It’s official: Australian cruise passengers have produced the biggest growth rate anywhere in the world.

And, what’s more, the number of Australians taking a cruise has now surpassed a million – and beaten America for the proportion of the population taking to ships.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) released figures today saying 1,003,256 Australians climbed onboard their favourite ocean and river ships in 2014.

It is a figure that has been reached six years earlier than the industry predicted.

“When we set the target of a million Australians cruising by 2020, such an audacious goal was considered wildly ambitious, but here we are already celebrating the milestone’s achievement,” notes Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry.

Gavin Smith, the chairman of CLIA Australasia, says because the growth, Australia has become so significant, more lines are recognising the need for bigger, better and newer ships.

“We can see how Australian cruisers have become a strong source market with newer and bigger ships heading to us.

“Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas is the first new-built ship to be homeported in Australia, which is a clear indication of how much Aussies love cruising,” he said.

The South Pacific remains as the most popular destination with over 390,000 cruisers heading to islands like Fiji and Vanuatu.

Australian-based itineraries come in second with New Zealand coming in third.

Europe is still a popular destination for ocean cruises.

“Around three quarters of Australians who are heading to Europe head to the Mediterranean. The number of Australian cruisers who head to Europe make up 21 per cent of the total group,” said Brett Jardine, General Manager of CLIA.

“But the South Pacific and Australia still remain as the most popular destination for cruisers. We are finding that there are more and more cruisers who are heading or short-haul cruises of zero to four days. This is because there are now more first time cruisers who want to try out what cruising is about. This sharp increase is because of the new introductory cruises.”

But river cruising has also experienced a surge of cruisers with the numbers increasing more than 60 per cent to 79,530.

One person in the audience quietly smiling as the figures were revealed was Carnival CEO Ann Sherry, who made the prediction some five years ago. Many of her colleagues did not believe her.

“It’s great news and shows the enormous diversity of the product and how the industry has listened to its customers and changed,” she said.

And she endorsed the prediction of two million cruisers by 2020.

General Manager of Uniworld, John Molinaro said river cruising is become more accessible to Australians.

“It’s now not so niche and at Uniworld, we are seeing people from different age groups and preferences wanting to try something new. It’s not just limited to older people which is encouraging to see,” he said.

“We anticipate even more and more cruisers on the river, especially with new ships.”

The report also shows the demographics of cruisers are now changing – there are more multigenerational and younger cruisers.

“There is no group that now dominates the market – there are a wide range of people cruising which shows how cruising is changing,” said Mr Jardine.

“And now we can honestly say that there is a cruise for everyone. ”