This month marks a year since cruising returned to Australia, with Pacific Explorer proudly sailing into Sydney Harbour last March and kick starting a season that saw a flotilla follow in her wake.

Since then, cruising has returned in such a convincing style that the year ahead looks set to break records.

An exclusive survey of the industry by Cruise Passenger has shown the outlook is overwhelmingly positive, with Australia’s 2023 wave season likely to exceed pre-pandemic levels of cruise. This would see Australia resume its position on top of the world as the country with the largest number of cruisers per head of population anywhere, including the United States.

Before the pandemic, over 6 per cent of Australians cruised.

Major brands like Virgin Voyages and Disney Cruise Line will be visiting Australia for the first time, increasing Australia’s cruise capacity, as a greater variety of ships touch our shores than ever before.

The cruise boom is already happening globally, with Viking and NCL both reporting record bookings, with each line setting their single month booking record over January 2023. Viking’s Sydney office is believed to have beaten off Britain and Canada as the line’s second largest market next to America.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz says Australia’s return to cruise was an overwhelming success, with the exceptional results only set to continue in 2023 and beyond.

“Cruising’s revival in Australia has gone exceptionally well and the feedback from cruise fans has been extremely positive. Operations began in a very careful and measured way in the middle of last year, beginning with short domestic-only cruises from the east coast before expanding to include other states, longer cruises and eventually international sailings. There were times when cruising made the headlines again, but the overall experience has been that the cruise industry’s health protocols are effective and working as intended.

“Over the summer peak we have welcomed around 40 different international cruise ships to Australian waters, which is an excellent show of confidence in this region given we were one of the last parts of the world to resume cruising. As a result, we expect cruising to return to pre-pandemic levels by next season, and that we’ll welcome many more ships in the 2023-24 summer.”

Mr Katz says CLIA’s research is showing that from next year, cruising in Australia will be as strong as ever.

“Next season will be particularly interesting for Australian cruise fans as new cruise lines visit for the first time. Ships from Virgin Voyages, Disney Cruise Line and Scenic are all scheduled to make their first appearance in Australian waters later this year. At the global level, we’re also going to see 15 brand new ships launched in 2023, from 14 different CLIA cruise lines, which will offer a whole new level of choice and innovation for cruise travellers.

“Importantly, public sentiment towards cruising is now very strong in Australia and back at pre-pandemic levels. CLIA market research shows 80% of Australians who have cruised before say they will cruise again, a level similar to that shown in 2019.”

Cruising is set to boom across Australia, with Ports Australia sharing that 199 cruise bookings have been made for the Brisbane International Cruise Terminal, a 43% increase on its inaugural year. South Australia has also just experienced its biggest cruise season yet with 30 vessels visiting, with anticipated growth for next wave season.

Fremantle Ports also had 34 cruise visits, with that number expected to rise next season.

Caroline Hitchen, general manager of Creative Cruising says Australia’s rebound to cruising was extremely impressive.

“This time last year we were still experiences effects of Omicron strain. Our business was trading at -80% of 2019 production. However by the second half of the calendar year, the market had bounced back. Tale of two halves.

“We were surprised at the positive response to new product launches for our market. For example the Disney Cruise Lines announcement and launch of their new local season exceeded all expectations, even the supplier.”

Carnival in the harbour.

Trends

Where are people going?

Ms Hitchen shared data from the nearly 200 cruise booking sites that fall under Creative Cruising, which showed that local cruising is strong, with some other surprises proving popular acrcoss the globe.

“Right now, there’s a lot of interest for close to home cruises, particularly as international flight prices remain high.

“Other popular destinations include Japan, the Eastern Mediterranean such as Greek and Croatian island hopping , Northern Europe, Hawaii and Alaska.

“Also interesting is more interest in the Caribbean than ever before. As well lots of people for expedition style cruising in the Arctic and Antarctica, with Northern Lights voyages also popular.”

People are booking later, but cruise lines want you now

Ms Hitchen says cruise is experiencing shorter lead times than ever before, meaning people are snapping up plenty of last minute cruises.

“When ships are in the harbour, people are looking to book, however, with shorter lead times right now than ever before. Many people are booking cruises less than one month before the cruise is set to depart.”

However, cruise lines are countering this by offering very enticing early booking promotions.

“Cruise lines are dropping in fantastic early booking promotions for new seasons packed full of additional value, such as onboard credit, specialty dining and shore excursion credits.  While prices are remaining steady, cruise lines are using promotions to push their value proposition.

Cruise grows globally

Ms Hitchens says the cruise market is growing stronger across the globe and cruise lines are responding with more ships and sailings.

“Projected growth for the cruise market between 2019 and 2026 is 8% and cruise lines are responding with new ships and more berths. For example, NCLH Group have 40% growth between now and 2027. This encompasses 24,000 berths across their contemporary, premium and ultra luxe brands.”

Splashing the cash

Cruisers aren’t afraid to spend big, with cruisers booking longer voyages, targeting their bucket list and getting onto more luxury ships.

Ms Hitchens says: “Clients are booking cruisers for longer periods of time, very often they’re booking back-to-back cruises as well.

“The trend is also towards luxury high end expeditions cruising, with so many beautiful products out there. People are looking once in a lifetime experiences like seeing polar bears in the Arctic, or standing with the penguins and seeing the landscapes of Antarctica.”

Seabourn luxury.

What to expect from the lines next season?

NCL

Ben Angell VP and Managing Director NCL APAC said: “Norwegian Spirit will return Down Under in December 2023 for her second local season, offering eight open-jaw 12-day sailings from December 2023 to March 2023 between Sydney and Auckland exploring destinations like Napier, Tauranga and Fiordland in New Zealand together with Melbourne, Burnie and Eden in Australia.

“Her season will be bookended by two South Pacific repositioning voyages between Papeete and Sydney with highlights including a number of stunning ports such as Raiatea and Moorea, Tahiti, Dravuni, Fiji, Ile des Pins in New Caledonia, Mystery Island in Vanuatu and Apia, Samoa Islands.”

Regent Seven Seas

Lisa Pile, Vice President Sales & General Manager Asia Pacific said: “Regent’s Upgrade Your Horizon Wave Season offer, which kicked off 10 January 2023,
features more than 300 captivating sailings departing through June 2024 with a FREE 2-Category Suite Upgrade, up to a Penthouse Suite, when booked by 31 March, 2023. Upgrade Your Horizon has been hugely successful for Regent in Australia and New Zealand.

“Guests have the chance to experience luxurious suites with even more unrivalled space and additional advantages such as an included 1-night pre-cruise hotel stay when upgraded to a Concierge Suite, or the enhanced service that comes with a personal butler when staying in a Penthouse Suite.”

Ms Pile also drew special attention to Regents new Epicurean Perfection sailings.

Scenic

Scenic is running a range of special offers across 2023.

  • Arctic: save up to 20% and receive up to $6,000pp air credit on selected 2023 departures and suites
  • Kimberley: save up to 20% and receive up to $1,000pp air credit on selected 2024 departures
  • Antarctica:
    • 2023 / 2024 : save 20% and receive up to $1,500pp air credit on selected departures
    • 2024 / 2025 : save 20% and receive up to $8,000pp air credit on selected departures
  • East Antarctica & the Ross Sea Region: Save up to $10,000pp on the cruise fare on selected 2024 / 2025 departures
  • Japan: save up to 20% and receive up to $3,000pp air credit on selected 2023 departure

 

Carnival brands

A Carnival spokesperson shared how the various Carnival brands are shaping up for next season.

“There will be plenty of capacity on the horizon for the Australian market, with Princess Cruises welcoming four ships for the new season. Coral Princess, Grand Princess and Majestic Princess will make a return to our market, as well as Royal Princess marking her maiden season in November, all bringing with them the remarkable MedallionClass technology.

Carnival Cruise Lines will also welcome Carnival Luminosa back to Brisbane, and after another year round service sailing from Sydney, Carnival Splendor will head to dry dock in July 2024, returning home to Sydney in late August 2024.

“There are also a variety of new voyages planned for all lines. Anticipation continues to build ahead of P&O Cruises Australia first circumnavigation of mainland Australia, setting sail in June 2024, while celebrating its milestone 90th anniversary with all communities. Princess Cruises is also ready to set sail on its first world cruise since 2019, departing from Sydney in June 2023. Cunard is also looking forward to hosting more of their well-loved themed voyages, with the Great Australian Culinary Voyage and inaugural Voyage of Sporting Greats on the cards for travellers looking for a truly unique experience.”

Ponant

What’s happening with Ponant next season?

  • Le Ponant one and only season in the Kimberley starting in May 2023 – exclusive offer of $3,000 flight credit per person on select luxury sailing expeditions for a limited time (ends 31 March 2023).
  • New partnership with Relais and Chateaux and two gastronomic voyages in NZ in 2023.
  • New Japan luxury expeditions in 2024 announced this year.