Australia is coming off a near-record season, with 1.25 million people taking a local cruise over the 2023/24 wave season. However, this doesn’t appear to be leading to extra investment from the major cruise lines. Quite the reverse.

Cruise Passenger has analysed deployments and found, despite booming demand, the number of suites and cabins available is falling. And the cruise lines’ industry body, Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA), is warning our cruise boom could plateau as a result.

The Australian cruise business in Australia has had good week: positive CLIA figures, Royal Caribbean ships heading our way, and reports of younger travellers opting for cruises. But the future deployment picture looks quite different. 

Through the 2023/2024 season, amongst the major cruise lines of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, P&O, Celebrity and Princess, there was a total of 13 homeported ships. Adding up the capacity of each ship gave a grand total of space for 39,640 passengers.

However, there are only 11 ships scheduled to homeport in Australia come the 2025/2026 season. The capacity of each ship adds up to space for 33,829 passengers. 

Furthermore, Virgin withdrew from the Australian market after just one season. Meanwhile, Cunard has announced it won’t be homeporting Queen Elizabeth in Australia from 2025/2026 onwards.

If cruise is booming globally and in Australia, why aren’t the major cruise lines sending more, bigger or better ships our way?

A calculation based on the announcements so far shows cruise lines are reducing capacity by 15 percent. This is thanks to a lack of berths, high costs, rules, and regulations.

Another milestone for the return of cruising as The Pacific Adventure meets Pacific Explorer
Pacific Explorer passes Pacific Adventure at Fort Denison

Joel Katz, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director in Australasia says if Australia can’t manage logistical and regulatory complexities, Australia’s cruise capacity could be set to plateau, as it booms elsewhere.

“Demand for cruising has certainly recovered and global forecasts are strong. But cruising in Australia and New Zealand is not guaranteed to continue in line with global growth.

“Australia’s summer season ahead is likely to be only slightly up in terms of overall capacity. Longer-term deployment may see a plateau into 2025-26.

“Cruise lines have spoken about the high cost of operating in this region and the regulatory complexities that make local cruising difficult. One of the consequences we are seeing is an increase in shorter cruises with fewer port calls. As cruise lines look to navigate the high-cost environment and keep cruising accessible to their guests

“Another consequence may be an impact on the number of ships deployed in this region. Or a reduction in their length of stay, which reduces choice for cruisers and hits the local tourism economy.”

Katz says that more work is needed between the government, ports and destinations to keep cruise thriving in Australia.

“It is important that the right settings are in place to ensure Australia is internationally competitive. Collaboration among governments, ports, and destinations is vital. This is along with balanced regulation and reasonable costs to foster a thriving cruise economy in this region.

“CLIA and cruise lines are closely engaged with governments and other stakeholders. We will continue advocating for an industry that is worth $5.6 billion a year to the Australian economy.”

low 1667045085 October 2022 Sydney Harbour Bridge and Ovation Aft 2

The numbers

While other factors are relevant such as the number and length of itineraries, the numbers show that aside from P&O Australia, the major cruise lines operating in Australia are not upping the size or quantity of their ships in Australia. 

  • Carnival Cruises currently has Carnival Splendor and Carnival Luminosa sailing in Australia. Both ships have capacities of 3012 and 2826 respectively. Currently, these two Carnival ships are set to continue homeported in Australia up until 2025/2026, with no new ships coming.
  • In the 2023/2024 Royal Caribbean had Brilliance of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas homeporting in Australia. The ships have maximum capacity of 2543, 4905 and 4905 respectively. Brilliance won’t be returning next season while Ovation and Quantum will. However, those two ships won’t return in 2025/2026, and will be replaced by Anthem of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas. Moreover, Anthem has the same capacity of 4905. On the other hand, Voyager can carry a max of 3602 passengers.
  • P&O will be keeping their fleet of Pacific Explorer, Pacific Adventure and Pacific Encounter consistent over the coming two season. The ships respectively can carry 1990, 2636 and 2600 passengers. 
  • Over the 2023/2024 season, Celebrity Cruises brought Celebrity Edge down to Australia. It is set to stay as the cruise lines only homeporting ship in Australia over the following two seasons, with a capacity for 2908 passengers.
  • Throughout the 2023/2024 cruise season, Princess Cruises had four ships sailing in Australia, Royal Princess, Grand Princess, Majestic Princess, and Coral Princess. The ships have a capacity of 3600, 2610, 3560 and 2000. However, next season Princess will operate only three ships in Australia, Royal Princess, Diamond Princess, and Crown Princess. These ships can carry 2670 and 3080 passengers respectively. Then there will be another reshuffle for 2025/2026, with Discovery Princess entering the mix. it has a capacity of 3660. Meanwhile, Australia will see Crown Princess remaining and Grand Princess returning. 
Virgin Voyages with Richard Branson sailing in Sydney Harbour
Virgin Voyages with Richard Branson sailing in Sydney Harbour

In total this means that the capacity of the major five lines add up to 39,640 in 2023/2024, 35,132 in 2024/2025 and 33,829 for 2025/2026, from 2023/2024 to 2025/2026. This represents a decrease of just under 15%, a definite downward trend amongst the major lines. This doesn’t necessarily mean bad news as it could mean a number of things such as more Aussies opting for luxury lines. It could also mean more ship announcements still to come. However, it does show that the major cruise lines aren’t necessarily upping their capacity or bringing bigger ships to Australia over the coming seasons. 

None of the biggest 30 ships in the world by capacity have come to Australia. The biggest are Ovation and Quantum which sit in equal 3rd place, and both are leaving Australia in two seasons. They’re only being replaced by one ship of the same capacity and one of a lower capacity. 

1.25 million Australians took a cruise in 2023, and 84.8% cruise locally in Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific. This means that a total of 1.06 million Australians cruise locally. Furthermore, 217,000 overseas visitors cruised in Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific. This brings the total to approximately 1.28 million people jumping on cruises out of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Moreover, Carnival Corporation’s 2023 annual report says that 5.5% of its revenue comes from just Australia. On the other hand, according to CLIA, Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific cruising represents approximately 4% of the total market.