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What is cruise tourism?

Cruise tourism is BIG business! So big, in fact, that in 2019 (before the COVID crash), the global cruise industry welcomed 29.7 million passengers, created jobs for 1.8 million people around the world and contributed over $154 billion to the global economy. 

Cruise tourism is essentially a form of enclave tourism and it 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.

Cruise tourism is hugely popular around the world, but it can also have severe impacts on the natural environment and limited economic benefits for host destinations- interested to learn more? Stay tuned to learn more

What is cruise tourism?

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.

In essence, cruise tourism is a luxurious form of travelling, involving an all-inclusive holiday on a cruise ship of at least 24 hours, with a set and specific itinerary, in which the cruise ship calls at several ports or cities. Cruise tourism is characterised by the concentration of large numbers of people who visit one particular destination at the same time.

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

Cruise tourism has a long and fruitful history. The first notable leisure cruising began with the formation of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company in 1822. Whilst the company started out as a shipping

Cruise tourism

line, it soon introduced round trips to a range of destinations. Over the next century more and more cruise liners began to emerge around the world and in the late 19th century, Albert Ballin, director of

the Hamburg-America Line, was the first to send his transatlantic ships out on long southern cruises during the worst of the winter season of the North Atlantic.

Fast forward to the 1980s and we started to see the development of cruise ships closer to what we recognise today. The first ‘megaships were built and cruise ships gradually became bigger and more luxurious with more onboard facilities than ever before.

Nowadays, some modern cruise ships are so big they cater for a capacity the size of a city! Cruise ships have a wide range of onboard features and there are cruise ship itineraries that cater for every corner of the globe.

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.

Cruise tourism 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 180 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.

Cruise tourism

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 packages

When you book a cruise you are generally booking an inclusive package that will include accommodation, transfers, excursions, food, entertainment and more!

Cruise tourism

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 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.

But this ship won’t be the biggest for long! Royal Caribbean International has announced that it will begin operations of its new Wonder of the Seas, in 2022. This ship will measure 1,188 feet long, 217 feet wide and will feature 18 decks and 2,867 staterooms. Wonder of the Seas will sail 7-night itineraries to the eastern and western Caribbean.

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!

Cruise tourism

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 tourism

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.

Types of cruise
This infographic was created by one of my travel and tourism work experience students.

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

River cruise

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.

Cruise tourism

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

Mega cruise

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.


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!

So where do people go to take a cruise? Lets take a closer look…

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. And there are so many great places to visit around the Med- from Barcelona to Venice to Malta!

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 and it is a great way to see what Egypt has to offer.

Yangtze cruise

Being the world’s third-longest river, almost one hundred cruise ships operate along the Yangtze. This is an amazing way to soak up some of the sights of rural China and is particularly popular with Chinese domestic tourists.

Round the world cruise

Round the world cruises are quite literally cruises that travel around the world.

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 in various places along the way.

Arctic cruise

Arctic cruising I often referred to as a form of extinction tourism’, whereby passengers travel to the Arctic to observe the distinct wildlife or culture whilst it is still there.

Most people who take an Arctic cruise are wealthy adventure-seekers, wishing to explore the natural wildlife and landscapes of remote locations.

The advantages and disadvantages of cruise tourism

As I mentioned, cruise tourism is a growing type of tourism around the world. This industry not only makes a large amount of income directly, but through its various industry partnerships and integration it also has the potential to reap significant financial rewards.

However, the reality is that this economic benefit is absorbed predominantly by the large corporations who own these cruise ships and there is very little economic benefit of cruise tourism to the destinations that host the tourists. Because their every need is catered for onboard, cruise tourists typically spend little money in the destinations that they visit, meaning that the local people reap few rewards for this type of tourism. In addition to this, cruise tourism can have devastating impacts on the natural environment when ships dock in shallow waters or when garbage is not disposed of responsibly. And last but not least, large numbers of tourists visiting a destination at one time can have adverse effects, with overtourism being a distinct problem around the world that often results from cruise tourism.

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.