Over three thousand bush fire volunteer firefighters and their families sent up a cheer at Sydney’s Circular Quay last weekend as Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas tied up to take them on the first of a series of complimentary cruise to say thanks.

The first volunteers gave their verdict here.

Now the line has announced a third free cruise for bush fire volunteers  – the second leaves this weekend – after over 12,000 applied online and wrote 150 words on why volunteering was important to get cabins.

“We didn’t want to disappoint,” said the line’s Australian MD, Gavin Smith. “We were overwhelmed by the response. It was impossible not to be touched by what happened over the summer – and we just wanted to say thank you.”

At 3,500 passengers a sailing, few will now miss out on a complimentary four days aboard the line’s newest ship, with an amazing array of 50 entertainment and 16 food options.

IMG 4740 scaledSpectrum of the Seas, making her maiden call to Sydney, has a surfing pool, Skypad virtual reality platform, Ripcord flying experience, bumper cars, rock climbing, robot barmen, and a huge variety of dining experiences and shows.

The free itineraries will consist of sea days allowing plenty of time to enjoy the facilities, and there were many with young children boarding tonight eager put this ship through its paces.

Spectrum of the Seas has sailed in Northern Asia.  Mr Smith reassured the crew had been away from Asia for well over 14 days, and had been painstakingly checked for any symptoms of coronavirus.

“Cruising is one of the safest forms of travel,” he maintained.

Mr Smith also revealed that Royal Caribbean was considering extending the season of at least one of its ships – including Spectrum of the Seas.

IMG 4706 scaledOf the ships currently sailing in Australia, Ovation of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas are off to Alaska at the end of the season.  But Voyager of the Seas and Spectrum of the Seas are both scheduled for Asia – which has had its season seriously curtailed because of the effects of coronavirus.

“It’s a global phenomena and these are extraordinary times,” said Mr Smith, adding that he was considering his options of an extension every day.

“I think there’s a possibility,” he told Cruise Passenger.

Demand is holding up among Australians, with Easter and school holidays strongly booked and calls to the line slowing only by two or three percent.

“Further out, bookings have slowed as people wait and see,” Mr Smith said.  “But we didn’t get a Christmas holiday and there is a lot of pent up demand.”

Newly refurbished Voyager of the Seas would be a strong contender to stay in Australia at the end of the season and continue on into the winter.  She can get into more smaller ports than Spectrum, and has fewer cabins to fill.

voyager big
Voyager of the Seas

Princess Cruises has already announced Sapphire Princess will extend the Australian season.  The vessel’s new itineraries went on sail on Thursday – and demand was so strong the line’s website crashed.

Mr Smith said Royal Caribbean was unlikely to discount heavily, and would instead consider sailing with fewer passengers.

“Cruise lines have to be careful and responsible about what they do with ships available at short notice,” he said.

“We have a pricing structure that’s important to the profitability of the industry, so flooding the market with a whole lot of inventory in the winter needs to be done with  great care.”

Honida Beram from Cruising with Honey interviewed those on the quayside last Saturday.

Among them was 18-year-old Andrew from the Central Coast of Sydney who has been volunteering for one year.

“This is my first time on a cruise, and it feels really good to be spending time with my family after spending so much time travelling around NSW. This cruise is a chance to get back together with my them.”

Another first responder Gary from Deepwater, Queensland said the cruise was a nice way to be rewarded.

“Last year was the worst for Queensland. I’ve been volunteering for four years, and this was the worst. Having the fire go over the truck [we were in] was a terrible moment.”

For Joe from the Central Coast, who is taking his daughter Maddison with him on the cruise, he believes this experience will be an opportunity for other firefighters to revitalise.

“These fires were bigger than we could ever imagine, we just couldn’t put them out. This cruise is a chance for us all to come together and get our energy back.”

Blake, who travelled to Sydney with his mother Corrine and younger brothers from Albury, said he was very grateful to Royal Caribbean. Blake helped fight a number of fires, including a blaze at Green Valley.

“We really appreciate this, this is awesome.”

As a 32-year volunteer veteran, Mark from the Northern Beaches RFS said he doesn’t see himself as a ‘hero.’

“In all my years, I’ve never seen anything to this scale. Members from my brigade fought fires as far as the Blue Mountain and Mt Kosciusko, everyone was exhausted.

“This cruise was so unexpected. I’ve never experienced anything like the public support that we are getting.

“I don’t think Australians are comfortable with the term hero, we seem to be very modest. This is something I do, I enjoy getting out there and the comaraderie with my friends.”