“We’ve certainly found that shorter cruises will appeal to families that are cruising Disney for the first time,” said Lauren Falcone, a spokeswoman, “and they are often eager to go with us again. … The family will get a taste of everything Disney has to offer.”
While South Florida is the biggest market for short cruises, it’s not the only market that’s growing. Princess added short cruises out of Los Angeles in September, and Carnival is adding a ship at Port Canaveral in 2014 for five-night cruises, interspersed with longer sailings.
Even one of the luxury lines, Crystal, is selectively breaking some of its 10- to 12-night cruises into smaller segments to fill empty staterooms on some European cruises and has been surprised by the enthusiastic response.
“In the fall of 2012, we were looking at a number of sailings in the Mediterranean that had some space. We thought, let’s just carve out some shorter segments,” said Mimi Weisband, Crystal’s spokeswoman. The line expected the shorter sailings would be filled with Europeans who didn’t have to travel far to the ship, but “to our surprise, it was so successful, we had people flying from the U.S., South America, Asia.
“More than 70 percent of them were new-to-Crystal guests, and they were an average of 10 years younger. They were affluent but time-strapped. …We started a whole new market.”
Crystal has since started offering shorter cruises in other regions, although unlike other cruise lines, it first waits to see if longer cruises are filled. If not, Crystal opens shorter segments closer to the sailing date. “We’ve got short cruises available till April,” Weisband said, “but we have others standing by, and I expect we’ll be announcing more this fall.”
The king of short cruises is Carnival, which offers cruises of three to five nights out of nine U.S. ports — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Canaveral, Jacksonville, Charleston, New York, New Orleans, Galveston and Los Angeles. Almost half of its just under 4.5 million passengers will sail short cruises this year, Thornton said.
“We’ve been following this trend for a long time,” Thornton said. “We’ve worked very hard to attract first-time cruisers. We know once we get a shot at that, we’ve got a good chance to keep them as customers. It’s a good way for them to try cruising, to get their foot in the door.
“As you’ve seen, some of our competitors are increasing short cruises. I think what they’re seeing is the same trends. They are looking for any way to create more interest in their cruises.”