Ships to shore

The wave sea­son down un­der is off to a buoy­ant start, re­ports Barry Oliver

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

THE high­light of the last cruis­ing sea­son in Aus­tralia, and winning by a coun­try mile, was the his­toric Syd­ney Har­bour meet­ing of Cu­nard’s Queen Mary 2 and the re­tir­ing QE2 on Fe­bru­ary 20. Thou­sands turned out in a flotilla of small boats, and many more flocked to the fore­shore to catch a glimpse of the fa­mous sis­ters’ re­union.

For the QE2, the com­pany’s for­mer flag­ship, it was a last hur­rah: the 70,000-tonne ship is head­ing for Dubai next month where, af­ter a re­fit, it will start a new life in 2009 as a float­ing ho­tel and mu­seum. But the 23-storey QM2 — too high to get un­der the Har­bour Bridge — will be back, arriving in Syd­ney on Fe­bru­ary 26. At 151,000 tonnes, ac­com­mo­dat­ing 3090 pas­sen­gers, it will again be the year’s big­gest cruise ship ar­rival. Sis­ter ship Queen Vic­to­ria will be an­other heavy­weight vis­i­tor, drop­ping in on Syd­ney on Fe­bru­ary 19 in what is shap­ing up as a record Oc­to­ber-to-April sea­son.

First of the big-name over­seas ar­rivals is Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Rhap­sody of the Seas, which will make waves with its Syd­ney ar­rival to­day. Other giants to fol­low in­clude Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Mil­len­nium (mak­ing its in­au­gu­ral visit on Novem­ber 13 but re­turn­ing sev­eral times to the end of March), Re­gent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Mariner (Novem­ber 19), Sil­versea’s Sil­ver Whis­per (five days be­fore Christ­mas) and Hol­land Amer­ica’s flag­ship Rot­ter­dam (Fe­bru­ary 10).

Car­ni­val Aus­tralia says a record 168,000 pas­sen­gers will sail on its ships in lo­cal wa­ters in the next six months, a 20 per cent in­crease on the same pe­riod in 2007-08. Twelve ships from Cu­nard Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises will make 227 calls in 20 ports across the coun­try.

All this ac­tiv­ity will pump $140 mil­lion into the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to Car­ni­val Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive Ann Sherry. The eco­nomic im­pact of cruis­ing in Aus­tralia is grow­ing each year. Says Sherry: ‘‘ Cities and towns that are main­tain­ing their cruise in­fra­struc­ture and en­cour­ag­ing ship vis­its stand to gain the most.’’

Princess Cruises, the line fea­tured in TheLoveBoat tele­vi­sion se­ries, will have the big­gest pres­ence of Car­ni­val Aus­tralia’s fleet, with an un­prece­dented five ships cruis­ing Aus­tralian wa­ters. Dawn Princess ar­rives in Syd­ney on Oc­to­ber 26 to join its twin, Sun Princess, cruis­ing year-round from Aus­tralia to New Zealand and the South Pa­cific.

Other key vis­i­tors will be the 116,000-tonne Di­a­mond Princess, which ar­rives in Syd­ney on De­cem­ber 12, fol­low­ing up with maiden vis­its to Ade­laide and Fre­man­tle, the Tahi­tian Princess and the bou­tique, 30,000-tonne Royal Princess, which will both make in­au­gu­ral vis­its to Aus­tralia, drop­ping in on Queens­land and Tas­ma­nia as part of world cruises. P&O Cruises UK has a record three lin­ers head­ing this way: the 69,000-tonne Ori­ana (Syd­ney, Fe­bru­ary 16), the 83,000-tonne Ar­ca­dia (Syd­ney, Fe­bru­ary 20), which will visit Aus­tralia as part of its in­au­gu­ral world voy­age, and the 76,000-tonne Aurora (March 1).

Ori­ana’s re­turn fol­lows a two-year mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar facelift. The Bri­tish favourite, launched in 1995, will visit NZ as well as Syd­ney and Bris­bane. (The orig­i­nal Ori­ana sailed be­tween Bri­tain and Aus­tralia for more than 25 years and vis­ited Syd­ney Har­bour 241 times.)

Al­though Syd­ney gets the bulk of over­seas cruise ship ar­rivals, smaller ports such as NSW’s New­cas­tle, Townsville in Queens­land and Al­bany in West­ern Aus­tralia are at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of the ship­ping com­pa­nies: for in­stance, Sil­ver Whis­per and the Seven Seas Mariner will drop in on New­cas­tle this sea­son while Ar­ca­dia will visit Al­bany dur­ing its world cruise.

Sherry says the large num­ber of vis­it­ing cruise ships re­flects the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Aus­tralia as a des­ti­na­tion as well as the grow­ing in­ter­est in cruis­ing among Aus­tralian trav­ellers.

www.syd­neyports.com.au

Har­bour, ahoy: Rhap­sody of the Seas in Syd­ney

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