The arrival of P&O’s Pacific Explorer on Monday signals a beacon of shining hope for Australia’s stagnant cruise industry.
It’s been two long years since we have seen an international ship grace our shore. And when she sails through Bradley’s Head into Sydney Harbour, it will herald the resumption of cruise Down Under.
Three Sydney Harbour water cannon tugs will be saluting her return in spectacular fashion and the line has invited boaties to escort her as she makes her way into the Overseas Passenger Terminal.
And the response has already been stupendous for her first sailing designated on May 31 – a four-night Sydney to Brisbane itinerary. The top suites are booked out and a spokesperson said interest was strong for Pacific Explorer’s return.
“We’re seeing strong interest in P&O Cruises Australia’s first sailings reflecting the eagerness of the cruise line’s many loyal guests to be back on the high seas and enjoy what they love most, cruising.
“Booking levels are approaching 2019 pre pandemic levels, an encouraging development for the resurgence of cruising in Australia.”
But there is still a chance to get onboard with Interior Rooms starting from $430 per person and $749 per person for a Balcony Room.
Krystal Corcoran is one of the lucky cruisers who will be on board.
Ms Corcoran started cruising in 2014 and never looked back. She was even on the last Carnival Splendor cruise before the pandemic.
“I started cruising back in 2014, my first cruise was on Pacific Pearl, then I’ve had heaps of cruises since. I actually can’t keep count, I think it’s over 10 now.
“I was actually on Carnival Splendor‘s last cruise before COVID, so that was fun, now that we’ve cruised with Carrnival heaps, we’re looking at Royal Caribbean after this one.”
While the cruise ban was difficult for so many, Ms Corcaran was hit particularly hard as she travels with a wheelchair. With cruising out of the picture, finding an accessible holiday became much more of a challenge.
“It was terrible because I travel with a wheelchair, just doing the research and finding places that are wheelchair accessible was difficult, whereas on the ship, most of it is wheelchair accessible. You’ll be able to get to your room and to food and everything, 99% of the ship is accessible.”
When the news broke, Ms Corcaran was delighted, but also nervous as to whether she’d manage to make it back to the water straight away.
“It was a mixed feeling, I was so excited but me and my mum wanted to go on the first cruise out, but we were broke at the time, so we were like ‘oh no we’re going to miss out’, but we scrounged together the money to be able to go!
“Now I’m super excited, I think we’ve watched every video about Pacific Explorer, we’re looking forward to it and hopefully I’ll be able to put some videos up on my Youtube channel as well.”
Ms Corcaran poetically shared that more than anything else, she simply can’t wait to get that first smell of a cruise ship once again.
“That smell of being on a cruise ship, when you first walk in and you’re like ‘yep I’m on a cruise ship’, it’s the best feeling in the world. Everything relaxes in your body as you soon as you smell it.”
Next on the agenda is a group cruise with family next year and after that the adventures will keep coming.
“I normally cruise with my mum and my family and we have a huge group cruise next year, that’s been cancelled and cancelled, so we’re really excited for that one. Then in 2024 we have a Hawaii cruise on Royal Caribbean.”
John Harlow is also an avid cruiser, often cruising with his wife and children, who’s booked himself in to be on that first sailing out of Sydney Harbour.
Mr Harlow is an active member of the cruise community, moderating Facebook cruise forums and regularly updating his Youtube channel.
“I’ve been on 31 cruises, mostly with P&O, Royal Caribbean International, Princess and Norwegian Cruise Line.
I can’t wait to get back on the water and smell that salt air again.”
Having made lifelong friends from cruise, Mr Harlow says he can’t wait to get back to meeting people at sea.
“I always love that we meet some great people on a cruise, both passengers and crew. Some people we have met have become lifelong friends who we have travelled and cruised with many times since.”
Expert Cruise Agent and owner of iTravel Penrith Belle Goldie says demand for cruise and P&O specifically is skyrocketing.
“People are staying up all hours of the night researching what they want and I’m getting booking requests at 2am in the morning. The phone is running hot!
“Especially to be on the first cruise 31/05 with P&O Pacific Explorer.”
Ms Goldie says a majority of demand right now is going to those looking to get on the first P&O Cruises heading out.
“P&O is out in front by a country mile at the moment . The first 2-3 cruises are definitely proving front runners . Cruisers want to be on the first 1-2 cruises to ensure they are not missing out. Cruise FOMO is a real thing.”
When Pacific Explorer pops its head back into Sydney Harbour, Ms Goldie says she’ll be right there.
I will be down there in Sydney Harbour when Pacific Explorer comes back, waving the Aussie flag, probably in tears like a silly school girl. I just can’t wait to see the ships back in the harbour, that’s when it’ll all be real for me, when I see that ship come through the heads.”
5 things you need to know about Pacific Explorer
Watch a show at Black Circus
One of the best shows on Pacific Explorer is the risqué and glamorous cabaret style show Love Riot. Guests can pair the show with a delicious exclusive dinner. Get ready for a fetish-laced acrobatic feast for the senses. It’s the ultimate night out full of spectacle and outrageous fun.
Grab a meal at Luke’s
Luke Mangan has had a long partnership with P&O and onboard the Pacific Explorer is his signature restaurant, Lukes. The beautiful restaurant offers casual meals during the day like a burger for lunch or a delicious three course dinner with the sunset.
Cocktail time at The Bonded Store
Another Australian brand you’ll find on the Pacific Explorer is Archie Rose Distilling Co. The Sydney-based distillery has a special bar in partnership with P&O onboard the ship. Here, you can try their special blends of gin, take whisky masterclasses or get the mixologists to create unique cocktails.
Play with the kids
Get splashy and ride the Disco Diver and Super Slider Waterslides as many times as you like, splash out in our interactive waterparks or take a dip in one of the pools or spas. Or head to the P&O Edge Adventure Park where you can zipline across the ship and more. There is also rock climbing, walk the plank and more.
Health and safety protocols
Before you get on your ship, you’ll be required to have a negative COVID test before embarkation and you’ll be required to wear your mask to get on and off the ship. The NSW Government has developed Covid safe plans for shore excursions. And all passengers above the age of 12 will need to be vaccinated.