The number of Britons taking an ocean cruise rose by just 1.5% or 25,000 last year over 2012 – a year which saw growth grind to a ‘virtual standstill’.

There was a minimal 0.1% increase in 2012 in the wake of the Costa Concordia disaster and the extra numbers last year were well below the 5.8% jump achieved in 2010 and double digit growth over three years from 2006.

The total of 1,726,000 ocean cruises taken by UK passengers in 2013 still remains a record, according to new figures released by Clia UK & Ireland.

“This was achieved despite another tough trading year with consumer confidence and discretionary spending still not back to pre-recession levels,” according to Clia’s 2013 cruise review.

Consumers left it late to book, with those waiting until within three months of departure the highest for a decade.

“This affected the early booking market for 2013 cruises to the extent that the ratio of cruises booked more than nine months in advance (23%) was the lowest for 10 years,” Clia said. “This led to more late sales in 2013 despite the slow economic improvement in the UK economy as the year progressed.

“In times of economic stress, it is no surprise to see that the biggest changes over the last three years are the way that more all-inclusive pricing and other special offers have taken on even greater importance.”

However, the deployment of P&O Cruises’ Britannia, Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas and Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess from Southampton in 2015 are a reflection of the industry’s “renewed confidence” in the UK and should ensure the sector increases its share of the overall holiday market.

The figures for last year show a big shift towards cruising from UK ports at the expense of fly-cruise, particularly to the Caribbean, which has seen numbers drop by almost 100,000 since 2009 due to Air Passenger Duty and higher airline costs.

Cruising in the Mediterranean remained the most popular choice for British passengers, accounting for 644,000, but this is set to be overtaken by Northern Europe with numbers up by 20% last year to 531,000. 

This continues a trend of “spectacular growth” for the region over the past decade during which passenger numbers have grown fivefold, according to the cruise trade body.

Within Northern Europe, Norway stands out, with the number of passengers visiting the country on cruises departing from the UK leaping from 37,000 to 218,000 in a decade.

This is part of a wider trend which has seen a continuing increase in the number of UK passengers starting their cruises at home rather than overseas.

Just six years ago, only a third of UK passengers started their holiday from British ports.

By 2013, it was almost half (49%) and in 2014/15, it is likely that more UK passengers will start their cruise holiday from Britain than from an overseas port, Clia projects.

Meanwhile, those taking a river cruise jumped by 22% over 2012 to reach almost 110,000 despite a 57% slump in numbers on the Nile due to unrest in Egypt last year.

“The overall size of the UK river cruising market is still being masked by Egypt’s ongoing political problems which have had a devastating impact of the country’s tourism and Nile river holidays,” the Clia report said.

However, cruising overall maintains one of the highest satisfaction levels in leisure travel, driving an equally high level of repeat business. For the second consecutive year, 2013 saw more passengers taking multiple cruises (52%) than just one sailing.

The south-east (including London) accounted for by far the largest proportion of UK cruise passengers (27%) in 2013.

Destination remains the number one reason given by UK passengers for choosing a cruise while ultra luxury lines attracted more than 27,000 passengers.

Clia UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer said: “Momentum has returned to the UK cruise market in 2013 with significant growth in passengers numbers and especially in embarkations from our home ports – both of which are impressive achievements when set against a backdrop of an economy that has proven slow to recover.

“The cruise industry’s continued confidence in the UK market is clearly demonstrated by the increasing number of ships that will sail from British ports in the coming years, and we believe this marks a key point in the continuing growth of the UK cruise market.”

The figures show that 6.357 million Europeans took a cruise in 2013 – a 4% increase on 2012, and 43% higher than 2008.