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Why it seems like everyone you know is going on a cruise

­­­Lots of people will be getting their sea legs this summer.

Ports have been packed with cruise ships over the last few years, as vacationers flock to ever larger vessels and operators race to accommodate a surge in post-pandemic bookings — many of them from first-time passengers. The industry expects even more this year.

Benjamin Xiang, a San Francisco-based flight attendant, went on his first cruise last August, setting aside his reservations about “cruise people” and a type of trip he’d imagined would be “not my travel style.”

Benjamin Xiang took a Virgin Voyages cruise last year on a ship with an infinity mirror room.Benji Xiang

Taking advantage of a Virgin Voyages promotion that let him use credit card points to cover the $2,500 bill, Xiang booked a weeklong, all-inclusive, adults-only cruise from Barcelona, with stops at Mallorca, Ibiza and along the French Riviera.“I invited my best friend, we prepaid a $600 bar tab, and we were like, ‘We’ll just hang by the pool, read a book or something,’” said Xiang, 35. “Turned out we partied every single night and had a blast.”

He’s among the many cruise newbies who’ve helped power the industry’s recent growth. Some 27% of cruise passengers over the past two years have been first-timers, up 12% from the prior two-year period, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade group.

Turned out we partied every single night and had a blast.

Benjamin Xiang, 35, San Francisco

“Will I go back? I think yes,” Xiang said. “Will I pay this time? Yes.”That’s exactly what cruise operators are hoping for, and so far they’re getting it: 82% of all cruisers say they’ll book again, CLIA’s latest report found.

After welcoming 31.7 million passengers last year, 7% more than in 2019, the industry expects volumes to swell to 34.7 million by the end of 2024. Experts say a combination of newcomers, repeat bookers and younger travelers are powering the uptick.

Like Xiang, many first-time cruisers are groups of friends traveling together, said Jennifer Klaussen, who owns Sundari Travel in Malibu, California.

“Once they get on a cruise and realize it’s not what they thought it would be, they’re usually interested in future cruises and diverse destinations,” she said, adding that newer operators have managed to “reduce the stigma associated with cruising — that it’s only for the elderly.”

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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