Our World Our blockbuster guide to cruising in 2017

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Considering a cruise holiday this year? We take a look at the ships, itineraries and experience that'll be making a splash.

The 2017-18 cruise season is expected to set records as the appeal of cruising broadens to younger generations, and travellers increasingly turn to cruising for a short break.

“There’s no question that the appeal of cruising is broadening in Australia year on year, with the market achieving double-digit annual growth for more than a decade,” Cruise Lines International Association Australasia managing director Joel Katz says. CLIA represents about 30 cruise lines Australians travel with.

“More Australians of all ages are cruising from ports around the country, while cruising in Asia and Europe in particular is continuing to grow in popularity among Australians.”

Cruise lines are offering regular schedules from Fremantle, including aboard P&O’s Pacific Eden and Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ Astor, while many others offer sailings from Fremantle as part of longer world cruises or regional deployments. 

“West Australians also like to fly to Asia for cruising and Europe. 2015 saw the number of West Australians taking a cruise reach a record of almost 80,000 and we’re confident that number will continue to grow in the coming years,” Mr Katz says.

CLIA Australasia chairman Steve Odell says the “short trip” has captured Australians’ imagination as a way to explore their own coastline.

“Short cruises are growing in popularity in line with the general trend in the community to take short-break holidays. Our latest statistics showed that cruises of five-to-seven days are the most popular, while almost 90 per cent of Australian cruisers take a cruise of under 14 nights,” Mr Katz says.

Cruising’s broader appeal has also led to varied on-board experiences. Rock-climbing walls, flying foxes, water slides, celebrity-chef restaurants, sanctuary retreats and private cabanas are all designed to appeal to a wider market.

“We are seeing more Australians cruising across all demographics as a result, including more families. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed family holiday, a romantic break for two or an adventure exploring remote destinations, there’s a cruise ship out there to suit everyone,” Mr Katz says.

There are also more opportunities to get organised online before boarding to avoid queues and to optimise time on board. 

Online services allow guests to book activities such as spa treatments and shore excursions before boarding, and an increasing number of cruise lines have free apps so guests can book on-board via their smartphones and tablets. 

Last month, P&O launched an app that allows guests to plan activities, make bookings, see a daily schedule of activities and message family and friends on board.

This month, Carnival Corporation announced its Ocean Medallion technology. Among many functions, the small wearable device allows guests to check in automatically. 

It also acts as a room key, helps to navigate around the ship and can order food and beverages to be delivered anywhere on board. It makes its debut on Regal Princess in November and will be rolled out across the entire Princess fleet.

New ships

Of the 26 ocean, river and specialty ships that will make their debut worldwide this year, Australians will be getting their share, along with refurbished vessels and ships making their first forays Down Under.

January 22 marked the Australian debut of the luxury Seabourn Encore at it arrives in Darwin. It will sail down the Australian coast to reach Sydney on February 2 and Melbourne two days later before making nine maiden Australian port calls.

Elegant Seabourn Encore hosts 600 guests in 300 suites, all with a private veranda. Sister ship Seabourn Ovation will join the fleet in 2018. 

A 24-night cruise aboard Seabourn Encore, departing Singapore on November 10, costs from $23,499 per person twin share. It cruises through the islands of Indonesia, visiting ports such as Komodo, Celukan Bawang and Surabaya before sailing south to Darwin and along the Queensland coast to arrive in Sydney.

On January 29, Norwegian Star will make its debut, kicking off seven maiden Australian calls. Departing from Sydney on February 6, it embarks on a 12-day cruise across Australian waters, taking in ports such as Burnie, Napier, Melbourne, Tauranga, Dunedin and Milford Sound. An inside cabin costs from $1811 per person twin share and a mini suite starts from $4238.

Norwegian Star’s six-day Australia and New Zealand cruise departs Auckland on February 18, through the Bay of Islands to Sydney and Brisbane. It costs from $715 per person twin share for an inside cabin and from $1582 per person twin share for a mini-suite.

On February 8, Azamara Journey will arrive in Darwin, the first of 12 maiden calls. A 16-night New Zealand Explorer Voyage from Auckland to Sydney departs on March 6 and includes overnight stays in Wellington and Sydney, as well as calls to the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Picton, Kaikoura, Akaroa, Dunedin and Hobart, and scenic cruising at Milford Sound. Fares are from $3299 per person twin share for an interior stateroom.

An 18-night Australia and Asia voyage from Sydney to Singapore aboard Azamara Journey departs on March 22, calling at Brisbane, Hardy Reef (Great Barrier Reef), Hamilton Island, Townsville, Cairns, Thursday Island, Darwin, Bali and Celukan Bawang. Fares start at $3599 per person twin share for an interior stateroom. 

Cunard’s remastered flagship Queen Mary 2 and its younger sister ship Queen Elizabeth will arrive in Sydney on February 2. Queen Mary 2 will make its first visit to Tasmania, with calls to Port Arthur and Hobart in February.

Oceania Cruises’ Sirena will make its inaugural visit and arrive in Sydney on March 6 before making eight maiden calls to local ports.

In its 2017-18 program, P&O will be operating its latest ship, Pacific Explorer, which will be based in Australia full-time. 

It includes water slides that shoot over the side of the vessel and feature a section of transparent tubing as well as a multi-coloured lighting effects. 

Fares on Pacific Explorer start from $1199 per person quad share and $1699 per person twin share for a 10-night inaugural cruise to the Pacific Islands, departing Sydney on June 22. The fares include a premium beverage drinks package for the first and second person in the cabin.

P&O’s Pacific Dawn will also undergo a refurbishment in March, with the Brisbane-based ship set to receive a new dining offering centring on seafood, as well as the Pantry, which will replace the traditional buffet. The ship will also get a water park, with two slides snaking from the funnel to the top deck.

In November, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel will make its Australian debut. The 2376- passenger ship, refurbished three years ago, sails from Sydney to Tasmania. Departing on November 12, the five-day cruise costs from $1109 per person twin share for an inside cabin. The luxurious Haven staterooms start from $4262 per person twin share.

Norwegian Jewel also has a Christmas 2017 and New Year 2018 cruise, departing Sydney on December 23 and taking in ports including Melbourne, Burnie, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and Bay of Islands. 

The cruise costs from $2824 per person twin share for an inside cabin, through to $13,358 per person twin share for Haven staterooms.

November will also see the return of favourites including Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, which made its debut in Fremantle in December last year, plus the new Seabourn Encore and Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess. 

The 2018/19 season will see the arrival of the newly refurbished Celebrity Solstice, with its unique half-acre of real grass on the top deck, new private alcoves and an outdoor screen for special Taste Of Film food and film events. 

The ship will offer 16 cruises, calling at 37 ports in 11 countries including Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Hawaii, New Caledonia, Fiji, the Loyalty Islands and Vanuatu, as well as Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa for the first time. 

Itineraries range from nine to 19 nights departing from Sydney, Auckland, Fremantle and Honolulu.

Also back in the 2018/19 line-up by popular demand will be a 16-night itinerary from WA to New Zealand (and back). 

The itinerary also gives West Australians a chance to combine a land holiday in New Zealand with their cruise.

P&O also recently announced that the 3000-guest Carnival Splendour will be added to its fleet at the end of 2019.

New destinations

Every year brings maiden port visits for individual cruise lines. In recent years, new ports have been added to the Australian cruise map, from Gladstone in north Queensland to Mornington and Portland in Victoria, alongside Pacific destinations from the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea to Mare in New Caledonia. 

Seabourn will introduce Norfolk Island to its itineraries in early 2018, while P&O will debut Kuri Bay in the Kimberley this year. 

Seabourn Encore’s 16-night South Pacific Isles round-trip cruise from Auckland departs on December 20 and includes visits to ports in Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu as well as Norfolk Island. Fares start from $14,499 per person twin share.

P&O will make its first call to Kuri Bay from Fremantle. The remote bay north of Broome has magnificent red rock escarpments and turquoise waters. Guests will have the chance to explore the Kimberley’s wilderness on walking tours or scenic flights or visit a Paspaley pearl farm. 

A nine-night cruise to Kuri Bay departing Fremantle on May 16, including a call to Exmouth and an overnight stay in Broome, costs from $1099 per person quad share and $1699 per person twin share, including a premium beverage drinks package for the first and second person in the cabin. 

“As more cruise lines spend longer in local waters, I’m sure there’ll be other maiden port calls on the horizon,” Mr Katz says. 

Out of Freo

Fremantle will be busy with the coming and going of cruise ships. 

Astor will sail in and out through to March as it explores WA’s South West, South Australia and Bali. Spend Christmas on board Astor and visit Bali for an overnight stay with an 11-night itinerary departing Fremantle on December 18. CMV is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal, where two passengers travel in a voyager inner cabin for $2729 and voyager ocean view cabin for $3299. 

Queen Mary 2 will arrive on February 12 and spend 12 nights calling at Busselton, Adelaide, Melbourne and Kangaroo Island before arriving in Sydney, with the full itinerary sold out.

The renovated Radiance of the Seas’ February departure from Fremantle has all but sold out, along with Voyager of the Seas’ Fremantle departure in October. However, bookings are open for 2018 Fremantle departures. 

Radiance of the Seas’ 17-night South Coast and New Zealand cruise from Fremantle on March 1, 2018, costs from $2239 per person twin share for an interior stateroom. It calls at Esperance, Adelaide, Melbourne, Dunedin, Akaroa, Picton and Wellington with scenic cruising at Milford, Doubtful and Dusky sounds.

Sun Princess will also spend time in Fremantle. Bookings can still be made for mid-year cruises from Fremantle, including the 15-day Northern and Western Australia Explorer to Brisbane departing on July 16, from $2199 per person.

P&O’s Pacific Eden makes its way to Fremantle on April 9 for a number of cruises to Indonesia, Esperance, Margaret River and the Kimberley. 

Weekend on the water

P&O’s Pacific Eden has some great short options, including the three- night food and wine cruise departing Fremantle on June 9, and a three- night comedy cruise from June 30. 

Both cost from $499 per person quad share or $649 per person twin share, including a soft drinks package for everyone in the room. 

Astor has three-night cruises from Fremantle, where the captain takes the ship out to sea and settles it in calm waters in the South West. Next summer, this is being offered as a Christmas Party Weekend, departing on December 15, with voyager inner cabins from $699, with the second passenger sailing for free. Voyager ocean view cabins are from $839, with the second passenger free. 

Departures are also available on January 12, 2018, for an Australia Day Weekend on January 25, and February 2, 2018, at the same fares.

For those who can’t wait that long, there’s a three-day February 3 sailing with voyager inner cabins ($649) and ocean view cabins ($779) available, with the buy-one-get-one-free deal.

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