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Travel back on cruise control as industry rebounds from ‘floating petri dish’ rep

Cruises proving to be popular again for Canadians’ March break travel
Cruises are surging back to popularity among Canadians this March break, as more travellers look to try a buoyant mode of tourism they may have avoided since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts say Caribbean cruises are drawing greater numbers of northerners to Miami, Tampa Bay and other ports of call thanks to their sun-soaked itineraries and affordable fares in the face of soaring hotel prices.
“The big change for this March compared to March 2023 is really the recovery of the cruise industry,” said Richard Vanderlubbe, who heads Hamilton-based travel agency Tripcentral.ca.
His company has seen more than double the tally of cruise bookings for this month versus a year earlier.
Cruise ships can appeal to all age groups and offer vast playgrounds for travellers ranging from tots and teenagers to retirees, he said.
“Where I find it’s a real sweet spot for people is for families, for children, particularly teens,” he said, pointing to the wide array of activities and spaces to explore, with the biggest ships boasting a capacity of more than 7,000 passengers.
“It can have a little bit of sticker shock,” Vanderlubbe added. “But it includes meals and includes entertainment … It’s a good value.”
Air travel to the south in general is also on the rise this month, with the number of flights to Florida from Canada up by a quarter — largely due to Porter Airlines and Flair Airlines — according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Toronto’s Pearson airport expects 140,000 passengers per day over March break, which kicks off this weekend in Ontario, or 10 per cent more than a year earlier. The top destinations abroad by passenger load are Cancun in Mexico, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and, in Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Miami.
Marty Firestone, president of insurance firm Travel Secure Inc., said health-related wariness of cruise travel has largely faded, with the urge to escape even a mild Canadian winter overtaking that of saving money by staying home.
“Everyone’s gone back to cruising. There appear to be short memories with respect to ‘floating petri dishes,’” he said.
“They’re packed. Your best bargain … now is cruising.”
Even as concerns about the rising cost of living catch up with Canadians, many continue to book trips.
Flight searches for March getaways to Mexico, the Caribbean, California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida shot up between 12 per cent and 37 per cent compared to the previous year, according to travel search site Kayak. A year-over-year drop in fares of 11 per cent to 15 per cent — except for Las Vegas, which stayed fairly flat — may have helped stir up interest.
“They may go for a shorter time, they may go to a cheaper destination, they may look for bargains. But the pattern has been that they still go,” said Jill Wykes, editor of Snowbird Advisor, an online resource for migratory Canadians.
“The one advantage if you’ve got grandparents who have a place down south is that all you’ve got to book is your flights and maybe a car rental.”
The rush to travel by plane domestically has levelled off, however, even with the relatively low price of busy routes such as Toronto-Vancouver.
Large airlines scheduled virtually the same number of domestic flights this month as in March 2023, according to Cirium. Carriers have mainly aimed their network expansions beyond Canada’s borders over the past year, after the initial post-pandemic push within the country in 2022.
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