Middle Eastern cruisers are younger, finds NCL


Cruise demographics have been changing over the years, with more and more younger generations finding an interest in cruising. Norwegian Cruise Lines has found that Middle Eastern guests are significantly younger than the average age of a cruise goer, with the majority being Millennials or Gen X.

We speak to Kevin Bubolz, Vice President & Managing Director Continental Europe, Middle East & Africa, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, for a low down on trends, challenges and pull factors.

“Cruising is still relatively un-tapped in many markets, including the Middle Eastern ones, as the majority of our guests are still new-to-cruise/new-to-brand,” explains Bubolz.

“What is particularly interesting about Middle Eastern guests is that they’re significantly younger than our average, with the majority being Millennials or Gen X. We’re also seeing a rise in multi-generational bookings, with this share coming in at 50 per cent. Balcony staterooms are the most popular with Middle Eastern guests, although Haven suite bookings are high compared to our average. We’re delighted that the number of repeat customers in the Middle East is prominent.”



Booking wise, Europe continues to be one of the most sought-after destinations for Middle Eastern cruisers, which is mainly due to NCL’s stellar offering in the region for this summer season: Nine ships, 13 homeports, limited sea days, and itineraries which visit some of the prettiest and iconic ports, says Bubolz.

“We are also seeing an uptake in Alaska bookings, which is no doubt due to rise of the ‘cool cation’ – the abundance of wildlife, and breathtaking vistas are a huge pull.

“Our African itineraries, which take guests deep into the heart of the continent, offer an authentic and rewarding holiday experience in this beautiful region, and is gaining interest from the Middle East market.

MICE wise, we are seeing an uptake, due to our fantastic value for money offering, the breadth of choice on board, and NCL’s ability to work closely with agents on their client’s needs. We’ve managed to cater for both small events on board, to week-long whole ship charters
– Kevin Bubolz


“When you combine the appeal of these itineraries with our excellent ‘Free at Sea’ upgrade which individualizes the guests’ holidays with up to five additional packages; including wifi, discounts on shore excursions, speciality dining, unlimited beverage package and discounts on 3rd and 4th guests, it makes NCL a very appealing choice when considering a top-notch vacation!”


An easily accessible destination like Europe is booked 3.9 months ahead of the sail date, whereas an exotic destination like Panama Canal is booked 8.2 months in advance, he says. Summer continues to be the dominating season for cruising for the Middle East market, although the cruise line is doing well in both summer and shoulder seasons.

“In the last few years, we’ve observed that the Middle East tends to be a ‘last-minute’ market. Guests from many other markets like the United States, the United Kingdom or Germany plan their cruise vacation weeks or even months in advance, whereas Middle Eastern guests are more spontaneous.

“This spontaneity unfortunately limits the availability of certain sailings and even stateroom categories. For example, our luxurious ship-in-ship complex The Haven by Norwegian often sells out first, as the availability is reduced due to its exclusivity. If prospective guests have their heart set on a specific sailing or ship, it is necessary to encourage them to reach out to a travel advisor as early as possible to secure their Haven suite.”



Bubolz confirms that the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are emerging markets for NCL. “We are positioned at the upper end of the mainstream segment, offering an elevated cruise experience at a higher price point than some of our mainstream competitors. Hence, we’re targeting an affluent audience that invests in their vacation, which is why we are seeing a rise in bookings from these regions.

“Our dedicated Business Development Manager Rebecca Ransom travels frequently to the continent, and is supported by our increased marketing spend,” says Bubolz.



“The beauty of an NCL sailing means choice for everyone, which is why we are lucky enough to appeal to couples, families – we’re seeing a huge rise in multi-generational – and solos. Most are hard-pushed to find something that doesn’t align with their holiday desires, when you think of our variety of ships, on board offerings and extensive itineraries.

“MICE wise, we are seeing an uptake, due to our fantastic value for money offering, the breadth of choice on board, and NCL’s ability to work closely with agents on their client’s needs.

“We’ve managed to cater for both small events on board, to week-long whole ship charters – 13 back-to-back cruises in 2023 alone – and it’s very exciting to be part of this ‘outside the land-based norm’ movement.”



According to Bubolz, the top three itineraries for the Middle East market for the year include: the 10-day Cruise to Mediterranean: Italy, France & Spain from Barcelona, Spain on Norwegian Escape; 9-day Cruise to Greek Isles: Santorini & Mykonos from Barcelona, Spain on Norwegian Getaway; and 14-day Cruise to Northern Europe: Iceland & Norway from Oslo, Norway on Norwegian Star.

“We’ve announced some fabulous new deployments for 2025 and 2026, a highlight being Norwegian Sun’s sailing in Asia, starting from Tokyo, Japan to Incheon, South Korea calling to Jeju, South Korea and Kyoto, Japan – both first time visits for the ship – as well as stops in several popular Japanese cities including Nagoya and Osaka.

“We have also introduced open-jaw sailings between Reykjavik to NYC on Norwegian Star sailing in Northern Europe, which is a brand first.

“We launched Norwegian Viva last year, the second vessel in our ground-breaking Prima Class, and Norwegian Aqua, our third ship in the collection, will shortly go on sale. She arrives in Spring 2025 and will sail ‘fun in the sun’ itineraries all year round.

“We are looking forward to sharing Norwegian Aqua’s new, very special on-board activities in the next few months, as well as her godparent. The interiors are especially stunning, which we know will appeal to the Middle East market, who appreciate sleek and thoughtful design,” Bubolz says.