The ultimate cruising checklist for Aussies

By Helen Hayes 29 August 2023
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If you haven’t cruised before, or haven’t cruised out of Australia before, here is the checklist you’ve been waiting for.

So you turn your nose up at the idea of going on a cruise but a huge chunk of people you know have cruised, probably more than once, and LOVE it, and now you are secretly thinking of giving it a try. If you make the right choice, chances are that you will switch to what you thought was the dark side, start planning your next cruise, and the one after that, and dream of all the places you could go. Cruising is addictive and like a favourite cocktail, you can’t stop at one.  

The facts speak for themselves. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australia, 1.24 million Australians went on a cruise in 2019 – the last full year of cruise operations – dropping a cool $5.2 billion into Australia’s economy. It is expected that those figures may well be surpassed this year, with a massive fleet of ships making their way over the Pacific or Indian oceans from the Mediterranean, Caribbean or the polar regions for our summer. Astonishing, really. 

And cruise addiction is real. In fact, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in its 2023 State of the Cruise Industry Report that 85 per cent of travellers who have cruised will cruise again. It is a thing, and for good reason. 

Image Credit: Unsplash – Reiseuhu

What is so good about cruising? 

So what is the fuss all about? When you board your ship and go to your cabin, you unpack your suitcase and your toiletries and your book and your laptop and your phone charger and whatever else, and unlike if you are on a bus tour, or a self-drive tour, you don’t have to touch your luggage again. You can even organise to have your laundry done – mostly at a cost – or do it yourself in the guest laundry. Your bed gets made every day – not by you – and your cabin tidied. And every meal is cooked for you. What is not to love about that?  

Then there are the number of shore excursions you can do at the places the ship is going, the vast selection of things you can do on the ship, the entertainment – from Broadway-style shows to magic acts to comedy – and the food and beverage choices. It is the best way to travel.  

The first toe-in-the-water cruise  

If you are unsure if you are going to like cruising or not, best not to book a three-week journey, consider a shorter trip – either a ‘cruise to nowhere’ or better still, choose an itinerary with one or two stops so you get the hang of what a longer cruise would look like. Be mindful that the roundtrip cruises can be a bit more about the socialising – ie can be a bit of a boozefest, so again, choose wisely. Another tip is that if you don’t have kids, don’t go in school holidays when there will be lots of families onboard. 

I went on a three-day comedy cruise with P&O out of Sydney for a friend’s 40th, and it was a lot of laughs – and not just for the comedians. We prebooked a fancier restaurant on board for a special birthday dinner and basically had a great time – I recall there was karaoke in there somewhere! On other occasions I have cruised on short jaunts from Adelaide to Melbourne, and from Adelaide to Fremantle – the latter with a stop in Albany. It is a great way to ease into your new cruise life without needing a passport. 

There are many short cruise options, offered by cruise lines including P&O, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. 

Image Credit: Unsplash – Nico Smit

Departure ports 

Sydney has the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, opposite the Sydney Opera House and next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, also a popular area for boat charter cruises on the harbour. Talk about location, location.  Other ships come in and out of the White Bay Terminal. In Melbourne, Station Pier in Port Phillip Bay is the major port with some ships using GeelongPort, Portland or Phillip Island. Brisbane’s shiny new International Cruise Terminal has been busy since it opened, with a number of ships based there for the season and a host of others offering cruise departures. Adelaide’s cruise action takes place at the Port Adelaide Passenger Terminal in Outer Harbour, while for Perth, Fremantle Cruise Passenger Terminal is where you’ll board or disembark. In Tassie, Hobart’s Macquarie Wharf sees you centrally located in this vibrant city. In Broome, where Kimberley cruises usually start or finish, or have a longer adventure departing Darwin’s new terminal at Fort Hill Wharf. Cairns sees a lot of cruise ship action at the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal. 

In season 

The cruise world is excited for the upcoming cruise season, which generally runs from October to April. According to Joel Katz, Managing Director of CLIA, this year’s summer cruise season is shaping up to be one of Australia’s best yet. Katz said that CLIA is expecting about 70 cruise ships to operate in Australian waters this summer, seeing cruising return to pre-pandemic levels and possibly even beyond that. “This is the summer we’ll see cruising return to pre-pandemic levels in Australia, and perhaps even break new ground,” Katz said. 

Three new arrivals are causing quite the stir. Katz said: “One of the most exciting aspects of the coming season is the number of new ships and new cruise lines coming to Australian waters for the first time. Disney Cruise Line (Disney Wonder), Virgin Voyages (Resilient Lady) and Scenic (Scenic Eclipse II – from April 2024) will all make maiden visits to local ports this summer, which is fantastic news for cruise fans.” 

Image Credit: Unsplash – Sébastien Jermer

Oh the places you’ll go 

Island time is in your future with idyllic places like Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji popular ports on a cruise from Australia. Picture turquoise lagoons with white-sand beaches shaded by palm trees. The Great Barrier Reef and islands around Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are also gaining in popularity, with Coral Expeditions offering some great itineraries.  

Crossing the ditch on a cruise from Australia to New Zealand is easier with more ships offering it. These itineraries, from Melbourne or Sydney to Auckland for example, highlight many stunning places on New Zealand’s North and South islands, such as Milford Sound and the Bay of Islands. Picture yourself kayaking in Marlborough Sounds, hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, or exploring Hobbiton.   

The Kimberley is on most peoples’ bucket lists, and why wouldn’t it be. Many ships conduct excellent itineraries to showcase this idyllic part of the world, with everything from expedition ships to luxury small ships and Ponant’s incredible Le Ponant sailing ship luxurious bases from which to see waterfalls, the amazing tides of the region and off ship tours taking you back in time in this amazing landscape. 

For true expedition cruising, you can also cruise to Antarctica from Australia. While most people choose to explore this wild, isolated part of the planet on a departure from Ushuaia in South America, there are departures form Hobart in Tasmania, and from Bluff in New Zealand. 

Don’t forget insurance! 

We all know we need to have travel insurance to go overseas, but having it for domestic travel is just as important. Having a domestic travel insurance policy will let you breathe easy should something go wrong. Your bag might go missing on the flight home, or there might be an unforeseen cancellation. It is always better to be prepared … just in case. 

Other helpful tips 

Book your tours well ahead of time, as well as your optional dining experiences. If your ship has a spa, also book your massage well ahead.  

Read the itinerary so you don’t forget to pack that white outfit for White Night, your Gatsby-inspired gear or whatever else might be on the program. And take some exercise gear. Even if you don’t like yoga, doing it at sunrise, on the deck of a cruise ship is special. You will also need to walk around the decks to counter all that amazing food you will be eating. 

All cruise lines have a cashless system on board. Your credit card of choice will be linked to your cruise account to cover things like alcohol – unless you purchase a drinks package – massages, shore tours unless they are included in your cruise fare, and dinners at the specialty restaurants. Another thing to check is what currency your ship has. Some will be in Australian dollars while others might be in US dollars – so be aware! Also check what the policy is re gratuities. On some ships there are none, but on others there will be, so see if they are included, or if not, what is expected. 

Every day you will receive a newsletter with the day’s activities on it. Read it – it is full of little gems that you might not have thought of doing. Everything to knitting, doing a French language class, learning how to start a blog, play bridge, join in a trivia quiz and so much more. It might also have a discounted massage or laundry offer. 

Don’t expect fast WiFi. Or even good WiFi. Just go with the flow and let yourself relax. 

Choose your cabin wisely – an inside cabin might not be great if you are seasick. If you can always go for an outside cabin with windows and better still, a balcony. Sitting on your private balcony watching the ocean, pretty scenery and possibly pods of dolphins at play is one of the joys of cruising. 

No matter which cruise in Australia you choose, just go with it … you will be converted.