The news that 92-year-old P&O Australia is to set to merge with Carnival may deal regional ports as mortal blow.

Already reeling from Virgin Voyages cancelling its sailings mid-season and Cunard curtailing its itineraries, the retiring of Pacific Explorer might signal that we are nearing the end of major cruise lines homeporting out of cities other than Sydney or Brisbane.

Melbourne in particular will suffer. Already a look at forward bookings in this great city’s Station Pier wharf shows that “turnaround” vessels – those which can take on passengers – taper off at the end of this year.

Though ships still visit, they won’t be accessible to Victorians or South Australians. That means more and more will need to fly to Sydney or Brisbane – adding costs to their holidays.

It would also spell the end of year-found sailing. Though Carnival was at pains to explain it wasn’t planning such a big move, there is no doubt that the now the economies are being so strictly examined by the line’s Miami headquarters, prices will need to rise or sailings curtailed.

“The economies just don’t make sense”, industry insiders told Cruise Passenger.

Pacific Explorer sails year-round in Australia, visiting a range of ports. Before she’s retired in March 2025 she’s set to sail out of ports like Auckland, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle. However, with the ship set to be axed by Carnival, the sailings out of those ports are set to disappear, with no one yet set to replace them.

After P&O Australia disbands in March 2025, the major cruise lines in Australia will be Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises and Celebrity Cruises.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival sail only out of Sydney and Brisbane, Celebrity sails only out of Sydney. This leaves the cities of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, with a combined population of around 8.3 million, with a grand total of 12 scheduled cruises from March 2025 beyond.

All of these cruises are with Princess, four of them are round Australia trips of 27-days or more and a further four are 15-days or more. There is also a 2-day Melbourne roundtrip and a four day Melbourne roundtrip.

Furthermore there is a six-day Adelaide to Sydney sailing and an 11-day Perth to Sydney sailing, both sailings that would still require one flight for locals of Adelaide or Perth.

Adding to this, the Princess sailings that do remain sit at a much higher price-point than P&O sailings. For example an 11-night sailing out of Perth that explores Asia on Pacific Explorer starts from $1594 per person. An 11-day Princess Cruise out of Perth, that goes not overseas to Asia but to South Australia, starts from $2814.

Furthermore, P&O Cruises Australia was well known for specialising in family vacations, with a host of family entertainment. Now the only major cruise line left sailing out of Melbourne, Perth or Adelaide is Princess, a cruise line not renowned for family entertainment, but rather those valuing peace and quiet at sea.

What was once the a great value, easily accessible and extremely exciting family vacation to millions of Australians may now be out of reach.

Essentially, for cruisers who don’t live in Sydney or Brisbane and are looking for a short vacation, options are extremely scarce.

P&O sailing in Sydney.
Will we continue to see cruises beyond Sydney and Brisbane?

Cruisers worried for destination cuts

Many cruisers who have enjoyed P&O cruises out of ports such as Melbourne, Cairns and Adelaide and Auckland have expressed their concern that they’ll no longer be seeing cruises out of those ports. Confirmation of new itineraries is yet to arrive, but it speculated there will be two Carnival ships out of Sydney and two out of Brisbane.

Belina Williams-Paul wrote: “They better sail from Melbourne then!! I didn’t think Carnival did?! P&O does!

“It’s about time Melbourne port was considered a priority. So many people would sail if they didn’t have to fly to Sydney first.”

Debbie Hughes wrote: “Just checked Carnival Cruises, NO cruises out of Fremantle next year. We won’t be cruising as much if we have to fly over east every time.”

Ozzie Oswald wrote: “As a Fremantle based cruiser, I’m not holding my breath for new cruises from Freo to be announced even though most round-trip cruise itineraries from here were sold out months in advance in the past (on both P & O and Princess).

“It’s not the lack of demand, it’s the port fees and other operating costs that eat into the cruise lines’ profits which is keeping them away.”

Simone Nguyen wrote: “I’m from Melbourne. Have enjoyed cruising out of Station Pier for NZ & Tassie cruises. Losing P&O & Dora (Pacific Explorer) is very sad news as I enjoyed cruising out of home port.

“Definitely cheaper & much more relaxing, rocking up to embarkation at Station.”

Elise Farrow wrote: “it is very disappointing. P&O had great itineraries the others don’t offer. I had a Kangaroo Island trip booked for next year that is cancelled. A 4 night from Melb. Princess offer a trip there but also stops at Phillip Island, Adelaide and Port Lincoln, which costs 3 times as much. Most Melbournians don’t want to stop at Phillip Island.

“Definitely can’t afford to always sail from Sydney and Brisbane, isn’t worth it for a short cruise.”

Sue Harness wrote: “I rang today as my cruise is cancelled and I don’t know what to do, get a refund or get more money in future cruise credit. FCC is no good if they aren’t leaving from Adelaide.”

Chris Hughes wrote: “Sucks that none will come to Adelaide at least Explorer was handy for a few days away and no interstate travel costs.”

Sharon Allen wrote: “So sad that there will be no Cruise Ships leaving from and returning to Adelaide . Clearly there are a lot of people who love cruising from Adelaide. Especially disabled people who love cruising. It’s so easy when embarking or disembarking in Adelaide.

“So disheartening to see it not happening after Feb/March 2022.”

P&O sailing in the South Pacific
South Pacific cruises are popular, but Aussies want to sail locally as well.

More P&O reaction

Cruiser Xing Ju was unhappy about his future cruise on Pacific Explorer was cancelled and he received what he believes to be inadequate compensation. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the cruise was purchased on a promo, meaning that even after a refund, he won’t be able to use the money to buy a new cruise for his family.

“I just received this from P&O regarding the cruise I booked for March 2025. They have messed up your holiday and only offer upto $300 onboard credit, what a joke!

“It’s also said in the mail “If you incur any out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the cancellation of your Pacific Explorer cruise, such as flight cancellation fees, we recommend getting in contact with your travel insurance provided to see if you can make a claim. If you are unable to make a claim, please submit an out-of-pocket expense claim via our website

“I wonder why a lot of you are happy with the choice of a refund. I probably would feel ok if I didn’t book during promotion, it was nearly half price, if I don’t want to disappoint the whole family, I will have to pay double now. And very lucky I didn’t pay for anything else yet. Who would buy travel insurance a whole year before departure?”

Worries over loyalty programs

Many cruisers online have expressed concerns over whether their loyalty points earned with P&O cruisers will be carried over to Carnival Cruises, this is yet to be confirmed.

Travel Central has posted that due to the fact that P&O loyalty points already count towards Princess’s loyalty program, they are ‘unlikely’ to be carried over to Carnival as well.

While Carnival is yet to confirm anything, cruisers haven’t been happy.

Katherin Learmonth wrote: “Well then I will be sticking with Princess then. I’m not going back to the bottom of the loyalty ladder after finally making it to Elite.”

Mike Waite wrote: “Hopefully they will use their brain and allow the loyalty programs to come across from P&O Or they could lose a lot of potential cruisers. Even if they counted all cruises done in the past two years.”

P&O sailing next to the opera house.
Sydney is a beautiful port, but cruisers want more variety.

Industry figures express their thoughts

Travel Central, a popular travel agency from Hammondville, specialising in cruise, put together their thoughts on the matter.

“The decision to merge P&O Cruises Australia into Carnival Cruise Line is primarily driven by financial considerations. The cruise industry, like many others, constantly evaluates where it can operate most efficiently and profitably.

“Unfortunately, maintaining operations in Australia has become increasingly costly. The regulatory environment, higher operating expenses, and smaller population base contribute to these elevated costs.In recent years, the expenses associated with running cruises from Sydney and other Australian ports have significantly increased. These costs encompass everything from port fees and fuel prices to regulatory compliance and labor. As a result, the financial strain on cruise lines operating in this region has intensified.

“While this change may be disappointing to many loyal P&O Cruises Australia guests, it reflects the broader economic realities facing the cruise industry. The decision aims to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of the company, ultimately allowing Carnival Corporation to continue offering exceptional cruise experiences to travel;ers worldwide.”

Beloved cruise ship comedian Demo Simis had the following to say.

“I must say that this is a very sad moment to see that this iconic brand P&O Cruises Australia is finishing as of March 2025 and taken over by Carnival! I started in 1988 and from then on the company went through so many brand changes and ships in it’s fleet, then it finally came to this unfortunately!

“Too think of it’s 90 year heritage I was involved with 35 years of it! I am just so proud and glad I was a part of it’s amazing history. I made so so many friends over the decades and the awesome memories from working there will be with me forever! Wishing so many friends of mine who have been impacted by this, the best of luck to you. You will be sorely missed P&O Australia! Arriverderci!”

Analysts weigh-in

Business reporter David Taylor wrote an article for the ABC stating

  • Carnival viewed the P&O Australia brand as a drag on the business
  • P&O simply wasn’t turning enough profits for shareholders
  • This could lead to a rise in prices for cruise as well as less variety in itineraries

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles wrote an article for The Converastion putting forward

  • High operating costs in Australia are leading to cruise lines placing less and less ships in our waters
  • There could be further cuts to the variety of ports visited as cruise lines are prioritising profits
  • The future of many ports is uncertain in Australia as smaller communities negotiate between the economic benefits and ecological and cultural costs