It is only the start of 2018, but cruise lines and agents are already feeling the effects of a dramatic change in booking patterns, with Australians securing their cabins up to nine months in advance.

As a result, local sailings and fly-cruise itineraries around the world are selling fast, according to lines like Princess Cruises as well agencies like Bicton Travel.

Princess maintains that Asia is growing so fast, it is likely to overtake Europe as Australia’s number one long-haul destination this year.

The numbers are close – with Europe has seven per cent of Australia’s 1.28 million cruisers, while in Asia has 6.7 per cent according to Cruise Lines International Association 2016 figures.

“Asia may soon overtake Europe as the number one long haul destination for Australian cruisers in 2018,” a Princess Cruises spokesperson said.

“Asia is going to be the next hot destination – Australians are rediscovering the region by sea and it looks set to soon regain its place as the top international destination for Australian cruisers.”

The spokesperson said there were still some itineraries left around Australia and New Zealand. But she added:  “if you wait, you’ll miss out.”

Japan is a big drawcard with Australians’ demand for cruises to the Land of the Rising Sun “particularly high”. Princess said Japan is the fastest growing destination in the last five years – up 175 per cent since 2011. She also said that fly-cruise numbers are set to increase next year as increasingly cruisers are booking nine months ahead.

Bicton Travel has “very little space on its international fly/cruise packages for 2018,’’ said Barry Downs, sales and marketing manager.

Travellers who are still looking to book cruise packages this year need to be flexible with their travel dates and choice of cabins.

“My advice for travellers booking 2018 is to have a few itineraries, dates and cabins in mind and allow a good cruise specialist the opportunity to navigate the best deal for you,’’ Mr Downs said.

Bicton is also seeing strong 2019 enquiry especially to Europe and expeditions on small ships.

Holidays of Australia and The World said itineraries on its rail/cruise packages and river cruises are selling very well.

“The reason why cruises sell out well in advance is the demand from the over-60s, cashed-up baby boomers. So if you want a cabin with a balcony, you better get in quick, otherwise, you are stuck with inside or ocean view cabins. Clients who want the best of the best, will pay for it.

“Small, large or medium-sized ships, it doesn’t matter which cruise company, they seem to be all full,’’ said Cos Matteo, national sales and business development manager.

He added that river cruises sell out because many only carry between 180 and 200 passengers. Europe is a very popular destination choice followed by Asia.

Mr Matteo said that with strong sales, there is less discounting.

“Some lines will only discount if they have a few cabins left four weeks prior to departure,’’ he said.

Mr Downs said with airfares at an all-time low, Bicton’s international fly-cruise packages are “already great value.’’

“If travellers have a particular ship, itinerary and cabin in mind, then book early. If they can travel at the drop of a hat and don’t particularly mind what ship or location of the cabin, then look around now for 2018.

But our regular clients are discerning cruisers who know what they want and like to get it locked in early.’’

Princess Cruises said the line runs promotions and special deals at different times of the year for various voyages. Its current promotion is “3 for Free’’ including free stateroom location upgrade, free onboard spending money and free wine and dine package.