NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- In an uneven economy, Americans are choosing their vacations carefully. One emerging trend in vacations seems to be on the ocean, in the form of cruises. A big reason for the shift is the deals consumers are getting from airlines, but don't expect the financial end of those deals to change anytime soon.
Cruises are getting a second look from cash-strapped Americans.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines collected about $5.7 billion in airline baggage fees and reservation change fees in 2010, and almost $900 million in baggage fees and $600 million in reservation change fees in the third quarter of 2011. One option vacationers could be turning to is cruising. According to the Cruise Line Industry Association, 14.8 million Americans chose cruising as a vacation option in 2010, compared with just 13.1 million in 2008. You'd think that could be a product of the slightly improving economy, but in actuality, cruising has been growing steadily on a year-to-year basis since 2000. The association reports that only 7.2 million Americans hopped aboard a cruise ship in 2000, and that doubled by 2010. The association predicts 17 million Americans will cruise this year. Besides avoiding the high fees and costs associated with airline travel, there are other reasons holiday travelers might choose cruising over flying: Prices are cheaper. The price of cruising has gone down -- way down. That's especially true for "last-minute" packages. According to the Web site LastMinuteCruises.com, the price of a seven-night Caribbean cruise has dropped to $549 from $1,489 per person -- a decline of 63%. Travelers can even find a three-night cruise to the Bahamas from Florida for $219 at the site. "All-inclusive" fills a need. With Americans on a frugal bent, the all-inclusive pricing structure of a cruise allows travelers to know in advance how much money they're shelling out. That helps them set a budget, and budgets are everything when planning a vacation these days. (A tip: If you do travel by sea, watch out for shore excursions. Travel agents note that "shore leaves" are among the biggest budget busters when cruising.) There are more amenities. Cruise lines are pulling out all the stops to get your business. It's not uncommon to get a free upgrade for a bigger room (just ask) or to have a hotel-like 24-hour room service on an ocean liner these days. When airlines are focused on fees, cruise lines are leveraging the amenity factor to pick up more customers. No need to travel to ships. LastMinuteCruises.com says most Americans live within six hours of a cruise ship port. That gives travel consumers one more reason to avoid the airport. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.