A cruise industry leader says this region risks losing out if infrastructure is not built to handle the booming market.
Last year 98,000 Kiwis took an ocean cruise, up 8.7 per cent on the previous 12 months but short the 100,000 target for the year set by a cruise industry group.
While the figures include the growing fly-cruise market to North America, Asia and Europe, most Kiwis cruise close to home and the rate of overall growth is slowing.
"The slowdown in growth across the region due to the infrastructure capacity constraints resulted in this target being missed by just 2000 passengers," the Cruise Lines International Association said.
The growth rate last year was well short of the decade-long average increase of 14.7 per cent.
The association says there is a risk of ships skipping this region if infrastructure in Sydney in particular — where Circular Quay is often congested — but some other ports also is not upgraded.
At Auckland the very biggest visiting ship, the Ovation of the Seas, has to moor in the harbour rather than dock because of delays extending Queens Wharf with a dolphin mooring structure.
Association managing director Joel Katz said this region risked losing business to Asia where facilities were good for a large number of ships.
"There remains so much potential (here) as long as we can solve the lack of cruise infrastructure development across the ditch in Sydney and at other ports across the region."
Last month the Auckland Chamber of Commerce said revenue of up to $40m is being lost for Auckland businesses because of delays building mooring buoys or "dolphins" at the end of Queens Wharf in plans opposed by those wanting to save the harbour from further encroachment.
Resource consent was lodged on July 13 and was now being considered by Auckland Council staff.
The chamber said up to 20 booking applications by cruise ships wanting to berth at Auckland's wharves over the next few years have not been able to be confirmed.
The association said the South Pacific remains the favourite place to cruise, followed by around New Zealand and then Australia.
Katz said New Zealand continues to outperform many other more established cruise markets, in percentage terms well ahead of the United States, Europe, Britain and Ireland.
''With 109 new cruise ships set to be delivered between 2018 and 2027, New Zealand is well positioned to reap the rewards of increased local deployments, as long as infrastructure constraints can be addressed and the tax burden on cruisers and the industry does not become too onerous.''
The association was closely watching the planned $25 to $35 international visitor levy in this country which he said needed to balance the need to fund tourism facilities while ensuring that potential visitors were not being deterred.
The figures show the equivalent of 2.2 per cent of New Zealand's population took an ocean cruise last year. As a percentage of population, Australia leads the way with 5.7 per cent followed by the United States with 3.7 per cent.
Across all markets 26.7 million took a cruise in 2017, up 6.3 per cent from the year before.
Around New Zealand small ship luxury and expedition cruising is also becoming more popular. The most popular ocean cruise duration was eight to 14 days, with 44 per cent of passengers, though shorter voyages of fewer than four days had the biggest jump of 150 per cent
The age of passengers remained consistent with 2016, with around 40 per cent of cruisers under the age of 50 and about 60 per cent aged over 50.
The annual source market report is based on data received from CLIA's cruise line members, which account for more than 95 per cent of the world's cruise passengers.
The figures don't include those taking river cruises, which are growing in popularity among Kiwis around the waterways of Europe, Asia and the US.