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LAST CABINS AVAILABLE: Bookings soar from new and past cruise fans  

With just 10 days to go before the first cruise carrying fare-paying passengers leaves from Sydney,  bookings are skyrocketing and those in the industry say cruises are flying off the shelves.

Having been denied the chance to cruise close to home for so long, the experts say many Aussies are opting to cruise domestically. And first timers are also booking after hearing new health protocols could

Sharon Summerhayes, owner of Deluxe Travel and Cruise says: “Domestic has been huge the last few weeks since the cruise ban lifted and cruises from Australia have definitely been the bulk of my business since.

“We have some incredible itineraries from Australia on world-class ships. With some parts of the world having a few more hurdles to jump, I think close to home will be the choice this coming cruise season for the majority of cruisers.”

Belle Goldie, owner of iTravel Penrith, is similarly seeing enquiries left and right. “The phone is running hot. Especially for those to be on the first cruise on May 31 with P&O’s Pacific Explorer.”

With demand spiking across the country, we asked the experts where people are going, who they’re sailing with and what booking trends are emerging.

Where are people going?

Celebrity Cruises shared their three best-selling local itineraries with Cruise Passenger: a 13-Night Australia and New Zealand Christmas sailing, departing 20th Dec 2022, an 11-Night South Pacific sailing, departing 9th Dec 2022 and a 9-Night Australia Wine sailing, departing 7th Feb 2023.

Ms Summerhayes is seeing The Kimberley and Queensland getting the most eyes, and people are booking well ahead for Royal Caribbean itineraries.

“The Kimberley and Queensland are the most popular domestic cruise destinations. Royal Caribbean’s Circumnavigation of Australia in early 2024 is also hot right now. I expect that cruise to sell out 12 months before departure.”

Ms Goldie says Moreton Island is a stand-out, as well as any special event and themed cruises.

“The four-night cruises to Moreton Island. Any of the speciality voyages – like Elvis cruises or Melbourne Cup are the ones cruisers have missed the most.”

Cunard’s special garden cruise is going quickly too.

“Cunard has a fantastic garden sailing from Melbourne in February with Jamie Durie and Graham Ross which is proving very popular with our Victorian clients,” said Ms Levins.

Who are people sailing with?

Ms Levins is seeing popularity with Princess and P&O especially on itineraries heading to exotic destinations.

“We have an August 22 sailing this year on Coral Princess that has proved very popular, we still have a couple of cabins left on this sailing, we expect it will be sold out very soon.

“It is a mostly domestic cruise with the added bonus of a beautiful stop in Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea.  Another sailing is the Pacific Encounter also to Papua New Guinea. It departs at the perfect time in June next year and has a very exciting itinerary with stops in Alotau, Rabaul, Kiriwina Islands and Conflict Islands.”

Ms Summerhayes is seeing lines with inclusive fares raking in most of her bookings.

“Celebrity and Princess are most popular for my agency.  Their fares inclusive of drinks and WiFi are extremely popular due to their great value.”

Royal Caribbean thrives

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson told Cruise Passenger that since the cruise ban lifted, the bookings have just kept rolling in.

“We’ve seen a huge lift in both bookings from direct and trade since the cruise ban lifted, guests are feeling more confident to cruise and taking advantage of the fantastic value available on our sailings.

“Bookings are looking extremely strong for both the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons, we expect to see demand continue to increase with overseas guests booking for the next wave season.”

“As far as stand out itineraries, special occasions cruises are definitely going quick with plenty of bookings for the 12-night Christmas and New Year’s cruise. Both the 2022/23 and 2023/24 sailings are going fast. And we are seeing a nice mix of demand for our sailings on Ovation of the Seas sailings from Sydney especially our 12-night Christmas and New Year cruise, as well as our new routes from South Pacific from Brisbane on Quantum of the Seas which are also especially popular with families.”

Longer cruises

Ms Goldie says people want to be out on the water for longer, with many booking back-to-back cruises.

“Longer is strong right now. I’ve done more back to back bookings the last two weeks than ever before. Our clients are scheduling the next two years-worth of cruises. Now that the green light has been given, demand is through the roof.”

Plenty of Aussies are playing catch up with cruising and booking plenty at a time, including Ms Summerhayes herself.

“A large percentage of my clients have at least two cruises booked already. I have six booked myself.  We all have a lot of catching up to do.

Ms Levins has also seen the trend of longer cruises shining through, both domestically and internationally.

“Domestic cruises are tending towards longer cruises, such as the circumnavigation with Royal Caribbean.  Internationally, clients are combining a couple of cruises, and using the ship to connect them to other parts of Europe to explore by land.”

Back at pre-pandemic levels

A spokesperson for Ponant says they’re seeing demand exceed pre-pandemic levels as Aussies scramble to get back out on the open seas.

“It is even stronger as people have been waiting for more two seasons to finally experience small ship cruising in Australia and see expedition cruising return to Australian waters.”

Bookings are so strong that with 2022 and 2023 filling up, people are even looking ahead to 2024 to lock in expedition adventures.

“The 2022 Kimberley is almost full, and Kimberley 2023 is not far behind, people are already enquiring about Kimberley 2024. We also have a few Australian expeditions on the East Coast and Tasmania for the end of 2022 getting a lot of interests with bookings tracking well.”

Ms Summerhayes also says she’s never seen bookings like this.

“Cruise bookings are stronger than ever and interestingly; I’m seeing first time cruisers booking in a higher ratio than before the pandemic.”

No time to waste

Another trend is that people are looking to book multigenerational cruises and bucket list itineraries, particularly in the expedition space.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest for expedition style, bucket list travel.  We have seen a surge in Silversea Expedition enquiries.  Having sailed on both an Antarctica cruise and Kimberley cruise with Silversea we are assured that our clients will love their expedition cruise with them,” said Ms Levins.