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A cruise ship or cruise liner is a passenger ship used for pleasure voyages, where the voyage itself and the ship's amenities are part of the experience. Cruising has become a major part of the tourism industry, with millions of passengers each year. The industry's rapid growth has seen nine or more newly built ships catering to a North American clientele added every year since 2001, as well as others servicing European clientele. Smaller markets such as the Asia-Pacific region are generally serviced by older tonnage displaced by new ships introduced into the high growth areas.
Cruise ships operate mostly on routes that return passengers to their originating port. In contrast, ocean liners do "line voyages" and typically transport passengers from one point to another, rather than on round trips. Some liners also engage in longer trips which may not lead back to the same port for many months.
A river cruise ship has similar amenities, however is shorter, narrower, and has a shallower draft, allowing it to travel inland waterways.
The 1970s television show The Love Boat, did much to raise awareness of cruises as a vacation option for ordinary people in the United States. Initially this growth was centered around the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexico, but now encompasses all areas of the globe. Today, several hundred cruise ships, some carrying over 3,000 passengers and measuring over 120,000 gross tons, ply routes worldwide. For certain destinations such as the Arctic and Antarctica, cruise ships are very nearly the only way to visit.
Cruise ships are organized much like floating hotels, with a complete hospitality staff in addition to the usual ship's crew. It is not uncommon for the most luxurious ships to have more crew and staff than passengers.
The number of cruise tourists worldwide in 2005 was estimated at some 14 million. The main region for cruising was North America (70% of cruises), where the Caribbean islands were the most popular destinations. Next was Continental Europe (13%). Most European routes were in the Mediterranean Sea but an increasing number of cruises are in the Baltic Sea.
The Caribbean cruising industry is a large and growing market, and currently the most popular. Cruising has grown from “an estimated 900,850 passengers in 1983 to 2.3 million passengers in 1993”. Cruise lines operating in the Caribbean include Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America, P&O, Cunard, and Norwegian Cruise Line. There are also smaller cruise lines that cater to a more intimate feeling among their guests. The biggest cruise line companies are Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and Carnival Cruise Line.
Many of the American cruise lines in the Caribbean depart from ports in the United States, “nearly one-third of the cruises sailed out of Miami”. Other cruise ships depart from Fort Lauderdale ("Port Everglades") New York, Tampa, Galveston, and San Juan. Many UK cruise lines base their ships out of Barbados for the Caribbean season, operating direct charter flights out of the UK and avoiding the sometimes lengthy delays at US immigration.
Cruises sailing in the Caribbean travel on itineraries depending on the port of departure and the length of the cruise. The busiest port of call is the Bahamas with “1.8 million cruise-ship arrivals in 1994”. This is because its distance from Florida, is very convenient for short and long cruises. The next most popular ports of call were “the US Virgin Islands (1.2 million), St. Maarten (718,553), Puerto Rico (680,195), the Cayman Islands (599,387), and Jamaica (595,036)”. Other ports of call include: Belize City, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Antigua, Aruba, Grand Turk and Key West. St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands is particularly popular with US passengers because they get a second Duty Free allowance to use on goods purchased there.
The majority of the major cruise lines also stop at their own "Private Island," more truthfully, a private section of a Caribbean island. These private resorts are reserved exclusively for passengers of the respective cruise line using the location, and frequently offer unique features such as an Aqua Park, kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing, music, or private reservable cabanas.