The final cruise passenger numbers for 2016 are in, and they totally blew expectations out of the water.

According to data released Tuesday by the Cruise Lines International Association, 24.7 million people took a cruise worldwide last year. That’s an increase of nearly 6.5 percent from 2015, when 23.2 million people cruised.

The 2016 total is higher than the original forecast — 24.2 million — by 500,000. Last year, the association also got a pleasant surprise when final numbers for 2015 came in 200,000 higher than projected.

The revised numbers mean CLIA is now forecasting that 25.8 million people around the world will take a cruise this year, up from the previously projected 25.3 million.

“One of the many reasons that the cruise industry continues to thrive is because of the personalization it is able to offer to its guests from around the world,” Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO of CLIA, said in an announcement. “Never before have I been a part of or seen an industry that is so good at listening and reacting to what its customers want, and this is why we are going to see our industry continue to grow.”

The trade group bases projections on historical data and launch dates for new ships; there were 26 new vessels launched in 2016. CLIA updates its annual tally with figures from member cruise lines.

A spokesman for Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, said the number of passengers on 10 brands in 2016 increased 6.5 percent to 11.5 million.

“We have many efforts under way to keep the momentum going throughout 2017 and beyond,” chief communications officer Roger Frizzell said in an email. “Looking at this year, booking trends remain ahead and at higher prices because more people are discovering the great experiences and exceptional value inherent in a cruise vacation.”

Beyond just personalization, part of the reason for the higher numbers is the continued growth of cruising in Asia, where 9.2 percent of ocean cruise capacity was based. Last year, the number of cruise passengers from China more than doubled to 2.1 million.

“The increased capacity in the region, combined with travelers in this region going on shorter, and more frequent cruises, has kept this marketplace at the top of emerging markets within the cruise industry,” the CLIA announcement said.

The bulk of cruise travelers are still looking for a sunny beach vacation: 35 percent went to the Caribbean last year. Another 18.3 percent sailed the Mediterranean, while 11.1 percent traveled other parts of Europe. Australia and New Zealand made up 6.1 percent of capacity, with Alaska following at 4.2 percent and South America trailing at 2.5 percent.

Tags: clia, cruise
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas, which debuted in 2016, helped global cruise passenger numbers soar. Royal Caribbean International