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Is capacity growing faster than passenger numbers? Image: Natalia Deksbakh/Shutterstock

Cruise ships are getting larger by the year and holding more passengers, but is the number of cruisers growing as quickly as capacity?

According to Carnival chief executive Arnold Donald, the answer is no.

“In the past few years, we have experienced demand growth less than capacity growth,” he said during a discussion at annual conference, Cruise Shipping Miami.

This year alone Norwegian Cruise Lines welcomed 4,000-passenger ship Norwegian Getaway. Royal Caribbean will launch its first Quantum-class ship holding up to 4,100 passengers mid-year. And Costa Cruises’ 3,500-passenger ship Costa Diadema will sail from May, the same month Princess Cruises’ 3,560-passenger vessel Regal Princess takes off.

This equals 15,160 new cabins. Then the river sector has at least 20 new ships also launching this year.

So does this mean a flood of new cabins coming onto the market (and possibly leading to even more cheap deals for cruisers?)

Not necessarily.  For a start, some ships will be retiring next year.  Others are reducing capacity to take on more premium clients who want bigger suites and better facilities.

Carnival’s boss says the solution to take up the new capacity lies in converting new cruisers. And one way to do this is to start a price comparison not between cruise lines, but with other holiday options.

“We’re probably more cost effective than visiting your relatives, and depending on your relatives, we’re a lot more fun,” he said.

But don’t rule out special deals to attract cruisers in the coming year. Converting new cruisers takes time, and 15,160 new cabins means an awful lot of bunks to be filled every night.