Royal Caribbean closed its biggest season in Australia ever last night – the official end of the summer season for 2016-17.

The line carried 302,000 passengers across three brands – Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara – an increase of 5,000 passengers.

The Explorer of the Seas, the second largest cruise ship to sail Australian waters, sailed off on her repositioning cruise to Hawaii and Seattle with 3,500 Australians and New Zealanders heading for Alaska.

Explorer, one of Australia’s favourites, carried another record 71,000 passengers during her six-month stint Down Under.

“Boy, it has been a very big season,” said Adam Armstrong, the line’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand.

There were 94 cruises and “we are heading towards the magic 100 mark”, said Mr Armstrong. “We contributed about $200 million towards the Australian economy.”

Two new ships joined the Royal Caribbean fleet this year – the Azamara Journey , with 600 passengers. And the Ovation of the Seas, the biggest and newest cruise ship to come to Australia.

Mr Armstrong said the growth meant it was now easier than ever to fill his fleet.

Explorer and Voyager now are just a walk in the park. We were worried four or five years ago whether we could fill them, but now they carry 3-3,500 people and they just come in and out.”

More families and younger passengers were taking up the increased capacity.

“Our average age is coming down by a year or two every year, and the number of newcomers we are recruiting every year is increasing.”

Mr Armstrong said next year would feature a longer season for Ovation of the Seas, and the line’s rundown for 2018-19 was about to be published.

There are two new ships operating internationally.

Symphony of the Seas – the biggest in the world – and the first new Celebrity Edge, the first Celebrity ship in 10 years. And she might come to Sydney one day – maybe…no announcements tonight!“

Mr Armstrong said there were no plans for his line to extend the season into winter – but Australians were flying to SE Asia to cruise.

“We send about 55,000 Australians overseas each year – Asia is number one, then Europe the Caribbean and Alaska.

“This is growing and our analysis shows people are trying cruises locally and then considering going overseas.”

Royal Caribbean are not alone in experiencing strong passenger growth.

Two weeks ago, Carnival Cruise Lines announced big increases –and the addition of Majestic Princess to their fleet in 2018.

The 19-deck 3,560 passenger vessel will steal the mantle of the youngest ship to sail in Australia off Ovation of the Seas – though the two are very different.

Ovation is a brilliant family ship with a surf pool, iFly flight simulator, dodgem cars and excellent food offerings, along with luxury loft suites.

Majestic redefines Premium cruising, with amazing Michelin starred food, enhanced entertainment and shows, a new spa, karaoke lounges, luxury beds, and the biggest shopping mall at sea with brands like Gucci, Burberry and Bulgari.

Together, they are likely to continue to grow different cruise market segments and adding to Australia’s global domination in cruise penetration.

Carnival Cruise Lines executive chair Ann Sherry told a gathering to farewell the Emerald Princess at the end of her Sydney season two weeks ago: “It’s been a huge, huge year for us.”

She said there was no real cruise season any more. “Half our passenger sail sail all year round,” she said.

Carnival Corporation brands made 227 calls in Sydney, 70% of the total calls.

Twenty-one Carnival ships sailed in local waters from October to April – and 12 of them were international ships.

There were 598 calls at Australian ports during the year – massive 20% increase year on year.

“There are 35 different ports we call at from Darwin to Port Arthur to Broome. And this year, for the first time, Queensland dominates. Some 192 calls to Queensland ports 11 more than NSW,” she said.

“The opportunity is still there to grow in NSW – but we need more port capacity”.

During the past 12 months, there had been some significant landmarks: Seabourn Encore arrived in Sydney just three weeks after her launch, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 arrived back ten years after she brought the city to a halt with her first visit. And Princess had a record 11,800 births across five ships.

Ms Sherry said the coming year was equally big.

“The new Pacific Explorer in mid-year, Seabourn Encore next summer for a record season – this a market that can take more of luxury – plus QM2 for more than a month, and the summer after that after that Queen Elizabeth home porting in Sydney and Melbourne for two months.”

Ms Sherry is already on the record as predicting a massive jump to 1.2 million Australian cruisers when the annual official figures for 2016 are announced.

On a lighter note, Mr Armstrong related the story of how he was called this morning by the Explorer of the Seas’ Captain. He said he had an American guest with an astonishing 28 suitcases and eight large boxes wanting to travel to Hawaii.

“I’m pleased to report she is on board with all 28 bags – in an inside cabin – the cheapest!” Mr Armstrong told those gathered to see The Explorer off on her final voyage.