New Zealand is ready for the long-awaited return of cruise ships – and P&O’s Pacific Explorer could be about to star in her second grand homecoming.

The Port of Auckland is anxiously awaiting confirmation from the Aussie cruise line that they will sail the first cruise ships into the harbour on August 12 – and if Carnival confirms the date, there will be a big Kiwi welcome with water cannon and crowds.

Majestic Princess is also scheduled – but not until October.

Pacific Explorer starred in a TV spectacular when she returned to Sydney to a grand welcome.

“Our season usually starts in October and the Majestic Princess is due in on October 16,” New Zealand Cruise Association CEO Kevin O’Sullivan told Cruise Passenger from Auckland this week.

The Land of the Long White Cloud has had a tough two years after COVID ended cruising.

It wasn’t until May the NZ government announced that cruise ships can return to Aotearoa’s waters without restrictions from 31 July.

The Prime Minister’s announcement that the maritime border will reopen without added restrictions means cruise lines can start confirming port calls and preparing ships with certainty, the Association’s Chair Debbie Summers said.

“New Zealand is an important destination for cruise lines and with worldwide demand for cruising strong again, combined with excellent regional dispersal, this sector ticks every box for value.

“After two years of hardship, hundreds of Kiwi ship suppliers and tourism operators can start rebuilding their businesses back, helping communities that have suffered during our pandemic years and begin preparing with confidence to provide our top service to cruise visitors.”

Lines are already booking – with Viking sending two ships, the Neptune and Mars, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth expected for New Year’s Eve.  Viking has joined the New Zealand Cruise Association as a show of faith.

Mr O’Sullivan said that there were around 875 booked port calls – down from the 1,100 two years ago but recovering. And New Zealanders are keen to cruise, with many of them booking cruises around their own country.

Before the pandemic, a quarter of a million cruisers worth $547,000 visited New Zealand on 49 cruise ships.

A Carnival Australia spokesperson told Cruise Passenger: “We of course look forward to our ships and guests being able to return to New Zealand and the cooperation received from authorities there for restart is encouraging. However, no decision has been made in relation to your inquiry about Pacific Explorer.”