The rough seas are starting to swell for the cruising industry, but that isn't stopping market leader Carnival (NYSE:CCL) from boosting its quarterly dividend. During yesterday's annual meeting, the company announced a 27% uptick to its quarterly payouts, beefing up the stock's yield to a hearty 3%.

Fatter distributions and ambitious share buybacks are nice, but the industry is growing weary of its domestic growth prospects. Too many ships in the Caribbean have forced the lines to discount their fares just to fill their ships. Things aren't necessarily better on the other coast, where Norwegian Cruse Lines (NCL) recently announced that it would be deploying its U.S.-flagged Pride of Hawai'i vessel to Europe next year.

Growth abroad will likely drive the fortunes of Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL). Even the location of Miami-based Carnival's annual meeting -- London -- indicates where the industry's mind is.

Carnival is currently deriving 70% of its revenues from ships that leave from North American ports. That number will shrink to 60% at Carnival over the next four years. No, the stateside market isn't going to collapse. However, a dozen of the 20 new ships that Carnival will add through 2010 will be for its European brands. That's substantial, especially given that the vast majority of its 80-ship fleet currently serves the U.S. tourist market.

Expanding abroad can be a good thing. Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Disney (NYSE:DIS) has just two ships, but one of them is going off on Mediterranean treks this year. Disney recently announced that it will be doubling its fleet, and one has to believe that Europe will play a major role in that expansion.

This should be good news for Rule Breakers pick Steiner Leisure (NASDAQ:STNR), the company that runs the spas on most of the larger cruise ships. Toiling away in countries with buoyant currencies is nice, but it's the access to a wider audience that intrigues me. Steiner will pamper you during your cruise, but it also establishes relationships with its customers with its growing line of spa products.

The potential is there. We live in a world with so much water on the surface. It's good to see many of the North American specialists delve deeper.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz realizes that growing up in South Florida makes him think that cruise ships a natural and economical way to get around, but he thinks everyone should try one of these ships once. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.