Royal Caribbean is planning to deploy one of its ships in Brisbane year-round, capitalising on the new port infrastructure and the warm climate of Queensland.

In an exclusive interview with the line’s VP and Managing Director, Gavin Smith, he disclosed the intention was to create year-round homeporting with fly-cruise from Melbourne, Sydney and Asia feeding big ships like Quantum of the Seas with passengers looking for a high-value winter break.

Mr Smith says he sees significant growth in Brisbane, especially since Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal is booked out years in advance.

Through homeporting in Brisbane, Royal Caribbean ships can reach key ports quicker, and save big money for local families. 

“For Royal what we can deliver out of Brisbane is a seven-night itinerary, getting the same number of ports as a nine-night itinerary out of Sydney. So we can do a seven-night, three-port itinerary, as opposed to doing a nine-night, three-port itinerary.

“This means, for the South East Queensland group that will travel with us, they don’t have to bundle the kids up and fly to Sydney and pay $100 in a taxi (to the airport). They can just go to Luggage Point, park their car at the pier and head off.”

Mr Smith explains how this can represent significant savings for families.

“This means buying a seven-night cruise for $1,000 on four passengers that are 28 days, as opposed to paying for four passengers at nine nights, that’s 36 days, plus flights. 

He said a family of four could pay $600 a night for the shorter cruise and use the saving for the air fare and a hotel stay or theme park visit.

Excitingly, Royal Caribbean’s progress in building up the Vanuatu island of Lelepa as a private cruise destination could result in a winter treat for those sailing out of Brisbane. 

“We talked about the phased build-out of Lelepa, and there’s no opportunity there in the winter, but ultimately like anyone that runs a resort we don’t want to close it up for the winter, we want to be in there all year.

“We think that as Lelepa comes online and the profitability of the Brisbane program is demonstrated, then the opportunity is there to visit Lelepa full year and give a great pacific holiday without the lumpy days in and around Sydney. Brisbane’s just an obvious spot to do that.”

As far as Royal’s big return to Sydney when Ovation of the Seas arrived next week, Mr Smith pays tributes to the ships that paved the way to Australia’s cruise return.

“I think the industry’s been very respectful, there’s been some heavy lifting done by some of the other brands in terms of getting cruising back into Sydney. And we’re very appreciative of that. Royal Caribbean is just sort of stepping into the light now to talk about how we can resume responsible cruising out of Sydney.”

Mr Smith also says that by December, Royal ships are expected to be operating at full capacity.

“We’re ramping up during November, we’re restricting our capacities over November and slowly building to 100% as we get to that December peak.”

As far as how bookings are going, Mr Smith reported business is booming.

“We’ve got a very loyal and enthusiastic group of big supporters of Royal, so we’ve hardly got a vacant bed between now and mid-to-late January, and then we’ve got a handful of beds on each sailing. 

“We haven’t had to drop our price, you haven’t seen aggressive price promotion, Aussie sailors have been happy to line up and sign up. It’s going well. As we go into 2023, by new years day we’re expecting to be sold out by quarter one through to easter.”

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Will Brisbane become the new Sydney for cruise?

When queried on the competition facing Royal Caribbean with many brands emerging in the market, Mr Smith said he welcomed the competition.

“What I have found over the years, is the more brands that are in the market, the onus is on each brand to call out their points of difference and present their reasons to buy. I think the brands are becoming more single-minded and more purposeful.

“It’s very clear that Virgin are on a no-kids policy, Celebrity Cruises is for empty nesters, P&O are the affordable middle-market, Princess is that older, sort of traditional empty nester and has a lot more international cruisers.

“The onus is on us, the cruise line to be clear about our point of different and to amplify that. Whether it’s dodgem cars or the iFLY or FlowRider or the NorthStar, I still think we’ve got ample amenities that give us a point of difference and that little personality that still comes through.

“So, I’m excited about the competition, because the money that they’re investing is great. I think it keeps us aggressive, keeps us thinking of new things, keeps us loyal and true to our brand.”

While Ovation of the Seas is set to arrive first, Mr Smith says much of the excitement will be around Quantum of the Seas making its debut in Brisbane and the message it’ll send.

“It’s going to be a great day, the port is excited because it’ll be the biggest cruise ship to come into the new terminal. It’s going to be exciting for Queensland and for all the economic messaging to the state of Queensland, it’ll really help to demonstrate what capability brings to the market. If you build the capability, the cruise ships will follow.”

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