The pandemic pause is well and truly over as more ships set sail for Australia and New Zealand this wave season.

This summer Australia will be home to 46 international cruise ships, including some of the best, most luxurious and biggest in the world. 

More luxury ships from lines such as Regent Seven Seas, Ponant, Viking, Oceania, Cunard and Seabourn are set to visit from October to March next year.

Two standout stars will be Regent Seven Seas Explorer – “the most luxurious ship ever build” – and Le Ponant, the beautiful French sailing ship that will transform experiences in the Kimberley.

“Luxury travel has been the fastest to recover and we’ve seen some interesting trends. We’re seeing a much broader range of destinations – bucket list destinations. We’re also seeing a lot of ‘close to home,’ including Asia, where people don’t have to travel so far,” says Steve Odell, SVP & Managing Director Asia Pacific, Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Mr Odell revealed that the average spend on a cruise has risen to above $30,000 for two people. “We are seeing more new customers than ever before – more than 50 per cent of people we have booked are new to our brand,” he says.

Regent Seven Seas, which is celebrating 30 years of cruising, is already two-thirds full for 2023, and the line is now turning its sales teams on 2024 and even 2025.

Homeported lines are also bringing numbers back to pre-pandemic days.

Between P&O Australia, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises alone, 11 of the big ships will take to Australian shores.

Princess will sail three ships across Australia and New Zealand, including the popular Majestic Princess. 

All three P&O Australia ships will be back in operation; the return of Carnival Splendor and the new Carnival Luminosa means the so-called “fun ships” are back.

Particularly anticipated is the return of Royal Caribbean to Australia, with the arrival of Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas bringing two huge ships to our shores.

Quantum, one of the largest and newest in the Royal Caribbean fleet, will be based in Brisbane, where the new port facility is aiming to make a step change in cruising Queensland and the Pacific.

Dave Humphreys, director of sales at Royal Caribbean International Australia and New Zealand, says pent-up demand has bookings looking extremely strong.

“Pent-up demand after Royal Caribbean’s two-year hiatus in Australia has meant bookings on both Quantum Class ships coming to Australia have been extremely strong.

“Bookings across Royal Caribbean’s Australia 2022-2023 summer season are performing well, with huge demand from Australians who are eager to get back to sea. Web traffic is exceeding pre-pandemic levels and inquiries on sailings have been significantly increasing.”

Mr Humphreys says if you have your heart set on a particular cabin or suite category you should move fast.

“Our interconnecting balcony staterooms, which are ideal for multi-gen families, always sell out fast,” he says.

“We also see a great deal of demand for our suites as Australian guests look to indulge on their holiday with features such as our Royal Genie, who as a personal butler can craft exclusive one-of-a-kind experiences all designed around the Star suite guest.”

As for itineraries that are moving quickly, Mr Humphreys highlights Ovation’s and Quantum’s 12-night sailings that stretch across Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific.

Norwegian is also expecting a buoyant season with Norwegian Spirit, which has had a $150 million makeover, taking centre stage. She will be sailing around our coasts and to New Zealand from December.

Viking will be sailing Orion and Mars from December around Australia and to New Zealand. 

CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz says demand is strong across the industry. 

“The sight of magnificent international cruise ships back in Australian and New Zealand waters has created a huge sense of anticipation and cruise lines are reporting good demand for cruising over the coming summer and into the future,” he says.

According to CLIA’s latest sentiment surveys, Australians are revelling in the return of cruising as the numbers show spirits soaring since last year. 

In November last year, of Australians who have never cruised before, only 43 per cent said they would be open to cruising, but that number has now rebounded to 56 per cent. Similarly of the 73 per cent of past cruisers who last November said they would cruise again in the next few years, 81 per cent are now ready to commit to a sailing. 

Furthermore, among both cruises and non-cruisers, 65 per cent said they were likely or very likely to book a cruise in the next two years, well ahead of the 53 per cent from last November and even slightly up from the 64 per cent pre-pandemic. 

Mr Katz says these numbers are a sign of the times as Aussies get ready to cruise again. 

“Australians and New Zealanders have always been among the world’s most passionate cruisers, so it’s great to see the enthusiasm among past guests is back at pre-pandemic levels,” he says.

“Sentiment has climbed even higher in other countries where cruise operations have been running for some time, so we can be confident of a similar rise in our region as we move forward.”

The momentum will only continue in the following season as heavyweights Virgin Voyages and Disney Cruises pay their first visits to Australia, Celebrity brings its first Edge class ship to our shores and numbers tick back towards the massive 60 ships that visited Australia during its last pre-COVID wave season.