CHEAPER deals, bigger ships and more destinations have elevated cruising from the preserve of the elderly and sedate into a mass market in which the Balearics, in particular Palma, is becoming a prime destination. The demand for fully catered holidays on what are effectively floating holiday camps has turned cruising into the tourism industry's fastest-growing sector. But not everybody is happy at the prospect of 1.25 million British passengers taking to the waves this year. Like the aircraft industry, the expansion of both demand and the craft being built to meet it are drawing criticism from the ecological and fair-tourism lobbies. Huge ships not only mean big profits, they bring greater problems with pollution and present daunting logistical problems of dealing with so many people in what in many cases are relatively small destination ports. But for now the industry is in thrall to the creed that big is beautiful. It has worked hard to shake off lingering stereotypes of blue-rinse hairdos and onboard bingo. Marketing to the widest possible consumer base appears to be working: according to the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) the British cruise market could reach 1.5 million passengers by 2008, a 50 percent hike from 2004 figures. Back in 1996 just 416'000 Britons went on a cruise. “Not only is cruising the fastest growing sector in the travel industry, but the British market is the second largest in the world after the United States,” said Sean Tipton at the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). He said the sector has diversified to such an extent there are now cruise lines to cater to the tastes, age and budget of most holidaymakers. Cruise analyst Tony Peisley said the industry has been mainstream for decades. “Cruising is really just another package holiday and has been since the 1970s ... it really is the most inclusive of inclusive holidays,” he told Reuters. Only about 3-4 percent of the global cruise market could be genuinely regarded as truly upmarket, he added. “The vast majority of cruise liners are essentially holiday resorts which just happen to be moving from port to port.” Bill Gibbons, director of the PSA trade body, said the development of ever-larger ships has brought economies of scale that have reduced prices to the level at which they can compete with many land-based holidays. As if to underscore the importance of the British market, the latest example of the new breed of supership - Royal Caribbean's 160'000 tonnes Freedom of the Seas - will dock in Southampton on Saturday for its inaugural trip to New York before heading down to its Miami base. One company that has been aggressively taking cruising to a younger market is easyCruise, the latest venture from entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ionnou who made his name with low cost airline easyJet. On an easyCruise ship, a couple of hundred pounds will secure a four-day cruise around the Mediterranean, stopping off at ports traditionally the playground of the super wealthy like Monte Carlo. Many lines target the family market, offering services like children's clubs and Gibbons said the average age of a cruise passenger has now fallen to 53. One group unhappy with the boom is the environmental lobby. They argue marine habitats are being damaged by the cruise liners discharging gallons of sewage, oily water and tonnes of rubbish into the sea on every trip. According to a report from the U.S. based Ocean Conservancy pressure group, a cruise ship can generate up to 25'000 gallons of sewage from toilets and 143'000 gallons of sewage from sinks, galleys and showers each day. Tourism Concern, a group that lobbies for ethical tourism said the problem is not just related to the environmental impact. “It is certainly the case that marine ecosystems are being damaged - from rubbish being dumped at sea to coral reefs getting torn up,” said director Tricia Barnett.