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Australia’s love for cruising has pushed it to number one worldwide, as passenger numbers reached new records in 2013.

Latest figures from industry body, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) revealed 833,398 Australians took a cruise in 2013.

That’s up 20.1 percent on 2012, which according to CLIA chairman Gavin Smith is the largest growth rate worldwide at “twice the level achieved by other cruise markets in the world”.

All those extra cruisers placed Australia ahead of other countries in terms of population penetration, with a market growth of 3.6 percent. This outranks former world leaders in North America by 0.3 percent.

“This means when Australians wake up in the morning and plan a holiday, cruising is foremost in their mind,” he said at a media and industry update aboard Pacific Jewel.

In total, Australians spent nearly 8.7 million days at sea.

More than 57 percent of passengers took eight-14 day cruises, which CLIA general manager Brett Jardine says “comes from the rising number of ships homeporting in Australia and offering cruises to the South Pacific”.

The South Pacific remained the number one destination for passengers, with over 40 percent sailing there last year, 31 percent more than 2012.

Australia followed as the second most popular destination, representing 18 percent of cruises.

The Mediterranean led the way in terms of long haul ocean cruising, with over 57,690. This has tripled over four years.

While the number of Australians cruising in Northern Europe’s Norway and the Baltic increased 52 percent growth to 19,618.

Another popular destination in 2013 was Alaska, with six percent more cruising than 2012, while Asia rebounded from last year’s decline with a 28 percent increase.

River cruising is now the choice for six percent of the Australian cruise passenger market, with a 25 percent increase to 49,122.

Europe was the number one destination for river cruising, with 41,800. Asia attracted 4,511 Australians, but CLIA general manager Brett Jardine expects this to grow “as more operators introduce river cruising in areas such as the Mekong and the Irrawaddy”.

Meanwhile, the age of the average Australian cruiser has expanded. Almost half the cruisers were aged under 50 years; 25.7 percent were younger than 40; and 20 percent fell between 50 and 60 years.

As the only two ports home to cruise ships year-round last year, New South Wales and Queensland were the biggest source market for Australian cruisers.

New South Wales was the source of 342,507 cruises, followed by Queensland with 195,003.

Victoria made up 141,669 of passengers and Western Australia 67,501.

Mr Smith said figures not only reflect growth, but the excitement of cruising in Australia.

“One of the barometers is the passion for which Australians are embracing the cruise industry and it’s indeed one of the key ingredients for our growth,” he explained.

“It’s one of the tangible benefits of our coastal communities and our orientation towards the sea that’s continuing to feed this fertile industry.”

Looking ahead, CLIA expects the 2020 goal for one million Australian cruisers will be achieved by 2016. Although the group hasn’t set a new 2020 goal, Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry is hoping to achieve a population penetration of ten percent by 2030.