COLUMN | Australia’s year round cruise industry [Ferry Tales]

Princess Cruises’ Sea Princess sailed from Sydney on a cruise to the United States on April 15; her departure signaling the close of Australia’s record summer cruise season.

It has been a quite remarkable six months for the Australian cruise industry. In all, Carnival Australia, which represents seven cruise brands including Princess Cruises, had a record 19 ships from across its fleets sailing in local waters over the summer. But with six of those ships based in Australian waters full-time, there will still be plenty of activity over the winter months.

Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry points out that years ago, it used to be that the winter season was a quiet time for the cruise industry. “But the continued growth of our sector means we still have a packed schedule ahead,” Ms Sherry said.

“Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle will all have cruise ships sailing from their ports over the winter period, and in any week at least 10,000 Australians will be enjoying a cruise on a local ship.”

According to figures released by the International Cruise Council Australasia (ICCA), in 2011 some 623,294 Australians took a cruise holiday – nearly 160,000 more than in 2010 — maintaining seven years of consecutive double digit growth. “Strong local support for cruising as an exciting holiday choice has led to another year of extraordinary growth for the Australian cruise industry again confirming it as the standout success of Australian tourism,” Ms Sherry said.

“The industry is well and truly on course to surpass its goal of carrying a million passengers a year by 2020 with market penetration levels also rivalling or surpassing that of mature markets in North America and Europe.” 

Ms Sherry said the latest growth figures follow the recent release of a Deloitte Access Economics study that showed cruising contributed $830 million in added value to the Australian economy in 2010-2011 — an increase of 44 percent since an earlier study for 2007-2008. 

In welcoming the latest ICCA statistics, Ms Sherry said port infrastructure gaps, particularly in Sydney Harbour, remained the greatest threat to further cruise industry growth. “Sorting out cruise ship berth arrangements in Sydney has never been more urgent with an increasing number of cruise ships having to anchor mid harbour because of the lack of suitable berths,” Ms Sherry said.

“We share the view of passengers that arriving and departing from Sydney Harbour is an integral feature of the cruise experience.  A three berth solution with White Bay, the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and shared use of Garden Island on an ad hoc basis during peak cruise periods, is still the best option for Sydney,” Ms Sherry said. 

Carnival Australia is to have further discussions with the Federal Government and the NSW Government to resolve Sydney’s port infrastructure issues including shared use of Garden Island. 

The figures justify the launch of a larger range of cruises by Princess Cruises. New offerings include sailings between Sydney and Tokyo on the Sun Princess and a special eight-night voyage to Tasmania on the Diamond Princess.

The cruise line’s 2013-14 program also includes more Pacific Island cruises from Sydney and Brisbane as well as the return of the popular 35-night Hawaii, Tahiti and South Pacific itinerary.

The new program includes a range of New Zealand cruises, featuring Princess’ special onboard New Zealand program of Kiwi food, wine and cultural activities, as well as Sea Princess’ maiden season of cruising from Brisbane.

Pacific Dawn’ wears giant Australian flag in Brisbane for Anzac Day

Brisbane was the location of an unusual Anzac Day commemoration on April 25 with P&O Cruises’ Pacific Dawn wearing a giant Australian flag over her side as she hosted a dawn service at the Forgacs Cairncross Dockyard at Morningside.

In recognition of the service and sacrifice of Australians and New Zealanders at war, the 40-metre by 20-metre Australian flag was draped from the Pacific Dawn’s starboard side for the service and was clearly visible across Brisbane River.

The service for Pacific Dawn crew members and dockyard staff was a joint initiative between P&O Cruises, Forgacs and local marine service company Inter-Marine. It was conducted by the ship’s Master, with a trumpeter playing The Last Post. The service coincided with poignant dawn services at sea on two other P&O Cruises’ ships, the Pacific Jewel and the Pacific Sun.

The Pacific Jewel’s dawn service included members of the Royal Australian Navy Veterans Band and the Navy’s former Director of Music, Lt Commander Jim McDonough (Ret), who were travelling as passengers. A sunset service was conducted on the Pacific Pearl late on the previous evening as the ship was schedule to arrive in Sydney as the dawn broke on Anzac Day itself.

“Anzac Day is always a special day on our ships,” said Ann Sherry. “There is a great tradition of officers and crew doing everything possible to enable passengers to remember the service and sacrifice of our veterans.”

The Anzac Day tradition on P&O Cruises’ fleet also includes a supply of freshly baked Anzac biscuits and a hit parade of Australian and New Zealand music.

The Pacific Dawn was in dry dock in Brisbane undergoing a scheduled multi-million dollar refurbishment, to provide a range of new features; from a giant poolside entertainment screen to a dedicated ice-cream parlour and new interconnecting family cabins.

More destinations for P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises made its maiden visit to the undiscovered paradise of Mare in the Loyalty Islands on April 15, becoming the first cruise line to take holidaymakers to the exotic new destination in the Pacific Islands.

The Pacific Jewel became the first cruise ship to visit Mare, north of New Caledonia, with Nicole Edwards from Ocean Grove, Victoria, making history as the first cruise passenger to step foot in the tropical paradise. A dedicated tender jetty and boardwalk was constructed in Mare’s Tadine Harbour providing passengers with easy access.

Seabourn brings luxury to Australian waters next summer

Seabourn Cruises’ latest addition, the impressive Seabourn Quest, will make her maiden visit to Australia in February 2013, calling at Sydney, Brisbane, Hamilton Island, Townsville, Cairns and Thursday Island as part of a 116-day world cruise.

Meanwhile, the award-winning Seabourn Odyssey, launched in 2009, will sail in local waters for almost three months as she explores the islands and coastlines of Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia, offering Australian holidaymakers an array of ultra-luxury cruise itineraries.

Seabourn Director of Sales in Australia Tony Archbold said the visits by two of the world’s most stylish ships reflected Australians’ growing love affair with luxury cruising.

“Over the past year we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of Australians stepping onboard Seabourn ships all over the world,” Mr Archbold said.

Cruising across the Ditch!

New Zealand has also shared in Australia’s remarkable cruise success with the International Cruise Council Australasia (ICCA) reporting a 32 percent increase in NZ passenger numbers to 56,479 in the New Zealand Cruise Industry Report.

Since the ICCA first compiled New Zealand cruise passenger numbers five years ago, the number of New Zealanders taking a cruise holiday has more than doubled from 26,510 in 2006. This equates to an average annual growth rate of more than 18 percent. ICCA General Manager Brett Jardine said the latest figures underlined the strength of the New Zealand cruise market.

“While other industries have waivered in these tough economic times, cruising has continued to expand, with its popularity in New Zealand growing significantly,” Mr Jardine said.  

Mr Jardine attributed the impressive growth to the broadening range of cruise ships available locally and overseas, as well as increasing awareness of the great value that cruise holidays offer, with all-inclusive fares covering accommodation, transport, entertainment and meals.

“Every year we are seeing more cruise ships sailing New Zealand waters, taking the profile of cruising to new heights and prompting an unprecedented number of Kiwis to take to the seas for their holidays,” he added.

Mr Jardine said the New Zealand cruise industry was on target to reach 100,000 passengers by 2020.