers, wishing to explore the natural wildlife and landscapes of remote locations. In fact, according to a recent article by The Telegraph, 22,000 Britons ventured to the Arctic for an exploration cruise in 2017.

To learn more about cruise tourism in this part of the world Cruise Tourism in Polar Regions is an excellent read, outlining how the cruise operations work and what the impacts of cruise tourism are.

Cruise tourism

Cruise tourism: Conclusion

As you can see, there is big business in cruise tourism. Contrary to popular belief, cruise tourism is popular amongst a wide range of tourists, not only the elderly. Often considered a city on the sea, cruise ships offer a wide array of facilities and entertainment options onboard.

As I have demonstrated, the cruise tourism industry is forever evolving and cruise ships are not only getting larger in size but are offering diverse services to cater for a variety of interests. In fact, there are some very interesting project that are been undertaken at the moment! I will leave you to ponder on the content shown in this video…

Further reading on cruise tourism

  • The Cruise Planner– a place to record all the information and details you need to plan your perfect cruise with comprehensive lists, worksheets, a cruise arc planner, packing suggestions, diary and journal.
  • Cruise Tourism in Polar Regions– This book discusses critically the issues around environmental and social sustainability of the cruise industry in Polar Regions.
  • Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean: Selling Sunshine– This book considers the limited economic benefits of cruise tourism, its environmental and social impacts, and the effects of climate change, and “overtourism”.
  • Best Cruise Tips: 303 Cruise Hacks Saving You Time, Money & Frustration– A guide to teach you how to make the most of your cruise experience for as little money as possible.
  • Cruise Ship Tourism– This academic text covers the economic, social and environmental impacts of cruising, combining the latest knowledge and research to provide a comprehensive account of the subject. 
  • Cruise Operations Management: Hospitality Perspectives– A practical guide for students and professionals alike, this is a comprehensive and contextualised overview of hospitality services for the cruise industry providing a background to the cruise industry and management issues.
  1. Khasab

    This is AWESOME and totally fun. Last time I went on a cruise I believe in my teens… SHAMELESS! LOL.. Thanks for sharing. Definitely now on the list for this summer

  2. .Adam Abdussalam

    Amazing, this is paradise.



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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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