The cruise industry is one of the biggest movers in the Kiwi travel boom.

A record 90,184 New Zealanders sailed on ocean cruises last year, a 36 per cent leap on the previous 12 months.

River cruises are also surging in popularity as a way to see Europe with one company reporting double digit growth for every year over a decade.

Flight Centre NZ managing director Dave Coombes said river cruising was booming.

It's gone absolutely nuts. I think ocean cruising went nuts first now it's river cruising.

While river cruising is not picked up in the Cruise Lines International Association's source market report, a major operator says it has become an aspirational destination for baby boomers out of New Zealand and Australia.

Avalon Waterways New Zealand manager Troy Ackerman said many had switched their interest from Canada and Alaska to river cruising.

Up to 10,000 Kiwis were cruising in Europe a year and were happy to pay around $750 a day for the all-inclusive experience.

"When I raise that [price] throughout the country people don't bat an eyelid.. The pricing recently has been relative stable but always at a relatively high point. The thing that has helped recently is that airfares are so much cheaper," he said.

Avalon has more than a third of the market out of New Zealand.

"We've been seeing double digit growth since we started the programme back in 2003. I know the others are doing very well as well."

Itineraries were offering more active types of experiences, appealing to younger travellers.

Association figures showed New Zealand was one of only four international markets to record a double-digit increase last year, beaten only by emerging hot-spot China.


Numbers are likely to be boosted in the coming year with cruise lines introducing new capacity.

Its 2016 Source Market Report shows that numbers of New Zealanders taking ocean cruises (anywhere in the world) has doubled since 2012.


Australia and New Zealand managing director for Royal Caribbean Adam Armstrong said with bigger, newer, more feature-packed ships than the region has ever seen before, the amount of choice increases and so too does awareness of the cruise holiday option.

In spite of more capacity demand was outstripping supply.

"While local cruising is enjoying exponential growth, we're also seeing incredible growth figures for the fly/cruise market," he said

Across all three brands (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises), the average annual growth for the number of Kiwi guests choosing an Asian cruise was 16 per cent while the Caribbean is growing at an average rate of 14 per cent a year based on five years of data.

The Mediterranean meanwhile has been growing at 8 per cent a year.

The cruising couple

While he was initially reluctant, it didn't take long for a former pilot to become a keen cruiser.

Lynda Murdoch, 60, a former Air New Zealand cabin crew member, went on her first cruise to gain some expertise after retraining as a travel agent and selling several Holland America Alaska cruises.

However, her 66-year-old husband Rod Murdoch, a retired Boeing 777 captain, initially wasn't that interested in taking to the seas.

"At this point Rod wasn't overly keen on a cruise, but decided to come anyway," she says.

"His entire career had been flying and his interest in cruising was zero. A lot of this had come from the usual comments that it is for old people."

While they weren't happy to be staying in an interior cabin at first, the couple soon discovered they wouldn't spend much time in their room anyway - and as it turned out, Rod took to cruising "like a duck to water".

"Our first stop was the Bay of islands and Rod stayed on board whilst I tendered in to check out the markets. Upon my return, I kid you not, Rod had gone from disinterested to actively looking online for our next cruise."

Lynda and Rod went on to do a Celebrity Mediterranean cruise and a Celebrity Caribbean cruise, before embarking on an epic 106-day world cruise on Sea Princess last year.

"We were in the Baltic last year and from Denmark to Sweden to Russia and in between we would go to bed and wake up in a different country."

The couple have another world cruise booked for next year and six months after that, a 79-day South American cruise.

Murdoch said she loves cruising because "every day brings something different" and advises others to "be as lazy or as active as you want".

Despite cruising's reputation as an excursion for the older generation, she urges others not to leave it too late.

"So many people think it's for the oldies but believe me, the younger and fitter you are the more enjoyable the cruise will be.

"And most important, never use the lift but always the stairs ... you can then eat and drink as much as you like without having to buy a new wardrobe on your return."