The 2023 cruise industry is booming. It has far surpassed 2019 levels, breaking sales records in a furious, post-pandemic comeback. Like most tourism sectors, cruising is reaping the benefits of “revenge travel”— vacationers making up for the time that was lost during the pandemic.  

“It’s even better than we thought,” Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, told Travel Weekly. She also said bookings in January were “81% higher compared with bookings from the same time in 2019. The client isn’t afraid of traveling anymore. They put their lives on hold for so long that they’re ready to go.” 

The Global Rescue Traveler Safety and Sentiment Survey revealed a post-pandemic robust return to cruising. “Cruises are back on the travel list. Forty percent of respondents have already taken a cruise since the pandemic started or, if they haven’t, they plan to in 2023,” said Michael Holmes, Global Rescue vice president of marketing.  

Cruise line operators aren’t relying exclusively on travelers’ eagerness to come back. New ships—previously held up by COVID-19 production delays—offer new perks to lure people back to cruising in record numbers.  

Some carriers are shaping ship designs to make cruises feel smaller and less overwhelming. One cruise line is offering onboard neighborhoods, each catering to specific passenger needs such as families with children, singles, or couples.  Some cruise customers are opting for smaller ships holding 100 passengers or fewer, or they’re seeking distant excursions to places like Australia or Europe.  

Onboard entertainment with acts from Broadway and London’s West End is available. Still, other ships offer roller coasters with tracks that extend over the sea giving riders a unique sensation.  

Cruise food is getting fancier with famous name chefs, like Emeril Lagasse, providing high-end food while other ships boast on-board breweries.  

It’s no surprise that higher prices are coming with record-high bookings and the new bells and whistles onboard ships. With cruise bookings rebounding quickly and surpassing pre-pandemic levels, cruise ship companies can raise prices, and in many cases they already are.  

Jason Liberty, CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group, shared with Travel Weekly that North American and European cruises are booking at higher prices. Demand is so strong that the company has raised prices across different products and is “not really seeing a pullback from the consumer as we continue to do so,” he said. 

Travelers confirmed they are shrugging off the impacts of inflation. According to the Global Rescue survey, nearly half of the travelers surveyed (45%) are planning to absorb the higher travel costs without skimping. 

Tourist on a cruise ship looking through binoculars at a glacier

As travelers plan trips for 2023, survey respondents revealed a shift in the types of travel they want compared to responses from spring 2022. The biggest change is a 40% dip in respondents who are planning to travel to visit family and friends. Outdoor adventure travel led all types of international travel planning followed by a bucket list trip. Windstar’s Diana Rom told Travel Weekly cruise bookings are now all about checking off a bucket-list destination and getting the best cabins on the ship.” 

As travelers return to cruising, their concerns are changing, too. Traveler fears of COVID have plummeted, according to the Global Rescue survey. The greatest anxiety among the world’s most experienced travelers is having an injury or illness unrelated to COVID.  

When you’re aboard a cruise ship, access to medical help for an illness or injury is limited. Health safety resources on board a cruise ship are similar to a health center – but it’s not a hospital.   

“The professionals who work there have training in emergency medicine and the equipment to stabilize a patient even in dire circumstances. Mostly, though, what they deal with are things like sprained ankles, upset stomachs and people who have forgotten to pack medication,” according to an article in The Points Guy. Since the pandemic, some cruise lines added specialists to handle acute respiratory illness and infection control.  

Serious medical emergencies aboard cruise ships, however, that are beyond the capabilities of the onboard medical team require transportation of the individual to a higher-quality medical facility. The two ways this occurs are by making port for ground ambulance transportation or calling a helicopter for an airborne rescue.  

Both can be challenging.  

Emergency medical helicopters typically operate within a 175-mile radius of their base, making rescues beyond that unfeasible. They’re also expensive. Helicopter medical evacuations can cost six figures unless you have travel protection like a Global Rescue membership. Making port to transfer a patient by ambulance can take time since harbors capable of accepting a big ship are limited and the top speed for most cruise ships is about 34 mph (30 knots). 

As you plan for a summer cruise ship vacation with Broadway on the boat, roller coasters over the ocean and craft beer by the pool somewhere on the Caribbean Sea, remember to obtain a membership with Global Rescue — an affordable way to protect yourself should a crisis occur while at sea. Given the rising prices of a cruise vacation, saving on a potential emergency evacuation will give you the peace of mind you need to relax and enjoy the cruise.