After an extended pause, Australia’s cruise season is expected to go off with a bang, writes Peter Lynch.

Australia’s cruise lines are promising exciting things to come, with new ways to tap into the “take a holiday at home” message using our own coastline.

Coral Expeditions is already sailing out of Cairns and expanding its operations from Queensland to Tasmania. Its five-ship fleet offers low passenger numbers and an Australian or New Zealand crew.

But the next big step will be when the government lifts its no-sail order and allows foreign-flagged ships to sail, expected to be after March depending on vaccine availability and the rate of new COVID-19 cases overseas.

The next big step will be when the government lifts its no-sail order and allows foreign-flagged ships to sail.

Cruise Passenger

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia has been quietly meeting officials from state, territory and federal governments armed with health protocols and the idea of basing ships in states so they sail only with state residents and never stray outside state waters.

CLIA has also suggested to Australia’s travel agent community that they write to their MPs asking them to press for the government to consider the return of cruise as a matter of urgency.

“CLIA is working closely with governments at many levels, but we welcome the help of our wider cruise community and encourage people to contact their local member of parliament,” said managing director Joel Katz.

“We’ve put the word out to thousands of CLIA’s travel agent members and the wider industry… and have asked them to voice their support.

“The important message we want to convey is that that cruise industry has a huge local presence and supports 25,000 jobs across Australasia. It’s worth $5 billion a year to our economy and needs a well-planned pathway to revival.”

Small ship luxury lines like Ponant have been eyeing the Kimberleys. APT’s Caledonian Sky and her two sister ships, with just 106 passengers and 75 crew, are also contenders for local cruising.

Bubbles with New Zealand and even Singapore are on the table – and that’s when cruising will test the pent-up demand from 1.4 million Australians who haven’t been able to take their favourite type of holiday for more than nine months.

While cruises on overseas ships are unlikely before next year, the big lines are determined to make it happen as fast as possible.

The latest health protocols from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control are being studied by the federal government.

A government spokesman told Cruise Passenger: “Australian Government departments are considering the parameters around the future resumption of cruise operations in Australia and are considering the international approach to resumption of cruise operations…

“When it is appropriate, the cruise ship restrictions can be amended at any time to respond to changes in the domestic and global situation. Above all, the Government will need to be assured that cruise ships can operate in a COVID-safe way and that the risk of transmission is acceptably low before cruise operations will be permitted in Australian waters again.”

Bubbles with New Zealand and even Singapore are on the table – and that’s when cruising will test the pent-up demand from 1.4 million Australians.

Cruise Passenger

Meanwhile, the lines are readying new ships and experiences. Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean have all announced plans for 2021, whether they begin in the new year or at the start of Australia’s wave season in September.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ President Sture Myrmell is bullish, saying two new P&O Cruises vessels – Adventure and Encounter – will join the fleet months earlier than expected, ready to sail out of Sydney and Brisbane in April and May.

“This investment in our fleet is a demonstration that P&O Cruises Australia is ready to lead the industry in bouncing back when government and public health authorities agree it is appropriate to begin sailing again,” said Mr Myrmell.

“It is also a mark of respect for our many loyal guests as well as crew, fresh food suppliers, entertainers and musicians, shore tour operators and port logistics partners who are looking to be a part of the resurgence of the Australian cruise sector.”

Brisbane’s new, high-tech Luggage Point facility – which boasts great itineraries around the Whitsundays and beyond to PNG – is attracting many new vessels next year and making Queensland a major fly-cruise destination.

Royal Caribbean plans to homeport Quantum of the Seas, a ship with capacity for almost 5000 passengers, at Luggage Point. P&O will base the new Pacific Encounter there, Princess will have Coral Princess and Carnival Cruise Lines will have Carnival Spirit.

Cruise lines are definitely buoyed by bookings. There was a surge in October for Princess Cruises’ 2021 season, which features five ships, including Coral Princess’s first roundtrip world cruise from Australia in 2022, the arrival of Royal Princess and the return of Emerald Princess and Sapphire Princess.

Royal Caribbean is also sailing Serenade of the Seas out of Sydney alongside local favourite Ovation of the Seas.