The cruising scene is once again flourishing, with big-name new players and the next generation of ships taking it to grander levels.
And judging by what’s in store in 2024-25 and beyond, this is an industry that’s going to even more places and doing it in style.
In the current Australian cruising season alone we’ve seen:
- Disney Cruise Line waving its wand to bring its ‘Disney Magic at Sea’ and the Disney Wonder to Australia for the first time, instantly turning kids, tweens and teens (and many of their parents) into cruising converts.
- Sir Richard Branson sweeping into Sydney Harbour aboard the Resilient Lady, painting the town in Virgin Voyages’ corporate red, announcing itself as a fun-and-funky contender in the adults-only (18+) cruising market.
- Celebrity Cruises celebrating the Australian debut of the first of its Edge Series ships, Celebrity Edge, complete with its ‘Magic Carpet’ – a cantilevered floating platform that scales the ship’s exterior, attaching itself to decks to provide extra venue and viewing space.
- German brand Nicko cruises visiting Australia for the first time with its flagship ocean vessel, Vasco da Gama.
- Even A&K Travel Group (parent company of luxury safari and adventure travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent) has got in on the act, buying and refurbishing two ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, and in the process significantly boosting their guest-to-crew and guest-to-space ratios.
While newcomers are always welcome, let’s also applaud the cruising companies that have consistently brought tourist dollars to our ports and transported Aussies to magical destinations at sea.
Princess Cruises, for example, has four ships operating here this season, including Royal Princess, and Carnival Cruise Line, which has announced that its 2025-26 Australian program will have 10 more sailings than the current season.
The best Australian cruises to travel on in 2024
For the worldly travellers…
Southern Chile’s fjords and Patagonian glaciers
In recent years cruises to Antarctica have been all the rage, using Ushuaia in southernmost Argentina as a starting point. But now focus is shifting to the icy wonderlands of South America itself.
Tourism in South America is tipped to make a strong comeback in 2024 both on land and at sea, where the stunning natural landscapes at the snowy southern end of Chile’s 6400+ kilometre Pacific coastline are the stars of the show.
You’ve probably admired scenes from Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins, Torres del Paine and Alberto de Agostini national parks and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park on computer lock-screen images, Instagram and calendars extolling Mother Nature.
Typical Patagonian cruises run between the colourful UNESCO World Heritage port of Valparaíso in central Chile (about a two-hour drive from Santiago) and Ushuaia in the local summer months, November to March.
Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas are popular ports of call along the way, but the highlight is the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and its cast of glaciers, including Pio XI, Amalia, El Brujo, Aguila, Agostini, Garibaldi and Perito Moreno.
Smaller expedition ships operated by the likes of Ponant, Hurtigruten, Aurora Expeditions, Seabourn, Australis Cruises and Skorpios Cruises explore them in some detail, while bigger operators such as Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking and Norwegian Cruise Line typically stop by on longer itineraries such as Valparaíso to Buenos Aires.
The Med with a twist
The Mediterranean is a perennial favourite cruising destination for Aussies, but there’s been a noticeable shift to visiting in the quiet season.
Viking, for example, offers more than 80 scheduled departures over the northern autumn and winter. It makes sense. Airfares are cheaper, there are fewer crowds, the top museums and restaurants are more accessible, and the cooler temperatures make exploring on foot more comfortable.
Viking is also offering variations on the typical Med cruises such as its 16-day, seven-country ‘Malta, Morocco & the Mediterranean’ cruises out of Barcelona. Marseille, Corsica, Rome, Malta, Málaga and Cádiz are the European stops; the enticing foray into African territory takes in Tunis, Algiers and Casablanca.
The Caribbean and Panama Canal
Since its last expansion in 2016, the Panama Canal has become so much more than a bucket-list item for engineering fanatics. Nowadays it’s being utilised to craft ever more exotic cruise itineraries around the Caribbean and parts of the Americas, and to facilitate mammoth expeditions from the Arctic and Alaska all the way down to Antarctica.
Holland America Line’s 133-day ‘Grand Voyage: Pole To Pole’ cruise on the Volendam starting on January 25, 2025, from Fort Lauderdale in Florida and back is a prime example. That cruise starts from $44,399, but if you want something more modest, between now and mid-2025, there are more than three dozen Panama cruises on offer, ranging from 12 to 31 days.
Starting prices range from $2169 to $6699. Itineraries typically run between Fort Lauderdale and either San Diego or Vancouver, and one even ventures as far afield as Hawaii.
For the foodies…
Oceania Cruises, which prides itself on serving some of the best food at sea, will host its first annual ‘Culinary Masters’ Cruise’ in the Mediterranean over October 16-26, 2024. The sailing aboard Marina will be hosted by two Master Chefs of France, Eric Barale and Alexis Quaretti.
The cruise goes from Valletta in Malta to Rome, stopping at Kotor in Montenegro, Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia, Corfu and Katakolon in Greece, and Bari, Catania and Naples in Italy.
Disney Magic at Sea is hard to beat, but Paul Gauguin Cruises’ 2025 Moana Explorer Program voyages in partnership with South Pacific marine education foundation Te Mana O Te Moana deserve a mention.
The cruise line has tailored 11 sailings in French Polynesia to children aged seven to 15. The voyages aboard MS Paul Gauguin offer a combination of island and/or beach excursions, science activities, craft, games and more.
Sailings cover Tahiti, Cook Islands and the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands.
Look who’s been signed up to headline Cunard’s inaugural Australian Literature Voyage at Sea on board the Queen Elizabeth! Special guests include British author Alexander McCall Smith, who shot to fame with his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and popular Australian writer Fiona McIntosh, and more talent is yet to come.
The five-night round trip voyage from Sydney to Hobart and Great Oyster bay in Tasmania runs from December 11-16, 2024, and is co-curated by Dymocks.
For river cruising…
There’s a new frontier in river cruising. In November 2024, AmaWaterways will become the first major company to offer river cruises in Colombia, with seven night trips on the Magdalena River and the Canal del Dique between the Caribbean coastal cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla, which is famous for its carnival and dance groups.
The cruises run all year round and venture inland as far as El Banco. The pre/post cruise options available are three nights in each in Medellín and Panama City and two nights in Cartagena.
READ NEXT: When is the best time to go on a cruise?