The battle for the Aussie family cruise passenger will be joined in earnest next year, when P&O’s new ship Pacific Explorer enters the fleet.

Arriving in June 2017, Pacific Explorer will throw down the gauntlet to Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines with two new water slides and barefoot bowls.

Disco lights illuminate the main slide from start to finish, and a new waterpark includes lots to entertain young families.

“The family market for P&O has always been really important,” Simon Cheng, ‎Vice President Sales, Marketing and PR at Carnival Australia, told Cruise Passenger.

“With the Pacific Explorer, we are putting a stake in the ground and saying: ‘We’re definitely for families’. Hence our new slide and bringing the water park on board.”

Mr Cheng said the new activities were only part of P&O’s push to present a fresh face to cruising. The line has pioneered cruising to exciting new destinations like Papua New Guinea.

“We’re the brand that opens up these new destinations that families wouldn’t otherwise have gone to. In three years, we’ve opened up 21 new destinations. The level of innovation in itineraries is unheard of.”

Mr Cheng said most of the new destinations were a standing start and P&O with the local community to help them build a self-sustaining economy.

The Solomon Islands is another destination pioneered by P&O.

“We have had an eye on Solomons for a while, but getting there on shorter itineraries was a challenge, so opening up Cairns made a difference.

“The Cairns season has done really well –we’ve just announced a new season for 2018, so we’ll be there in 2017 and 2018, and we’ll be doing more out of Cairns to PNG and Solomons.”

Mr Cheng said Cairns was attracting a fly-cruise market from Sydney and Melbourne.

“Forty per cent of cruisers are sourced locally, and 60 per cent are sourced from Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.”

To see the full gallery of what she’ll look like onboard, click here.