Ships to shore
The wave season down under is off to a buoyant start, reports Barry Oliver
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.
Harbour, ahoy: Rhapsody of the Seas in Sydney