(10:45 a.m. EDT) -- For months, cruise industry executives have been talking about how pent-up demand from travelers will fuel the industry's recovery. Those predictions are being borne out, as existing and newly created itineraries are selling out in record time.
Among the lines posting record sales is ultra-luxury brand Silversea, which announced its 2023 World Cruise aboard Silver Shadow had entirely sold out and was waitlisted. The line noted that the 139-day voyage was the most successful presale in the company's history, selling out in a single day.
"We are delighted to have seen unprecedented demand for our World Cruise 2023, South Side Story, which sold out within hours of its general opening," Silverses President and CEO Roberto Martinoli said in a statement. "The most successful world cruise launch in the history of our cruise line, this triumph pays testament to the strong demand we are seeing in the market, particularly from affluent, sophisticated travelers."
Silversea isn't alone -- Oceania also sold out its massive 180-day World Cruise in one day.
"We are thrilled by the wonderful response to these new sailings. It's clear that travelers have been eagerly looking forward to exploring again and are as excited to see Crystal Serenity return to sailing as we are," Crystal's interim President and CEO Jack Anderson said. "We are incredibly grateful to our loyal Crystal guests and our valued travel partners for their support as we begin to emerge from what has been an unprecedented year for everyone."
Crystal reported nearly 4,000 passengers booked space aboard Crystal Serenity's sailings from Nassau or Bimini that are slated to begin July 3, 2021. Of particular note: Roughly 200 passengers elected to book back-to-back voyages, with some people planning to spend up to 42 days aboard the company's flagship vessel.
Back-to-back voyages, along with voyages longer than eight days are currently prohibited for all vessels calling on or departing from U.S. ports of call as a result of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's long-standing "Framework for Conditional Sailing" that is in effect until November 1, 2021. Because these sailings depart from the Bahamas and don't touch a U.S. port, back-to-back voyages are permitted by the Bahamian government.
In the U.K., P&O Cruises experienced such a high level of demand for its newly created domestic voyages for U.K. residents aboard Britannia and Iona that the surge in bookings crashed its corporate website, while Cunard Line experienced its busiest day of reservations in a decade as its U.K.-only voyages aboard its Queen Elizabeth went on sale.
"We are delighted by this response from guests, and particular thanks to all of our agent partners for their continued work supporting guest bookings," Cunard President Simon Palethorpe said. "We're really looking forward to welcoming guests back on board this summer."
Viking, meanwhile, couldn't even put its three new U.K.-only departures on official sale before they completely sold out -- and has just added two more due to high demand.
"We had been planning to put three domestic U.K. sailings of England's Scenic Shores on sale from today, but due to popular demand, they have been fully booked by past guests," a Viking U.K. representative told Cruise Critic.
For prospective cruise travelers looking to set sail in the next year, it points to a high-demand market that is looking increasingly competitive. And that means booking early will be more necessary than ever.
Red-Hot Demand Means Fewer Deals
For cruisers on the fence about booking a voyage into 2022 and 2023, Vicky Garcia, COO of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, has some sage advice.
"My advice for cruisers regarding the red-hot demand we are seeing is to book now and use a travel adviser," Garcia said. "The pent-up demand for cruising is real, and supply will be limited. Also, many travelers are holding future cruise credits from canceled sailings they had planned during 2020 and into 2021 and moving those plans into 2022 and beyond with limited deployment options."
Garcia notes newer, last-minute itineraries like the ones Crystal and P&O announced are likely to sell just as quickly as more exotic and established world cruise itineraries like those offered by Silversea and Oceania.
This should come as no surprise as folks who are able to travel, either though vaccination programs or the easing of previous government restrictions on travel, are keen to resume doing so. But it also serves as a cautionary tale for how the cruise landscape might appear for the next few years.
"One of the assumptions we made was about how many experienced cruisers would go during this period," Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said. Fain, appearing as a guest for travel agents on Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support and Service Vicki Freed's weekly coffee chat on March 24. "Only people that already loved cruising, and that first timers wouldn't be interested. And that simply isn't true at all."
"In Singapore, 80 percent of our guests have been first timers," Fain continued. "In Germany, the Canary Islands and in Greece, the percent of first timers is actually at or above where it had been pre-pandemic."
Fain said much of this demand stems from people's natural response to the lockdowns and restrictions imposed as a matter of course during the pandemic.
"People are fed up," he said. "They want to get out. There is pent up demand here, and what we need to do is capture that."
Lower Prices? Forget About It
First and foremost, the idea that the cruise industry will have to discount heavily to retain cruise passengers -- an idea bandied about in the early days of the pandemic -- is not going to happen. Cruise lines have a large contingent of loyal passengers eager to set sail again, and with only a handful of lines resuming limited operations, this creates an imbalance between supply and demand that will likely keep prices at current levels or higher for the foreseeable future.
"Don't wait -- find a travel adviser who can help you navigate through the many offers and understand any new policies or safety protocols for your specific itinerary," Garcia told Cruise Critic. "Travel advisers are trained to help travelers find the best value; for example, it may be a better value to choose a more inclusive cruise option, or perhaps bundle airfare, cruise and hotel.
"If you're looking to get away in 2021, only a few cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have announced some of their ships will be sailing directly from the Caribbean and Greece as early as summer 2021."
She urged consumers interested in booking in the short term to call their travel adviser sooner rather than later.
"Cruise Planners clients are expressing a strong desire to travel, and March of 2021 was our best booking month since the beginning of the pandemic," Garcia said.
Higher Demand, Pricing Here to Stay
With most people going a year or more without cruise travel, demand -- particularly for initial voyages or unique journeys -- will continue to remain high. Couple that with the industry's reduced capacity overall (some 21 vessels were withdrawn from service or scrapped last year) and a global fleet that has not measurably yet returned to service, and price increases start to look inevitable.
That doesn't mean that cruises won't offer any value in the short term. In 2020, Celebrity Cruises announced it would begin bundling most drinks, gratuities and Wi-Fi into its standard fares, which have increased modestly across the board.
Other lines are content to continue offering special perks and promotions to encourage passengers to book, throwing in things like beverage packages, specialty dining offers and cabin upgrades in lieu of price reductions.
It's always worth keeping in mind, however, that as demand rises, so do prices. And cruise lines, eager to recover financially from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be looking to secure higher per diems in order to aid in their path to fiscal stability.