Spirits are flying high as Australia braces for a Kimberley season that will mark the return of international vessels, the opening of WA borders and things finally looking up for cruise after two years.
Jeff Gillies Commercial Director at Coral Expeditions says there’s energy in the air. “The mood is amazing. We’ve got about 3,000 guests who are travelling this year. A lot of them have had travel plans interrupted, so the excitement is palpable.
“We’ve already got two vessels underway and you can see the response from the guests and the crew and how much fun they’re having up there.”
Mr Gillies says demand has been rocketing and Coral Expeditions is nearly completely sold out for the year.
“Since the WA borders we’ve had some of the best interest and enquiry levels we’ve ever had for 2023 as well. We’ve got a couple of spots available for the next two departures, then we’re largely full for the rest of the season, and we’ve seen excellent forward booking uptake.”
With moral high and things moving quickly, here’s what you need to know about the upcoming Kimberley season.
Demand is higher than ever before
Coral Expeditions aren’t the only company who’s seeing bookings flying off the shelves, Andrew Castles, general manager of Expedition Cruise Specialists says the season is selling extremely well.
“For the Australian-flagged operators, the 2022 Kimberley cruise season is heavily booked already, with very few cabins remaining across the season. With deferrals from previous Covid-effected seasons, combined with a reticence amongst some travellers to head off overseas again just yet, the Kimberley remains incredibly popular.
“Many of the local operators are so full that 2023 already nears capacity, and some operators, such as Coral Expeditions, have this week released their 2024 schedules to cater to the strong demand.”
Luxury cruise line Silversea is also reporting unheard of levels of demand.
“The cruise industry has seen an unprecedented demand for domestic and close-to-home voyages, especially in regions such as the Kimberley which are best accessed by ship,” said a spokesperson.
It’s not too late
While bookings are up, it’s not too late to secure yourself a spot amongst the rugged orange cliffs of the Kimberley over the coming months.
Silversea still has availability on five of their cruises this season, starting from $18,200 on sailings leaving in June and early July, with sailings across late July and August more difficult to get into.
Ponant is down to its final staterooms on seven of its 11 planned visits to the Kimberley, meaning you might need to act fast, but the suites are still there for you if you want them.
For something a bit more intimate, cruise company True North has already kicked off its season and has told Cruise Passenger that there’s still some scattered availability throughout the season, you can check out itineraries and enquire here.
APT Touring also have cabins going, with some last minute deals possible. You can save $500pp on cabins for May 15 and June 2 sailings for “Grand Kimberley Coast” itineraries, starting from $12,895pp, although there’s also more availability throughout the season.
If your ideal cruise or suite is already booked up, those in the know say that it’s worth keeping an eye out throughout the season, as COVID dropouts could open up some last minute places at any time.
Mr Gillies said: “We’re running waitlists and standby lists, because what you are finding in cruise or in any travel, some people are unfortunately finding out they’ve contracted COVID in the week leading in, so we are seeing a small percentage of people who are finding out they’re unable to travel at short notice.
“For anyone interested they should stay in touch and get on the waitlists and standby lists.”
Mr Castles also says checking out last minute openings is the way to go.
“Although cabins are hard to find, it’s always worth checking on last-minute 2022 availability close to each departure as COVID can open up a couple of cabins at late notice as unfortunate travellers pick up the virus in the week or two before they are due to cruise.”
What changes to expect?
Mr Castles says you can expect stringent health protocols whichever line you choose.
“Due to COVID protocols, travellers can expect fewer traditional buffets on board, with table service really coming to the fore.
“In an effort to keep COVID off their ships, many of the expedition companies are also requiring travellers to undertake either a pre-cruise RAT test on boarding, or in some cases, a PCR test 72 hours prior to embarkation.
“On board, travellers may be subject to daily temperature readings as well, which in itself is an unobtrusive, hand-held temperature check with the ship’s nurse each morning.”
Mr Castles says word is yet to arrive on whether WA will require regarding masks.
“Masks could also possibly be required at certain times on the vessel, and that will be dependent on Western Australia’s health guidelines as they apply during the season.”
Mr Gillies says once you’re on board, it will all feel normal.
“We still make it mandatory that guests and crew are vaccinated, they have to do PCR tests and a rapid antigen test, once on board you won’t notice too many differences from what you see in your local restaurant or club. Social distancing is important and anyone who has any symptoms, will be isolated,” he added.